How To Start A Homestead

Start a Homestead FB

We’ve been “homesteading” for a little over three years now. What started out as a desire to live intentionally and garden has escalated into chickens, two pigs, a dairy cow (or several), and meat chickens. Not to mention about an acre of garden space and a greenhouse. Chickens are a gateway animal, I tell you.

But anyway, based solely on my own short experience, this would be my advice to anyone wanting to start producing some of their own food.

1. Start wherever you are right now. No need to wait until you can buy that perfect piece of property (we rent). Toss some plants out on your balcony, buy bulk tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market and can away, or get permission from your landlord to add a garden. Everything you do now, even if it’s not exactly how you want to do it in the long term, provides you with valuable learning experiences that you can draw from later.

If you’re serious about this, I highly recommend Your Custom Homestead by Jill Winger.

2. Start small and take your time. Maybe this depends on personality, but I am easily overwhelmed and have really benefited from our long and slow approach to building the homestead. Garden, chickens, larger gardens, meat chickens, dairy cow, pigs- spread over three years. Especially when people work “off farm,” which is most people’s reality, it can be really helpful to not get in too far over your head.

3. Let go of the idea that things need to look beautiful to function. That is simply not true. Everyone loves beautiful things, but your chicken coop or garden fencing does not have to be Pinterest-worthy to get the job done. And the less cute it is, typically the more affordable it is. Don’t break the bank trying to impress other people. See the beauty in the natural system instead. There’s plenty there, and it’s all free.

4. Get creative. Can’t afford that perfect chicken coop? Build something out of salvaged materials. Don’t have a lot of land? Use rotational grazing to make the most of what you have. Or what about all the tower gardening and square foot gardens that allow a lot of gardening in a small amount of space? Or the free wild edible plants growing in your area? The Internet runneth over with creative ideas for every space and place. For example:

17 plants on one square foot of land- Attainable Sustainable

Square foot perfectionism- Hullabaloo Homestead

Grow lettuce in  a plastic storage bin- Green Eggs and Goats

Grow veggies in a gutter- Green Eggs and Goats

1/8 acre urban farm- Ever Growing Farm

Chickens and gardening in the city- Cluck and Hoe

Foraging for ramps, or wild leeks- Learning and Yearning

Foraging for watercress- Learning and Yearning

5. Do some things poorly. Joel Salatin, one of my favorite people ever, says, “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly first.” In other words, don’t expect to be an expert right away. And don’t let your lack of expertise stop you from trying something you’re interested in. Just try. If you mess up, you mess up. Keep trying, keep learning, and keep altering your plan until it works. Persevere, my friend. And use that old noggin’.

What would you add to this list? Do you raise any of your own food? What’s stopping you from getting started?

Go forth, and do some things poorly!


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  1. Thank you for sharing. I stumbled upon your blog yesterday and have read almost every post! I love it!
    I am an urban dweller for the time being but hope to make the transition to homesteading in the future. This post made me realize that I don’t need the land and animals right now, I can expand my backyard garden and start experimenting with techniques now! No better time than the present right?

    Thank you <3

  2. I just found your site and enjoyed it immensely. We, too, are setting up a homestead lifestyle. We have 6 children and live in Northeast Missouri. Something that has helped us immensely in the gardening area is switching to a Back to Eden style garden. We haven’t been able to do the whole area yet, since our garden is enormous, but we are doing more of it every year. It eliminates 90%+ of weeding time, reduces our needed irrigation by 80%, and naturally & organically continuously feeds the soil. We are in our 3rd year of gardening this way and I will NEVER go back. There is a free video online to watch that explains it. Just thought I would share since God has blessed us with this information. Now I am going to go read your chicken feed information. That is what I am wanting to start doing!

    • I have GOT to watch the Back to Eden info- people keep telling me to look at it. The weeds really wear us down by the end of the year, and even finding the time for my husband to till is hard. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll try to get my husband (and myself) to watch it tonight.

  3. We are in that mode right now. Using this time to make small mistakes to hopefully make the learning curve a little less steep once we get a place in the country. We are growing a bunch of stuff in containers. And we built a raised garden bed. We can’t really do any livestock due to HOA rules. But we are doing what we can.

    • Just stumbled across your blog. You are doing an amazing job. You also have a great attitude. Your quote above – I think is originally from Chesterton who was a proponent of the family homestead many years ago. Keep up the good work!

  4. This is my second year gardening, and I am definitely going through the poorly done stage. I really want to have a homestead some day, so I need the practice while we are still in our apartment. 🙂

    • A late reply for a frequent comment: I’ve gardened for many years and moved alot so I have new garden adventures quite regularly and my experience is that it takes me THREE YEARS to get a good garden in any particular location. I don’t organize them the same every year and Mother Nature doesn’t bless them the same every year but by the third year (usually just before we move) everything seems to come together. Take heart and keep gardening!

  5. Rebekah Metcalf says:

    Do you have Biden’s or comfrey? I want to grow my own if I can find some to divide/share.
    How’s your week old darling faring?

    • I don’t know… I haven’t planted any, but it should grow wild. So far I’ve only identified plantain and mullein, which have a lot of medicinal uses. I’d love to find bidens or comfrey too! Baby is great- how’s yours doing?!

  6. Good list. For the long haul I would add Faith &Courage to the list. Without both , there will be times when the heartbreak and discouragement will be almost unbearable.

  7. Chickens are gateway animals!!! Your story sounds just like my little homestead story. Started as a few raised beds and has turned into a huge garden, fruit trees, raised beds, chickens, sheep, and goats!! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Ashley what a great list of tips and you are so right…you do not have to have every thing perfect to start you just need to start. Homesteading is really a mindset and it does not matter where you live as long as you are learning to take care of yourself in some way. Here is a post about the cost of setting up a homestead you might find interesting.

  9. Amy Cooper says:

    Just read your blog off a Grit magazine link. Love your gateway drug comment lol! The problems I face with building a homestead lie more in the “personnel” realm, since we own 12 acres of decent land in the SW MO Ozarks. My husband has been carefully nurtured along in my quest for self-suffiency lol. We took baby steps with egg and then meat chickens and a small garden I supplemented with purchases from a Mennonite produce auction. 5 years later, we have three pigs overwintering in our (now HUGE) garden, breeding rabbits for meat and supplemental income, and 2 steers! Good luck with your growing family and God bless!

  10. Josephine says:

    That is a great list, and I agree about chickens being a gateway to homesteading, although I had guinea hens first. I actually started by growing veggies mixed in with my flowers in my front yard in Boston years ago. Now we’re on 13 acres in the forest/mountains of NH. We have 23 chickens, 2 pigs, 2 dogs, and a cat. We grow a lot of food as well as wild foraging. We can, freeze and dehydrate what we harvest. We had a bad year for tomatoes this year, so you have to be flexible. In the mountains, you have to deal with harsh winters, but the land is less expensive so it’s all about choices. We would like to a get a dairy animal sometime, a cow, or a couple of goats. Fencing can be the most expensive item, that and predator control, the Bears are hungry!

  11. Great advice! I’m right there with you… how ever number 6 should be safe…. I burnt down my house brooding Cornish crosses… One of my three heat lamps wasn’t attached properly and boom, catastrophic house fire.. Luckily everyone was OK and I had insurance but wanted to throw that our there

  12. I love this, I truly do. I just wish it was all possible for me and my family. We live in town yet almost on the outskirts but I still couldn’t have farm animals. I do hope to have a garden. I live in Texas so we have a longer growing season. Any suggest for a novice on anything I can plant and can starting in October? Thanks!

  13. Hi, I found your site when playing one day. We have a few acres and grow or raise 95% of the foods we eat in a years time, have chicken, turkey’s, pigs, angus cattle plenty of time spent canning its my life and I encourage people to do as much as they can. Its better for you and you get the satisfaction of raising your own food. You can do canning with out salt! Our cost at the store very little!

  14. Hi, I usually find a lot of the Homestead sites comical but this site is informative and full of useful information. I have been on a small farm all of my life, Great job!!!

  15. Thank you for posting such a wonderful article, it is refreshing to read something that speaks such truths! My husband and I are beginning our first adventures of Homesteading and these tips are very welcomed to an overwhelmed Homesteader rookie!

    Happy trails!

  16. I would add: Don’t let anyone dissuade you from pursuing your dreams! My goodness the number of people who have openly informed me that my dream is plan ridiculous and unrealistic! Remember that no one else knows your limitations! Shoot for the stars and don’t live your life wishing you had… I have four kids and a happy marriage that no one thought was “realistic” and we close on our perfect little two acres in four short weeks! Take that nay-sayers!

  17. Susan Bekken says:

    When are you too old to start a homestead? I missed the boat. I have always wanted to have a garden and chickens. We live lot line to lot line in daytona beach, FL. We are looking for the right property now. In the meantime, I need to practice!

  18. Anna Moon says:

    Therecare so many facets to homesteading. I incorporate green living in by reducing my footprint on the earth. Homemade items such as clothes, soap, etc. Make extra to use for trade or barter. Never buy things new. Start or become members of co-operatives. Buy bulk by collecting a group who will throw in together because there is power when buy in larger quantity. Get to know local farmers and barter. If you dont have a lot of money barter services such as canning or mending.. build on your strengths and be creative. RE: Cute vs functional… cute usually means high maintenance and if you truly are a homesteader your free time will be hard to come by; would you rather be taking a load off or maintenance painting a pretty hen house?

  19. Anna Moon says:

    I grow phenominal tomatoes so I grow lots of them and use them to trade for the foods I cant grow like carrots and fresh milk. I can tomatoes for my dairy farmer and provide other services like mending and kitchen gardenry maintenance in exchange for fresh dairy items. I cant have livestock but can help my neighbors who do by providing services that allow them to do what they do best. We all have a better quality of life.

  20. barb renkema says:

    30 years ago my hubs, 5 kids and i moved to n.w. montana on 40 acres into an unfinished log cabin with no water or electricity. until we installed electricity, i did the laundry in a nearby creek. even diapers. used an outhouse for 10 years before completing the plumbing. homeschooled the kids, grew our own fruits and veggies and killed our own meat. baked 11 loaves of bread a week in a wood cookstove. looking back at the beginning of that life, i wish we’d have started smaller, but we were sure we needed to do this the first year. you are so right about starting small and learning from mistakes, but i would never trade that life for anything. thank yo all for bringing this lifestyle back to the forefront. good luck.

  21. This is so helpful… thanks for taking the time to post 🙂

  22. I live on 6.13 acres in NC. I am expanding every year. I added 2 hogs this year and will up to 4 next year (I sell whole and half shares to pay feed bills), an overlooked worker can be your animals (hogs to break new ground and chicken in 10 X 10 coops to aerate soil, till then plant) I have not bought fertilizer in years. I also use manure for a medium for my raised beds. You can start out expensive or cheap and cheap is the way to go. Happy Homesteading to all.

  23. Ashley,

    I absolutely love this post, it is everything I’m trying accomplish at our home. We started with cattle and horses but I always wanted a more traditional homestead like my grandparents. My husband fought me tooth and nail on chickens and gardening (he said it would just be more work). It is more work but it’s so much more gratifying. I think he finds a little relaxation in treating the chickens to their afternoon snacks and he appreciates being able to pick a fresh tomato for his bacon sandwich.

    Glad I found you, I’ll stay in touch.
    Vicki Alphin
    Our Rural Renewal, Greenwood, Arkansas

  24. hi, Ashley. Just stumbled upon your blog (yay Pinterest) my husband and I are dreaming of a farm and we finally agreed to stop wasting time dreaming and start learning stuff now! We constantly remind each other, if you can’t grow a plant here, you won’t be able to on more acreage, if you can’t get up early here, you won’t just because you have space to do it. Thanks for sharing ☺️

  25. GK Chesterton “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” Very similar! Thanks for this post!

  26. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your blog! When my homesteading goals solidified, the first thing I did was Pin my little heart out, and your blog was among one of the first homesteading blogs I found. This post is super helpful and encouraging, and has inspired me to start my homesteading journey, even documenting it on my own blog. Thanks!

  27. Very good advice. I would recommend starting small and taking you time to everyone. We did just that on our homestead when we started back in 2013. It may seem like your not moving any where fast at first but then you notice it becomes exponential. After just two or three short years it’s amazing when you look back and see how far you’ve come Great post Ashley!

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