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In more modern terms, the act of homesteading is used to describe an agrarian and self-sufficient lifestyle. Homesteading activities typically include growing and preserving food crops, cooking meals from scratch, raising animals, making homemade medicines and natural and holistic health care, personal care products, perhaps even clothing, and an overall goal to “live off the land”. Homesteaders may also barter and trade for the things they cannot produce themselves.
Homesteaders come in many forms and styles these days. Some homesteaders have acres of land to play with (and maintain), while urban homesteaders are challenged and creative in smaller spaces. There are some hard-core, very traditional homesteaders that attempt to live a fully self-sufficient, zero-waste, off-grid, or near “prepper” status life.
Then there are your hobby homesteaders, who are simply drawn to this lifestyle and enjoy it as a light-hearted escape from their usual 9-5 “real life”. All versions of homesteading are awesome and acceptable! I’d say hubby and I started off more to deal with the 9-5 but are leaning more toward the full self-reliance these days.
You can live on an acre of land and do nothing with it, and you can also live on an acre of land that has a full food garden covered in food and medicinal crops. Whatever it is you have, there are a number of ways you can start homesteading right now – whether or not you’ve just moved out to the country, are seeking relief from that 9-5, or want to go full hog self-reliant.
Let’s take a look at my top 10 ways to start homesteading now, whether you’ve made the move to your first homestead or are planning on moving onto one.
1) Evaluate your property
Every property will come with its unique strengths and challenges. When you first set out to start a homestead – what type of property are you working with? Do you already own land, or are you still on the hunt to find a slice of Earth to call your own? Are you currently in your forever home, or do you hope to move again someday soon?
Temporary vs Forever
While you will not want to invest a huge amount of money or energy into a rental or temporary space, don’t let it stop you from practicing at least some homesteading activities! There are heaps of options still available to you if you want to get a head start on homesteading.
This could be making non-permanent gardens in pots or removable beds or going to the markets to get a glut of tomatoes to make your own tomato sauce. Look at any of the traditional homesteading activities and you’ll be able to do at least one of them in a smaller capacity.
Homesteading is about the lifestyle, not the activity. And almost all homesteading activities, a bit like CrossFit, can be scaled back.
Size, Restrictions, & Layout
Now, think about the property size. A modestly-sized property will be more manageable in regards to maintenance, but may also limit the activities you can do on it – such as what types of animals you can raise. Goats, cows, or pigs would not be happy in an acre plot. Nor could you legally keep them (best to check with your local council)!
Now, assuming you do have some property to work with… it’s time to make the most of it!
Before diving into any permanent projects, be sure to take time to sit back and observe first. For example, you should evaluate an area’s sun exposure and source of shade before installing a veggie garden. Also keep in mind how the sun’s path will change with the seasons.
I recently wrote about the most important things to do when you first move on to a homestead in “The first 20 things you must do on your new homestead within the first year of moving in”. This post is an important checklist in some of the first things you need to do to make your property safe when you first move onto it before kicking off any other major projects.
Spend time wandering about in your space. How do you want it to eventually look, feel, and function? While nothing needs to be set in stone now, try to dream up your optimal layout – which should be convenient and functional. Having an artists sketch book or app on your iPad is a fantastic way to mud map the layout of your property and start planning where you want infrastructure to be.
A great example of a thoughtful and purposeful layout is through permaculture design. You won’t want your farm animals directly next to the house. They may be stinky or noisy! Yet you don’t want them so far away that it becomes a trek to go visit and care for them, especially if you live in an area with cold winters or really hot summers.
Something you will visit frequently, such as a kitchen herb garden, would be ideal just outside the front or back door. Keep your compost area fairly accessible, but not outside your bedroom or kitchen window. I think you get the idea!
A book worthwhile investing in is the Polyface Designs book by Joel Salatin. It’s a fantastic book on building your own scalable and fully functional farming infrastructure to not only increase yield and regenerate pastures but also provide the safest home for your livestock. It’s something that can be incorporated on anything from a few acres to a few hundred.
2) Make a list of projects & ideas
If you’re dreaming to start a homestead, two types of thoughts are likely going through your head.
1) You’re daydreaming about all of the wonderful, healthy, uber-rewarding things that this new lifestyle will bring you. And it will! I promise. But…
2) You are also fretting over all the skills, tools, money, time, or other resources you may not have to make all of those dreams come true right now. Here is the deal: pretty much no one does. Not right at first, and not all at once! Remember that creating a homestead is a process, and this is just the start.
Before you read my example idea list below, please know that it is NOT intended to add to the feeling of overwhelm! Yet for me, it feels good (great, actually!) to get all of the ideas swimming around in my head OUT and down on paper. I find it easier to focus, and then narrow down or prioritise what is next, which is exactly what you’ll have to do.
Example homesteading projects & goals
- Create a veggie garden space
- Plant an herb garden
- Plant fruit trees or an orchard
- Start a compost area, worm bin, compost tumbler, manure stack or biochar
- Create a pollinator bed, area, or even a meadow full of flowers
- Learn how to ferment, can, dehydrate and/or pickle your harvests
- Adopt chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, pigs, cows, or other “farm animals”
- Build a barn, stables, or other auxiliary structures
- Create a root cellar or large pantry
- Learn how to make kombucha, homemade sourdough, apple cider vinegar, homemade seasonings, vegetable (or bone) broth, and other useful staples
- Learn how to make natural medicine or personal care items like body soap and laundry soap
- Start a beehive
- Learn how to sew, knit, crochet, or use natural dyes
- Turn your property in to a Certified Wildlife Habitat (our council offers a reduction in council rates charges if doing so!)
- Build or install a greenhouse or hoop house
- Set up a rainwater collection system system and irrigation system (in Australia, most rural properties will be on their own rain water and septic)
- Learn how to make compost tea
- Start a farm stand
- Sell homemade goods locally or online
- Host workshops, classes, or homestays to share your knowledge and skills with others
So many great ideas, right?! While great to have dreams and goals, let’s take a step back first.
Now take just one or two manageable projects at a time, and forget everything else on the list for a while. It is 100% unrealistic to try and do everything at once, within a year, or even within a couple of years! That is, unless you are diving in to start a homestead full-time with unlimited resources and help.
Where to begin? Well, your priorities are personal. This journey to start a homestead is all about what you want to do, and when you want to do it. There are no rules!
Will this simply be a lifestyle homestead, or do you intend to make a living from your land? That will obviously influence how seriously or quickly you approach projects, and which ones to focus on first. For example, do you hope to sell eggs locally? Then building a secure chicken coop and establishing a flock will be at the top of your list.
Certain homestead projects will dictate the order or timeline for others. For instance, you shouldn’t set up a beehive until you have a healthy pollinator garden, orchard, or other nectar and pollen-producing plants established first.
Circumstance will also drive your priorities. That moment when your kitchen counter is overflowing with homegrown tomatoes, but you’ve never preserved tomatoes before. Evidently, the time to dive in and learn is now! Don’t rush any of these projects.
One thing about homesteading and homesteading projects is the chance to slow your life down and in doing so, that means not overscheduling every facet or inch of your life to be productive. Doing less is as much productive as doing more is. So take your time to work through projects at a comfortable pace.
If I had to recommend three homestead projects to focus on first, they would be: create a small vegetable garden, plant trees, and think about irrigation. Edible and/or ornamental trees are a quintessential part of a productive homestead, but they can take a long time to grow! The sooner you get trees planted, the sooner they’ll mature to provide food, shade, and privacy.
The trees and garden space will both need water, so establishing a functional irrigation plan is also key! You may also be able to get a head start by buying established trees or getting cuttings straight away so you can get something growing. You will pay more for established trees, but you will reap the harvest much earlier.
The next step I highly encourage is to start composting, even on a small scale. The goal of starting a homestead is to be self-sufficient and sustainable, and compost pretty much screams both of those things. Close the loop and up-cycle kitchen scraps or garden trimmings into free rich organic fertilizer. Homemade compost (aka “black gold”) is invaluable and will significantly boost the fertility of your garden! Soil health is everything.
Some of the posts I’ve written on gardening, soil management and compost (biochar specifically), is linked below:
4) Never stop learning
Now that you have your priorities straight, it is time to do a bit of research on the task at hand!
Personally, I feel that anything worth doing is worth doing right. I’m not saying to overthink every tiny detail or fret over every little what-if; there is definitely something to be said about enjoying the process of “learning by doing”! Yet it is a great idea to become at least somewhat familiar with the ideas that you’d like to implement before diving in.
Let’s also be clear about this: mistakes WILL be made! It is normal and expected. Plus, you’ll learn and grow from them! On the other hand, if you educate yourself on a skill or task first, you may nip a few mistakes in the bud – and prevent potential wasted time, resources, and heartache.
Where to learn how to homestead
One of the most common questions I get asked is “where did you learn all this stuff?”
The answer is: All over the place! Wherever I can! I asked anyone and everyone about what their methods were. Whether it was gardening related, or chicken related – everyone will have a tip or trick that you just won’t find anywhere else. It’s also important to talk to locals in your new area to understand how things work in your town, in terms of what grows and what doesn’t, what the natural disasters are (if any) and what the weather is like.
Pick up a few good books on subjects of your interest, such as urban homesteading, gardening, raising chickens, bee keeping, herbal medicine, or compost. Cold winter months are an especially great time to read, soak in new knowledge, and plan. I have a list of my top homestead books in this post.
Even better, get up close and personal! Look into local organisations that may offer tours, workshops, or classes. Our co-op in town offers quarterly gardening and holistic health workshops, and the local sheep farm offers cheese making classes and high tea.
5) Start small
As you may imagine, maintaining a bustling, productive, full-blown homestead can take up a lot of your time! Truth be told, we don’t have much of a social life outside of our home and day jobs these days – but we’re perfectly okay with that! It is by choice, and we don’t view it as a sacrifice. But you need to ask yourself: How much free time do you have, or are you willing to dedicate to your homestead, garden, or animals?
Time commitment aside, starting small will enable you to enjoy the process and give each project your full attention. Personally, I’d much rather take my time on something and feel like I “nailed it!” than half-ass five things at once. Or even worse, start things and never finish them at all.
For instance, I recommended starting a vegetable garden as an early homesteading priority. However, that doesn’t mean I suggest building and installing 15 raised beds all at once! Start a small manageable garden area, especially if gardening is new to you – and leave room to expand later. You’ll continue to learn as you go, and also get a better idea of what you can realistically keep up with.
What if there is an issue you didn’t anticipate? Such as a problem with the soil you used to fill garden beds, or a rampant possum family who are overly hungry and rambunctious? Or, if you change your mind about the style or method of a project? It is SO much easier to make adjustments or even completely re-do a smaller space than if you went overboard in your initial pursuit.
The idea of “start small” applies to all types of homesteading activities and projects. Maybe consider planting your first garden with nursery seedlings rather than growing everything from seed, or at least a portion of it. Adopt and learn how to raise a handful of chicks, rather than starting your first flock with 20. Master the art of one food preservation skill before tackling them all.
6) Get comfortable in the kitchen
As your homestead (and plants!) begin to grow, you’ll need to know your way around the kitchen. Preparing meals with fresh homegrown food is the bees knees, and one of the key components of homesteading!
If you aren’t already a “natural” in the kitchen – don’t worry! Dig in and have fun. While I totally embrace following recipes at times, don’t let them restrict you either. Improvise. Experiment. Work with what you’ve got. Make a meal your own!
In addition to playing with all that fresh homegrown food, there are times that homesteading outright demands your time in the kitchen – to preserve the excess bounty! When your garden looks like it is ready to burst at the seams with veggies, you’ll want to find ways to preserve it.
“Putting up” your bounty is an excellent way to reap your rewards into the winter, or enjoy something later when it’s no longer in season. Preserving food also enables you to enjoy your homegrown goodies in a different way, such as a seasoning or condiment, which keeps things interesting and palatable!
There are many methods to preserve homegrown food, including: fermentation, dehydration, freezing and freeze drying, canning, vinegar pickling, or even extending shelf life via simple cold storage. We rely on the first three listed the most.
7) Adding farm animals to your homestead
Not all homesteaders raise animals, but it is more common than not. Ducks, goats, cows, sheep, chickens, rabbits, pigs, quail, llama… the list goes on. Animals can serve many purposes – beyond being raised to eat!
Our chicken’s eggs provide us with a nutritious and organic source of home-raised protein. However, we would like to venture into meat hens when we move onto our bigger farm. We’d also love to raise goats for milk and cheese one day, but only when we have enough time and space – which definitely isn’t now!
More than a few things to consider with animals…
If you are interested in adding animals to your new homestead, I beg you to do your research first. Above and beyond any other homestead project, it is your responsibility to thoroughly educate and prepare yourself to care for your animals.
Make sure you know what you’re getting into, and that you can make the commitments required to provide them a safe and comfortable life. Each type of farm animal has unique needs, but they also each have a lot in common.
Providing secure, clean, and predator-proof housing should be a top priority. This is true no matter if you’re living in the country or an urban setting, and particularly important for small and vulnerable animals like chickens. I can’t tell you how many people have told me stories of complete heartbreak and shock after a “predator incident” with their chicken flock. The worst part is, 99% of the cases were preventable with better predator-proofing.
Other things to consider are: the animal’s dietary needs, daily or weekly care routines, waste management (read: poop), local regulations, and ranging space required. Also, do you have a plan for when you go away on vacation? Is there a local specialty veterinarian to call on when they get sick? Are you comfortable jumping in to help during emergencies?
I don’t mean to dissuade you from bringing home some farm animals! Just be realistic with your expectations of what it will be like to own livestock if you’ve never owned them before.
8) Get crafty
The journey to start a homestead may push you out of your comfort zone in many ways – which is one of the things I love about it most! Don’t be afraid to get crafty, creative, and build things you never have before. DIY projects can help you save money, add character to your homestead, and are always an excellent learning experience – frustrations and all!
Trust me, when we first started our homesteading journey, I did not consider either of us handy… at all. Sure, I always liked to sew or do crafts, but actually building things? Nada experience. We even attempted to build our very first raised garden bed using a hammer and nails instead of screws and a drill. It was 1000 times more laborious and far less sturdy than our future garden beds. Lesson learned!
Saving money on homestead projects
The cost of projects is often a big concern for new homesteaders. Thinking outside the box can definitely make things more affordable. Be an opportunist. Seek out used or discounted materials, equipment, or tools online, on Facebook marketplace, gumtree, at second hand building supply places, or garage sales or op-shops. Many of our ceramic garden pots, harvest baskets, mason jars, and other kitchen goodies are re-purposed.
Another awesome way to save money (and be sustainable!) as you start your homestead is to up-cycle things you already have. Garden beds and mini paddocks for chickens and ducks can be made from an old shed that’s been pulled down or an old trailer that has been turned into a chicken trailer. Any excess fencing or wiring is also fantastic as a little fence that is portable and can be moved around.
When it comes to old clothing, bed linen and other fabrics, be selective (but not hoardy!) about what you keep. Any elastics should be removed as they are always useful, and things like duvet covers or pillow cases can be turned into laundry bags for delicates or extra reusable shopping bags. Be creative and make sure to use what you have!
There is one caveat here. Sometimes it is worth buying the “right” materials for the job rather than sacrificing durability or quality by using something cheap.
For instance, it may be really inexpensive to build a raised garden bed with used fence boards or pallets but how long will it last?
Or, is that wood potentially pressure-treated and toxic? Having to replace garden beds in a few years (as opposed to the decade-or-longer lifespan of harder woods may actually cost you in the long run.
Similarly, be smart and recognize when it is worth hiring a professional contractor to help with high-risk jobs.
9) Declutter and sell
This is useful at many stages of your life, but moreso when you’re moving from one property to another, especially if you’re moving from an urban block to you first homestead.
When packing, either put the things you are unsure of in a separate box to deal with later, or, cull it before you go. There will be obvious things you can cull and you should do that regardless. But there may be items that you aren’t sure you’ll need and its ok to take those things with you. If after 6-12 months you haven’t used that thing, then consider selling it, donating it to the op-shop or throwing it away.
As your life on a homestead continues, you’ll find less and less that you need all that fancy stuff because your priorities have shifted and you just don’t need all the excess anymore. When your joy now comes from what you can produce, you won’t need to supplement it with what you can buy.
10) Have fun
And lastly, have fun! Don’t forget to enjoy the process. Isn’t the whole idea to start a homestead and leave some of the “real life” stress behind, slow down, and stop to smell the roses?! Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will your new homestead be.
If you’re interested in seeing what else we do around the farm, make sure to keep reading and link in with our socials. We update regularly on the progress of our projects. You can also subscribe to our blog to make sure you get all the round-ups and updates first!