The condition of our food supply and the state of our economy have created a situation where people are looking back to the land to supply them with sustenance once again. No longer do people trust companies implicitly to supply them with all their needs—they are learning to grow their own, becoming experts in DIY, and raising their own animals for meat, milk, and fiber. They are learning to supply their own healthy products to replace their overly processed, and sometimes unsafe chemical-laden counterparts. They are longing for something more.
The one problem that many, including myself, are facing is that that we live on small properties, often in tract homes, because that’s where the American dream has told us we ought to be. The clash of the American dream with the glaring issues of our failing food sources, personal and national health, and hurting economy have brought us to a place where we must creatively find ways to meet our family’s needs without having to pick up and move, because frankly, many of us just can’t afford to do that.
Enter the modern homesteading movement.
The modern homesteading movement has done wonders to teach us how to homestead on a small property. Modern homesteaders are the pioneers of today, becoming experts in living on much less than a sprawling bunch of acres, as homesteaders of old did. We are becoming experts on how to effectively homestead right where we live. We are empowered when we learn how others are bringing their homesteading dreams to life in frugal, practical, doable-for-us ways.
Over the past month, I have had the privilege of interviewing 6 modern small property homesteaders who have shared how they keep bees, raise meat, garden and grow herbs, and practice many other homesteading ‘virtues’ on their small properties. It has been immensely educational for me to hear of the marvelous things that can and are being done on properties smaller than my own .18 of an acre. To see that some creative homesteaders are able to raise quite a bit of their family’s food needs on properties even smaller than mine has been enlightening for me, to say the least.
It takes a special kind of homesteading ingenuity to do these things, and this type of ingenuity abounds in the modern homesteading community. In hopes of lending you some of the excitement and encouragement that I have experienced in talking with other modern homesteaders, I’d like to share some things that I do myself, and some things that I’ve learned that others are doing to turn their small properties into working homesteads.
Grow Small and Grow Up
#1 – Container Garden. This is a fantastic way to grow some of your food if you are on a very small or particularly shady property, or if you live in an apartment. It’s not going to provide all of your family’s produce needs, but any little bit helps when we are talking about eating better produce and learning to master homesteading skills that work for us. Use this for invasive plants as every square foot of space that you have in your garden is precious. You don’t want mint to take over your whole garden (ask me how I know this!).
#2 – Square Foot Garden. For those of us with a shortage of gardening space, this method is a worthy choice. Square foot gardening makes it possible to harvest a large amount of vegetables from a very small space. There are helpful charts all over the internet that teach us how many of each vegetable plant can thrive and produce well inside of one square foot. Through the magic of the internet, you can plan your garden right online today even if you’re new to this method.
#3 – Vertical Garden. While it is true that we have limited space on our small properties, we can capitalize on the space directly above each square foot. I like to string twine from my raised bed sides to the top of my fence using a heavy duty stapler to fasten the ends of the twine for vining peas, green beans, or cucumbers to climb up. I also make “teepees” from thin bamboo stalks and twine and set those over my plants, making a structure for my vines to climb, as well as support my tomato plants. The possibilities are endless for vertical gardening if you have some good old homestead ingenuity and a few branches and twine.
#4 – Plant Semi-Dwarf Fruit and Nut Trees. Usually semi-dwarfs will grow up to about 10-15 feet tall. They are small enough not to shade a large amount of your small property and large enough to supply your family with plenty of fruit. Planting fruit trees that produce in different months will lighten your canning/preserving load, as well as give your family variety throughout the year.
Raise Dual Purpose Animals
#5 – Raise rabbits for meat and wool. Being a comparatively smaller animal than other meat and wool animals, rabbits are a great addition to the small property homestead. Rabbits can be raised quickly for meat—about 12 weeks can yield a good fryer of 5 pounds (live weight) if the breed is large. Ideal meat breeds include Californian, Champagne D’Argent, New Zealand, Palomino, and Florida Whites. The Palomino grows slower than other breeds and the Florida White is the smallest of the meat breeds so you will need to consider that they will take a couple of weeks longer before you can process them. This will make the cost more per pound of meat than the other breeds because you will be using more feed per rabbit. If you are planning to raise rabbits for wool, the Angora breeds are best, and yield quite a bit of wool that can be spun directly from the animal, unlike larger animals’ wool. A bonus is that angora rabbits can also be used for meat, which makes them the best choice for the homesteader interested in both meat and wool.
#6 – Choose highly productive, dual-purpose chicken breeds. Raising a small flock of chickens can get you a decent amount of eggs for your family. Depending on the breed you choose, you can get 5-6 eggs from each chicken per week, and when they are finished laying (after approximately two years), they can be processed for meat. Granted, your dual purpose breeds may not be the highest producers of either meat or eggs, but they do pretty well on both fronts. Some dual-purpose breeds to look into are New Hampshire, Plymouth Rock, and Rhode Island Red. If you are looking to hatch your chickens for sustainability, you will want to make sure you choose a breed that goes broody. Red and Black Sex Link hens are great layers and fine to eat, but will not produce true because they are hybrid breeds.
#7 – Raise your own pollinators. Since our fruits and vegetables need pollination to produce, it stands to reason that having bees on our properties would up our produce numbers considerably. In addition to the benefit of more produce, your bees will provide your family with the most fabulous sweetener ever to come out of nature. It is possible to keep a small hive in the corner of your small property, even if you live in an urban area. Check your city’s ordinances for details before you get started.
Master ‘Anywhere’ Skills
#8 – Learn to Eat Seasonally. Learning to eat seasonally is one of the best homesteading skills you can develop. As you hone your gardening skills, the array of fruits and vegetables you harvest from your land will grow each year, offering a plentiful choice of foods for your table. However, if your family’s tastes are still dictated by what is available at the grocery store, you will find yourself continuing to purchase much of what your family eats, leaving your home-grown food to go to waste. Instead, learn to enjoy your in-season produce in various dishes and in various ways, saving other fruits and vegetables for their proper seasons—when they are the most ripe and flavorful.
#9 – Learn to Preserve Food. Regardless of what size your homestead is, you can learn to preserve your food through canning and dehydrating your produce. Whether you grow or buy your produce, you’ll want to get this skill under your belt for when you are able to grow all your own produce. Water bath canning is suitable for jams, jellies, fruits, and some tomato products. It is the easiest form of canning to learn and yields delicious results. It is a wonderful place to start for the beginning home preserver. For those who are ready to take their canning to the next level, give pressure canning a try. This method is for preserving meats, vegetables, meals-in-a-jar, and the like for your shelf. It is somewhat intimidating at first, but once you have done it a few times, it becomes second nature. Lots of practice and the correct equipment are key to putting fantastic, nutritious food on the table throughout the year.
#10 – Learn to Store your food properly. Learning how to store your newly canned goods, herbs, and vegetables will go a long way in helping to you save money on groceries and over-the-counter medications. Your canned goods should be stored in a cool, dry place, such as a basement or other room that offers consistent temperatures with little to no humidity. Your root vegetables store best at optimum conditions and temperatures, and can keep for months, depending upon how well you store them. Storing herbs is as simple as putting your herbs in a jar with a tight fitting lid and keeping them in a dark cupboard. Most herbs will store this way for up to a year, but if you’d like to get a few more months out of your stored herbs, you can vacuum seal your dried herbs in mason jars and add a 100cc oxygen absorber to each pint or quart jar.