In today’s convenience-store world, a large number of us would be at our wits end if we were forced to go a week or so without the nearest shop, the internet, and the other assorted conveniences which allow us to make out way through the day without having to think too much about how to handle and address the basic questions of survival and comfort — food, water, shelter, and so on.
One possible solution to this is to become a farmer in your own right, but even if your career destiny lies elsewhere, you might still find that you could benefit immensely from investigating homesteading as a lifestyle which might allow you to reap the benefits of self-sufficiency, while still giving you enough general-purpose flexibility to allow you to explore the various avenues of life in your preferred manner.
So, if you place a high value on self-directedness and autonomy, and if you are interested in acquiring your own smallholding property and becoming a homesteader, here are some suggestions on where to get st
Number one priority — water
They say that you can last weeks without food, but only a short few days — at best — without water.
Water is as much a commodity as anything else in the modern world, and whether you buy yours bottled, and shipped in from a well-reputed overseas spring, or whether you get it straight from the tap, you’re paying someone for the privilege of downing that cool, refreshing glass on a hot day, or being able to take a shower whenever you please.
For the committed homesteader, water is the logical beginning point of the entire process of attaining a greater degree of self-sufficiency. If you can resolve the issue of water management — at least partially, you are in a good position to begin dealing with every other aspect of your life in kind.
So, how can you become “water independent” when all is said and done? Is it a matter of buying a particular piece of equipment? Well, it may be. The truthful answer to the question is that the correct way to deal with water will depend on your individual circumstances and local environment.
A general rule which applies pretty well across the board, is that you’ll want to have water tanks available to store whatever excess you may be able to acquire.
These could take the form of industrial tanks, stored underground, to cartage tanks, or even water troughs for animals.
Water storage systems are extremely important, as it’s hard to predict a crisis situation where water will be in scarce supply, or where you’ll need more of it than you normally have in the past — especially if you have your own small-scale farming and animal husbandry operations to run.
The city of Cape Town, South Africa, was recently racked by a major water shortage, for example, which was extreme enough that many residents were unable to shower for days on end, and had to drive down to the sea and collect brine, in order to flush the toilet.
Depending on your local environment and climatic conditions, you might be able to benefit from drilling a well, and tapping into the pure subterranean water supplies that may be present just beneath your feet. You may also, for example, be able to benefit from areas of high rainfall with anything from good old-fashioned rain barrels, to more sophisticated collection systems.
Optimise the space you have available
Homesteading doesn’t just differ from commercial farming in that you’re only aiming to sustain yourself and your family; it also differs significantly in scale.
A commercial farmer will typically have vast expanses of land upon which to work and capitalise — while a homesteader may only have a modest garden or, in extreme cases, not even that. Some people do, indeed, adopt a homesteading lifestyle and ethos while living in apartments in the heart of the city.
Bearing this reality in mind, you can see why it would be of the utmost importance for a homesteader to be extremely savvy in how they use the space they have at their disposal.
Square foot gardening is one solution which allows many people to obtain some degree of food self-reliance, while relying on minimal space. Using this technique can, in many cases, help to turn even an apartment balcony into a functional garden.
Other, more advanced possibilities are also available, including setting up “hanging” gardens powered by hydroponic systems, although these are more likely to be cost-prohibitive for a large amount of the population.
Various other space-saving methods can be used to great effect. A modern, dynamic beehive, can often be set up on the roof of an apartment building, or a corner of a garden, and providing that the neighbours aren’t overly distressed about the prospect of sharing their air-space with your bees, the whole operation can be surprisingly productive and require surprisingly little equipment.
Re-use all your waste
Homesteading, much like full-scale farming, is, to a large degree, about efficiency. You want to use your space as efficiently as possible as mentioned above, but you also want to reduce your total output of waste dramatically — and to ensure that whatever waste you do produce is recycled to the greatest possible extent.
Recycling your waste can mean many things depending on the waste in question. For all forms of organic waste, however, a composter is the key bit of equipment you’re going to want to get your hands on
This “device” — usually just a container with worms and other helpful ingredients — will help you to turn your food waste, along with any decomposing plant matter from your garden, into useful, nourishing fertiliser, which can then be used to keep the whole garden functioning at the highest possible standard.
Not only is creating your own compost a great thing to do from the standpoint of preventing unnecessary waste, but it can also be an excellent money-saving strategy in its own right.
Buying compost can become an expensive undertaking over time. Making your own frees you from this particular conundrum, and even opens up the possibility of you selling some of your home-made compost for extra money on the side.
You can aso investigate reusable storage options for food and drink, and as you’ll be shopping less at the supermarket, you should find that your consumption of resources such as plastic are significantly reduced, automatically.
Invst in low-effort animal husbandry
While your homesteading operation may extend to the point where you’re able to attend to advanced animal-husbandry practices, such as raising cows, and organising a routine for calving, milking, etc., it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to start there.
Ultimately, the vast majority of people would be best served by investing in relatively low-effort forms of animal husbandry, at least to begin with.
Consider the types of animals which require fairly little direct intervention on your part, which are easy to feed, and which require little in the way of terrain.
Chicens are a great first-stop for many people, as they can cope perfectly well in a relatively small backyard, with a coop to keep them confined at night, and safe from predators. Chickens are easy to feed, produce eggs, and a good basic starting place for anyone interested in keeping animals for food, generally.
Bees are another safe bet, with amateur beekeeping organisations and guides warning that a key problem for many amateur beekeepers is that they have to actively restrain themselves from checking up on the bees too often. Bees, as it turns out, perform at their best when left to their own devices, and checked up on once a week or so.
They can produce a significant amount of honey — a pricey commodity — in a relatively short space of time, and if you buy a modern, compartmentalised hive, extracting the honey and checking on the bees is often a very straightforward process.
If you feel like stepping the operation up a notch, goats are typically quite easy to manage, and are notoriously un-fussy eaters.
Bonus: Consider earning extra by running an attraction for the public
There’s a large cottage industry, these days, surrounding niche animal-centred days out, and this often provides a fantastic opportunity for entrepreneurially-minded small hold farmers and homesteaders to make a bit of money on the side.
If you have an affinity for birds, getting into amateur falconry can be a great avenue towards setting up “falconry-experience” days out for families, where you allow others to handle the birds for a modest fee. A lot of people will quite happily pay for the privilege of having a hawk or owl rest on their glove.
If you feel like catering to a “younger” market, so-to-speak, you could also open up a petting, or feeding zoo for children, where the main attractions are bunnies and pygmy goats.
The opportunities are nearly endless. Let your imagination dictate what works for you.