Many people want to start homesteading, gardening, or keeping livestock, but they don’t know how to start or how to fit it into their schedule. After all, regular everyday life is busy enough. It’s easy to say ‘one day I’ll start that garden’ and put dreams on the back burner. The resources in this article will help guide you through the process of getting started, busting through doubt and discomfort, and achieving your dreams.
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1: Accept Feedback
When I was getting started, I didn’t know a single person who was homesteading or working to create a productive homestead. Here’s my story of how I started homesteading.
Since those early years of my journey, the homesteading concept has become more popular. More and more resources and communities (both online and in-person) are available to support you in the process. This is so great!
One of the first things I learned as a beginning homesteader is to accept feedback. This means I had to pay attention to the different things I was trying around the homestead and evaluate how they were working. Sometimes I really wanted something to work, but the writing on the wall was that it wasn’t a good solution. Accepting failure as a means of learning is key. And normal. You will fail, but it doesn’t mean you weren’t cut out for this kind of life.
The same thing goes for gardening. I hear people say all the time, “I don’t have a green thumb.” Gardening failure isn’t an indication of the color of your thumb. The key to becoming a ‘brown thumb’ garden expert is simply practice. Practice the craft just like you would practice playing the guitar, and learn from your mistakes. Eventually you’ll hit the right notes and be able to play with some efficiency.
The key to getting started, then, is to just start, and to keep doing and learning.
2: Become a Perpetual Student
When I started this life, I had no idea that I would be constantly learning. I figured that I would learn how to garden and preserve food, for example, and that would be it: Bam, I’m now a veteran homesteader!
Things don’t quite work out that way. Turns out that no one grows beets in the same soil in the same place on earth with the same climate and the same sun exposure. So I have learned to be my own researcher. I read and listen to other gardeners, glean useful advice that might help me with my beet growing failure, and I try again.
Incidentally, did you know that starting a homesteading life as an adult can actually be good for the longevity of your brain? This lifestyle seriously gives your brain lots of things to mull over.
Take the winter months to read things that interest you.
No two homesteaders are exactly alike. Some can’t wait to get backyard livestock, some are excited to start a small garden, and some want to create an integrated permaculture food forest. There are still others who don’t keep a garden or animals at all, but rather focus on fiber arts, from-scratch cooking, preserving, and making their own household cleaners and toiletry items.
Resources abound to help you on your journey no matter what homesteading topics get you excited. If you don’t know what to focus on, read a lot of different things so you can identify your passions.
The following are some resources to simply get your feet wet. There is so much information out there that it isn’t possible to list all of the great resources!
Book List for Beginners
- All New Square Foot Gardening (gardening)
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (canning)
- The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping
- The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook (dehydrating)
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (permaculture)
- Modern Pioneering (digging up skills of the past)
- The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals (livestock)
- The Urban Homestead (for the small-scale homestead)
Helpful Online Resources for Beginners
- 10 Homesteading Resolutions to Make for 2016 by The Coastal Homestead
- 9 Tips to Start Homesteading by Flip Flop Barnyard
- 5 Easy Steps into Backyard Homesteading by Imperfectly Happy
- Start Homesteading Today with These Hacks (And Little to No Money) by The Frugal Chicken
- How to Start a Backyard Farm by One Acre Farm
- What to Raise on your Homestead or Backyard Farm by One Acre Farm
- Where Do I Put My Garden? by Brown Thumb Mama
- Video! How to Garden with Kids by Little Sprouts Learning
- Vegetable Gardening 101 by Learning and Yearning
- 11 Tips for Beginning Gardeners by The Free Range Life
- Vegetable Gardening Basics by Stoney Acres
- Square Foot Gardening for Beginners by The Cape Coop
- Everything you Need to Know about Keeping Chickens by Idlewild Alaska
- Goat Starter List by Better Hens and Gardens
Take classes and tours.
Read all you can, but there is no comparison between reading a book (one-way learning) versus interactive learning with real, live humans. Take classes (in person or online) and attend farm/homestead tours to catapult your knowledge and confidence.
3: Get acquainted with Your Growing Season
How a garden changes throughout the year–what can be planted or harvested–will depend on the climate and a number of other factors. In fact, even two gardens in the same zip code can experience slight differences. To plan a better garden, get in tune with your seasonal growing cycle. Here’s what I do monthly in my garden.
It’s okay if you don’t grow everything you eat. Practice eating seasonally by shopping your local farmer’s market at least once a month to learn about what’s in season in your area. Growing healthy food is what local farmers do best, and eating healthy food is what you should do best (Don’t skip the eating part!).
4: Start Small
If you want to get overwhelmed, discouraged, and burned out, try turning your entire property into a garden in your first year! Gardens look simple and quaint on paper, but maintaining them can be hard work.
My philosophy: Start with one small garden and see how it goes. Set a goal to spend at least 15 minutes each day in the garden. This way you can learn how a garden changes from day to day. The 15-minutes-a-day helps you introduce gardening into your day-to-day routine without taking away from everyday life.
Checking on the garden daily keeps you on top of garden maintenance, and allows you to harvest produce at the peak of maturity.
Would you like more pointers for yielding abundant harvests with the time you have?
You’ll find more of my tips, tools, and life hacks (including the 15-minutes-a-day garden) in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
5. Find a Mentor or a Homestead Buddy
Homesteading and gardening will challenge you mentally and physically. A mentor can guide you through the ups and downs, successes and failures, while a buddy is essential for commiserating with when the squirrels eat all your tomatoes.
6. Make Your Kitchen a Working Kitchen
Making a house a productive homestead is a lot of work.
Growing your own food is a big job.
Making from-scratch meals and preserving the excess is a big job, too.
Start small in the garden so you have the time and space to add new food-prep skills to your repertoire.
Budgeting and meal planning go hand in hand. Here are some tips:
- Four Get-Started Tips for the Homestead Kitchen
- Meal Planning
- What if you Can’t Grow all of Your Food?
7. Get Out of Debt and Start Saving
Living a self-sufficient lifestyle is only possible if debts are out of the picture and a bit of money is saved for emergencies. This ensures that you don’t have to worry when the going gets tough. Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover was a huge blessing in our life. We would never have been able to save for our dream homestead if we hadn’t followed his plan to get out of debt. Be prepared: This is a long-term goal–no instant gratification here!
Eating good food is essential for health, and you’ll need good health for the physical and mental demands of starting a homestead. But good food can be expensive. Here are my tips for affording good food without going broke.
Starting a new homestead can seem overwhelming, but it can be done, even on a busy schedule with a tight budget. Start small, enjoy the learning process, and celebrate the small successes. You’ll have a productive homestead in no time!
Do you have a tip for beginning homesteaders?