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!

What’s Wrong with My Tomatoes?

It is easy to see there is a problem with this tomato plant, but it may be difficult to know how to help it. This plant is lacking Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). I would err on the side of caution and encourage the owner to treat it as though it has Tomato Mosaic Virus until the tomato plant looks healthy again.

Tomato plant displaying nitrogen deficiency through yellow mature leaves

Nitrogen Deficiency in Tomato Plant
We can see the nitrogen (N) deficiency in the very yellow older leaves. As this deficiency continues the plant will become short, spindly and will wilt under mild water stress. Luckily, this deficiency can be remedied within days of applying nitrogen.

Adding Nitrogen to Soil

There are many ways to add nitrogen back to your soil and prevent it from happening in future crops. Nitrogen is a common fertilizer that can be purchased. If you prefer to naturally add nitrogen to your soil simply add composted manure or coffee grounds to your garden. You can also add nitrogen to the soil via companion planting or cover crops. Green manure crops (like Borage) or nitrogen fixing plants (such as peas or beans) work great for this.

Tomato Plant Showing signs of Phosphorous Deficiency via purple underside of leaves
Signs of Phosphorous Deficiency in Tomato Plants
We can see the Phosphorous (P) deficiency in the purplish undersides of the leaves. If this plant does not receive Phosphorous, the older leaves will develop a brown netted veining. Plants with a Phosphorous deficiency tend to look like young unstressed plants because their growth is stunted.

Adding Phosphorus to Soil

Adding phosphorus to your soil will improve the quality of your crops, root growth, stalk strength, and will allow your crops to mature earlier. Ground bone has been added to soil to replace Phosphorus for hundreds of years. Today it is common to add phosphorus to your soil by applying bone meal or rock phosphate.

Signs of Potassium Deficiency in Tomato Plants
The Potassium (K) deficiency is a little more difficult to spot because it can easily be confused for tomato mosaic virus. We can tell that this plant has a Potassium deficiency because of the tip burn on the leaves, dry tan scorch on the matured leaves, curling or the green leaves and the blotchy fruit.

Adding Potassium to your soil

Potassium helps plant fight diseases, grow faster, use water better, and take in other nutrients. There are many ways to naturally add Potassium to your soil. Simply add:

  • Composted fruit and vegetable waste
  • Ground up citrus rinds
  • Banana peals
  • Kelp meal or seaweed
  • Wood ash
  • Greensand
  • Granite Meal

Signs of Tomato Mosaic Virus in Tomato Plants
This plant could possibly have Tomato Mosaic Virus, and I would treat it as though it does until the plant looks healthy. My primary reason for suspecting TMV is the necrotic spots in the fruit of the tomato. I would take precautions because TMV is highly contagious, has no cure, stays in the soil for up to 50 years, and can infect tomatoes, tobacco, beans, cucumbers, squash, roses, potatoes and peppers. You can control the possible spread of this disease by:

  • Not smoking when transplanting
  • Changing into clean gloves after you’ve had contact with the plant
  • Boiling any tools that have come into contact with the plant for 5 minutes then washing with detergent
  • Swiping your tools with bleach is NOT enough to kill this virus
  • Make sure your other plants are healthy and free of nutrient deficiencies

If the tomatoes on this plant continue to exhibit blotchy fruit with necrotic spots after being treated with nutrients, I would assume it has contracted Tomato Mosaic Virus and take the following precautions:

  • Burn all parts of the plant
  • Clean the entire area
  • Do not plant any plants that are susceptive to TMV in the area
    • Tomatoes
    • Tobacco
    • Beans
    • Cucumbers
    • Squash
    • Roses
    • Potatoes
    • Peppers

Do you have a question about your vegetables? Email me a picture at and I might feature you on the blog.

Does Organic Mean Pesticide Free?

Do you buy Organic food? If so, why? Are you hoping to avoid pesticides?

The U.S. organic industry is booming! In 2015, organic food in the U.S. made over $43 billion in annual sales and it’s continuing to trend upwards. Avoiding pesticides is the number one reason people shop organic. But here is the thing, organic farmers do use pesticides and fungicides to treat their crops. In fact, there are many chemicals that are approved by the US Department of Agriculture for use in certified organic agriculture.

So what is the difference between the pesticides used in organic and conventionally grown food? It is the origin of the pesticide. Most organic pesticides must come from a natural source, as opposed to synthetic pesticides that are common in conventional agriculture. But does naturally derived pesticides mean that they are better for the environment or less carcinogenic? Scientific American writes, “It has been assumed for years that pesticides that occur naturally (in certain plants, for example) are somehow better for us and the environment than those that have been created by man. As more research is done into their toxicity, however, this simply isn’t true, either. Many natural pesticides have been found to be potential – or serious – health risks.”

Organic Farmers Use Pesticides Salad on Fork

And while certified organic farmers may be using primarily naturally occurring pesticides, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does allow,”some synthetic substances are listed as exceptions to the basic rule and are allowed for use in organic agriculture.” For instance, farmers may use specific synthetically derived pheromones or animal vaccinations and continue to receive their organic certification.

There are several critics of the Organic Certification process. Michael Pollan (you may know him from his many books or the Netflix series COOKED) tells Organic Gardening Magazine many organic farmers are “organic by the letter, not organic in spirit… if most organic consumers went to those places, they would feel they were getting ripped off.”

Which brings up these questions, what is stopping us from knowing what is happening to our food? What if instead of purchasing our certified organic produce at triple the cost, we went beyond organic? What if we traveled to our backyard and pulled our own tomatoes that we grew ourselves? Or we made a visit to a local farmer and supported them? What if we looked beyond the marketing and started a food revolution? I have a feeling we’d find what we are looking for in our produce: more biodiversity for our environment, less disease for ourselves, and a more stable local economy. Who is ready to start a revolution?

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)



**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!