What is Homesteading, exactly?
Chances are if you ask twenty homesteading families what the parameters are to be termed “homesteading” you get twenty slightly different answers. You need to develop your own answer to this. To me, homesteading is to make your home as self-sustaining as you choose, incorporating your land and your skills to be less reliant on others and stores. This will look different between you and I or myself and my friends. That’s OK. There is no “right” answer although there might be a lot of “wrong” ones. Your “right” answer is what works for you at any given time. I do recommend that no matter how excited or experienced that you think you are, slide in slowly, don’t jump in all at once. Things always come up and you neither want to set yourself up to fail, nor harm and animals under your care due. You can always expand as you see what works well and how to continue to build success.
You might be tempted to start with a couple of quite a few animals. You know, the stereotypical two cows, two pigs, two sheep. Don’t. First figure out what you would really gain from each type of animal (are you really going to raise two sheep to shear, wash, (and wash again), card, spin, and use the fibers of the sheep twice a year? Do you know how much wool you get from two sheep? Is is worth it? Think about what you really want and what you can successfully care for (daily care, but long term care like shelter structures and fresh water, too). Consider your climate. Will you be battling extreme heat? Extreme cold? Drought? Snow? All of the above? Research these animals A LOT!!!!
I recommend starting with chickens. Yes, there is a reason that they are the stereotypical start. Regardless of whether you buy meat birds or layers, you can always choose to butcher and eat them if you become overwhelmed. If instead you succeed you have plenty of practice with predator proofing and creating elemental safe shelter, providing fresh food and water daily, and some beginning medicine and anti-boredom activities.
As you succeed with chickens consider adding in another animal if you wish. Many people add pigs as they are also (relatively) easy care. Some choose to stay small and add meat rabbits.
Remember, there are plenty of resources in your neighborhood and online (as well as many people with bad advice online). Anyone who cares for animals would rather answer the “silly” questions rather than have you harm an animal by lack of education or understanding. Animals will get sick, animals will die, but if you are raising them it is your responsibility to care for them to the best of your ability or seek help if the care is beyond your abilities.
Would you rather gather than produce or raise?
Stain your fingers green and get dirt under your nails, take to the woods and waters to find what you need. There is simple foraging for fresh raspberries or autumn nuts. Some would consider hunting and fishing to fall under this (hunter gatherer). You may also want to find many other plants as you can identify them. Anything from spring greens to cattails, mushrooms to chagga, apples to spruce tips, art supplies to medicines. You might even decide that you want to collect sap in the spring from birch or maple, and boil it down to syrup. Like so many other practices, this foraging can be as simple or as complicated as you wish it to be. Above all though, be sure of what you are ingesting before you even let it touch your lips. The two places you need the most comprehensive knowledge is your own foods and animal care.
Would you rather produce your own plant based foods? This can be as simple or as complicated as you wish!
Gardening is a basic skill that many homesteaders use. The trick is to find what your soil best supports and what you are most interested in growing. You may want just a “kitchen garden” or one that adds to your summer diet with fresh salads and a few bits & bobs. You may want to do a larger garden with a surplus of vegetables and herbs to eat fresh and preserve for the colder months. You may want to specialize just in fresh herbs, a “tea garden”, fresh flowers,…the possibilities are almost endless. As an investment, you may want to consider a specialty crop like fancy mushrooms or ginseng. These take a while to set up or to reach maturity, but can be well worth the minimal efforts. Lastly, you may eventually want to offer PYO, or Pick Your Own, gardens and allow the general public to pay for the privilege of harvesting from your gardens.
Someday, I would like to have a number of garden plots, some that are just herbs, some for flowers, and some for our extended garden. The specialty plants also sound good, but they are a lower priority for me. We considered building a full hydroponics system with a fish like tilapia in the water and the plants growing in the fertilized water. But, we would have to deal with freezing temperatures or no room in our basement and it seems like more work than we are ready for at this time. Last year we bought an indoor greenhouse to start the seedings in the basement instead of the livingroom in front of the windows. This year, we are adding to our seeding mats, as the basement got too cold when we stopped using the woodstove, but still had frost prohibiting transplanting outdoors. You’ll keep trying new things until you find what works for you.
Cooking and baking from scratch
You will want at least a handful of recipes that you can cook or bake on your own without needing to call for delivery or take out. You will find that you lose track of time when you are working on the homestead, and often you are just beyond delivery areas. Moreover, cooking your own meals tends to be cheaper.
I do a whole mix of cooking from a jar and box (pasta meal) or peeling, chopping, marinating, sauteing, roasting a meal from scratch. There is a lot to be said for the meal kits too. For a while we used Hello Fresh and while it was just a tad more expensive than buying all the ingredients from the store, it came pre measured in easy grab kits, I just had to prepare and cook it. Totally worth it on those nights you are just exhausted or want a little extra time.
Home made cookies, breads, and muffins are so good in so many ways. You may want to start with a “quick bread” as they are easiest. Quick breads are so named because they are quick to make. You dump in ingredients, mix, bake, and serve. There is no rising time (or yeast) required. Banana bread is one of the most common breads in this category, but also zucchini bread. You’ll find that the recipes are almost identical for quick breads and muffins. I typically have more fruit based muffins than breads though, and the kiddos love taking them in their school lunches and eating them anytime as a grab-and-go snack. Pinterest has given me so many recipes!
There is nothing quite as beautiful as a shelf or cupboard full of sparkling canning jars filled with colorful pickles, relishes and fruit preserves. In the past, I have done a lot of jams, jellies, and fruit butters. I’ve done some pickles, and one year I had so much zucchini growing that I did relish too, even though we hardly use relish. One of our favorites is pickled beets, but I also found it helpful to can some apple pie filling!
Many people start with strawberry jam, because it is so popular. And many people end of with 12 jars of strawberry sauce because they didn’t get the pectin right and it did not “jell up” or “set”. It tastes yummy, but it’s better for ice cream than sandwiches. I don’t recommend starting with jam, but rather something that you will almost certainly succeed at. Applesauce is easy, and if you boil it down even further you will have a rich apple butter (no actual butter in it!). Pinterest has loads of recipes for fruit butters, when I began I had no idea that there were types other than apple. Plum may have become my favorite, rich and dark without being overly sweet, and a hint of chocolate almost. Cranberry butter is one of the next I plan to try.
There are tons of resources of canning from Facebook to Bell. This year, like last year, there is a shortage of canning jars, or at least in typical Covid-fashion it is a hit or miss supply. If you are thinking of trying this, you should be able to find a case of jars and lids for under $15. You should be able to use a large stockpot of your own for water bath canning. I recommend starting this way. Specifically look for recipes that state “water bath” that do not require “pressure canning”. If you become more advanced and wish to can anything with meat or low acid you will need to pressure can to be safe. Many pickles and fruit preserves can be canned via the water bath.
You can find many recipes that I think sound delicious right here: yummy preserves!
Need a little extra?
As you settle into a routine, you may start to look for side hustles or a little extra income. There are hundreds of ways that you can raise income on a homestead depending on your resources, knowledge, space, local laws, and willingness. You may want to read this post I wrote about easy side hustles on the homestead.
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Learn more about our first year of Homesteading.
Check out these easy side hustles.
Just in case you get too many eggs to use right away, you may find these extra uses helpful.