Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency that has been practiced in many countries around the world through different historical eras, allowing people to stake a claim on a piece of land on which to live, farm and work. Modern homesteading experienced renewed popularity in the 1960s and has more recently been applied to urban areas – a concept known as Urban Homesteading.
Even if you don’t have a vast amount of space at your disposal, if you have a desire to live more sustainably and to reconnect with the environment around you and the food you eat, you can apply homesteading principles to your garden. Here are the main areas to consider…
Principles of Urban Homesteading
1. Grow your own fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts and edible flowers - in fact, grow whatever you can.
Traditional homesteads have plenty of productive land where large plots of produce can be laid out to keep a family in food all year round. In urban environments its unlikely you’ll have this much space, but everything that you grow means less that has to be processed, transported and purchased.
Start by converting as much of your garden to growing space as you can. Patios are great for containers, or you can put raised beds directly on top of paving. Lawns can be reduced or removed to make way for growing vegetables, ornamental flower beds can become vegetable beds, and borders can be enhanced with trained fruit trees and bushes or climbing beans and peas with beautiful flowers. Don’t forget indoor windowsills – they are useful all year around for growing herbs and sprouting seeds.
If space is tight, make the most of the vertical spaces in your garden too. See our article Ideas for Ideas for Small Gardens – Growing Vegetables Vertically for more ideas.
2. Keep chickens or bees if they are allowed in your neighbourhood, to supply fresh eggs and delicious honey.
A few chickens need only a small chicken house and a caged run, mostly for their protection, of only a few square metres, but the more space you can give them the better. Provide extra space for them to roam freely and you’ll enjoy several eggs per week from each laying hen. They require daily feeding and watering and weekly cleaning to keep them healthy, but you’ll end your need to buy eggs and will have a regular supply of chicken manure that you can leave to rot and use to improve your soil. Chickens will happily feast on some kitchen scraps, and are great at munching on pests such as slugs in the garden. Just be careful to protect your vegetable patch, as they love to roam, scratch and peck, and can quickly ruin your crops.
Honeybees are responsible for 80% of insect pollination, so they play a highly valuable role in pollinating fruits, flowers and vegetables. The hives don’t take up much space and they require only 30 minutes or so of your time every week to keep them happy and healthy. A single hive produces about 25lbs (11kg) of harvestable honey in a year, depending on conditions, and you can also harvest beeswax for use in homemade cosmetics and for a range of jobs in and around the home.
3. Limit your impact on the earth in any way you can by reducing, reusing, repairing and recycling.
Compost your household waste to make a great soil conditioner, and rake up autumn leaves into a wire bin – over time they’ll convert into rich, crumbly leafmould which can be used as an excellent mulch to reduce evaporation from the soil in warmer weather.
Create ways to store rainwater, which is better for most plants than tap water. You can purchase water barrels or make your own from repurposed plastic containers. You could even add efficient drip irrigation to reduce water wastage, powered by a solar-powered pump.
Making your own plant feeds and fertilisers is simple, and reduces the use of commercially manufactured products. Comfrey and nettles can be grown in a wild patch of your garden, and can be easily made into a nutritious tea for your crops.
Designing Your Urban Homestead
Our Garden Planner contains all the tools you need to design and plan your urban homestead. Start with an outline of your plot and lay out key elements such as sheds, greenhouses, paths and paved areas. Next, create growing spaces in the sunniest parts of your garden by adding raised beds, or areas of soil, ready for planting. These objects can be resized to the fit the space you have. Be sure to leave sufficient room to access your plants for maintenance and harvesting. Combine functions where possible to make best use of space and resources. For example, sunny walls are the perfect location for heat-loving fruit to ripen, and boundaries can be perfect for vertical growing.
With your layout complete, now add other structures and objects. Netting and cages can be used to protect fruit and other crops from pests; compost and leafmould bins help to turn your household waste into valuable products for your soil; and water barrels store water in times of plenty and reduce your environmental impact.
Cold frames, cloches and row covers protect precious plants from extremes of weather and will extend your growing season by several weeks, allowing you to grow more of your own produce. They will also protect less hardy plants over colder months and will provide the right environment to raise heat-loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and chillies, even in cooler climates.
The Garden Planner includes a range objects suitable for your urban homestead. You can add chicken houses and chicken runs for a supply of fresh eggs. If you keep bees, selecting and placing a beehive is easy – and like all objects, they can be re-sized and rotated easily.
Add any perennial plants such as fruit and nut trees or hardy perennial herbs and vegetables that will occupy the same space each year, and finally, choose from a wide range of annual vegetables and herbs to complete your garden plan. As you add them, the Garden Planner will show the space they require and will help with crop rotation from year to year.
Urban homesteading is a flexible concept that can be adapted to your circumstances. Whether you have a large suburban plot with space to grow all the food you eat, or a small paved patio growing herbs and salads, you’ll be reducing your impact on the environment and enjoying the unbeatable taste of home-grown produce.