the vegetable garden would be my first step. I'm not a homesteader, although I would love to be. The whole self-sufficiency thing is a very appealing concept. I'm a big fan of DIY projects and love learning how things work which is a trait that many homesteaders share. It's an essential trait since so much can go wrong on a farm that the farmer has to handle by himself or herself - the farmer must be a Jack-of-All-Trades. I would love to know that I can provide for my families needs without depending on other uncontrollable factors to survive. Many people are also turning toward homesteading because it has a smaller ecological footprint.
Why Would I Start a Homestead with a Garden?
Typically homesteads have a number of different kinds of animals like chickens, goats, or cattle. The animals need fed, watered, and veterinary care. While the garden needs similar care with fertilizers, water, and routine maintenance it usually isn't as critical. The garden isn't nearly as demanding as an animal and can provide a ton of produce in small areas.
garden in raised beds (my favorite way), create vertical gardens, or grow mini-orchards. You can even integrate your edible plants into your landscape. If the gardener's interest and time allows he or she can expand the garden. The garden is a place where any future homesteader can learn about the soil and learn how to grow the plants before committing to do it all.
How Would I Start a Homestead...
I think the number one thing to be done in any situation is to come up with a good plan. A plan that charts out when and what the homestead needs to be able to provide. Here's a very basic outline of what I night do.
- First I would want my garden to be able to provide for 50%-75% of our food needs. The more the garden can provide the better but it would have to at least reach the 50% mark. Basic food needs vary per person so its hard to estimate a specific amount of vegetables. A family of 2 will eat much less than a family of 6. A family with teenagers will require a lot more garden produce than one with small children. How much your family needs is something only you can judge.
- I would also want to become skilled (and efficient) at canning and preserving food. You can do many things to extend the season (like greenhouses or hoop houses) but in many areas it becomes difficult to garden year round. Preserving food becomes essential. There will be years when drought or disease may diminish or eliminate crops and preservation is one way to sustain yourself. To plan for those hard times you would have to have plenty of storage space for your canned goods.
- Then I might add small animals. Chickens are probably where I would start. I love farm fresh eggs! But chickens can be a challenge so you must be prepared. People aren't the only animals who love chicken and you will find predator animals moving in on your flock. Our neighbors once had a coop with chickens in it. Their children were doing a 4H project and were given 2 dozen chickens to grow and bring to market at the end of the year. They ended with fewer than 4 chickens surviving. A raccoon ripped apart the chicken wire at the top of their enclosure and managed to get inside. He killed a couple chickens and once that happened they had difficulties getting the chickens back in the coop. Chickens and other animals need daily food and water as well as frequent monitoring especially if you are in a rural area where nature often visits.
- Somewhere along the way I would want to experiment with growing grains. We like bread around here! We would also have to grow corn. Not just for us but also as a supplemental feed for the chickens and other livestock. Ideally the livestock would be free ranging and sustain themselves on what they could find naturally but they may need supplemental food from time to time.
- If I was successful in raising chickens I would go for goats next. Goats could supply milk for us as well as rich manure for the garden.
- After goats I would have to research what to do next based on my family's needs. Would it be a raising a few cattle for meat? Would it be pigs for bacon and ham?
Maybe one day I'll have the space to do a few of these things but until then I'll just garden!