Homesteading: An Introduction to Homesteading

Homesteading

home·stead n.
1. A house, especially a farmhouse, with adjoining buildings and land.
2. Law Property designated by a householder as the householder’s home and protected by law from forced sale to meet debts.
3. Land claimed by a settler or squatter, especially under the Homestead Act.
4. The place where one’s home is.
v. home·stead·ed, home·stead·ing, home·steads
v.intr.
To settle and farm land, especially under the Homestead Act.
v.tr.
To claim and settle (land) as a homestead.

On May 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, providing public land grants of 160 acres to American citizens, able to pay a small registration fee. The settlers agreed to live on the land for 5 years. After the agreement time was over, they were granted the land deed. The Homestead Act continued until President Franklin Roosevelt unofficially ended it in 1935, withdrawing public domain lands for a nationwide land conservation program. 783,000 men and women, proved their claim and received a land title. In 1976, under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Homestead Act officially ended.

While the term homesteading applies to anyone following the back-to-the-land way of life, adopting a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle, much has changed since the mid 1800’s. With large parcels of land no longer available in most areas, homesteading has adapted to the “urban” way of life. 21st century homesteading is self-sufficiency, wherever you live. Modern “urban homesteading” practices similar skills found during early homestead days: growing crops, keeping livestock and making much of the basic home essentials like, furniture and clothing.

Modern homesteading is possible almost anywhere; whether you live on an acreage or you’re an apartment dweller. While you may not be able to raise livestock, you can practice simple, living.

• Container gardening-This is possible anywhere you have access to sunlight for a minimum of 5 hours each day. If you have a patio or a backyard, you can fill it with containers of tomatoes, lettuce, squash or just about anything your family likes. If you live in a neighborhood, start a bartering group with like-minded neighbors; trade your vegetables for ones they grow that you don’t.

Containers for your garden don’t have to be expensive; you can use almost anythingfor your garden. We found free machinery crates for our garden. They are the perfect size with good drainage. You can also use old tires, kiddie pools and plastic storage bins or anything you can think of, making sure it has good drainage or something you can add drainage holes to.

• Laying hens and meat chickens-Today, many cities allow you to have a few chickens within the city limits. All you need is a couple of good laying hens for fresh eggs and/or meat chickens. Be sure to check with city officials in your area before becoming a backyard chicken farmer.

• Buy food in bulk-Anyone, if they have a kitchen, can buy food in bulk then preserve by freezing, canning or dehydrating.

• Make your own soaps and lotions-Soap and toiletry making is a lot easier than you would imagine. You can use everyday items you have around your house and find many ingredients at the grocery store. You will find all kinds of instructions on the Internet or check with you local home extension office.

• Sewing-While material can be pricey, you can still make quality clothing for less than buying at the store. Look for good, inexpensive sewing machines at discount stores or used ones on Craigslist, EBay or at your local thrift store.

Homesteading does take an investment. If you plan to raise animals, you need to consider buying the animals, the feed and upkeep and cost to build enclosures. We own under two acres and can raise our own beef as long as it is only one cow at a time. Or, we can raise two or three goats for milk and currently have around ten hens and one rooster. When the cows are ready for butchering, we have a local meat processor while processing our own chickens.

How to build a portable chicken coop. To learn more, click here.For preserving your garden yields, the startup costs can be significant. When planning, you need to consider the cost of the equipment. A good pressure canner and water bath canner, are a must and can be expensive; canning jars and lids will set you back about $10 to $13 a case.

Talk with people you know about what you are planning to do. Sometimes, they have these items and no longer use them, willing to give them away. Also check Freecycle, Craigslist or other resale avenues for inexpensive or free equipment. I bought a large pressure canner for $5 at a yard sale and I’ve been using the same canner for over ten years. I like Craigslist for free or inexpensive canning jars.

If you want to start canning, I have several articles with good tips and some basics to get you started. I also included some recipes.

If you can’t grow your own fruits and vegetables, look for area produce stands, farmers markets or a “U-Pick” farm. Many times you can get your vegetables in bulk for home preserving. Before we started growing our own blackberries, we went to a local blackberry farm and picked our own for half the cost of store berries. Plus, the taste and quality were far superior.

Your investment will eventually pay for itself. Depending on how you manage the expenses will affect the time it takes to reach your goal. We bought our items slowly over time; making a plan of what we wanted to do first and what it would take. We used tax returns and bonuses for big items like our lawn tractor, tiller and small storage barn. The smaller items we bought whenever we could afford them. Piece by piece, our homestead took shape.

If you plan to homestead on a large scale, becoming fully self-sufficient, there are things to consider before making such a large lifestyle change.

Money

Setting up a homestead is expensive when buying the items needed for self-sufficiency. This is not an instant process but takes time and may require working a part time job while homesteading. You will always need money so you need a readily available source. Some things cannot be raised or grown, making a part-time job or substantial savings necessary.

Health/Ability

It takes hard physical labor for full scale homesteading. Your ability to do the work without relying on others is important. Having two people, like a wife and husband, working a homestead makes it much easier. Both can work part-time with varying schedules that allows one person home at all times. This is especially important if raising livestock.

Skills

Self-sufficient homesteading takes many skills; cooking from scratch, carpentry, animal management and general repair.

Few people have the ability or the space to pursue such large scale homesteading. Even so, most people do have the ability and means to lead a partially, self-sustained life. The Chicken Farmer blog is geared toward those that want a better way of life but can’t operate a larger homestead.

Homesteading can be a daunting task but, in the long run, you will save money while becoming more self-sufficient and prepared for any emergency that disrupts your way of life.

My best advice to anyone considering homesteading: sit down and openly discuss what everyone wants to accomplish. Next, write out a plan, listing your wants by importance. Calculate the cost for every item on your list and classify it by big costs and small buys as budget allows. Finally, put a time frame down for each task.

 

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