Suburban Homesteading – One, Two, Three

Friday, May 1, 2009


Three Easy Steps To Get You Started – Homesteading In Suburbia

Part One of a Three Part Series

Starting a suburban homestead can be a daunting task, not to mention gleaning through the mounds of information and trying to scale it down to meet the needs of your suburban homestead. With this in mind, Suburban Homesteading – One, Two, Three will lay out the basic steps for turning your suburban home into a productive homestead.

During the homesteading era of the 1800’s, a family’s primary concerns were to provide shelter, warmth, food and water. But for the modern day suburban homesteader, these are either already provided through the home (i.e. heat and water) or easily accessible as in the case of food from a grocery or big-box store. So, homesteading becomes a choice rather than a necessity. Even though you have time to think about what you want to do as a suburban homesteader, there are still practical steps each family should take. And the first step to take is to PLAN.

STEP ONE – Having the Family Discussion

If you’ve been thinking about turning your humble suburban lot into a thriving, productive “mini-farm,” discuss it with your family first…kids included. It’s difficult to homestead alone, and without the family’s “buy-in,” it can be an uphill struggle.

Talk about the kind of homestead you want to have and how self-sufficient you want to become.

The most important step in a successful homestead that doesn’t overwhelm you is “THE PLAN”. Since this is the beginning stage of the plan, dream big and list everything you want to do, be and have. Don’t worry about having enough space or buying the right supplies, there are plenty of people who grow food on apartment balconies or on condo patios.

Reality will set in soon enough – forcing you to scale down your plans and be a bit more realistic. But, for now, the sky’s the limit.

To help get you talking about the possibilities a sampling of questions you and your family will want talk about is below. As you go through this process, more questions may come to mind. Include any of your own questions along with the answers to the list that is provided. This is by no means all the questions that should be asked. They’re provided just to get you thinking.

The answers to some of these questions will depend on the amount of time and effort you want to dedicate, and can dedicate to your homesteading venture.

Be sure to write down your answers so you’ll have them for future steps in the process.

In The Garden…

Oaxacan Green CornDo you want to have a garden? What will you grow?

Don’t be too concerned, at this point, with the amount of space you have. That will come later. Just list everything you’d like in a garden. Be sure to select produce that your family commonly eats. Exotic or unusual crops can be experimented with, but should not be the mainstay of your garden.

Vegetables (list types & varieties):
Fruit trees and vines (list types & varieties):
Berries (list types & varieties):
Herbs (list types & varieties):
Medicinal plants (list types & varieties):

How creative are you willing to be in your gardening efforts? Would growing vegetables in bins, tubs or other containers, on the patio, driveway or parkway be feasible?

Are you interested in having a compost pile or earthworm bins to supplement your soil?

Do you want to have a year-round garden, using a greenhouse, hoop house or cold frame?

How much time and work do you want to devote to the garden?

Have you ever made a list of your family’s favorite fruits and vegetables – then checked which, if any, could be grown in your garden?

In The Barn…

GalleryD_017Do you want to raise livestock? If so, which species (rabbits, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs) — and, if you know, which breed(s) would you raise?

Are you and the family interested and willing to educate yourselves about raising livestock?

How does your family feel about eating the animals they raise?

Can the family separate themselves from your homestead’s meat animals versus beloved household pets?

Are you comfortable with processing (that is, slaughtering, butchering, and cut-and-wrapping) your own animals?

How willing are you to learn basic animal care procedures, like vaccinating, trimming hooves, castrating, worming, etc.?

If sheep are on your list, how do you feel about shearing your own sheep, which would include purchasing the proper equipment?

Do you intend on having a livestock breeding program?

If chickens are on your list, do you intend to hatch eggs — either naturally or with an incubator?

How much time and work do you want to spend raising livestock?

Do you have a way to store feed during the winter?

Around The House…

Making Dolls For May Day FestivalAre you willing to clean your own home, if you don’t already do so?

What are your thoughts about making your own laundry detergent, soap and cleaning supplies, or hanging clothes to dry on a clothesline?

Would making your own beauty products like face cleansers, scrubs or masks be of interest to you?

Do you want to sew, mend or repair your own clothes?

Can you give up your trips to the dry cleaner and iron your own clothes or wash your own delicate items?

Are you willing to switch from paper goods, like paper towels, napkins, plates and cups to cloth towels, cloth napkins and cleaning rags, plus washable plates and glasses that can be used over and over again?

Do you have someone in the family that can be responsible for lawn care instead of using a yard service?

If you don’t already do so, can you incorporate recycling into your household routine?

Can you give up the handyman and exterminator and perform your own home repairs and pest control?

Do family members have an interest in some of the home craft areas like quilting, weaving, or woodworking?

In The Kitchen…

Coconut cookiesDo you want to start making all or most of your meals from scratch in order to provide your family with less expensive and more nutritious meals?

Does that include baking, cheese-making, churning butter, making your own pasta, or grinding your own flour?

If you don’t know how to cook are you willing to learn?

Can you make your children’s lunches rather than buy them from the school?

Are the working adults in the family willing to brown bag it for lunch instead of eating out every day?

Are you willing to plan meals for a week or month and cook in large batches that can be frozen for later use?

Do you own a freezer?

Do you want to preserve the food you grow in order to stock your pantry? Or, could you buy in bulk from local growers or from farmers’ markets?

By what method(s) will you preserve your food – canning, freezing, and dehydrating?

Do you want to have a well stocked pantry with enough food stuffs to feed your family for 3, 6 or 12 months?

Is making your own condiments, mixes, marinades or rubs of interest to you?

Do you see yourself making your own beer and wine?

Off The Grid…

The block

Are you interested in having alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power?

Is the family willing to reduce current heating and air conditioning usage in order to save money?

Is heating your house with wood an option?

Are you interested in gathering and splitting your own firewood?

Would you like to have a rain-water collection system to augment your backyard water usage?


Are you going to pursue a more frugal lifestyle? If so, how frugal do you intend to be?

Are you going to sell the extra car and cancel the cable television, bottled water and home delivery services?

If you’re not installing alternate-energy sources like solar or wind power, how conservative can you be to save on utility bills?

Can you switch to a Super Recycler trash collection program, which is less expensive than regular monthly trash service, by setting up a recycle, reuse, restore plan to reduce your trash output?

Can you and your family stay home and play board games, ride bikes or play ball rather than going to expensive movies or theme parks?

Would a free concert in the park, festival or free museum day satisfy your desire for culture and entertainment?

Would guided nature hikes, outdoor learning programs or other Parks programs be suitable substitutes for expensive organized sports?

What are your feelings about shopping at second-hand stores, thrift stores or consignment stores for needed items? How do you feel about using Craigslist and Freecycle-type sites to find equipment, tools or other needed items?

Are you willing to shop in the off season in order to get good deals on seasonal items?

When your kids grow out of their clothes, toys or even books and movies, do you see yourself selling them at a yard sale, consignment store or donating them to a thrift store, church bazaar or library fundraiser?

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check in next week for PART TWO of Suburban Homesteading One, Two, Three.

As stated earlier, this is by no means an exhaustive list of questions about starting a homesteading venture. But, it will get you thinking about the kinds of things involved in homesteading. Even if you don’t want to pursue many of the topics mentioned, it will help you and your family determine the direction you want your homestead to take. Most importantly though – it doesn’t matter what type of homestead you choose to have, just that it meets the needs and desires of the family.

2 Responses to “Suburban Homesteading – One, Two, Three”

  1. Kalee says:

    This guide is wonderful! Thank you for posting it. It seems very complete.

  2. Fostermamas says:

    Boy is this a timely article! We’ve been doing many of these things in our urban loft and we’ve just purchased a house in the suburbs. Now that I have all the land I could want I’m overwhelmed by where to start! Help.

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