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The Dream of Homesteading
The definition of a homestead is, “a lot of land adequate for the maintenance of a family”. It wasn’t until the Homestead Act of 1862 here in the US when it took on the meaning of 160 acres on federal land to be settled. That is why I think a lot of people don’t consider themselves homesteaders. Because most of us don’t own a ton of acreage. And honestly, you don’t need a lot of room to provide maintenance for the average family. Homesteading is really more of a state of mind. So you can live your dream of being a homesteader even if you live in the suburbs.
Traditional State of Mind
Many people look to homesteading to find ways to be more self-sufficient and return to a simpler way of life. That’s what I meant by saying homesteading is more about your state of mind. Today the idea of homesteading involves wanting to eat healthier natural foods, making things from scratch, preserving, being more in control of your life, raising your own meat and dairy, and spending more time away from technology. It is finding a true sense of freedom.
If you like the idea of providing most of your own food by gardening or raising animals, making many of your own household products, or are just looking to step away from the modern world you might be ready to homestead. But what types of things can you do to get started? The best way is to just start with a few changes and go from there. It’s really not as hard as you might think.
Acreage Does Not a Homesteader Make
When the Homestead Act was in place over 150 years ago farming methods weren’t as efficient as they are today. Although there are many skills our ancestors used that we should return to using because they are just better. Today a homesteader can live well and provide for their family on anything from 30 acres to less than an acre. We manage just fine 1/10th of an acre by utilizing the Back to Eden Method of gardening with raised beds. We do plan on eventually upgrading to about 10 acres because we’d like to have more than just chickens. But really how much room you need will depend on what you want to provide for your family.
Steps to Homesteading on Less Than 10 Acres
Here are some things you can do even if you live in suburbia or just don’t have that much property. If you’re on Facebook you may have seen the article about a man who grows 6000lbs of food on 1/10th of an acre. So trust me anyone can homestead.
Apartment Living Homesteading (Yes, you read that right.)
This is really how Aaron and I got started. We got the homesteading bug while living in an apartment, so we followed some of these tips until we were able to move into our current home.
- Container Garden: If you have an outdoor patio area or little yard you can grow herbs of all kinds, tomatoes, onions, and maybe even some potatoes. Mint is a great idea because it tries to spread and is perfectly suited for container gardening.
- Controlling your food: Another option for having more control over your food is to cook from scratch. Collect some great recipes or cookbooks and start making most if not all of your meals from scratch. If you can’t grow your own food there is always farmer’s markets, Co-Ops, or whole food stores. Read my article to get tips on how to eat healthy on a budget.
- Hobbies for Homesteaders: Learn how to knit, crochet, sew, candlemaking, etc… These are great skills to develop if you do eventually plan to move to a bigger place and continue on your homesteading journey. But you can also make a lot of your own home goods with these skills. I made my own curtains, washcloths, and blankets.
Small Plot Homesteading (under an acre)
- Plant a couple of fruit trees: Depending on your location you can easily grow many types of fruit trees. I live in the Pacific Northwest so apples were the natural choice for us. We bought a lovely apple tree with 5 different varieties on it! After 3 years it is now producing massive amounts of apples for us. It also helped that Aaron learned how to properly prune it. A great book to help you grow tons of trees on a small lot is “Grow a Little Fruit Tree“.
- Raise some small animals for eggs or meat: They say that chickens are the gateway livestock and I would agree. But for us, they are all we can have due to living in city limits and having such a small piece of land. If you live within a city check out the laws for your area, you might be surprised that you can have a multitude of hens. I love not having to pay out the nose for organic eggs. And my girls help out by turning over our soil and providing fertilizer! Check out Aaron’s article all about starting out with hens! Rabbits are another great small game to have on your backyard homestead. They provide wonderful fur and tasty meat, I’ve been told by a very reliable source.
- Start a small garden in a raised bed: I personally love raised beds for small plot gardening. You can create great soil and not have to worry about how bad the dirt is on your property. It also seems to be better at deterring pests big and small. Here’s a great plan for an inexpensive raised bed to get you started. It’s a good idea to start with basic crops that your family loves to eat and then try to replace one item you normally buy from the store. A great example would be growing enough tomatoes to produce sauce and salsa for a year.
Medium Size Plot (1-10 acres)
- Have an actual orchard: Designate a small area of your property for fruit and nut trees.
- Raise medium-sized livestock: There are some wonderful smaller breeds of pigs like Kune Kune that do well on smaller acreage. Goats are usually a pretty common step up from just raising chickens. They not only provide meat but milk! Goat’s milk is great to have not only because it is tasty for drinking but it can also be used in cheesemaking and soapmaking. You could also consider a small cow breed like a Dexter.
- Have a Hive: Start beekeeping for your own honey and wax. It’s a little pricey to get started with beekeeping but the only costs are pretty much the initial setup and equipment. You can find out if you have a local beekeepers group they sometimes will rent or loan equipment. It’s a great hobby to get into and helping bolster our bee populations is definitely a great cause!
- Start a farm stand: Again check into the laws in your area. But a lot of times you can set up a farm stand at the end of your road and sell some of the items you grow or make on your farm. It’s a great way to supplement your income without needing a license depending on what the products are. As long as their produce you should be okay but if your selling beauty products like soap or you’re selling meat I believe there are specific laws on doing that.
Books & Websites for Tips on Small Plot Homesteading
- The Prairie Homestead
- Primal Survivor
- The Spruce
- Grow A Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph
- Backyard Homesteading by David Toht
- The Homesteading Handbook by Abigail B. Gehring
- The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion by Amy Fewell
Bloom Where You’re Planted
When it comes down to it homesteading is not an unreachable dream. It’s about how hard you’re willing to work to make that dream a reality. Because as we’ve discovered acreage has nothing to do with whether or not you can call yourself a homesteader. It’s all about your state of mind. So start where you are making small changes and don’t be afraid to learn new things. Aaron and I have come a long way from that little apartment and our itch to live a more self-sustainable life. And we have even bigger dreams for the future!
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