Easy Homesteading for Beginners: 5 Simple Ways to Get Started

Modern homesteading means you don't have to quit your day job to live a more self-sufficient life. Just use our guide to homesteading for beginners.

August 9, 2010

If you can't bring your vegetables to market, try bartering with neighbors.

In an age where people want to provide more for themselves and rely less on food industry giants, bartering with your neighbors is the new coupon clipping, and homemade salsa made with simple backyard ingredients is the new gourmet cooking. But if you're a busy person who juggles a full-time job with taking care of the kids and pets, and just about everything else around the house, the concept of homesteading—in essence, becoming more self-sufficient so you don't have to rely on huge corporations to poison, er, feed your family—seems nearly impossible. Never fear, a quick and easy guide to homesteading for beginners is here!


The good news is, in modern homesteading, you don't have to go it alone. Just find a few people in your neighborhood with different skill sets, and you can save time and money while becoming more self-sufficient—as a neighborhood.

If you're new to the concept of modern homesteading, here are some great starting points.

#1. Size it right.

If you decide to start living a more self-sufficient lifestyle, it's easy to fail if you try to do it all at once. For urban homesteaders and authors Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, authors of the upcoming book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World (Rodale, 2011), say it took them years of gradually transitioning into the urban homesteading lifestyle, and caution against doing too much too soon. "Planting a small vegetable garden—no more than 4 feet by 8 feet—in a raised bed is a great way for beginners to start," says Knutzen. "Don't try to grow all your own food in the first year! Start small, add compost each season, and pay attention to the quality of your soil. Use a drip [watering] system on a timer. As you gain experience, expand." (If you don't have a vegetable garden, start planning now for next spring, or try to sneak in a few late-season crops this year.)

To easily preserve many of your garden crops to enjoy throughout the winter, follow these easy blanching and freezing instructions.

#2. Form alliances.

Even if you grow a considerable amount of the vegetables you need in your own garden, finding time to preserve the extra to last into the winter months can be a challenge for the average busy working person. So, if canning tomatoes doesn't qualify for a spot on your packed Outlook calendar, try this: Find someone in your community who prepares food, and offer half of your bounty in exchange for half of the prepped product. For instance, Patricia Foreman, author of Backyard Market Gardening (Good Earth Publications, 1992), hands over her garden tomatoes to a local chef friend, who turns it into a tasty salsa supply they share. Excess fruit? Find a nice old lady in your neighbor hood who makes wine or jelly, and supply her with your fruit in exchange for some of the finished product.

#3. Give lacto-fermentation a try.

Here's an easy way to preserve foods without putting in a lot of time. You do, however, need some patience while the food ferments. (This process actually boosts the amount of immune-boosting healthy bacteria in the food.) "Lacto-fermentation is using a brine to pickle vegetables. Sauerkraut is easy, as are one of our favorites, daikon radish pickles," says Knutzen. Popular and easy fermented dishes include sauerkraut and pickles.

#4. Raise a micro-flock.

The perks of raising backyard chickens reach far beyond collecting the delicious, fresh eggs. Raising three to eight laying hens (in even an urban setting) means you're also employing compact living machines that turn food scraps into a nitrogen-rich soil amendment for your garden. Foreman explains that in addition to being local protein producers, they also act as biomass recyclers, eating scraps and keeping them out of the landfill, compost pile turners and cleaners, entertainers, fuel-free garden tillers and pest eliminators, as well as backyard flea and tick annihilators. Her book serves as a bible for raising chickens, even in urban and suburban settings. But before you decide to bring these feathered beauties into your life, make sure you have what it takes to raise chickens. "Chickens are relatively easy; harder than keeping a cat, easier than a dog," says Knutzen. "The main labor is building a predator-proof coop."

#5. Concoct your own cleaners.

The concept of modern homesteading doesn't just deal with freeing yourself from the supermarket by producing your own food, but also other everyday products, particularly cleaners. The good news is, by using simple, cheap ingredients like vinegar (you can make your own), baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide, you can clean your house without poisoning everyone in it. (For ideas, try our green cleaning recipes.) When you find some formulas you especially like, try mixing up extra batches and bartering them with friends and neighbors.