Homesteading for Beginners

Homesteading is about making small steps towards self-sufficiency until you have the life you want. You do not have to give up all modern luxuries and move to a big isolated hunk of land to become a homesteader. Instead, you can start where you’re at. Even people living in a tiny apartment in the middle of the big city can become more self-sufficient by simply planting some herbs in a container. In fact, that is exactly how my homesteading journey began. Here are some simple skills I would encourage a want-to-be homesteader to practice:

Start Composting

Seedling emerging from composted soil

Composting is a great step for someone that has some space and wants to begin gardening within the next year or so. Without good compost, your crops can experience nutritional deficiencies. Composting will help you get connected to your soil and it will provide essential nutrients for your future plants. To learn how we started our composting method click here.

Learn how to Preserve Food

Knife slicing a fresh tomato

Knowing how to preserve food is an important skill to have when your backyard is bursting with vegetables. This also comes in handy when your favorite fruits and vegetables go on sale or when something is about to spoil in your refrigerator. Food preservation can include:

  • Drying
  • Salting
  • Canning
  • Pickling/Fermenting
  • Freezing

Food preservation takes practice, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first (or second time.)

Get Familiar with Wood

Man finishing wooden butcher block

Woodworking is an important skill to have on the homestead. This skill will save you loads of cash and will allow you to build important things like gardening boxes, animal hutches, and furniture. Prior to trying out your building skills, start getting familiar with wood. Learn where to buy it, what qualities you need to look for, and what tools or skills you will need if your plan is to reuse free wood. Getting familiar with wood will save you a lot of headaches once you are ready to begin woodworking.

Investigate Protein Sources

Child standing in Free Range Rabbit Tractor

Raising some type of meat or protein is often when people begin identifying as homesteaders. While you don’t need a backyard to start raising a protein source, I do recommend you take at least 6 months to learn the ins-and-outs of your specific protein prior to purchasing. Join groups on Facebook, learn about the different breeders and suppliers in your area, head to the library and read up on their needs and common illnesses. Here is a list of “alternative” protein sources to get you started:

Infographic of livestock options for people living in apartments, HOA's, & cities

If you are just beginning your homesteading journey, know that all of these skills take time and dedication to master. Failure is part of the homesteading process. Don’t let that stop you from achieving your self-sufficient dreams!

DIY Composting using a Three Bin System

Google “How To Start A Composting” and you will find a myriad of unnecessary equipment, green to brown ratios, and other unrelatable advice that can make you feel… lost. Composting is simple. It’s just as much about getting rid of your food scraps as it is about nourishing your plants. Our composting system happened on accident, which is proof that you can turn your food waste into black gold just by paying attention to the materials around you. Composting shouldn’t cost you a lot of labor or money. We use a 3 bin system because it allows us to make compost in about 8 weeks instead of 8 months. 

Items Needed:

3 Large Areas that are capable of draining water**

Green Material (aka food scraps)

Brown Material (aka stuff that is brown)

Shovel

Time

**We use 3 large tree planters for our system. These are often available for free in the back of your local Home Supply Store. You can use anything that water can drain from, or you can just make dividers from something like wood or concrete blocks. Look around. Get crafty. Composting shouldn’t be an expense for your homestead. Ideally, you want a 3ft x 3 ft x 3 ft compost pile. 

Large black plastic tubs with drainage holes for composting

 

Green Materials

Green materials provide the compost with nitrogen, which feeds the compost microbes and speeds up decomposition. Green Materials Include:

  • food waste
  • grass clippings
  • leftover coffee grounds
  • manure
  • spent plants from the garden

Brown Material

Brown material provides carbon to your compost. This includes:

  • dry leaves
  • wood ash
  • hay
  • straw
  • sawdust
  • newspaper
  • junk mail
  • paper napkins
  • those peat-moss containers you start seeds in.

The System:

Three composting areas created using pallets

No matter how you define your composting space, ideally our composting system is 3 areas next to one another. From left to right we will call these areas Area 1, Area 2, and Area 3. Area 1 is the only space you will ever add new materials too.  While this doesn’t have to be an exact science, in Area 1 we add about 2 parts brown material to 1 part green material. This gives our compost enough bulk and nutrients to produce that black gold we are looking for. On our homestead, we achieve this by covering the bottom of Area 1 with a mix of hay and rabbit poo, then we throw in a few days (or weeks depending on how busy I get) of food scraps. When I remember, I cover the scraps with hay-poo again and the cycle continues. Again, Area 1 is the only bin that new materials will ever be added to.

Once Area 1 is full, it is shoveled into Area 2. The process of shoveling adds Oxygen to the compost so that the bacteria and microbes can further break down the materials. Area 2 just sits and decomposes while we refill Area 1. Once Area 1 is full again, we shovel everything in Area 2 over to Area 3 where it goes into the final decomposition stage. Everything in Area 1 is shoveled over to Area 2 and we begin refilling Area 1. By the time we have filled up Area 1 three times, the compost in Area 3 should be ready to go out into the garden. If your final bin is not ready to go into the garden, you could modify this system by creating a larger area or by adding an Area 4 to your system.

Some additional notes on composting:

Your compost should be moist like a wrung-out sponge. If it is too wet, start adding more brown material. If it is too dry, water it with a watering hose.

While many people suggest using a lid, it is not necessary. If you are getting too much rain you can always just throw a tarp over it or add additional drainage holes

If your compost is too smelly, you probably aren’t adding enough brown material. Try covering all of your green material with brown material every day.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. Happy composting, y’all!