How to Homestead

Written by Brandon Garrett

Homesteading has a rich history in the United States. The idea was used to populate and explore the wild frontiers of our country. However, in recent decades, the idea has transformed into something new.

Below, we explain a little about what homesteading is and how you can do it. While you might not be able to apply all aspects of homesteading, there are many activities involved in it that will make you and our family more self-reliant and self-sufficient.

What is Homesteading
Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency that typically involves subsistence agriculture, food preservation, creating your own clothing and textiles, and maintaining your own house and property.

In history, philosophers like John Locke, wrote about a homesteading principle. The idea was that someone could gain ownership of something solely on the principle that they had labored to make it:

Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person. This[,] nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.- John Locke

In other words, if a farmer used unowned land to plant crops, he owned that food and could sell it as such. Other philosophers have also debated that the farmer would henceforth own that property. This idea crystallized into many capitalist ideas that our society has been based on.

Homesteading houseYou may remember reading about the Homestead Act (1862) in history class. The government used the idea to populate new areas of the U.S. The idea that a person could own their own property and become independent from any entity or person struck a chord with Americans. Thousands of Americans pushed forward to settle the frontier and make it habitable for others that would follow.

The back-to-the-earth ideals made a comeback in the 1960s and applied these self-sufficient principles to an urban and suburban setting, also known as urban homesteading. Instead of moving to an isolated location, urban homesteaders focus on self-sufficiency while still maintaining their relationship with the community.

In recent years, the idea has resonated with people who worry about their dependence on the economy. Instead of putting their trust in a government or entity, they have moved to a more independent economic situation.

How to Begin Homesteading
Gather Supplies. Homesteading is about being self-sufficient, that means being able to have all the tools, home-space, clothes or materials that you’ll need. Don’t think that you have to have everything in storage that you’ll ever need for the rest of your life. You’ll be able to use items to barter or trade. Many items will be self-sustaining and be able to be sold later on down the road.

Plant a Garden. The garden is a perfect example of an income. With a permaculture attitude towards gardening, you’ll be able to plant once and sow for years to come. Be sure to have land and space to store your food once you’ve harvested.

Have Food Storage. The trick to homesteading is to be able to have food when you need it. Growing your own food in the garden That could mean canning your foods out of the garden or using freeze-dried foods that last for 30 years.

Reuse Items. One of the easiest ways to be self-sufficient is to save money by reusing items. It could be as simple as making old clothes into blankets or using baking soda for other uses besides cooking. Most of the time, it comes down to creativity and how you imagine things being used. Feel free to peruse our DIY section of the blog to see if you can find any ideas that will save you money.

Raise Animals. One popular activity in homesteading is to raise animals that will provide you and your family with food. Chickens and rabbits are a common animal that are easy to care for and provide eggs and meat to your family. Many animals, like llamas or sheep, can also be used for their wool and be used to make different items. Others even produce herds of livestock enough to sustain their family.

Alternative Energy. Homesteaders often refer to using alternative energy as “living off the grid.” It’s a great way to be self-reliant and not have to depend on power companies or others for electricity to your home. You can purchase solar panels and generators to power your home. That way, if there’s ever a power outage in your town, you’re already set.

Where to Homestead
Previously, homesteading was all about the location – far and away. However, homesteading has morphed into the idea of being self-reliant and sustainable. Therefore, you can really be a homesteader anywhere that you want.

You probably will need a larger supply of land if you plan on raising animals and gardening. But to be able to reuse items or live off the grid, you just need the right supplies.

While the government no longer sponsors any homesteading initiatives, you always have the option to purchase that is far and away. Many people are setting up makeshift homesteads in lightly-populated areas of Alaska and the Midwest.

To Be Continued…
We’ll continue to post articles on how to improve your homesteading efforts, including how to use alternative energy, multiple uses of items, food storage, raising animals and more!

What would you like to hear about first? Comment below and let us know your thoughts. We’d also love to hear your stories about homesteading? Are you a homesteader? What difficulties have you found? Comment below!

Updated March 15, 2013

35 Comments

  1. father brown wrote:

    Yes, we know, it’s nothing new It’s just a waste of time We have no need for ancient ways The world is doing fine Another toy that helped destroy The elder race of man Forget about your silly whim It doesn’t fit the plan

    March 16th, 2013 at 3:06 am
  2. Steph wrote:

    With 3 acres, in zone 7, would goats be a good idea? Have no zoning restrictions.

    March 16th, 2013 at 4:09 am
  3. Deborah Eastin wrote:

    Alternative energy is a great idea. It could easily become a real need for everyone.

    March 16th, 2013 at 4:27 am
  4. Dan wrote:

    As a clarification, The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 ended the “homestead” in the lower 48 states and in all states in 1986. The occupation of lands not personally owned, without permission, is illegal in all states. A very few states offer the sale of remote, state owned land during public and sealed bid auctions.

    March 16th, 2013 at 5:07 am
  5. Bari wrote:

    I’m interested in living off the grid (or at least be able to lower my electric bills significantly). A bad ice storm a few years ago left our entire county of Missouri without power for 1-3 weeks depending on where you lived. It’s the event that got us started prepping seriously. We’ve been talking about putting in a wind turbine of some kind, but I really need more information about how to get started.

    March 16th, 2013 at 5:33 am
  6. Linda Loosli wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this great article.

    March 16th, 2013 at 6:11 am
  7. Andrew Moore wrote:

    Something for folks to research is when a property is abandoned in some states and if someone pays the taxes on it for seven years (maybe more in some states)…they can become the legal owner. Might not be a true example homesteading but an interesting fact for folks to look into.

    March 16th, 2013 at 7:11 am
  8. Illinoisian wrote:

    What I would like info on is how to get alternative sources of energy when living in a stand of timber. Wind and sun energy don’t really work well here. We have a catalytic wood stove, but our electric bills are so high, and getting higher, that i would love to hear about some other alternatives.

    Also, how do you know how much manure to mix in the garden soil? What is a good ratio? I understand that too much manure will burn the plants. And does it make a difference for the soil type? Ours is mainly clay.

    Lastly, how long can you use the same plot of land for the garden without giving it a rest for a year or two?

    March 16th, 2013 at 7:16 am
  9. Carol wrote:

    Thank you for the really great information, and ideas! Keep more re-purposing ideas coming, as well as suburban “homesteading” information and how-to’s coming. We will, of necessity, be “homesteading” in our suburban home, so keep sharing all the help you can give us.

    March 16th, 2013 at 7:43 am
  10. Bob wrote:

    Homesteading is such a new concept. 200 years ago it was called, “Home”.

    We need to get back to the basics. After all, what’s more important: the latest toys or family?

    March 16th, 2013 at 8:46 am
  11. Cheryl O. wrote:

    I have been homesteading for nearly 30 years on my own, with an additional 23 years with my parents and siblings as I grew up that way. The article is good basic knowledge. But, you don’t really need alternative energy sources such as solar. If you can afford it, good for you, but those things, wind power etc have all kinds of additional needs such as phase inverters, battery banks to store the power, etc. I have chosen a simpler approach in that I am set to live as my grandparents did. (I was fortunate to be able to take over their old farm) They had no power, no running water, farmed with horses, and had an outhouse. I did have power and indoor plumbing installed, but have maintained all the old infrastructure and learned to use it.. Woodburning kitchen stove, big hand pump out in the garage, treadle sewing machine, and yes, the outhouse has been maintained though has a big tank under it now by county decree. About fiber animals, sheep are easy to maintain fairly cheaply. Llamas however, are not. And, I doubt anyone would consider them a meat animal. For the small amount of fleece vs cost to feed the animal, it isn’t worth it. I have a LOT of experience with homestead animals. Best for meat: Rabbits are GREAT, chickens, ducks, turkeys are pretty good, and a few hogs are excellent. Dairy goats are also a great investment, and the males that are not used for breeding are good for meat as well. All these animals are fairly cheap to raise up to butcher weight. A cow, even beef breeds take to long and are hard to handle when adult age. Take on 1 animal type at a time, learn what it takes to care for it before taking on the next species. Don’t bite off more than you can chew by trying to do it all at once. You’ll have to be tending a garden, gathering firewood all spring, summer, and fall for the next year.. it’s doable but a lot more effort than most people think. I have done this ALONE for MANY years, in the somethimes-brutal-climate of northern Wisconsin. Take it one step at a time!!

    March 16th, 2013 at 9:08 am
  12. PrepSteader wrote:

    Excellent introductory article. I’ve been going down this path for some time now. If you want to dig in past the surface, check out http://TheBasicLife.com for more details. I’m working on a total rewrite of the site to make it in book format, but the current site has all the info – just not organized quite the way I want it. While I agree with this article’s thought that “prepping” and “homesteading” are best practiced together (the article doesn’t even separate the ideas), there is a wide range of each that can be practiced. You can do this whether you live on a mountain valley or a downtown apartment – you just need to adjust methods. That’s where my site comes in. Thanks to Ready Store for being a great resource!

    March 16th, 2013 at 9:18 am
  13. Reid wrote:

    don’t look at Tourist destinations . The Cool places are so expensive and regulated that it’s hard to make them livable . Look at places in SE Kansas, NE Oklahoma where the ground will grow something , winters aren’t bitter . People escaping from California and the east coast haven’t contaminated the places with their ridiculous ideas.Firewood is plentiful as well as water. Land prices are reasonable.

    March 16th, 2013 at 9:29 am
  14. Fred wrote:

    Finding a land site with adequate rainfall for gardening and access to hard wood for a woodstove (heat source and cooking)is critical and should be high on the list of considerations when thinking of homesteading. Also, if possible, being a minimum distance of 4-6 hours from large metropolitan areas is wise in case of societal collapse.

    March 16th, 2013 at 9:49 am
  15. Greg wrote:

    Cheryl
    What animal species would you choose if you could have only one form of livestock?

    @Ready Store re:topics…preserving and storing meat for long term storage.

    March 16th, 2013 at 9:50 am
  16. Cheryl O. wrote:

    I think I would take chickens if only one animal was possible to keep, though I have to say dairy goats are a mighty close second. You can eat chickens as meat and the eggs are valuable, plus a broody hen or two and a rooster can perpetuate the flock forever if predators or disease doesn’t get them. They can forage for food most of the year keeping feed costs at a minimum. Same with goats; instead of eggs obviously, the milk is useful in many ways but not as plentiful as you would want for several months of the year. I guess I’d go with chickens.

    March 16th, 2013 at 10:09 am
  17. Cheryl O. wrote:

    I would probably keep chickens. The dairy goat would be a mighty close second though. But looking at overall cost of feeding and maintaining, as well as usefulness, chickens are a really good investment.

    March 16th, 2013 at 10:14 am
  18. Robert wrote:

    Reid,
    About your comment “People escaping from California and the east coast haven’t contaminated the places with their ridiculous ideas.”
    Some of us are now “from” California because we’re tired of those “ridiculous ideas”. Please don’t lump all of us refugees in with those who have ruined California with their “ridiculous ideas”. Thanks.

    March 16th, 2013 at 10:18 am
  19. PrepSteader wrote:

    Many of us probably envy Cheryl O. in many ways (I sure do), but I would hate to see people disheartened by the thought that without such a setup they can’t prep or homestead. Even people living in an apartment that allows pets can use their balcony to grow a multi-tiered container garden and raise quail for eggs/meat in small cages you can build yourself. A large indoor aquarium can provide the core of an aquaponics system where you raise tilapia and apple snails (escargot) for meat, and the water is filtered through roots of inside garden plants. Plus, prepping can be done in an apartment – you don’t need a log cabin to buy long term food storage or home-can (it’s fun!) grocery-bought fruits & veggies & meats when they are in season or on sale. Folks in suburban areas with a yard, like the article suggests, can easily grow gardens and micro livestock.

    Greg, if I could only grow one animal, regardless of how much space you have, hands down it would be the Texas A&M Coturnix Quail – get unhatched eggs and a Little Giant incubator with fan & quail egg racks from eBay. A&M variety are white with a dark spot on their head, specifically bred for their huge eggs and high lay rate. They are big quail but still small birds and are quiet with gentle sounds. It only takes 2 months from hatching to egg laying (hens) and butchering (cocks). They have THE best feed to meat conversion ratio of any animal. Second choice would be apple snails (meat only) then rabbit (meat & pelt). These three have the fastest growth and need the least feed. If you have a little land and loose deed restrictions, chickens and ducks are great (many great breeds, I recommend Buff Orpingtons for chickens and Welsh Harlequins for ducks as best all purpose breeds), and Nubians if you want goats (meat & milk). Remember that you don’t need roosters/drakes for hens to lay eggs – boys are for fertilization and eating.

    Please feel free to email me (click on my name, I believe they are links to our email addresses) if you have any questions on urban homesteading! I would be happy to help anyone who wants to throw ideas around!

    March 16th, 2013 at 10:25 am
  20. Sonny wrote:

    I too have raised everything from goats to cattle and homestead for years. The easiest to raise for meat is a chicken. The chicken will graze on it’s own, find the minerals it needs and will eat just plain wheat berries. I buy wheat berries by the ton at around 200 dollars per ton right out of the combine for winter feed. I raise a buff Orphington which roosters weigh in at 8 to 10 pounds and hen 6 to 8 pounds not to mention fresh eggs. If I wish for meat then deer or elks! People need to learn how to grow and can their foods as he old ways have been too long gone and many have no clue how to survive.

    March 16th, 2013 at 10:31 am
  21. Robert wrote:

    I think the place to start is with the land.
    1. Where does one find suitable, available, affordable land?
    2. What should one look for in a piece of property? 3. How much land is enough?
    4. What are hidden title, code or other legal issues to lookout for?
    These questions are close to home for my wife and me because we are in the middle of our own search for a homestead. Thank you.

    March 16th, 2013 at 10:50 am
  22. PJ wrote:

    Readers Digest published a “Back to Basics” book that is fasinating to read…and relatively simple instructions for all sorts of things. Used book stores, library used book nooks, and ebay may have copies. Heck, it may still be in print and easily ordered from RD. It’s not the encyclopedia of rural living but it’s a great way to get motivated / started for those who have never been exposed to such things.

    March 16th, 2013 at 11:14 am
  23. Diane wrote:

    I would be interested in some info on raising chickens and rabbits in Alaska i.e. types of shelters and feed for them. By ‘feed’, I mean if you couldn’t go to the feed store and buy it. Thank you.

    March 16th, 2013 at 11:50 am
  24. Hal wrote:

    Living on a boat could be a form of “homesteading” as well. It offers the opportunity to move to a better climate when the need dictates. Fish are a good source of food that require no feeding, only finding and catching. Anchoring out instead of living in a marina, is a way of living aboard inexpensively. There are communities of live-aboards in both the sail and power catagories. They are usually very helpful in sharing information with those interested in that lifestyle.

    March 16th, 2013 at 3:55 pm
  25. Paula wrote:

    This is for Illinoisian: with all that wood you should look into Victory wood gasifiers- the Personal Energy Grid (http://gasifier.wpengine.com/personal-energy-grid) can provide electricity, hot water, heat, gas, light and a battery- check it out. Also, you can garden in nothing but manure- the trick is to make sure that it’s completely rotted. Manure should be a minimum of a year old before you put it in your garden. (the only exception to this is rabbit manure which can be put in a garden “hot” due to the way they digest their food). Use your own animal manure however. Clopyralid sold under many trade names persists in the guts of cattle and is passed directly to the soil where their manure is used, so you can unwittingly poison your soil with commercial manure (see this: http://ohioline.osu.edu/aex-fact/0714.html).

    To others: Back to Basics does have some very good information and it’s still available (new) from Amazon. see if you can check it out of your local library first though.

    April 12th, 2013 at 9:10 pm
  26. Valora wrote:

    We moved to a 35 acre farm a year ago. We are only renting so that we could find out if we wanted to homestead. We started with a garden and chopping wood. It was a lot more work than we ever envisioned to keep the wood stove going. We survived our first MN winter and it was a rough one. We learned that manure is our friend when it comes to gardening. Our garden this year is doing far better and is lush and green. We have worked up to living here. For 20 years we gardened and honed our skills and our knowledge. We can make our own soaps, bottle anything we grow including meats. Our animal husbandry skills developed over time with chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys and now we own milking goats. All of these animals you can eat. We have traded work for beef from a neighbor. This summer we are raising free range broiler hens. 100 is our max. We are kind of burned out on that one ha ha! Yes, know your limits! We love this life and will begin looking for our own property to homestead. This was the best way to know for sure that we are meant for this life. It is the most fulfilling happy life. Our faces hurt from smiling some days. It’s been a joy to live here. Dream big but be practical and don’t give up on the toughest days. Your gonna love it!

    June 17th, 2013 at 6:03 am
  27. David March Name wrote:

    First, thanks for all the great articles on self-reliance. The information is valuable even if you’re applying it just to making your TRACT home residence more able to provide water, heat, and food in “times when service is interrupted” for ANY cause. I’ve lived in hurricane territory, tornado territory, and earthquake zones, and each has left my neighbors and myself without power, electricity, natural gas, water, and access to emergency services, police, fire, medicine for DAYS or WEEKS at a stretch. It’s always time for people to learn FIRST AID – take a course in wilderness emergency response from your local Red Cross, or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training from your local fire/rescue organization. You will never regret the time you invest in these skills. You can get excellent gravity fed water filters: British Berkfeld, Katadyn, and several others have been in use for almost a CENTURY. You can take polluted creek water, standing puddles, etc. and filter out bad critters and most chemicals. There’s a system developed that uses SUNLIGHT to sterilize water in PET plastic drinking bottles: look up “S.O.D.I.S.” – It’s a system developed for third world countries. The ROCKET stove is another concept for third world countries – a simple stove that can efficiently use almost any sort of bio-fuel for cooking and heat. Easy to build from all sorts of materials, so you don’t have to cut down trees. Definitely time now to learn self-reliance skills WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY reaching out to genuine friends and neighbors to create a community that can take care of each other. God Bless all!

    June 22nd, 2013 at 10:55 pm
  28. David March wrote:

    Everyone needs to be ready for those interruptions to service. Seems they are a CERTAINTY for a number of reasons, and it’s not clear just how long they might last, depending on the proximate cause.

    June 22nd, 2013 at 11:00 pm
  29. Don Ira wrote:

    I took out a homestead on my home and lot. It is only 137′ x 50′ with a 24′ x 70′ 3 bedroom 2 bath double wide mobile home.
    I didn’t quit understand the gross amount I could claim in the homestead,it was less than the value of the house and lot.
    Can anyone explain the formula for declaring homestead values?

    September 2nd, 2013 at 6:56 am
  30. Connie wrote:

    excellent article!

    November 4th, 2013 at 4:49 am
  31. fauna wrote:

    I have certainly got my brain spinning on these ideas – thanks everyone!
    I just have one green idea to interject…we need to be prepared for disasters…I am focusing on earthquakes and my precious, delicious wet pak foods. (that I don’t only save for a rainy day). I have been able to saw the tops off of a few 2 liter soda bottles and place my quart sized filled mason jars in them to protect from breakage. And, thanks to my own clumsiness or that of my children I have tested the effectiveness of my earthquake breakage prevention measure and it works quite well. I certainly don’t want to lose all of my food storage efforts in one quick earthquake!

    November 20th, 2013 at 7:00 am
  32. fauna wrote:

    p.s. I do put the filled soda bottles in a box with a lid -such as a banana box, that keeps it all together…:)

    November 20th, 2013 at 7:02 am
  33. Name Withheld wrote:

    A scientist on the George Noory show said how extremely fragile our modern world is. It does not take a rocket scientist to see what he means by that as many of us have experienced even a simple breakdown of something modern can make it worthless in an instance.

    So yeah, “homesteading” sees to me a SOLID alternative as well as way of life. Afterall, it was the ancients way of life and had they not survived no one would be here, right? An idea whose time has come – again!

    November 20th, 2013 at 1:35 pm
  34. sundance wrote:

    My wife and I lived off the grid for a year with 2 small children. It all sounds good until you physically do it. People lived that way a century ago, but they grew up that way. There is a learning curve modern people experience no amount of reading can prepare you for.

    April 1st, 2014 at 5:14 am
  35. John B. wrote:

    VERY SOUND advice Cheryl! And I agree, if one animal only, chickens is the choice.
    I am finally getting ready to move to the land, and my plan exactly: one animal introduced at the time, no overloading or it will be overwhelming. My concerns while looking for land were plenty of wood for heating/cooking, etc., and plenty of water (spring, creek, pond, etc.) The idea that one can be self-sufficient while relying on solar panels and batteries and the like is an illusion; it may work for a while, but if disaster strikes it’s just a question of time before the whole fails as no replacement batteries and parts will be available. Micro-hydro. if a possibility, may be worth investing on, but again, anything that is not manual will be at risk of failing down the line. So my philosophy is, if I can’t fix it, I don’t want it, make do or do without.

    Cheryl O. wrote:

    I have been homesteading for nearly 30 years on my own, with an additional 23 years with my parents and siblings as I grew up that way. The article is good basic knowledge. But, you don’t really need alternative energy sources such as solar. If you can afford it, good for you, but those things, wind power etc have all kinds of additional needs such as phase inverters, battery banks to store the power, etc. I have chosen a simpler approach in that I am set to live as my grandparents did. (I was fortunate to be able to take over their old farm) They had no power, no running water, farmed with horses, and had an outhouse. I did have power and indoor plumbing installed, but have maintained all the old infrastructure and learned to use it.. Woodburning kitchen stove, big hand pump out in the garage, treadle sewing machine, and yes, the outhouse has been maintained though has a big tank under it now by county decree. About fiber animals, sheep are easy to maintain fairly cheaply. Llamas however, are not. And, I doubt anyone would consider them a meat animal. For the small amount of fleece vs cost to feed the animal, it isn’t worth it. I have a LOT of experience with homestead animals. Best for meat: Rabbits are GREAT, chickens, ducks, turkeys are pretty good, and a few hogs are excellent. Dairy goats are also a great investment, and the males that are not used for breeding are good for meat as well. All these animals are fairly cheap to raise up to butcher weight. A cow, even beef breeds take to long and are hard to handle when adult age. Take on 1 animal type at a time, learn what it takes to care for it before taking on the next species. Don’t bite off more than you can chew by trying to do it all at once. You’ll have to be tending a garden, gathering firewood all spring, summer, and fall for the next year.. it’s doable but a lot more effort than most people think. I have done this ALONE for MANY years, in the somethimes-brutal-climate of northern Wisconsin. Take it one step at a time!!

    April 3rd, 2014 at 8:04 am

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