The Allure of Homesteading

The Homesteader's Handbook for Novices


For as long as there have been cities to flee, some individuals have harbored the longing to return to their homeland. Homesteading has long been the antidote to the dulling anesthetic of modern life, whether families are bounding westward on covered wagons to the prairie, dashing into the woods during the Back-to-the-Land Movement, or struggling to maintain a connection to reality and nature in this tech-crazed world. But how does one begin their journey as a homesteader?

The task of reinventing oneself is no little matter, and it may be very daunting to know where to begin. However, I'm here to tell you that you may succeed as a relatively recent homesteader who has made the move from city to homestead. Even though each homesteader's journey is different, this Beginner's Guide to Becoming a Homesteader can be useful to you as you go.

Finding Your Land is the First Task of Becoming a Homesteader

With this first point, I might upset some urban homesteaders, but I don't mean any offense. However, in my opinion, homesteading is inherently linked to owning some land, and in many cases, the constrictive population density and related laws of

just don't provide for the necessary independence and space. Every homesteader wants to be somewhat self-sufficient, and having a bigger plot of land is essential to raising healthy livestock, producing adequate veggies, and just being able to breathe clean air.

Though the pursuit is thrilling, finding that land is no easy task. There is still enough of untamed land accessible for homesteaders in North America to seize or recover in their pursuit of a fresh start. I would warn you, though, that you might be setting yourself up for disappointment if you are dead focused on a single place or environment. But if you're open to exploring a wide range of possibilities, you might be surprised by what the "perfect" land turns out to be. Additionally, as you tour properties, you will begin to narrow down what is and is not a deal-breaker, and you might just discover your real gem among the ruff.

Knowing where you're going to be serves as both a psychological and a physical indicator that a new chapter is about to begin. Knowing that there is land out there that will be yours to work is a great motivation when you go through the difficult process of releasing yourself from city-dependency, especially for people who are leaving the city. You can more effectively plan the skills and equipment you would need for your new life if you know if you'll be in the mountains, a remote woodland valley, or a windswept plain.

If I were to give one piece of advise, it would be to not take on debt while buying a piece of land. One of the greatest freedoms and definitely something to save for is the ability to purchase land with cash and have it all to yourself, even though this may not be feasible for everyone due to their unique circumstances. You'll be honing your homesteader-mind regardless if it means making significant financial adjustments in the interim, including selling an extra car, canceling needless subscriptions, and learning to live more simply!

Handling Disapproval After Starting a Homestead

Of course, becoming a homesteader requires physical labor, but it also requires just as much, if not more, mental labor. Making the choice to leave behind what is regarded as a "normal" existence and go it alone demands a level of commitment that can endure the confusion, criticism, doubt, and even downright hatred that will inevitably come your way.

Do you intend to live off the grid? Create market gardens? Launch a grass-fed, organic dairy?

and save the traditional ways before they vanish? For whatever reason you and your family have decided to take this on, two conditions must be met in order for it to be successful: first, a commitment to putting actual, workable action behind your plans (without which it will remain that "someday" dream); second, agreement and a shared vision among family members, if at all possible (harder to do with older children, I understand).

When someone asks you, "So...what, exactly, are you doing? " and raises an eyebrow, you might need to be prepared with two different responses.Most, I've discovered, are content with a brief, understandable response. Saying you're going into farming or moving to the country for a better life is a simple enough response to those people. Most people just shrug their shoulders at it. You cannot be affected by that; it will only cause you difficulties to worry about what other people who do not homestead think of you.

Occasionally, though, you will come across someone who asks you what you're doing with a questioning gaze and isn't trying to trick you. Perhaps they are truly interested in learning about homesteading, or perhaps they sense a strong desire to live in the country. You might be able to impart the entire organic practices, independence, or self-sufficiency mindset that is really motivating you to these select few. Treasure those words of wisdom!

While You Wait, Work on Your Homesteading Skills

You can begin your homestead adventure anywhere, even if you haven't located your land and have no idea where you'll end up. Several of the fundamental skills needed for homesteading are universal, even though some may be site-specific. Acquiring knowledge about some of the following is an excellent—and considerably healthier—substitute for lounging in front of a Netflix cue while ordering cold takeout!

Wood stoves are a great way to teach yourself how to be self-sufficient on a homestead if you have the option of putting one in your current residence. A wood stove may reduce your home's heating costs and teach you how to manage a cozy fire throughout the winter, split, and prepare your own firewood. It can also provide an off-grid cooking surface for some deliciously slow-cooked stews!

Cooking: It's time to learn how to cook if you don't know how to do it or if you don't think you can do it well. Taking charge of your own food preparation doesn't have to be a hardship or an impossible task. It may be among the most pleasurable and healthiest decisions you make every day. Start with the fundamentals and don't worry about becoming a Michelin-starred chef overnight. Carry-out, pizza delivery, and dining establishments could frequently be too far away on the homestead to rely on. However, why would you want to order takeout if you could cook your own nutritious soups, tasty pilafs, spicy stir fries, and homemade breads?

Food Preservation: It may seem archaic to save food for the winter in this day and age when supermarket tomatoes and February strawberries are readily available year-round. But after you move to your farm and begin growing, knowing how to can, dry, salt, smoke, ferment, and freeze will offer you an advantage. If you still reside in a city, it's simple to join a CSA, visit farmer's markets, or even visit a salvage grocery to locate an abundance of fresh vegetables that you can store for the winter. One excellent resource is the Gardeners and Farmers of Centre Terre Vivante's Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning.

Gardening: Let's face it, fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes taste far better than those you buy at the store; they kind of taste like wet cardboard. Seeing gorgeous, non-GMO, heirloom crops come into the kitchen to feed the family is a pleasure I believe everyone should experience, and gardening can be a true delight. You should actually start learning the year-round tasks of preparing the garden, tending to food plants, and enriching the soil, regardless of whether you have a large backyard or just a sunny place by the window.

Other farm chores like composting, pest control, and seed saving are entwined with gardening. Adding experiences and skills to your imaginary toolbox can only make you more self-assured, knowledgeable, and independent.

Burpee's Complete Vegetable and

and Jere and Emilee Gettle's The Heirloom Life Gardener are two of my favorite gardening resources.

Landscaping: You'll probably have some land to tend to when you move into your homestead. There will be a lot of stumps, ruts, and debris to clear up on some homestead sites because their prior owners intensively logged them before they could be made affordable. Take care of your land management yourself rather than contracting out the labor to a service. Developing a close bond with your acreage's plants, soil, and overall layout will also benefit from your ability to transfer your acquired talents to your next property.

Creating and/or Repairing Clothes: Living on a homestead entails labor-intensive job, which leads to several holes in your clothes. Not only will knowing how to mend and patch clothes earn you marks for being frugal, but it will also significantly extend the life of otherwise perfectly good clothing. The chickens don't really care how stylish you are in the interim—that skirt covered in patches you earned via hard effort can wind up becoming one of your favorites in the end! And nothing is cozier than a hat that has been painstakingly fashioned by hand from wool. Not only are knitting, crocheting, and sewing great pastimes for retired women, but they're also practical and enjoyable ways to unwind after a long day—and they're much better for your eyes than looking at a screen in the dark.

Woodworking: Using your hands to create anything has a profoundly satisfying effect. The DIY core of homesteading is being able to use woodworking equipment and make the items you need. In addition to being more affordable, being able to design, develop, and construct the tool, cart, or structure you require for your particular needs will frequently yield far superior results than cheap, store-bought items.

To be honest, using hand tools can make the labor a peaceful joy that is absent from the clamor and commotion of modern life. That's not just my inner prude talking—you'll find plenty of skilled artisans who still concur! Lehman's Store in Kidron is well worth the

close to Ohio, as it offers a vast selection of homesteading goods for sale in addition to standard building tools that are useful for learning. In addition, the exquisitely illustrated book Eric Sloane's Museum of Early American Tools highlights some of the amazing specialized tools that you might not have seen before.

Home renovation: Whether you're beginning from scratch or sprucing up an existing property, I can assure you that when you move to the farm, your house will require work. If you put in the time to practice, you can and will learn even if you are currently a tool expert. And you ought to. If you don't have access to an actual teacher, YouTube has a ton of tutorials on everything from establishing a rain catchment system to laying tile. When it comes to potentially hazardous installations, such as electricity, you should always take caution, but there's no reason you can't start learning how to do it yourself.

Setting Up Crops and Gardens

I know I've already talked about gardening, but gardening can take on a whole new meaning once you're on a homestead as opposed to when you were "practicing" on your suburban lot. If you choose to pursue market gardening, it can turn into a way of life and even a financial benefit for the homestead.

When you first move onto your property, you could be given a garden plot, but for many of us, we have to start from scratch. Like the early homesteaders planting their first harvests of cowpeas and "sod corn," turning rocky, clayey, or nutrient-depleted land into a lush vegetable patch can often be an uphill fight. But be encouraged! There are some excellent starter crops to get you started, even if you're a total novice.

I suggest perennials first. These are definitely worth your effort, long-lived plants that can provide you with sustenance for years after just one season of establishment. Consider the following

Jerusalem Artichokes/Sunchokes: Although these native American sunflowers are neither from Jerusalem nor related to artichokes, they more than make up for their lack of proper name by being a dependable source of nutrition. Their sweet, nutty tubers require relatively little care to grow and taste great both fresh and cooked.

Rhubarb: Homesteaders in more northern regions can enjoy the harvest of this tart, sweet, almost tropical-tasting shrub for decades, even though this cool-weather plant may suffer in warm climates like the Ozarks.

Fruit bushes and vines: If you preserve them, year-round enjoyment, nutrition, and deliciousness can be had from elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, grapes, and blueberries. Determine which berries will thrive on your property and plant them as soon as possible.

Herbs: You may take use of the culinary and medicinal benefits of long-lived herbs such as thyme, sage, lavender, and mint as soon as you plant them in the ground. To thrive, most only need a small amount of mulching and pruning.

Secondly, if you can locate a decent northern slope, I suggest designing and planting an orchard as soon as possible. Apple trees are probably the most useful trees to grow, as they provide fodder for animals with their pruning, fruit that stores well, cider, and vinegar. The old Chinese proverb that states, "the best time to

was twenty years ago," however, also states, "the second-best time is now." Standard-sized trees are the greatest long-term options, if you can find them. Their health and centuries-long lifespan surpasses the convenience of their short-lived dwarf cousins, even though you might require a ladder.

Additionally, don't overlook natural fruit trees! You might also get a lovely harvest from pawpaw, persimmon, nannyberry, Aronia, wild plum, wild peach, and a plethora of other native delicacies. It's worth checking into if the department of conservation in your state holds annual sales of native trees for less than $1 per sapling.

to a minimum your first year; some of us may get a bit carried away when we finally get our seeds in the ground. I argue that rather than starting with every exotic extra offered in the

, it is much better to start with the staples for your family—the tomatoes, lettuce, beans, maize, or squash that you know you'll eat. You can save

crops instead of hybrids. For

, Baker Creek Seeds and Annie's Heirlooms are great places to shop.

We're still establishing that aspect of our homestead, so I don't have enough experience with my own crops to be able to provide any real guidance regarding staple grains. On the other hand, I would advise keeping an open mind regarding certain unconventional grains and seeds. For example, drought-tolerant, hard-as-nails millet can be the solution if wheat struggles in your soil! Alternatively, if all of your property is covered in oak trees, you can be sitting on a food goldmine if you're prepared to learn how to prepare them. Acorns were a staple of many Native American tribes' diets.

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