May 18, 2017

Realistic First Year Homesteading Expectations

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I know so many people who've been waiting and hoping and praying to homestead for years. And when they finally get the opportunity to live on some land, they want to do everything all at once. They want chickens, goats, pigs, a milk cow, a huge vegetable garden, an orchard, an herb garden...RIGHT NOW. Unfortunately, they're setting themselves up for disappointment and discouragement because what they want is impossible. So let's talk about what is realistic when you first start homesteading - whether that's in the suburbs or in the sticks.

Hard Truths About Homesteading

Hard Truth #1: Money is probably the number one thing that prevents most people from homesteading on the scale they wish they could. Unless you're quite wealthy, it's just not feasible to buy land, build a house, obtain animals, house animals, and so on in a year's time.

This is not to say that you shouldn't do as much as you can with as little as you have. In fact, making do is really at the heart of homesteading. But you simply can't fudge on, say, animal housing. You can build it from scraps, yes. But chances are, you'll have to buy at least some materials in order to make the housing truly safe for your animals. (If it weren't for the cost of animal housing, our homestead would already be a menagerie!)

Hard Truth #2: It takes time to acquire the skills you need to run a homestead. Unless you grew up on a farm, you probably don't have all the skills and knowledge you need to run a full fledged homestead. That's okay! Give yourself time to learn. Want chickens? Read multiple books on the topic - not just one! This will save time, money, and heartache. Then give yourself time to implement the skills you've read about (because reading about it and doing it are very different things) before you move on to another skill.

Hard Truth #3: It takes time to run a homestead. We all wish we could quit our jobs and homestead full time. Very few people are blessed to achieve this. So, for now at least, assume you'll have to continue working away from home. That means you'll have limited homesteading hours. Don't over-estimate what you can accomplish during those hours.

Realistic First Year Goals

So what is a realistic view of what you can accomplish your first year homesteading? Honestly, that's hard to say because it depends upon your financial resources and how many hours you work at your job. But assuming you work ordinary hours, and you have a middle class income - as well as a strong desire to set up your homestead -  I think the following goals are completely achievable:

1. Start Composting. This is a homesteading basic that reduces your garbage considerably and benefits your garden and orchard...and you can do this virtually anywhere - even if you live in the city! Composting can be as simple as burying organic matter in the soil, or as expensive as buying several enclosed, rotating compost bins. More Info: Learn how to compost.
 
Composting is an important first step when homesteading.
2. Start a vegetable garden. It doesn't have to be huge - in fact, it probably shouldn't be. As your skills grow, so can your garden. And don't get hung up on pretty. Yes, raised beds made of rock are beautiful, but you can grow just as much food in berms that cost next to nothing. The important thing is to start growing food! More Info: Learn how to start a garden.
 
My very first productive garden beds.
3. Plant some fruit trees. Plant them soon, because they take a few years to begin producing fruit. However, it's better to plant trees in the fall...so take spring and summer to look for sunny locations and the least boggy land for your trees. Learn more: Fruit trees for small spaces.

Our first fruit trees were these columnar apples in pots.
4. Start learning to cook from scratch. I don't recommend trying to making everything from scratch when you're first starting out; that can be really overwhelming! Instead, start by making your own spice blends and baking mixes, then learn to make bread. And so on. More info: See more from scratch recipes.
 
Homemade bread isn't as hard as you think!
5. Get chickens. If you eat eggs, chickens are a homesteading essential, and - once you're set up with a hen house and run - are not expensive to maintain. More info: Learn the basics of chicken keeping in my Chickens 101 posts.
 
A portion of our first flock of chickens.
6. Plant a few herbs. You don't have to create a large herb garden right away. Instead, just choose 3 - 6 herbs you'll use for cooking and medicine and put them in pots. There! Done. More info: Learning to grow kitchen herbs.
 
Herbs in pots are easy.
7. Learn to dehydrate. Drying fruits, vegetables, and herbs is one of the easiest ways to preserve. You don't have to spend much on a dehydrator (I love my Nesco American Harvest dehydrator better than the expensive Excalibur some friends have. You can add as many trays to the Nesco as you want.) Learn more: See my dehydrating posts.
Dehydrators preserve fruit and veggies you grow, forage, or buy.
8. Learn to water bath can. This type of canning is less intimidating than pressure canning, and allows you to put up jam and jellies, pickles, and fruit. It's the perfect way to start building up your food supply. More info: Learn how to use a water bath canner.
Canning makes self-sufficiency easier.
Related Posts: 
* Homesteading Skills to Learn NOW - before you head to the farm
* How to Save Up for Your Very Own Homestead
* Prioritizing Your Homestead: Where to Start & Where to Go From There
* How Do I Quit My Job & Start a Homestead

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