Homesteading has seen a resurgence over the last several years which is very cool. More people are opting to build a strong connection with the land and are moving toward mini-farms and homesteads to raise their families. Before beginning a homestead future farmers should do one thing: learn to garden! The garden is one major component of a successful homestead and is integral to the function of a complete homestead system. The garden provides food for the table, food for the animals, it can be a highly valuable source of other materials, and it can even generate extra income.
If I were to start a homestead the vegetable garden would be my first step. I’m not a homesteader, although I would love to be. The whole self-sufficiency thing is a very appealing concept. I’m a big fan of DIY projects and love learning how things work which is a trait that many homesteaders share. It’s an essential trait since so much can go wrong on a farm that the farmer has to handle by himself or herself – the farmer must be a Jack-of-All-Trades. I would love to know that I can provide for my families needs without depending on other uncontrollable factors to survive. Many people are also turning toward homesteading because it has a smaller ecological footprint.
Why Would I Start a Homestead with a Garden?
Typically homesteads have a number of different kinds of animals like chickens, goats, or cattle. The animals need fed, watered, and veterinary care. While the garden needs similar care with fertilizers, water, and routine maintenance it usually isn’t as critical. The garden isn’t nearly as demanding as an animal and can provide a ton of produce in small areas.
Gardens are also much easier to start in the suburbs. Many subdivisions, even those with large lots, don’t allow livestock. Ours doesn’t, well…almost. (The builder of our subdivision allowed his section to raise goats but not others. Funny how that works…) Anyone with a tiny amount of space can begin learning about gardening. You can garden in pots, garden in raised beds (my favorite way), create vertical gardens, or grow mini-orchards. You can even integrate your edible plants into your landscape. If the gardener’s interest and time allows he or she can expand the garden. The garden is a place where any future homesteader can learn about the soil and learn how to grow the plants before committing to do it all.
How Would I Start a Homestead…
I think the number one thing to be done in any situation is to come up with a good plan. A plan that charts out when and what the homestead needs to be able to provide. Here’s a very basic outline of what I night do.
- First I would want my garden to be able to provide for 50%-75% of our food needs. The more the garden can provide the better but it would have to at least reach the 50% mark. Basic food needs vary per person so its hard to estimate a specific amount of vegetables. A family of 2 will eat much less than a family of 6. A family with teenagers will require a lot more garden produce than one with small children. How much your family needs is something only you can judge.
- I would also want to become skilled (and efficient) at canning and preserving food. You can do many things to extend the season (like greenhouses or hoop houses) but in many areas it becomes difficult to garden year round. Preserving food becomes essential. There will be years when drought or disease may diminish or eliminate crops and preservation is one way to sustain yourself. To plan for those hard times you would have to have plenty of storage space for your canned goods.
- Then I might add small animals. Chickens are probably where I would start. I love farm fresh eggs! But chickens can be a challenge so you must be prepared. People aren’t the only animals who love chicken and you will find predator animals moving in on your flock. Our neighbors once had a coop with chickens in it. Their children were doing a 4H project and were given 2 dozen chickens to grow and bring to market at the end of the year. They ended with fewer than 4 chickens surviving. A raccoon ripped apart the chicken wire at the top of their enclosure and managed to get inside. He killed a couple chickens and once that happened they had difficulties getting the chickens back in the coop. Chickens and other animals need daily food and water as well as frequent monitoring especially if you are in a rural area where nature often visits.
- Somewhere along the way I would want to experiment with growing grains. We like bread around here! We would also have to grow corn. Not just for us but also as a supplemental feed for the chickens and other livestock. Ideally the livestock would be free ranging and sustain themselves on what they could find naturally but they may need supplemental food from time to time.
- If I was successful in raising chickens I would go for goats next. Goats could supply milk for us as well as rich manure for the garden.
- After goats I would have to research what to do next based on my family’s needs. Would it be a raising a few cattle for meat? Would it be pigs for bacon and ham?
This list is by no means complete and isn’t intended to be a reference. There are details that would need to be worked out with each stage for a homestead to be successful. Which is probably why I’m sticking with gardening right now! Local sources can be found in most communities to provide for eggs, meat, and other things that the garden can’t. My advice on homesteading would be to talk to someone who is doing it and ask them to become a mentor.
Maybe one day I’ll have the space to do a few of these things but until then I’ll just garden!