A Beginner's Guide to Small-Scale Homesteading

Updated on July 26, 2019
DavidCory profile image

David Cory is a husband and father. He is a DIY / small scale homesteader enthusiast.

Why Homestead?

Homesteading might seem like an odd thing to do, given the readily available produce found at any grocery store or supermarket. And don't forget how cheap the produce tends to be. So why homestead?

Homesteading provides the following:

  • A sense of accomplishment
  • Fresh and healthy produce
  • Greater self-reliance
  • A hobby
  • Environmental consciousness (you create less plastic waste, for example)
  • A greater appreciation for nature

Certainly there are other advantages to homesteading, but whatever the reason for starting...go for it! There is never a better time to start than the present. As the old adage goes, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” Continue reading to better understand some of the things you can include while creating your own small-scale homestead and why they are so helpful. And remember: start small. Choose one item and go from there. It's all about trial and error and learning how to be more self-reliant.

"In 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, a bill opening one half million square miles of territory in the western United States for settlement."

— Peter Agre

Aspects of a Small-Scale Homestead

Fruit Trees
Vegetable Garden
Goats (milk) and Chickens (meat)
Berry Patch
Rain Barrels

Fruit Trees: A Great Investment

With most of the effort and cost up front, fruit trees provide a source of wonderful nourishment for your family year after year. So how do you go about growing apple trees? Some ideas to keep in mind include:

  • The best time to plant fruit trees is the same as with all trees—autumn. The second best would be springtime.
  • Take your time and plant your tree with care. A bit more up-front effort will yield better results down the road.
  • The biggest expense will, of course, be the up-front cost of purchasing your apple trees.
  • Add in some compost while planting and a good deal of elbow grease. Doing so will get your trees off to a great start in no time.
  • Consider adding a fence around your trees if deer are common in your area.

Urban apple trees.  With a maximum height of 10 to 12 feet and a diameter of only 3 feet, they are ideal for small spaces.
Urban apple trees. With a maximum height of 10 to 12 feet and a diameter of only 3 feet, they are ideal for small spaces.

Compost: A Gardener's Best Friend

How do you care for the plants growing on your small-scale homestead? One of the best ways is to make your own compost!

  • Simply add in produce scraps from your kitchen that you would otherwise put in the trash or down the disposal.
  • It's ecologically friendly. By not sending all your produce scraps to the landfill, you are reducing your household waste.
  • You also reduce water usage if you are in the habit of putting produce scraps down the garbage disposal.
  • It's fun! If you like to be outside and don't mind getting dirty, then composting is for you. It's enjoyable to watch plant-based food scraps being transformed into usable nutrients for your gardens.

Two composters side-by-side.
Two composters side-by-side.
A view of the inside of the composter.  It's important to add both nitrogen and carbon sources.
A view of the inside of the composter. It's important to add both nitrogen and carbon sources.

Rain Barrels: Conserving Water in Style!

When it's dry outside and water is at a premium, it's a great feeling to know that right around the corner of your house is a large supply of water for your plants. As an added bonus, you can reduce your water bill by using rain water in the garden via a rain barrel like the one below.

  • Like composting, using a rain barrel is ecologically friendly. Rain barrels reduce the amount of water that must be treated and sent to your house.
  • It gives you assurance that you'll always have at least some water for your homestead instead of having to completely rely on the water that comes into your house via a municipal source.
  • It's especially helpful for small watering chores. Put your watering can down, turn the spigot on and off, and then go water your plants.
  • It looks nice. Plain and simple, a rain barrel like the one below looks good and can even be a conversation piece.

Using a rain barrel with a flat back allows it to sit closer to your home. It's a great feature for a small scale homestead.
Using a rain barrel with a flat back allows it to sit closer to your home. It's a great feature for a small scale homestead.

Vegetable Garden and Berry Patch

One of the main areas of homesteading is the simple vegetable garden. And while it is simple, it is perhaps at the core of many small homesteads. A veggie garden provides food both now and in the future (if you choose to can and preserve some of your harvest). Perennial vegetables like asparagus come back year after year. Most vegetable plants, however, will need to be planted every year in the spring.

To get started:

  • Map out the size and shape of your garden.
  • Remove all weeds and grass.
  • Till the soil.
  • At the appropriate time in the spring, plant your vegetables.
  • Don't neglect the soil quality. Fertilizing with compost made in your own backyard is perhaps second to none in terms of quality.
  • Add a fence to protect against hungry creatures.
  • Keep the soil moist and be proactive about plant diseases and pests.

Blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are just a few of the berry varieties you can choose to include in your garden.
Blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are just a few of the berry varieties you can choose to include in your garden.

"Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field."

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

Livestock: Chickens and Goats

Not everyone who sets up their own small-scale homestead will be able to have livestock animals. Usually, the reason for this is local zoning codes. However, if you are fortunate enough to be able to own either chickens or goats (two of the most common types of livestock), be sure to understand what they will need. This includes:

  • A spacious living environment to facilitate good health.
  • The type of food the livestock eats and how much it costs.
  • How to treat a sick or injured animal if something were to happen.
  • Overall general animal livestock husbandry. Your local library will have further information pertaining to the particular animal you choose for your small-scale homestead.

Also, be sure to plan out your homestead to allow for sufficient space for your livestock. Although they are smaller in size, chickens and goats still require a fair amount of space compared to vegetables or fruit.

Chickens can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colorations.
Chickens can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colorations.

Hard Work and Satisfaction

There you have it. With a decent amount of planning and hard work, you too can have your very own small-scale homestead. Just remember that "Rome wasn't built in a night," and your piece of land won't be, either. Thankfully, the satisfaction that you'll find as you develop your homestead will be more than enough motivation to keep you going. The environment will benefit from your efforts, as will your own family. Homesteading is a great lifestyle choice and one that puts you in better contact with nature. And that is something our fast-paced world certainly needs. Enjoy and have fun!

"Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."

— Hans Christian Andersen

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 David Cory


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      • DavidCory profile imageAUTHOR

        David Cory 

        23 months ago from Indiana, USA

        That's a really cool story and sounds like you had a really nice set-up. It's great being able to care for oneself and being more self-reliant. I had no idea chickens could keep rattlesnakes away. Thanks for sharing. :)

      • wheelinallover profile image

        Dennis Thorgesen 

        23 months ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

        At the house I had in California, my father had chickens (all female), a vegetable garden, and 18 fruit trees. I never saw him fertilize anything other than the tomatoes. The house was on the desert so water was a big issue. The average water bill was $100 a month, with spikes to $240 a month. After he died for as long as I stayed my weekly food bill was $10. Everything else came from the garden, trees, and I ate a lot of chicken. When we talked he said he kept the chickens to kill any rattlesnakes that came into the yard. The only time I remember him feeding the chickens is when they were laying. It appears they had plenty to eat without being fed. Their range at the last was about a quarter of an acre. Before that they could come and go as they pleased. At first the nearest house was a quarter of a mile away. The neighbor said, "They were frequent guests." As the area built up, we were told to keep them on our property.


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