An Introduction to Homesteading

It’s no secret that the way we live can have a dramatic impact on our world. If we choose to lead a more sustainable lifestyle such as homesteading that has the potential to reverse and improve much of the damage that has been done from previous generations, we accept our role as custodians of the Earth for this generation and the next.

Already, we have overfilled landfill capacities and many first-world countries have exported their waste to third-world countries. Each year, 14 billion pounds of sewage and garbage are dumped into the world’s oceans, and 19 trillion gallons of waste are dumped as well. The ozone is depleting at a rate of 1 percent each year from too many factories, power plants, and exhaust fumes. This means that in the future, as soon as 2075, there will be millions of people who will easily get skin cancer from a depleted ozone layer that cannot filter out UVA and UVB rays.

These findings have hit home with some people who are more committed to leading a sustainable lifestyle. More businesses are on the right track too, but there is still so much to be done. Being green and being self-sufficient is not an act; it’s a way of life. It takes more than recycling products or utilizing reusable bags. When you learn to live a truly sustainable lifestyle, everything will click. You’ll see the world in a different light and learn to appreciate our natural resources. This is the attitude that many people have already adopted as they explore the thrill and excitement of homesteading.

What Is Homesteading?

Homesteading is a basic term that applies to anyone who values and practices sustainability and self-sufficiency. Homesteading involves growing your own food, producing your own power and incorporating other healthy lifestyle changes such as volunteering for sustainable organizations, reusing and recycling products and lessening reliance on vehicles.

Urban homesteading takes the idea of homesteading one step further by encouraging those who live in the city to lead a sustainable lifestyle. These city dwellers focus on sustainable agriculture and permaculture that pertains to urban living. All that is required to be a homesteader is a passion to live more sustainably. The benefits to the home, environment and our health are endless.

The Evolution of Homesteading

When using the term “homestead,” some people have a different definition because the meaning has been changed over the years. Originally, the term referred to a free government land program and the skills that were necessary for pioneer living.

In the middle 1800s, the Homesteading Act of 1862 provided public land grants to adult citizens who met a certain set of criteria. These citizens had to pay a small fee and agree to live on the land for five years. After this point, they would be given a deed to the land. The goal was to inhabit less desirable areas, primarily in the United States, Canada, and Australia. The Homestead Act helped over 783,000 people to obtain land until the Federal Land Policy and Management Act came into effect. The program ended in 1976, but it had an unofficial end in 1935 when President Franklin Roosevelt placed an emphasis on a nationwide land conservation program.

In the 1960s and 70s, homesteading started to change its meaning as more people were returning to their ancestral roots and leaving behind the commodities of modern-day life. Like other back-to-the-land movements that were documented in the Roman era and in Asian poetry, homesteading became more of a social movement during these times of radical change.

Homesteading has continued to evolve over the years, and today, it represents any type of self-sufficient living in urban, suburban or rural areas. Homesteading is all about using less energy, eating wholesome food that is grown locally and involving the entire family in making smart choices that will enable you to lower your carbon footprint and give back to the environment.

What Does Homesteading Involve?

Homesteading does not mean that you have to live without today’s conveniences. Just because you choose to live “off the grid” doesn’t mean that you have to give up electricity or adopt a career in farming. You can generate your own electricity using wind turbines, hydropower or photovoltaics. You can have an emerging business that you operate from the Internet within your own home. The goal is to reduce your carbon footprint and live a sustainable lifestyle in all aspects.

One of the most enjoyable and simplest ways to involve yourself in homesteading is to grow your own food. This includes growing herbs, fruits and vegetables or buying locally grown produce. It may mean keeping chickens for meat and eggs, raising turkeys or pigs or keeping bees for honey. Homesteaders may keep goats for fresh milk and dairy products as well. They focus on making their own furniture using wood and other natural resources, and they keep things simple by sewing their own clothes, napkins, and linens.

Economic Benefits To Homesteading

Homesteading is a smart economical choice. Homesteading involves a lower cost of living compared to conventional patterns of living, and resources are more carefully conserved. If you consider the cost of food, you know firsthand how expensive it can be to shop for groceries. Government regulations have tightened restrictions for building codes, food safety codes, zoning regulations and minimum wage for workers. This results in a higher cost for the production of food, which in turn affects the customer.

Saving on food is helpful from an economic standpoint, as well as conserving resources like water, electricity, and fertilizer. In order to make money, homesteaders may produce handmade crafts or goods that appeal to high-earning families in order to meet financial needs. With the help of solar panels, electricity generators and farming equipment, it can make both financial and practical sense to live a life of homesteading in order to meet financial and self-sufficiency needs.

Homesteading is, in its simplest terms, back to the basics.

How Is Homesteading Relevant Today?

In a world that is so dependent on technology, large factories, power plants, internationally made products, and outsourced services, it’s hard to believe that homesteading has any room to thrive. Yet some families are turning the corner and appreciating this simpler way of life where they can remove themselves from the commodities of modern-day living and grow closer to nature. Being self-sufficient is something that we must strive for. It does come easily on our own, especially in an environment where things are readily available.

When you think about today’s technology, everything is on-demand. Music, movies and TV series can be streamed, and smartphone apps give us information about our bank accounts, weather and traffic instantly. We don’t like to wait; we want everything now. Another modern-day trend has been outsourced manufacturing plants and customer service.

If you look around your home, how many products can you find that have actually been made in the U.S.? It’s pretty difficult to find them actually. Clothes, toys, and electronics are primarily made in other countries like China where labor costs are low. Even many of our foods are grown in other countries, so when we buy products from them, we’re not supporting our own agricultural industry. Even American steel has been compromised in recent years, making our country highly dependent on others instead of utilizing our own resources.

Homesteading takes a new approach to life in the 21st century. It removes us from the technology-driven lifestyle that we have and allows us to appreciate the simple things in life. Homesteading teaches us to utilize what’s right in front of us and to support our own struggling economy. It means getting back to the basics and finding happiness in Mother Nature, where true happiness lies. Homesteading encourages an uncomplicated way of life that restores our relationship with nature and those important people around us. It helps us to be more resourceful and find creative solutions for producing energy, finding work and eating wholesomely.

Rewarding & Self-Fulfilling

There’s no doubt that you’ll get some strange looks from others as you try to adopt a more homestead-active lifestyle. It’s not that people don’t appreciate this simpler way of life; in fact, it’s something to strive for. Yet it’s just different from what we know, and many people simply don’t know how or where to start. Keep in mind that there’s no one right way to lead a homesteading lifestyle. You can start making smart changes today such as by growing your own garden, investing in a chicken coop or starting your own in-home business. You’ll find the rewards to be so great that you’ll want to continue on your journey.

Homesteaders often report that they feel that their way of life is more rewarding and healthier than conventional living. The only way you’ll know for sure is by trying. Let’s take a look at how you can start implementing healthy changes that follow suit with a homesteading lifestyle and the many benefits that you can expect along the way.

Getting Started With Gardening

If you were to take a look at your yard today, what would you find planted? Many people focus on the aesthetic appearance of their yard, incorporating fancy lights, stonework, and flowers. While these enhancements are certainly appealing to the eye, they don’t serve many purposes beyond that. If you want to think like a homesteader, you need to be resourceful with your space. Both small and large yards have endless possibilities for growing high-quality fruits, vegetables, and herbs. You’ll be surprised at how you view space when you start using every inch for a specific purpose.

Let’s take a look at how you can get started with gardening for the purpose of growing your own food, eating nutritiously and strengthening your bond with Mother Nature.

Why Is It Important To Grow Your Own Food?

The single most important motive for growing your own fruits and vegetables are the potential health benefits that they provide. When you have an abundant source of produce in your backyard, you’re more likely to eat a well-balanced diet, experiment with new flavors and get the full servings of fruits and vegetables that you need. There’s no need to run to the supermarket every time you’re out of fresh tomatoes or lettuce; what you need is right outside your door. Gardeners who put in the time and effort to make their gardens flourish won’t waste what’s there.

Not only do homesteaders have a greater appreciation for what they grow, but also they know exactly what’s going into their food. When you purchase fruits and vegetables from the grocery store, you don’t know where they’re coming from or what types of chemicals and pesticides were used. In fact, pesticides have become such a concern for our health, some people will only purchase organic varieties. Organic produce adds more cost to our grocery bill but doesn’t necessarily guarantee that what we buy is safer.

When you grow your own garden, you know exactly what you’re using, and you can be certain that a freshly picked apple or a ripe tomato is free of chemicals. Instead of fearing what’s in our foods, you can enjoy every bite you take. Be sure to involve the family and not just limit this outdoor task to the adults. Kids should learn and understand where food comes from, and that the healthiest, most wholesome foods can be cultivated on our own. Too many kids think that food constitutes processed, frozen and prepared meals when really, these foods are loaded with preservatives and chemicals that may be harmful to our health.

Gardening with the family is a great way to strengthen your bond, spend time together and appreciate nature. The physical exercise that comes with gardening can’t be looked over either. Being outdoors, soaking in some sun and bending and stretching boosts our moods and burns calories. As the family takes more of an interest in planting new foods and watching them grow, you can start a healthy foundation for trying new things. It’s amazing to see how many children are more apt to trying new foods when they play a hand in growing them.

Finally, gardening is a smart economical choice. Homesteading is a more practical, simplistic lifestyle, and gardening fits in perfectly with this vision. You don’t have to run to the supermarket every time you need a fresh ingredient, and you surely don’t have to waste fresh produce because it continues to go bad in your refrigerator. With a complete garden, you have so many culinary opportunities at your fingertips, and you can spread your dollar much farther. It costs just pennies to plant some seeds, and you can yield an entire season’s worth of vegetables.

Best Types of Fruits and Vegetables to Grow

The types of fruits and vegetables that can be grown are endless, and over time, you’ll find what works best for you. If you’re just getting started as a homesteader, we recommend starting out with the following vegetables: lettuce, bell peppers, winter squash, tomatoes, broccoli, beans, carrots, cucumbers, spinach, and radishes. These vegetables are cost-effective, easy to grow and hardy. There are many varieties to experiment with, allowing you to try new flavors. For instance, lettuce has Buttercrunch, Salad Bowl or Rocket varieties, while beans are available in Kentucky Wonder or Contender varieties.

Fruits are not quite as versatile as vegetables, and many need several consistent months of steady heat to grow. We recommend experimenting with berries, as these shrubs are handsome looking and produce a lot of sweet berries like blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Figs and apples are easy to grow under the right conditions as are currants, strawberries, goji berries, and honeyberries. If you want to try growing fruit directly from the ground, opt for honeydew melon or watermelon.

Best Types of Herbs to Grow

In addition to fruits and vegetables, homesteaders love planting herbs. Herbs are used to flavor dishes, but they may also be used for their medicinal properties. Easy to plant and easy to grow, and once herbs come in, you have the choice of clipping off the leaves to be used fresh or storing them for later use.

Herbs can be planted directly in the ground, but they can be sensitive to the type of soil that’s there. If you have a good gardening spot for herbs, that’s great, but you may also plant the herbs in individual containers, called container gardening. This allows the herbs to get all of their nutrients and have the soil well controlled. Since most herbs can be grown indoors and outdoors, you can continue tending your herb garden throughout the winter months. It’s not uncommon to see homesteaders with container planters placed around windowsills and ledges.

We recommend starting off with herbs like sage, chives, mint, basil, cilantro, rosemary and thyme. You can easily add these herbs to dishes like soups, stews, and pasta for added flavor and potential health benefits. Since most herbs offer some type of potential health benefit, whether it be possibly reducing inflammation or lowering blood pressure, you can enjoy healthier dishes that don’t rely on butter or salt for flavor. Herbs can also be used for their potential medicinal and antibacterial properties, as some herbs are known for possibly calming an upset stomach, aiding in digestion or relaxing the nerves.

How to Test and Prepare the Soil

Before you get started planting, it’s important that you test your soil so you know exactly what you’re working with. Basically, you want to determine if your soil is acidic or alkaline. Fortunately, this is one test that you can do on your own for virtually nothing, so don’t think you need to invest in a pricey testing kit. Remember, we’re homesteaders. We use our natural resources first!

To test your soil, scoop some soil into a container and add a half-cup of vinegar. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, it’s alkaline. If there is no reaction, scoop another fresh sample of soil into a second container. Add a half-cup of water and mix the ingredients together. Add a half-cup of baking soda. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, it’s acidic.

What Do You Do With This Information?

When you know the type of soil you have, you can determine what plants will best thrive in your garden. For instance, vegetables, grasses, and most ornamentals do well in slightly acidic soil while certain trees, cabbage, and cauliflower do best in alkaline soil. Also, keep in mind that you may have to adjust the actual pH levels to yield the best-producing crops. Some berries and vegetables are highly sensitive to these pH levels.

Again, your best bet is to test your soil, determine what type you have and find the best plant that will work well in this soil. If you want to change the soil conditions, you can do that as well. If you have soil that you want to make less acidic, add wood ash or lime. For more acidic soil, add sulfur or pine needles. These types of ingredients do their part in either raising or lowering the pH levels in a safe and natural manner.

Effective Organic Pest Control Methods

When you take the time to cultivate a vibrant garden, you certainly don’t want any pests ruining anything. Fortunately, there are many effective and natural ways to keep the pests away. You can start with simple methods that involve keeping pests out, such as by using floating row covers, pheromone traps, and sticky traps. You may also try organic oil sprays or insecticidal soaps, just keep in mind that these products need to hit the pests in order for them to be effective. If the pest problem is more severe, you may try naturally occurring bacterium in the soil that will interfere with the pests’ ability to feed and reproduce, such as Bacillus Thuringiensis.

Starting a garden with a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs is a great first step toward a homestead lifestyle, and all it takes is a little digging and a lot of passion. As you can see, homesteading isn’t as difficult as you may have thought if you have the right attitude and know-how.

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