The Dervaes Family’s Urban Homestead
I think a lot of people have common misconceptions about what the term ‘homesteading’ means. Many assume that you have to live on a chunk of country land with several farm animals and a large garden to be considered a homesteader. But the Urban Homesteading movement is on the rise, giving a new meaning to the term ‘homesteading’ and new freedoms to city dwellers who thought they’d never have a chance to live more self-sufficiently where they are.
There are common characteristics between all homesteaders, no matter where they live. We all have a strong desire to eat home-grown, nutritious food; REAL food, enjoyed the way God intended. We enjoy gardening, whether it’s on a large plot of land or in containers on our back patio; wherever we are we’re growing something. We long for simpler living, and days gone by when people used to enjoy real company and conversations instead of being glued to electronic gadgets 24-7.
We want to learn how to live without depending on others to take care of us, in every way possible. We strive toward debt free living, and spend modestly and purposefully. We tend to shy away from man-made pharmaceuticals, and are excited to learn new ways of treating ourselves naturally. We love organic products and learning how to make them, especially homemade soap and other toiletries, cosmetics, and household cleaners. Learning how to harness alternative energy appeals to us. Whether that means we install a solar panel system to fully live off grid, or if it’s as simple as building a solar dehydrator, using free energy is a goal we all share. And we center our daily lives around our family (and in most cases, around our Creator).
There are so many things you can do to homestead wherever you are. If you’d like to join the movement, consider making several of these lifestyle changes, and adding more notches to your belt over time.
45 Ways You Can Get Started Homesteading Today
1. Learn to grow your own food and herbs. Start small, with just a couple of plants, and build your garden slowly. Make the most of the space you have available to you, even if it’s a sunny window sill!
2. Learn how to bake bread from scratch. Get a second-hand bread machine to help you get an easy start. Sourdough bread starters are easy to make and require you to be reliant on commercial yeast. You will create a tangy, delicious dough by collecting yeasts from your environment, and you can create bread dough for just pennies.
3. Consider purchasing a wheat grinder and grinding your own wheat. You can grow a half acre of wheat, which is enough to make your own bread and oatmeal, along with extras from the neighbors.
4. Learn how to make homemade soap. Once you’ve got that mastered, maybe you can learn how to make lye from ashes! You can also learn how to make your own laundry soap. Laundry soaps tend to contain toxic chemicals, but detergent is one of the easiest products to make. You can use basics soaps and ingredients like soap nuts to clean your clothing, saving you money and providing a more natural solution to cleaning your garments.
6. Practice using herbal and natural remedies to treat your family’s ailments. Essential oils, for example, a great way to treat your ailments without having to resort to expensive and sometimes dangerous pharmaceuticals. Cold and allergy symptoms can be treated with natural remedies like ground horseradish or peppermint oil, while oregano oil can be used to clean your house and disinfect during a bout of the common cold.
7. Get a water bath canner and start canning by learning how to make jellies. Then learn how to can other things. Work your way up to using a pressure canner for canning your own meat and meals-in-a-jar. Water bath canners can preserve any high-acid foods, but pressure canners should be used for low-acid foods like fish and meat. This will allow you to store food without refrigeration for years on end and is also a healthier alternative to store-bought canned goods.
8. Practice drying/ dehydrating foods to preserve them. Herbs, fruits, and vegetables are a great place to start, and will allow you to keep foods long past their anticipated shelf dates.
9. Plant a few fruit trees and berry bushes in your yard, if you are able. These may take some time to mature, but will produce yields for decades.
10. Learn how to milk a cow or a goat. Even if you don’t have room to own an animal where you live, there are small farms out there who are willing to “share” an animal with city dwellers. A small herd of goats is easy to maintain, and provides benefits besides a dairy supply, too. Just two goats is enough to provide a herd with enough socializing, but will help you cut down on weeds, produce manure for compost, and even provide meat. Goats can live in the most inhospitable areas, and don’t need much space, either.
11. Get backyard chickens and start eating your own fresh eggs. From there learn how to butcher your own meat. Backyard chickens are super common, and many urban areas now allow you to have chickens, too. And you don’t have to have a rooster to get eggs! While a rooster is necessary if you plan on raising your own eggs for hatching or incubation, you can get a delicious supply of eggs with none of the noise a rooster might bring. Chickens can also help reduce your food costs because you can feed it to them.
To get started raising chickens, all you need is room for ac chicken coop – this can be less than the size of a dog house. You might also need a covered run. Half a dozen chickens can take up less space – and cost less money – than a backyard swing set.
12. Learn animal husbandry, even if you only have room for a couple of rabbits. Rabbits reproduce rapidly, and gain weight more quickly proportionately to their size than do larger livestock, like cows. Rabbit is delicious sand easy to prepare, and takes little space.
13. Consider learning how to keep bees and harvesting your own honey.
14. Put up a clothesline and hang dry your clothes. Change your methods of doing laundry. This will help you transition to a life without – or with reduced consumption of – electricity. Line dry your clothes. This is a great way to reduce your energy consumption (did you know running a dryer for under an hour can cost you over $1,500 throughout the lifetime of the machine?). Hanging up a line will give your clothes a nice, fresh, natural scent and will allow them to dry quickly – even if it’s chilly outside.
15. Learn how to make your own household cleaners. There are tons of recipes online to help you get started.
16. Determine to cook from scratch instead of eating expensive processed foods.
17. Learn how to make candles.
18. Learn how to sew. Start with hemming pants, and work your way to sewing your own skirts.
19. Learn to barter. Trade goods or skills for the things you need. You can trade products that you tend to throw out when you are sick of them, like clothing, allowing you to save your money along with the planet.
20. Learn to be content with less, to do without, and to make the most of what you have. If possible, downsize your house. The tiny house movement is incredibly popular now, and while you don’t need to forego your standard of living altogether to move into a 300- or 400- square foot home, a smaller house will cost you less to maintain and leave you with fewer cleaning obligations. You’ll save money on your mortgage and other household expenses, too.
You might also consider a mobile kind of home. A tiny home or a mobile home will allow you to pick up and leave when you are sick of living in the same place, giving you the ability to see the country and change your lifestyle at a moment’s notice.
21. Become familiar with the wild edible plants that grow in your area. Learn how to identify them, and practice using them in your meals. Foraging is a great way to find nutrient-dense foods, and while these items are often considered weeds, they are delicious and easy to prepare. Make sure you are knowledgeable about identifying different plants before you go out, however, because some have toxic look-alikes that can make you sick.
22. Consider what you can make or grow yourself and sell your goods at a local farmer’s market.
23. Practice composting your leftover fruit and veggie scraps and law cuttings instead of throwing them into the garbage.
24. Build your home library with books on gardening, herbal remedies, animal husbandry, preserving food, soap making, and anything homesteading and self-sufficient living related. (The Encyclopedia of Country Living is hands-down the best homesteading book available.)
25. Install rain barrels to catch water for your garden or for emergency drinking water.
26. Practice living without electricity. Have a non-electric backup plan to get you through your daily necessities.
27. Use alternative energy, like solar, wind, and hydro power. By dedicating a single room in your house to being off the grid, you can make an easy transition into full-blown homesteading. Use DC power to operate a light, or add an inverter that runs off AC power. This will help you transition to alternative ways of fueling your home without feeling you have to take a major leap.
28. Learn how to hunt and fish. Go to a hunt club if you don’t have land to hunt on.
29. Find a small family farm or homestead to volunteer on. You can learn so many practical skills while you help. You’ll also begin building an important network of like-minded friends along the way!
30. Build raised beds. These are easy to construct and take very little land or space. You can grow a ton of food in a small area, and weeding and other maintenance tasks are much easier because the planting space is higher. You will have better drainage and higher yields, and these can be built for free or incredibly inexpensively by using scrap lumber, rocks, or other materials you have lying around.
31. Grow plants in containers. This goes along with building raised beds, but honestly, plants grown up off the ground are much easier to maintain. You can move these containers around, put them inside when the weather changes, or use their portability to accommodate changing needs and goals. Many people reserve container gardening for things like flowers and tomatoes, but you can even grow enough potatoes, peppers, and herbs in containers to sustain your entire family.
32. Start vermicomposting. Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is a great way to recycle your foods craps and to create nutrient-dense soil without having a stinky outdoor compost bin. The microbes found in worms’ digestive systems turn kitchen waste in fertilizer, which can then be used directly on your plants.
33. Build a root cellar. A root cellar will keep your food at a consistent temperature throughout the year, and while these structures used to be household staples before refrigeration and grocery stores, they have gone by the wayside. However, a root cellar is a great way to preserve garden produce and canning jars. Your root cellar can be as basic as a hole dug into a ground, or you can repurpose an old shipping container for a more elaborate and solid structure.
34. Install a greywater system. Water is a valuable resource, and it’s nonsensical to use clean water to flush a toilet. This allows you to reuse water from the sink or shower to flush toilets or water plants. This sanitary way of conserving water is a great way to lower your home’s water usage and to do your part to preserve the environment.
35. Once you’ve learned how to fish, go fishing. All you need to do this is purchase a fishing license, a cheap pole, and some worms (which you can recycle from your vermicomposting bin!). If you have access to a well-stocked body of water, you can catch enough fish to feed your family and also freeze or smoke the meat for long-term preservation, too.
36. Start an aquaponics system or dig your own pond. If you don’t have access to a body of freshwater in which you can fish and draw clean water, then this is an item you must consider. Digging your own pond is an inexpensive way to draw wildlife to your property, as well as to provide a habitat for fish and other edible species, like ducks and waterfowl. If this is not an option, consider an aquaponics system. This is essentially just fish farming, and allows you to raise animals like crayfish, prawns, snails, and of course fish in an inclusive, integrated system.
37. Go hunting, and then bank on those skills. Once you’ve gained expertise as a hunter, you can lead hunting trips and sell your advice to interested tourists. You can also sell things like furs (trapping is another great source of income for a homesteader!) to diversify your income.
38. Learn how to tan leather. This is a great way to sell pelts as well as hides from animals that you butcher on-site.
39. Sell your experiences. Learn how to write about your experiences and market it as advice for other homesteaders. You can sell books, notes, songs, poems, or more, allowing you to bring in a bit of extra income for the homestead.
40. Educate yourself on basic repairs. It’s not difficult to fix the brakes on your car or change the oil in a machine. You can quickly learn how to sharpen a chainsaw or repair broken appliances in the home. A little bit of mechanical knowledge will save you tons of money down the road, and also increase your safety. By removing the need to call a repairman out to your remote homestead, you increase the likelihood that your equipment, tools, and machinery will be fixed quickly and easily.
41. Evaluate the usability of your homestead, and section it off accordingly. You might have a homestead with significant swampland. Is there timber growing in that wet, untillable land that could be sold or blocked up as firewood? If you have several cares of hay fields, can you graze livestock or rent the fields out for farmers who bale hay? Consider the skills of you and your family members, as well as the land you have available, and make sure every last foot of it is being used.
42. Offer classes. This is a more advanced option, but is a great way to make some extra money once your homestead is up and running. Just as you should consider taking classes to brush up on skills you might not yet have, offering classes is a great way to promote self-reflection and to market your skills to others.
43. Raise stud animals. Many people who raise animals, like pigs, goats, or cows, want to have their animals bred but don’t want to go through the hassle of raising their own males. Consider keeping males on hand to provide stud services to needy farms.
44. Learn how to knit or crochet. If you have fiber animals, like sheep or alpacas, you can learn how to spin your own yarn. This can be sold, or you can weave it into a finished product.
45. And my final words of advice… get rid of your t.v. You can’t imagine how much more productive your days and your minds will be without the trash we are fed through that thing.
So, whadya think? Are you ready to call yourself a homesteader now that you know a little more about how to homestead? Which of these things are you already doing, and which can you work toward where you are right now?
And what other things can we add to this list? How are you homesteading today?
Next up… Homesteading When You’re Flat Broke!
updated by Rebekah White 10/23/2018