Most gardeners have heard of the word “homesteading,” but may not be fully aware of what it actually means. And that’s understandable because the word itself has greatly changed in meaning over the last, oh, 150 years or so. What started in 1862 with The Homesteading Act (public land grants to adults who agreed to live on the land for 5 years, after which they were granted a deed to that land) has slowly changed to referring to living a lifestyle of self-sufficiency.
Homesteading can mean a lot of different things to different people but for our purposes here today, we’ll define “homesteading” as creating a lifestyle of increased self-sufficiency by making wiser choices that will improve your quality of life and that of your community and the surrounding environment.
So, what exactly does one do to be self-sufficient? What kind of activities are involved with homesteading? Here’s a quick run-down, ranging from simple steps that an apartment dweller can incorporate into their life to more involved commitments for landowners.
What is Homesteading?
This is usually the first step for many homesteaders and can be as simple as growing tomatoes, zucchini, and a few herbs. From there, you can experiment with additional veggies, fruit bushes and trees, edible flowers, and a full range of herbs. Start your plants from seed rather than buy transplants from a garden center. And think you can’t because you live in an apartment or on a very small property? Consider container gardening, starting sprouts or microgreens on your kitchen counter, or using aeroponic systems with grow lights.
Here’s where your creativity can shine. When you grow your own food, it can also be preserved, dried, or dehydrated for you to enjoy year ‘round. Have an herb garden? Use those herbs to create teas, tinctures, salves, and aromatherapy products. Cook your meals from scratch using your own farm-fresh ingredients, or sew your own clothes. Got fiber animals like angora goats? Use their fiber to spin into yarn, dye it with plants from your dye garden, and start knitting. Chop your own wood, make your own cheese, and create your own soaps and candles using goat’s milk and beeswax. And I probably don’t even need to mention composting here, but I will — making it yourself reduces waste, saves money, and gets you involved with the growing process from beginning to end.
Raising Homestead Animals
Once you get the satisfaction of growing your own food, it’s a logical progression to start raising animals. Many homesteaders begin with a few chickens, then add ducks, goats, pigs, and bees using a beehive. Those with larger acreage can consider cows or larger herds/flocks to expand their range. Before long, you have access to fresh eggs, milk, your own chicken or meat, and — if you want to go hard-core — fiber to make yarn. This is, obviously, a larger commitment, as once you take on the responsibility of another creature’s life, you have higher considerations.
Creating a Sustainable Homestead
Looking to go all-in? Start with a rainwater collection system, take steps to create a more water-wise garden or install solar panels for your home. Reuse the water from your duck pond to irrigate your garden (instant compost tea). For the truly ambitious, consider producing your own energy with photovoltaics, hydropower, or wind turbines.
Tips On Becoming More Self-Sufficient
Homesteading can be a big time and monetary commitment as well as a complete lifestyle change, therefore, we’ve provided some additional resource links to help you learn more about becoming self-sustaining and starting a homestead.