It’s such a beautiful dream, one that almost everyone aspires to at some point in their lives. To quit the rat race, live a simpler life, enjoy more free time growing your own food, and just live more lightly on the planet. Most people never do it, scared to take the leap. But it does not have to be that way. This homesteading for beginners quick start guide will cover many of the fundamentals YOU can implement to start living ‘the good life’, one step at a time.
Whether you are living in the sticks with 100 acres outside your back door, or slap bang in the middle of the city with only a terrace or window box to work with, homesteading is a mindset, a yearning, a philosophy. I’ll be looking at ways to make the concept of building a small homestead work for you and your family if you have one. It’s an amazingly rewarding project to undertake, to build a better, healthier life for yourself and your family, to understand on a deeper level the changing of the seasons, how life ebbs and flows, how the modern food industry is terribly broken, and how you, playing your small part in creating change, are actually making a real statement about your values.
Thanks so much for reading this article, by doing your web search or finding it on social media, it’s clear that you have plans. They may be modest, to become a little more self-sufficient, rear a few animals, grow a little more of your own food. Or they may be huge, escape to the country, be self-sufficient in food and power, to teach what you learn, to sell your surplus produce.
I talk a lot about self-sufficiency and self-reliance. They are actually kind of different, although there is certainly overlap. Self-sufficiency isn’t necessarily about living off the grid, drinking rainwater, becoming the ‘Grizzly Adams’ of your local town 🙂 You don’t need to become a loner, nor should you. The homesteading community is thriving both online and in the towns and cities around the country. This journey will likely make you more engaged with others, not less.
Self-sufficiency, the way I see it is more about reducing your reliance on the grocery store, on the meat industry with all it’s terribly inhumane practices, with the modern dairy industry where animals are treated as commodities and pumped full of hormones and medication to keep them healthy and producing high yields. The strong repulsion that many people feel for the way animals are reared is often a catalyst for changing to a homesteading lifestyle, and the desire to spend less time at work, and more time at home with family. I really believe it to be a true gift for any parent to give to their child, to understand where food comes from, to nurture a seedling until it becomes a plant that can feed us, to see life and death, to understand it, and to become a more self-reliant and versatile person as they transition from child to adult.
So, there are many reasons to become more self-sufficient, none is wrong or right, you know why you want to do it. And that’s your call.
It could be about joining a local co-operative, a local barter system, or just sharing the surplus with your friends and neighbors. Human connection is waning in the modern world, and what better way to rekindle such connections than to share food with others in your locality. You’ll get to meet lots of new and interesting people, and the friendships that can grow from something as simple as growing your own food is truly amazing.
To move on a little. Self-reliance? What’s that all about? Well, I’m not going to do the typical thing that many blogs do, and just pull some cookie cutter definition from Wikipedia. I’d love to hear your thoughts, but to me, and my family, self-reliance is about having faith in your own ability to feed yourself, care for yourself, to make decisions, sometimes under difficult circumstances. To be confident enough in your own ability to get things done, without having to rely on government and the state to look after you.
I definitely don’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to rely on each other for help. Family, friends, neighbors, your local community. nurturing strong bonds is how humans have survived for thousands of years. It’s just when you rely on the medical profession and the state to treat your self-inflicted diabetes, to rely on food banks to prevent you from starving, to rely on governments for weekly handouts. Those things make us dependent on powers that may not always be there to pick us up when we are down. A social safety net is vital to any modern society, but more and more people are treating it as a first resort, rather than a last one.
Sorry to go on with the clarifications, let’s get into the meat and gravy of the article…
A Quick Start Guide To Homesteading For Beginners
Whether an urban or city homesteader or you own 1/4, 5, or 100 acres, there are some fundamental areas that the newbie homesteader needs to consider. I’ll put them into a number of categories, and we can start to explore some fundamental principles we can put in place to make the journey a success.
General Homesteading Concepts
The successful homestead can really be broken down into a number of homesteading basics and concepts. Here are some, in no particular order of priority, but all worth considering when you start a new homesteading life.
Size IS Important
Whenever one starts something new, whether it’s a New Year’s exercise program or beginning to build a self-sufficient lifestyle, most of us aim HUGE and never reach that goal. Sure, going from a tiny apartment in the city to 1000 acres of green pastures in the middle of nowhere seems like an incredible ambition…and it is.
The problem usually lies in the fact that aiming big is inspiring, but it can take a long time to get there, and us human beings aren’t always known for our patience. We live in a world of instant gratification, we want everything yesterday. The idea of this homesteading lifestyle evolving over many years just seems SO SLOW.
But, overwhelm is something I have certainly had to deal with, whether it was on our 4 1/2 acre little homestead in Australia, or back in sleepy Dorset living in a leafy village with a much smaller garden.
It can (and I would argue, should) take many years to transition from a typical urban existence to an urban or country homesteading lifestyle. Doing too much too soon will result in burnout, loss of interest, or just quitting because the dream seems so unattainable.
But, take it slow, one step at a time, and enjoy the journey, and you will get there. Plant a tiny vegetable garden to start with, see what flourishes in your locality, what plants are more resistant to pests than others, what you and your family actually like to eat. Trying to grow all your own food in Year 1, even if you do technically have space, is going to be a massive struggle if you’ve never done it before.
Starting small, learning how to nurture seeds into plants, how to make your own compost so less waste leaves your property, how to build a small, but perfectly formed drip irrigation system, how to harvest water from the roof of your home or outbuildings. Learn how to ferment and preserve your crops to sustain you during the winter.
All these things are important, but to become a highly effective homesteader, learning through trial and error is going to be the best education you can have.
Let’s look at some of the possible areas you should consider as a beginner homesteader.
Build Community Connections
This is one of the most enjoyable, but also effective parts of starting off as a new homesteader. Meeting like-minded people who are doing the same as you can be super inspiring, and a great support mechanism. There will likely be small-scale homesteading families who, like you, are just starting out, some who are a year or two into their journey, and some who have reached the pinnacle of self-sufficiency, food production and homesteading excellence.
This is great because you’ll be able to learn so much from people all along the homesteading journey. You’ll be able to offer, and receive support, help, guidance, and also, make some great friends who may remain friends for life. Seeing people who are struggling to get started, and those that have been through those same fears and setbacks (but come out the other end) will make your journey much more enjoyable and a lot easier. Many of us have something of an insular attitude, we fear showing that we are struggling. With connections in your community, the whole process is made much easier.
Additionally, barter and produce sharing with others is a great way to get diversity in your pantry, without having to grow a little of everything yourself. Sharing fresh vegetables and fruits, or sharing preserved produce is wonderful and inherently sensible too. Many homesteaders find that their soil, their free time, their interests, lead them to gravitate to growing a lot of a few things. This is normal. I tend to have a ton of zucchini each year, I ferment some, but boy, do I love it when I can swap some for some incredible tomato sauce or some honey that someone else has produced.
One thing I loved to do when I had my 4 acre smallholding in Australia was to do work days with my friends who were also growing their own food. Every other weekend, we’d visit someone’s home, spend 3-4 hours working on an aspect of their garden that needed work, have a chat, tea break and nibble in the middle, and spend a great morning talking, laughing and joking with friends, while getting a ton of productive work done in the process.
Imagine, you as a newbie homesteader, having 4 or 5 seasoned veterans coming to help you build your first vegetable beds. Getting to know each other, getting tips and hints, then going another day to be inspired by their homestead, while doing some work and learning in the process. Sweet!
Many town and cities also have community vegetable gardens or fruit orchards. These are a great way to meet like-minded people who you could swap time with in your own gardens. Many of these community gardens also share the produce with those who take part in maintaining them. So if you have little room for fruit trees, you may be able to get a great supply of fruit simply by offering a few hours a month at the community orchard. Food for thought isn’t it?
Don’t Get Too Tied Up In Aesthetics
I’m a little OCD when it comes to straight lines and things looking ‘just so’. Don’t get me wrong, my vegetable and fruit garden aren’t pristine. I find the whole permaculture concepts of practicality and productivity over ‘beauty’ very much aligned with my way of thinking. But sometimes, I get a little fussy, and have to give myself a bit of a talking too.
A homestead style fruit and vegetable garden is something to behold when it is teaming with produce, flowers are in full bloom attracting bees and hoverflies, out of the chaos comes beauty. Nature at it’s best. And Mother Nature likes a bit of a muddle. She’s not into straight edges and evenly spaced cabbages. She likes diversity, non-linear edges, companion planting, micro-climates.
The homesteading project, in my view, is about living more lightly on the planet, reducing unnecessary food miles, reducing consumption of plastic packaging, reducing reliance of big conglomerates providing us with our food, kicking the incredibly cruel CAFO style meat production system in the butt, reducing landfill by keeping as much of our waste on our own sites (composing toilets, composting of vegetable scraps, grass cuttings and other garden waste) by becoming much more or a ‘closed system’ rather than the typical household’s ‘open system’ with waste from the home hemorrhaging from the site into landfill in ever increasing quantities.
You definitely CAN have a great looking sustainable homestead garden, but aesthetics shouldn’t be at the forefront of your thought process and goals. We should be aiming for self-reliance and some element of self-sufficiency by producing as much of our own food as we can. Prolific food production and a neat beautiful garden aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but focusing on the aesthetics will surely make your life a whole lot harder. So, compromise is often the key here. A slightly disheveled but abundant garden IS a thing of beauty, even if not always in the way our cultural conditioning might have influenced us.
Know Yourself – Self Reflection Works Wonders
This is certainly an area I always struggled with. I have spent large parts of my life refusing to acknowledge that I needed help, or was lacking in some skill or inspiration to get stuff done. In fact, I have been (and still am to some extent) a procrastinator all my life. When I first started trying to learn how to start homesteading from scratch I read book after book, scoured website and website, and spent months learning all their was to know. I now realize that in many ways, this massive educational journey was actually a way of not getting started. I was learning and enjoying it, but I was also stalling, scared to make a start and perhaps risk failure.
It’s a typical story, us humans often seem scared and resistant to change, even if it is a change that we desire hugely. My advice would be, start small, read, but choose a project you can complete in an hour or two, and make a start. Success and action really does breed more success and more action. Read in the evenings, but take some action each day. I found some great success by bartering labor with others, as I mentioned in a previous section. When you have others helping you, you get stuff done, no question.
Also, if there are tasks you just don’t know how to complete, don’t be afraid to ask for help. None of use is good at everything, our skill levels are often aligned with our interests, it’s perfectly normal. Many of us are looking to begin a small homestead to save some cash, and the question of how to start homesteading with no money is one I am asked often. My response is always this…
‘Start small, share labor, focus on being highly productive in the things you are good at, take time and learn more skills, enjoy the journey, and NEVER GIVE UP!’ This homesteading lifestyle is a gift, but it’s also hard work. The rewards are massive if you take it slow.
Simplicity And Minimalism For The Homesteader
We live in a world of materialism and rampant consumerism. It’s often quite disgusting to consider all the ‘stuff’ people have, and throw away. If you are a 4 car family with every gadget under the sun, a television in the toilet, and you want to embrace a simpler lifestyle, then don’t castigate yourself. This world of marketing we live in, the ‘keep up with the Jones’s ‘ mentality is something that is nurtured from when we are young children. But we can turn it around.
Reducing one’s possessions over time, spending less time trading your time for money, and using more of your time directly to meet your personal needs are some of the concepts of simplicity. Letting go of the wants and focusing more in the needs can be a revelation. It’s often a shock to realize how much of your ‘stuff’ is surplus to your needs, and often, getting rid of it is rather therapeutic. Give it a try, you might just like the change.
Chill A Little…Or A LOT
I hope you get the gist from the previous tips that chilling out, not getting too stressed, and taking your time to build your homestead are imperatives for success in the medium to long term. There is a saying that ‘most people overestimate what they can do in a short period of time, but underestimate what they can do in the longer term’.
Early on in my Australian homestead, I got super carried away, planted 200 trees with no really system to water them other than watering cans and buckets. Not surprisingly, nearly all of them died. I was fed up, out of pocket, and depressed about the failure. Some time later I focused on smaller projects, starting closer to the house, where I could give the plants the attention they needed. Hey Presto! That worked out, my stress went way down when I chilled, took a more realistic and pragmatic approach.
Stuff happens, life can get in the way, but this journey to a new and rewarding existence is a long one, and frustration is never far away. Chill, enjoy, don’t take yourself too seriously, and you’ll love your new life.
Ok, there are some concepts that might resonate with you, some useful tips on how to get started homesteading today, let’s move onto some of the more tangible techniques that you may incorporate into your homestead.
Gardening For Fruit And Vegetable Production
Whatever the size of you ‘plot’, growing some or all of one’s own food is central to the homesteading lifestyle. Some homesteaders will be able to product the vast majority of their own food, others will only be able to produce a small amount. Growing and eating seasonal fruit and vegetables, lovingly raised with your own care and attention is a wonderful feeling, tastes better than the supermarket produce too.
Building a small vegetable garden is a bit of work in the initial stages, and it’s something I’ll be discussing at length in future articles. There are many ways to build your garden. Permaculture techniques using sheet mulching, square foot gardening using small boxes as espoused by the creator Mel Bartholomew, the bio-intensive method created by John Jeavons, or one of the many other gardening systems that are out there.
Personally, as a qualified permaculture teacher, I’ve used sheet mulching to great effect, especially when creating a brand new food garden on an area that was grassed. It works well and produces a fertile, loamy soil.
Irrespective of your space availability, or the system chosen (or even a hybrid of many) food production is a HUGE part of not only the homestead itself, but the ethos behind better homesteading for beginners. Most people will grow an annual garden with salad leaves, herbs and annual vegetables AND a perennial garden with fruits, nuts and other edible plants that can be harvested year after year.
If you’re terrified of the prospect of nurturing seeds into plants, into DINNER, you’ll find a ton of great articles to cover everything from seed starting, to vertical gardening (great is a small garden or on a balcony, and just as useful on a larger property), garden tools and equipment, pest control, how to extend your season with cloches, poly tunnels and greenhouses, crop storage and much much more.
From gardening comes a need to prevent wastage when a glut occurs, and they always seem to occur with one crop or another. Being able to preserve your food for the winter and to eat before the next year’s crops are ready is an important part of the homesteading calendar.
Food Storage For The Lean Times
Food preservation and storage techniques, such as fermenting, pickling, canning, freezing, freeze drying, dehydration etc are the techniques you use to make your season crops continue to feed you and your family throughout the year. I’ve been an avid preserver of fruits and vegetables for years, with fermenting being one of my favourite pastimes these days. The cool thing with fermenting is that as well as being a wonderful way to increase the shelf life of your vegetables, it creates an incredibly healthy source of gut-health promoting bacteria that should be part of any healthy diet.
Lacto-fermentation as an easy, reliable, low tech way to preserve food, is something I consider an essential skill for the beginner or seasoned homesteader. It takes a little patience, the initial anaerobic process takes but a few days, the vegetables are then place in jars, where they can stay for long periods of time without spoiling, and actually improving as the months go on. The Koreans, with their renowned Kimchi fermented vegetables, actually prefer them once they are 3 years old. The vegetables, spices and flavors have matured, creating an incredible condiment that is teaming with healthy bacteria and immune system boosters.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi are super easy, and are some of our favorites. There is always at least a jar or two of these delicious vegetables in the refrigerator at home, and many more in a dark cool space, slowly maturing until their time arrives.
I’ll be posting recipes, guides and videos on how to ferment vegetables, make Kombucha and culture your own milk kefir, so keep your eyes out for those.
Create A Backyard Micro-Flock
As I already mentioned, modern farming practices and animal care in life, and in death, are at rock bottom. Although I strongly believe that eating animals is ethically acceptable, eating animals that have been living in miserable and squalid conditions for their entire lives, only to die a terrifying and miserable death is totally unacceptable.
Animals have become commodities, just like wheat or corn, their life is viewed as worthless, the whole concept of ‘care’ is to get them to slaughter as fat and as profitable as possible. No consideration is given to their well-being while alive, or their suffering in death. As a homesteader with a small flock of chickens, ducks, sheep, or larger animals if the space allows, allows you to make a real statement about the ethical treatment of animals.
Providing your animals with good food, stimulation, clean and dry housing, protection from the elements and from predators, and a quick, humane death, will result in a high quality meat for your family, and more importantly, to know that you are no longer supporting the disgusting meat production industry in this country and around the world.
Backyard poultry or other small animals are also a great way to get kids to care for animals, respect them, but also to understand the life and death that is an integral part of the food chain and our evolutionary existence.
Chickens or ducks are a great addition to any small or large homestead, whether you are homesteading in the city or in the countryside. Eggs are a complete source of nutrition and there is nothing better than cooking a up a fresh egg, with a golden yolk that has been laid that very morning. Small things like this take on huge significance to the self sufficient family.
The homesteading life isn’t all about being outside though, a huge amount of the process goes in indoors. Planning, cooking, cleaning. There are many things you can do to create a healthy, happier life for yourself and your family. Here’s another great tip to embrace, and it will save you money too…
Make Your Own Cleaning Products
This might seem a little off topic, but it really isn’t. Many (most?) commercial cleaning materials for the home are jam packed with chemicals and additives that might kill all sorts of bacteria, but are also detrimental to your health. And I’m am not just talking about giving you eczema or psoriasis, these substances can really affect your health for the long term.
As modern homesteaders, we want to free ourselves for the food aisles of the supermarkets, but also from the aisles that teem with harmful cleaning products. Luckily, vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and many other natural substances are excellent for cleaning. We use vinegar, water and a drop or two of an essential oil for much of our cleaning, it smells great, but also keeps the surfaces clean. It’s super cheap and effective, so why buy the latest fad cleaning product that might come back to haunt you in a few years time?
Check Out This Video On Homesteading Tips For Beginners
Want more tips?
I’ll be updating this beginners guide to homesteading with new tips every week or two. If you have any awesome tips of experiences as a new homesteader, or can recount some obstacles you faced, leave a comment below, and I’ll add the best ones to this article.