Home on the (Suburban) Range
So what the heck is urban homesteading? Without knowing anything else, I pictured container vegetable gardens on balconies in the inner city. I was pretty close.
Urban homesteading is a variation on homesteading, but on a smaller scale. The smaller scale is necessary due to the limits on the amount of land (or deck or other space available to your home). Early homesteaders had to be self sufficient to survive. Modern homesteaders do it by choice.
Some components of homesteading are:
- self sufficiency (reducing reliance on mass produced items and increasing the do-it-yourself factor)
- growing your own food
- preserving food that cannot be consumed during the harvest season (drying, canning, freezing, pickling)
- raising animals (chickens for eggs, goats for milk, bees for honey)
- composting (worms or traditional)
Urban homesteaders do all the same things, but modified for urban or suburban settings.
I Did It Myself
The ultimate in self sufficiency is to have a homestead that requires nothing from outside itself. All of your basic needs would be taken care of via the homestead (and your know-how). You’d grow your own food, compost your waste, and provide your own energy and water (solar panels and rainwater collection system anyone?)
Obviously, this is a little over the top for most people nowadays.
Urban homesteaders strive to become more self sufficient.
Why would I want to do more for myself?
- it feels good to do things yourself
- it saves you money
- once you know how, you can help others learn how too
You’d be surprised at what you can do yourself with a little know-how (the internet being my favorite resource) and some gumption.
Robin’s Real-Life Example: Our back patio door’s sliding wheels were so in need of repair that you actually had to pick the thing up to get it to open (and it’s about 11 feet tall so heavy as all get out). We considered having it repaired by someone else, even asked around for recommendations. Alan talked to a handyman who lives in our neighborhood and he said we should just do it ourselves.
So we did! With a little info from the internet, a little elbow grease, and some heavy lifting (the door is even heavier off the track), we cleaned the track and replaced the old wheels. We fixed it! We saved about $200 by doing so and now we have bragging rights.
Meals Grown by You
In the spirit of increasing the do-it-yourself factor, an obvious first choice for some is growing your own food. Having a garden in whatever space you have available can produce an amazing amount of food. You’re not even limited to outdoor spaces – you can grow some awesome things inside your space.
But the best part is the taste. There is simply nothing more delicious than fresh garden produce. It doesn’t hold a candle to what you buy in grocery stores. Plus, it’s super convenient. In the spring and summer, I walk out my back door to pick lettuce when I want salad. How cool is that?
Robin’s Real-Life Example: I’m living proof that you do not need to be good with plants to grow some veggies in your backyard. My husband refers to me as a black thumb (sort of the reverse of a green thumb). In spite of this, our family garden is alive and thriving (and I help out with it!)
I planned and researched the garden (what to grow, light and moisture requirements) and Alan did the heavy lifting (removing the landscape rocks, putting up the border, shoveling dirt). Our next adventure is to add on a smallish herb garden (cause we’re fresh herb junkies.)
Can, Pickle, and Dry – The Trifecta of Food Preservation
My garden has produced so much food I can’t possibly eat it before it spoils – now what do I do with it? Before modern times, canning, pickling, and drying were the best options. Nowadays, freezing can also be used as a longer term storage option. Food preservation is an important part of urban homesteading.
The beauty of preserving your food at home is you control what goes into it. If you’ve ever read the labels on commercially produced canned, pickled, or dried goods – there are nearly always ingredients that you can’t pronounce. And for those families with food allergies – knowing exactly what you put into your food can help reduce the worry of an unexpected reaction.
Robin’s Real-Life Example: I love pickles more than I can even explain! I’m working up to learning how to can foods, but I just discovered a way to make pickles (and use up all those wonderful summer pickling cucumbers) that doesn’t require waterbath or pressure canning. Refrigerator pickles!
Chickens and Goats and Bees, Oh My!
Raising animals on an urban homestead is definitely more than some people want to take on. But for those who are willing to give it a go – its rewards are many. Fresh eggs from your own chickens! Fresh milk from your own goats! Fresh honey from your own bees! Good stuff.
This is definitely a more advanced level of urban homesteading. Before you take on this kind of a project – you absolutely must research your city/county statues. You might be surprised at how many places both forbid and allow certain types of livestock. Get educated before you commit.
Worm Poop Rocks
Actually, composting in general is pretty awesome. I just happen to have a particular fondness for worms (see below). Composting is nature’s way of turning trash into treasure and an important part of urban homesteading.
Instead of throwing away your plant waste (fruit and veggie peels, cut grass, raked leaves, etc) – you put them into a compost bin/area where they break down and turn into the best soil additive ever. There’s a few tricks to making it work, but it’s remarkably easy to get it right. You’ll be thrilled at the good stuff you create for your garden/yard/houseplants and how much less you throw in the trash.
Robin’s Real-Life Example: My years in Seattle were spent with worms. It sounds a little weird, but I really loved them. When we moved our family to Arizona, I wasn’t so sure that my little buddies would tolerate the heat so I gave them away. Now that I’m familiar with the AZ climate and heat – I’m ready to rebuild the worm family.
Robin’s Real-Life Example #2: My brother-in-law mentioned bokashi. My first thought was what the heck is that? After some research, I was stoked. It’s a different form of composting with major advantages – no smell and you can put practically anything in it! I’m giving it a go…follow the journey here – my bokashi experiment.
Robin’s Real-Life Example #3: I’m a Girl Scout Leader and we wanted to introduce composting to the girls. What better way than worms? I created a small lesson and we built worms bins at one of our meetings. Now the girls take turns being the “worm watcher” and learning first-hand about vermicomposting. Check out my composting with kids article.
Urban Homesteading Sounds Like Work – Why Should I Do It?
So we talked about what…but why? People create urban homesteads for lots of reasons.
Let me tell you why my family does it:
- We are amateur foodies. I love food and my garden produces the best tasting stuff. It also gets the girls involved. With a garden there is always a task for even the youngest kids to do. I find that they are more willing to eat vegetables if they watched them grow and picked them.
- Worms appeal to my hatred of throwing perfectly good stuff into landfills (plus the worm tea is the best fertilizer around). A bonus is the neat-to-watch factor. They wriggle through the bedding in their bin and the castings they produce look like the richest earth you’ve ever seen.
- Doing things for yourself is rewarding. Pure and simple. It feels good. Try a little urban homesteading yourself and you’ll see.