I've been looking forward to sharing more about our journey into homesteading ever since we transitioned into farming as a full time career back in 2017. Homesteading is what helped expand our skills on how to provide food for ourselves and our family, while also building habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife through our permaculture no-till methods. We have seen soil thriving with life and ecosystems in balance, through a continuous refinement of the practices that we have been using since 2012. It's been a positive evolution, our practices continue to get better every year based on exactly what we are growing / producing and the combination of enterprises we have (vegetables, flowers, livestock, etc). And now that we are farming, what we are doing is on a larger scale as far as the size and scale of permanence, but that is the great thing about the practices we use is that they are scalable in both directions. You can go big or you can go small.
I want to help breakdown different aspects of homesteading in order to making it easier to understand for anyone who is interested in becoming more self-sufficient and producing their own food. The main things that have been realistic and achievable goals on our homestead over the years include: growing enough of our own food to not need to purchase any from the store / market, preserving enough food to last through winter and into the following summer, knowing exactly where your food is coming from and how it was produced, creating ecosystems for pollinators and wildlife, creating closed loop systems through composting, companion planting to increase overall production and soil health, container gardening indoors throughout the winter, making broths and recipes from what we grow / produce, fermentation, sustainable foraging practices, integrating mind / body practices like martial arts to stay physically fit, and being able to help provide for our friends and family with any excess that we produce and can't personally consume or preserve.
For us, homesteading has involved progressing and adapting our lifestyle to that of an older way of living, one that is deeply connected with the land and our food. It is becoming a lost art as we all search for the fastest and easiest ways to get our food, which includes getting into your car and going to the nearest grocery store or farmers market, instead of just walking out into your backyard and harvesting it. But we see homesteading as being able to provide many valuable life and survival skills, that you can pass down generationally to help each other know how to survive off what we can produce along with teaching our community around us too, so that we can all be more intertwined with our food production processes. Homesteading for self-sufficiency is not as out of reach as people think, it does involve work, but it is both rewarding and fulfilling work. You can start homesteading in your backyard, a shared community garden, or on acres of land. You could even do it completely in containers if you have limited in space. Or you could come together with others and purchase a few acres of land together to start a shared homestead. If you are determined to grow your own food, you can find a way and there are many options to choose from, you may just have to get creative based on your specific situation and geographic location.
Do your best not to get overwhelmed by the thought of diving right in and growing your own food. You will have both failures and successes. The key is that you don't give up, because you will absolutely continue to learn and gain skills over time, no matter how many failures you have. If you plan accordingly you should be able to have success fairly quickly, we were able to achieve many goals beyond what we had originally set for ourselves within our early years of homesteading. You will continue to adapt and progress as you learn what works for your specific growing context and what doesn't. Maybe you start out growing a vegetable garden, but then progress into growing medicinal herbs and adding chickens for eggs. Maybe you start out raising chickens for meat, and end up adding turkeys and quail. You may even start out homesteading and eventually progress into farming, like we ended up doing. There are so many combinations and ways to develop your homestead, the key is that you just pick a place to start and begin. Don't get caught up on the long term details too much, just start growing, producing, and learning.
I will get into all of these things in more detail, broken down in their own posts. There is a lot of information to know about each of those concepts, but the important thing is to start considering how to plan and manage your homestead. The better prepared you are and the more you plan, the more successful you will be.
It's important to also be realistic with your goals, if you only have limited space there will only be so much you can grow. But you can also maximize your space by companion planting different crops together, and also by succession planting things too, so that once you harvest from an area you can fill that growing area right back up so no space is ever wasted. The reason it is important to first determine how much space you plan to grow in is because this helps answer a lot of the other questions that follow. Space, time, and your budget will be a few of the main limiting factors. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, if you have unlimited or a large amount of space, you don't want to go bigger than you can manage when you're just getting started. Using permaculture no-till production methods you can grow a lot in a small space. Some of the top producers using these methods are using a few acres or less and are producing a lot of food even on a farm scale. So if you are just growing for your homestead you may be able to start with smaller of an area than you would think. And it's better to have a smaller perfectly managed area, than a larger one that ends up getting out of your control and becoming less productive than it could be.
Get a notebook dedicated to your homestead and write notes on everything. From dates that you start seeds and when you transplant them into the ground, harvest quantities and dates harvested, a log on the high and low outdoor temperature, issues that you faced growing specific things, methods that worked well for you, a daily journal log of what work was done in your garden, draw a map of your garden layout, dates to plant successions, etc. There is a lot of ways to journal about your homestead and garden, and there is no right or wrong way and you will learn as you go. Just start writing, because there is no way you will ever remember all the information you need to keep track of without a dedicated place to put all those details. Definitely recommend hand writing all your notes, it is easier to access in the field, without needing a cell phone or laptop. Being able to look back on past seasons will be valuable in the future, when you want to review and see what worked and what didn't for you. Below are the 2 notebooks and my planner where all my notes are written down (these will be completely filled by the end of this season). Highly recommend using a Passion Planner, it helps set goals for your personal and professional life and can be a valuable tool to push your own development and really get to the heart of what you want to accomplish in life overall and in your daily routine.
The great thing about growing vegetables for your own personal use and to share excess with family, is that a packet of organic seeds is only a few dollars and includes many, potentially hundreds of seeds, that can grow into nutrient dense food. It is such a cost effective way of growing your own food, the biggest effort will be the work you put into tending to and caring for your growing area. Processes can be streamlined and more efficient over time, the most labor is in the initial setup of your area. After that it is just regular maintenance. The work and labor required upfront will end up taking the most effort, but even when you are doing it yourself no matter how long it takes, you are still saving a lot of money from what you would be spending to purchase organic produce from the store / market / or a local farm. With that being said, you should still seek to support small local farms whenever you can and purchase from them whatever you don't grow or raise yourself. When we started homesteading, we still spent on purchasing meat and bones from local farms that we weren't able to produce ourselves. One of our favorite local farms out of the Watkins Glen area is Shannon Brook Farm. In our opinion they have the best pork and bacon cuts available locally, and we would also purchase sheep bones for our raw fed dogs. By supporting local farms you are putting money back into our local economy on the ground level. As a small farm ourselves, we give back by purchasing organic straw and hay from a neighboring farm, organic livestock feed from a local feed supplier, and we personally buy for our own use from other small homesteads and farms items like grass fed and finished beef or bison. You can be a self-sufficient homestead and still support local farms too. But you should aim to have enough preserved either through freezing, canning, or dehydrating (especially if you should fall on hard times and become tight on incoming cash flow or resources) that you can fully survive for at least a year on what you have preserved. You need enough to get you by until you can replenish your stock by either growing or producing more.
Producing and preserving your own food are both valuable skills that we all need to know. Knowing where your next meal is coming from can bring you and your family peace of mind. Especially if you produced the food yourself or got it from a local farm you trust. By becoming a producer of your own food, you will also be able to more critically assess the farming practices being used by local farms and learn what questions are important to ask them about their production methods.
We know that homesteading for self-sufficiency can provide important skills, many things that are necessary for both surviving and thriving. We also believe that everyone can benefit from being outside connecting with nature more, while also learning how to provide healthy nutrient dense food for your body. We hope you join us in 2020 by starting to grow your own food or expanding your existing homestead, we're looking forward to sharing more about what has helped us over the years so that you can use that information to either begin or continue to grow your own homestead.