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How to Homestead – (Not Quite) Like Grandma Used to Do

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There's a growing interest in how to homestead and become more self-reliant. While the days of earning free land by farming it for a period of years is long gone, there are still many ways that most of us can incorporate homesteading principles into our daily lives.

You don't have to move off grid to learn how to homestead. Just take a lesson from grandma and work to provide for your family with the best of old and new.

Note – Although it sounds romantic and adventurous, “free land” often came at a high cost to those original homesteaders.

My great-grandparents were part of the original homesteading movement out west. I remember my mom telling me a story passed down through her family about a young boy of 11 who was left to hold a homestead claim on his own for a year so his family could have more land.

The boy survived, but the loneliness changed him and he was never quite right after the experience. The “good old days” weren't always good.

How to Homestead – Covering the Basics

In this post we'll take a look at the fundamentals of homesteading and self-reliance, which include providing for our basic needs such as:

  • Food and Water
  • Shelter and Hygiene
  • Clothing

With money being tight for many and economic uncertainty, saving money by doing more for yourself can be as good or better than simply busting your backside to try and earn more money. (The IRS is not taxing garden produce, chickens and homemade clothing – yet.)

My grandparents got along pretty well when the Great Depression hit compared to many because they were able to provide for many of their own needs right on the farm.

You don't have to move off grid to learn how to homestead. Just take a lesson from grandma and work to provide for your family with the best of old and new.

Go into the homesteading mindset thinking strategically:

  • What does my family use every single day?
  • How is our budget spent?
  • What activities would most improve our quality of life?

Don't think you need to do everything at once! Just pick one project/idea to focus on, work on it until you're happy with the results, and then move on to the next.

Let's get planning!

You don't have to move off grid to learn how to homestead. Just take a lesson from grandma and work to provide for your family with the best of old and new.

#1 – Make Sure You Have Access to Good Water

Safe water and having enough water have become serious issues around the globe. The southern California drought and contamination of municipal water supplies such as the lead in Flint, Michigan are two examples that are currently making the news in the U.S..

Without safe water, nothing else matters. You can't provide for your family, grow a garden or have critters.

Grandma and grandpa found this out when their pasture dried up during the Dust Bowl Years and they had to get creative with feeding the cows. They had a hand pump for the well, and their biggest concern was whether or not it might run dry. Things have gotten a little more complicated since then.

We get our water tested annually through our local land conservation office. If you have never had your water tested, I highly recommend it, just to be on the safe side.

There are a number of different filtration options to ensure water is safe to use, and every household should have water storage on site for emergency use.

Specific recommendations for water storage and filtration, as well as homestead water management, can be found at:

#2 – Grow Your Own Food

Gardening and growing your own food is a great way to start your journey to being more self-reliant. Both sets of grandparents always had big gardens and did a ton of canning and preserving.

I remember mom's mom having a big poppy patch for breadseed poppies, to use in kolache, tea rings and rolache.

Dad's mom loved strawberries better than the birds. She'd pick them half green and ripen them in the window so she get as many berries as she could.

Even apartment dwellers may be able to have some containers in a sunny window or on a patio, or use a hydroponic kit or mini garden with built in lighting.

Community garden plots may also be an option. Those who own land may want to consider permaculture principles to develop a sustainable food forest that will produce food for years to come.

For those who are new to gardening, we have over 40 posts listed the gardening page covering a wide variety of gardening topics. Some of most helpful for beginners include:

#3 – Preserve Your Own Food

Food storage allows you to preserve your garden produce to enjoy year round, or to preserve an excess for lean years. (Anyone with gardening experience can tell you that some years are much more productive than others.)

I still have a big crock that was passed down from my grandmother to my mother for making sauerkraut, brine pickles and wine, as well as some glass gallon jugs that used to store blackberry and dandelion wines.

If you don't have a garden of your own, you can still buy in bulk from farmers markets or direct from local growers, or simply take advantage of seasonal sales at the grocery store and stock up.

A well stocked pantry is an everyday convenience, and it can be a real blessing when you can't get to the grocery due to bad weather, or you can't afford to do much grocery shopping due to job loss or other budget constraints.

Unlike grandma, we don't have to rely solely on the root cellar, food on the hoof of water batch canning. We can also use freezing, dehydrating, pressure canning, freeze drying – whatever fits our time, space and budget.

Food Storage Resources

To get started building your food storage, check out:

Raising animals for meat, milk and eggs is another great food production option for the modern homesteader with a little more space. Chickens have been referred to as “the gateway” animal, as they are some of the easiest critters to care for and don't require a lot of room. Rabbits are also good for small spaces, and their manure can be added straight to the garden without burning plants. (This is not true with most animal manures.) Dairy goats are also very popular for fresh milk and cheese, and family cows have also seen more interest in recent years.

Homestead Livestock Resources

You can see our full listing of Animal Husbandry posts here. Some of the top posts to get you started with critters include:

#4 – Make Your Home More Sustainable

Many people associate homesteading with off grid living, i.e., “getting back to the land” or being completely disconnected from public utilities.

There are certainly some homesteaders who do this, but for many of us, we can add elements to our homes or change our daily habits to reduce our reliance on the grid.

Both sets of grandparents used wood heat, which any wood stove user will tell you “heats you up twice” – once when you cut it, once when you burn it.

I worked in the solar industry for several years before becoming a full time homesteader, and I want to tell you straight up that your quickest return on investment (in most cases) is in energy conservation.

Solar panels and windmills may be sexy, but they usually come with a hefty price tag. Contrast this with a project like replacing leaking windows. This will reduce both heating and cooling bills and may pay back the investment in a season or two.

I have a great list of potential ways to cut your energy use in the Homesteading 101 ebook (free for subscribers). “9 Tips Everyone Should Know for Keeping Your House Cool” is also a solid resource for cutting those summer cooling bills.

Alternative Energy Resources

If you are ready to make a bigger investment in producing your own heat and electricity, take a look at:

Money can also be saved by reducing your consumption of material goods, buying used and repurposing items instead of tossing them in the trash.

I know it's become trendy to have the latest and greatest electronic gadget or new clothes or – no, honestly, I don't know, because I don't keep up on shopping trends.

With all the ads I'm bombarded with, I'm sure someone is buying that junk. It's just not me, and I'm guessing that if you've gotten this far in the article, it's not you, either.

Through the magic of youtube, you can find instructions on how to repair almost anything that can be repaired. It's awesome! You can also find tons of ideas for recycling and upcycling. Use your imagination!

Making your own home goods and cleaning products allows you to reduce toxic chemical exposure and save money. Some ideas for simple projects:

#5 – Learn Useful Skills, Like Sewing and Mending

I confess I have very little knowledge of fiber arts like sewing or crocheting. My sewing skills consist mostly of mending, which, while useful, is rarely beautiful.

Still, I've come to appreciate the wide array of patch kits now available for leather, seam mending and a variety of fabrics. Very handy, and a lot cheaper than replacing an entire garment (or piece of furniture).

Mom used to keep a scrap bag of completely worn out clothes to patch other clothes – I do the same thing.

Grandma made many of their clothes from scratch, including flour sack dresses for my mom made out of 50 pound flour sacks from the dry goods store.

I have many friends who do beautiful work with yarn and fabrics, plus there are other local artisans who show at craft fairs, some small local stores, and farmers markets.

While more expensive up front, quality handmade goods will generally outlast and outperform their cheaper retail counterparts. If you learn how to make items yourself, you can enjoy the quality for just the cost of your time and materials.

Recommended resources:

If you're not up to tackling more projects, shopping for used clothing can stretch your budget. Sometimes find some real gems, too. Older clothing was often better made than some of the current see through, poorly made junk now available.

You don't have to move off grid to learn how to homestead. Just take a lesson from grandma and work to provide for your family with the best of old and new.

Benefits of the Homesteading Lifestyle

Living the homesteading lifestyle can help you break free of the rat race. If you to provide for more of your own needs instead of buying things, you need less income .

When you work with the seasons – either via gardening, raising animals or using solar energy – you become more aware of the changes and the pulse of natural rhythms. It's a beautiful thing to step out into the morning sun and listen to the birds singing and wander over to your garden to enjoy some fresh picked berries, still wet with morning dew.

Homesteading also helps fight Couch Potato Syndrome and Cell Phone Neck. Keeping busy with projects around the homestead keeps you active and breaks up screen time – without an expensive gym membership.

Homesteading builds a sense of community as you get to know those with related interests, like beekeeping or gardening clubs. It's also a great way to get to know your neighbors and start bartering goods and services.

If you'd like more ideas on how to homestead, visit the Getting Started Homesteading page, and/or sign up for the newsletter and get a free copy of my ebook, “Common Sense Home 101: 7 Steps to Become More Self-Reliant”.

Get Homesteading 101 FREE

Do you consider yourself a homesteader? I'd love to read your suggestions/lessons learned that you're willing to share with new homesteaders. Every journey is unique, and building community is one of my favorite parts of homesteading.

Recommended Homesteading Resources:

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30 Comments

  1. Yes, my husband and I are homesteaders in Alaska, 42 miles from the nearest road. We moved here several years ago from a high-rise in Houston, TX.
    I am very impressed by your website, which I regard as very practical, and that is the most important aspect of homesteading, I think!
    A “how to” mentality, coupled with a “why not to” attitude about unnecessary stuff, like consumerism.
    I agree with your comment that some people think this life is easier and cheaper than it is to start out, as in, “I’ll do that one of these days,” without embarking on simple steps they can do where they are, like starting to garden, can foods, learn skills. “Homesteading self-sufficient skills” can be incorporated, as you suggest, by apartment dwellers in some big city, too. Thank you for your informative and well – written website. –Laura

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Laura. Yep, I’v often found that “some day” never comes, unless you start with small steps, now. It kills me when they have those prepper shows and the people hold up a container of seeds and say, “We’ll learn to garden when we need to.” There’s a learning curve with every skill, homesteading or otherwise.

      1. Oh goodness, your so right ! I’ve actually said I’ll learn it when I need to, instead of practicing now ! Thanks for reminding us we need to learn all we can about homesteading to be ready & know what to do! We need be prepared for when we need to know, what…not how! Many blessings ????

  2. The number one concern about homesteading should always be water. Without a reliable source of clean water all the rest is superfluous. Right now I get water from what used to be a community well system. It was sold to an out of state corporation. Now we pay the highest water rates in the entire state. If those wells were to ever dry up or become contaminated, we wouldn’t be able to live here. Water is & always has been our Achilles heel.

  3. I would love to someday be able to grow a lot of my own fresh vegetables and be more self sufficient. Thanks for sharing, it is inspiring!

  4. I’ve found that homesteading can be very overwhelming for many people. They are always commenting to me, “I wish I knew how to do that.” I encourage them to start one project and them slowly add more as they feel comfortable. Sometimes they need to see it in action also. So I invite them over. Free help is always welcome!

  5. Thank you for the link to the book on the high cost of free land! I am definitely going to read that. I visited a friend’s Muskoka cottage 45 years ago – one of the last homesteaders’ homes. Its lot was rather small (generous for a cottage, but not in any sense a farm) because in the end the family hung onto it by selling off bits for rich people’s cottages and even a turn of the 20th century hotel) and the land was just rocks, the Canadian Shield with the thinnest layer of soil. Those poor homesteaders. Then, 50 years later (1920s), the Ontario government did it again in the Clay Belt of Northern Ontario. It turned out that the soil was indeed deep and fertile, but the blackfly numbers peak during planting season and drove men and horses mad. Few farmers could endure that – or the 8 month winters. To get their “free” land one stipulation was that they had to build and inhabit a house not less than 20 by 40 feet. You can see quite a number of these little houses if you drive along a northern highway, but very few have any cultivated land, it’s all scrubland, shrubs, weeds. Very sad.

  6. Dear Laurie, ditto to all the positive comments above about you and your homesteading website. Very Big Thank You! One thing I wanted to share – we live on 106 acres in southwest Australia, with about 50 acres of the land arable. The rest is bush (forest) which is great for firewood. We have around 70 sheep who live here until they die from old age. We get 15 to 19 lambs a year. My problem, is that I can’t bear the slaughtering. If I watch or participate, I just can’t eat the meat. Call me a ‘wuss.’ That’s Aussie for sissy. But I just wondered if others have this problem. Even if I don’t watch, I feel queasy about eating the meat. I’m not at all judgmental about others eating their livestock. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just can’t seem to get used to it. I think it’s something to do with having seen them born and play as lambs. Would probably be even worse with rabbits.

    1. I’m sure feelings like that are why many people give up meat. It’s one of the hardest parts of raising your own food. I still tear up when it’s time to process critters (recently we’ve helped friends, when I was growing up we processed many animals on the farm). If we choose to eat meat, I think it’s important that we understand everything that goes into it – good and bad. It still doesn’t make it any easier.

      The only time I truly felt so sick I couldn’t eat the critter was when we processed an old gander on the farm. He was an African gander, and he got really mean as he got older. He wouldn’t let any other males near the females, and he was impotent so mom wasn’t getting any baby geese. (Back then, she raised them for sale.) He also started randomly attacking people, biting and wing beating, including mom. One day he came after her, and the only way she got him to back off was by beating him across the head with a 5 gallon bucket. She’d had enough, and he ended up on the table the next day. He was mean, but he’d been around a long time, and I choked up when I sat down to eat. The old goose had the last laugh, though. He was so tough, no one could eat him. Most of it ended up going to my dog, Mr. Pupper.

      1. HILLARIOUS! THANKS for sharing! I cackled out loud reading that & you brightened my day. I have a rooster that wants to attack me as soon as he comes out of the coop in the morning but I’ve learned he does NOT like the sound of one of those plastic store shopping bags so I just rustle that when I see him coming for me. I don’t know if I could bring myself to eating him, though. I call him “Mr. Peep” & he’s dear to me all the same.

        1. Mom probably wouldn’t have done in the gander, either, but he was keeping the new male away from the ladies and she needed goslings. At that point we were still raising large flocks of geese and ducks for sale.

  7. Hello Laurie I think you have a wonderful article here about the “how to” for homesteading. I have shared it on our FB page and I’m featuring it in our newsletter that will go out this Sunday Dec 4th. I’m sure our followers will find it enjoyable and interesting. Hopefully they will sign up for your e-book! All the best to you… jerri owner of Homesteaders Supply

  8. I’ve only had time to skim the surface at pesent, but–wow–this looks like great info, and I am definitely planning to come and spend some seious time here. We are beginning our 2nd year on our property, and have so much yet to learn. Thank you for summarizing the most important aspect we need to cover. Coming back for sure.

  9. It’s not just the local water sources that people need to check out, but the whole aquifer. 1) How fast is it dropping & how large an area can draw on it & 2) What are local & state water preemption rights & laws when there isn’t water for all users??

  10. I live in a small apartment, yet grow tomatoes, herbs, garlic, mint, bell pepper, etc. I also make my own laundry soap and cleaning supplies. If I can do it in 800 sq feet any one can. Thank you for your article. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

  11. You have a great website here with plenty of in formation. I don’t know what part of the country you are in, but it must be in a colder climate. We live in the SE and our planting dates are a bit different than your location. For example, you plant potatoes there in May, where we plant them in Jan and Feb. Different parts of the country have different planting dates for outside direct planting. I have been doing this for almost 60 years. Maybe it would be more practicable if you would list dates for different parts of the country.

    1. We live in Wisconsin, so yes, planting dates will be different than in the southeast USA.

      In the articles and guides where I talk about specific planting dates, I note that they should be determined based on frost dates (first and last). Given that we have readers from over 200 different countries and all over the USA, it’s not practical to list specific dates for planting every crop in every location.

      In addition, there are guest posts written by friends from Louisiana and Texas to talk about the differences in their gardening strategies compared to mine. One deals with extreme heat in the garden, and the other talks about how they garden year round because they can’t use a traditional root cellar in their area.

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