Sipping a hot cup of coffee on the wide front porch, I can see the cattle grazing in the distance on my homestead. I’m wrapped in a hand-knit blanket, a chill in the air as the sun warms the morning. I watch my children play among the chickens and gather the fresh eggs that I’ll prepare for breakfast in our warm farmhouse kitchen before spending some time soaking up the beauty of nature in our organic vegetable garden.
These may be my pastoral dreams, but the reality of suburban homesteading often feels a lot more like this: Why isn’t my cauliflower flowering? Does sourdough bread REALLY take that long to make? I can’t get chickens, I have an HOA! Why didn’t my grandmother teach me how to knit?!
Why You Should Start a Suburban Homestead
While I’ve been at it for a few years, I still consider myself to be quite a novice in many aspects of suburban homesteading. Part of the attraction of homesteading is the constant need to learn and hone a new skill. While I don’t know how to keep bees, I have learned how to grow vegetables, preserve food, sew, and make things from scratch. The best part of doing anything yourself is the satisfaction of self-reliance, and this is a key aspect of homesteading that appeals to our independent, savvy, DIY generation.
Homesteading brings us back to a simpler, slower way of life. We learn to depend on ourselves and become closer to our community. We eat healthier, spend time outside, tend to our homes, and save some money while we’re at it. The only downside is that for many of us, the skills we need to homestead successfully weren’t passed down from previous generations.
So once you’ve decided that you do indeed want to learn how to live off the land and be a little less dependent on the grid, how do you get started? The sheer number of skills that our great-great grandparents needed to have in order to be successful can be daunting to those of us who haven’t been on a farm since our 4th grade field trip. Luckily, there are expert homesteaders out there to help you start your suburban homestead without overwhelm.
Expert Advice on Starting a Suburban Homestead
Quinn Veon, from Reformation Acres, says:
Starting a new homestead is an exciting adventure! Whatever the reason that brought you to this path, there are some common challenges we all face and how we face them will determine whether the joy in the journey is greater and the hardships fewer.
There are many things you can do to get your homestead off to a great start such as staying out of debt, studying the land, and building skills that will help you along the way. But one of the greatest temptations when you first get started is to take on too much.
There is so much to learn as well as startup expenses that if you dive in head first adding a garden, chickens, meat, dairy, and more in the first year or two (on top of all your other responsibilities in life), you may find yourself feeling burnout in the end. A better plan is to go slow, do it right the first time, make a study of each area of your production, truly learning and mastering each area before expanding your homestead.
I’ve found keeping homestead management records a great way to keep all of the new information accessible so next year I’m not asking myself, “When did I…?” or “How did we…?” You can compare your methods from one year to the next and reference that information against your yields to see what helped you grow or raise the most food for your family. (In fact, the worst thing about keeping records was all the paperwork… and math! So we made a Homestead Management app for iOS & Android, SmartSteader, so your homestead binder is with you wherever you go!)
Sitting down and writing out your reasons for wanting to homestead and your vision of where you would like to see your homestead be in 1, 2, 5, or 10 years will help you get back on track any time you find yourself struggling or discouraged. Homesteading can be such a rewarding way to live and raise your family when you keep your eyes on the purpose of starting out in the first place!
Quinn has written several great posts written specifically for homesteading newbies! Don’t miss Where to Begin When Starting a New Homestead? and 30 Skills to Build While You’re Homestead Dreaming.
Kathryn Robles, from Farming my Backyard, has this advice for suburban homesteaders:
I think probably the most important thing on starting a suburban homestead would be to familiarize yourself with the laws and HOA rules in your area.
Also, I would recommend going slowly, and not moving too fast and getting burned out quickly. There are going to be certain aspects of homesteading that aren’t for everyone, and it’s better to know which parts you enjoy and which parts you don’t, than it is to get overwhelmed and scrap everything.
Kathryn’s blog is full of tips for beginners, including a free gardening course!
Liz Martin, from The Cape Coop, agrees:
When starting up a new homestead, it’s tempting to jump in with both feet, but you will burn yourself out that way! Draw up a 5 year plan and make smaller goals along the way. Maybe year 1 you start a large garden, year 2 you can add some livestock, year 3 focus on learning homesteading skills (like sewing, canning, etc). Do what works for you & your family, if you don’t have space or time for livestock, don’t get them. If you absolutely hate sewing, don’t do it. Old time homesteaders didn’t do it all, they relied on their neighbors, they bartered & traded – and so can you!
Be sure to check out Liz’s helpful list of homesteading skills for beginners!
Finally, Teri Page, from Homestead Honey, says:
For beginning homesteaders, I recommend finding local mentors who might be able to guide you through challenges you might encounter in your first years of homesteading. In exchange, offer your assistance freely to your homestead mentor – help them weed the garden, muck the coop, or peel vegetables. You’ll learn a lot over conversation, and the exchange will feel joyful for both of you. As your experience and confidence grows, you can play the mentor role!
Take a peek at Teri’s list of online courses for beginning homesteaders!
Resources for New Suburban Homesteaders
Books for Beginning Suburban Homesteaders
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver—not a how-to book, but an incredible book that inspired me to begin homesteading!
The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan
Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew
Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) by Angela England
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine
Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth
I also recommend a book tailored to vegetable gardening in your area—when I lived in Florida, I really enjoyed Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida by Ginny Stibolt and Melissa Contreras.
Other Resources for Beginning Suburban Homesteaders
If you’d like an online course to help guide you through the process of learning some new homesteading skills, check out Rootsy for tutorials, ebooks, videos, and more from expert homesteaders who can help you green that thumb.
The Pioneering Today Podcast is one of my favorites for homesteading and self-sufficiency inspiration. Melissa K. Norris is incredibly knowledgeable and breaks everything down into practical, easy to tackle projects. She’s also written several books on the subject of homesteading!
And of course, some of the best advice available can be found on blogs! There are countless homesteading blogs out there for homesteaders of all types and skill levels. Most of what I know about homesteading I learned from a blog.
When I first started learning homesteading skills, I wanted to do all. the. things. I still do. But by taking it one step at a time, I can now can my own jam, ferment my own sauerkraut, sew my own curtains, make my own toothpaste, and do a hundred other things that make my mother think I’m strange. It’s all a process, one that’s been repeated by thousands of homemakers in previous generations. Give yourself some grace, go with the flow, and take on a new project–before you know it, you’ll be homesteading!
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