I call it backyard homesteading but you may have heard other names like, urban homesteading, suburban homesteading or backyard farming. But the basics of backyard homesteading are the same – taking the space you have and raising food on it and reclaiming vintage skills.
It’s funny that in 2014 it has become a somewhat trendy thing to do; as if it’s a revolutionary idea. But, in truth, this is really taking a concept that has been part of our lives until the last few decades and making it work in today’s home. From the meat rabbits of the great depression to the victory gardens of the World Wars; backyard homesteading has been a tried and true way of life.
So maybe you’re ready to take the plunge but you aren’t sure where to start.
5 Steps into Backyard Homesteading
This can feel challenging if you’ve never gardened before. Don’t fear, it is really as easy as finding out what grows in your area and when, then start planning. Check with your local extension office for a planting calendar.
My main gardening style is Square Foot Gardening – less space and more veggies! I started with 1 4×4 garden box and now I have 8 – add as you’re feeling comfortable and confident.
If you’re in an apartment consider container gardening. I use containers, like self-watering buckets and fabric pots, to extend my growing space onto my porch. I have had wonderful success using these buckets for peppers, tomatoes and even kale. But I don’t use them in the summer because the summer heat in Phoenix makes the root base too hot.
Remember to buy good, non-gmo, organic seeds! And good soil – a strong, healthy base is essential!
Composting has so many benefits – less trash, healthier soil, etc. And it really isn’t the daunting task you might think it is. You can even build your own trash can composter (seriously if I can, you can). Then start adding kitchen scraps, bunny droppings, coffee grounds and even egg shells. Mix in a bit of leaves, grass clippings and you’re off to the races! It isn’t rocket science…more like biology. 😉
I’m sure your first thought will be chickens, and they are great! Chickens provide much more than eggs. Their waste can be composted, they’ll work your compost if you let them and they are natural pest control. Unfortunately we all don’t have the space for them in our backyards and not all cities allow them.
Another awesome option is quail. The Coturnix quail only needs 1 square foot of space, though more is appreciated. Hens will start laying around 8 weeks of age and generally lay an egg a day. You’ll need about 3-4 of their eggs to equal one chicken egg but boy are they worth it; creamy and delicious!
Quail hens are virtual noise free – unlike chickens who sing their egg song loud & proud! Now the roos are a bit nosier, and I was so over ours after about a week. But you don’t need a rooster for yummy eggs.
You can keep your quail inside in cages but they do great on the ground as cage-free birds too.
4. Raise some Backyard Meat
The best meat you’ll ever eat is the one you raise. Why? You, as the producer, decide the environment, quality of life and feed that animal receives. And you then give it a quick and humane death that honors the sacrifice of the animal.
Now, chances are, you’re not going to be raising a cow or a pig in your backyard…but there are other options.
Chickens – not a bad choice but if you can keep chickens then you’ll probably want layers versus meat birds. The space and time required for meat chickens can make them problematic in an ordinary backyard. Because of this I’m not going to go into much on chickens for this article.
Quails – an excellent choice for poultry meat. Hatch to butcher is about 8 weeks and won’t require much space. Quail are also much easier to process as well; a sharp pair of scissors are all you really need. Most people don’t pluck their quail either just simply skin them and they are ready to go. If you’re serious about raising quail for a meat source you’ll want to consider getting an incubator instead of buying chicks from someone else. The incubator will quickly pay for itself and may make the rooster worth his noise (you may want to get your neighbor some eggs/meat).
Rabbits – the other OTHER white meat. Seriously though, rabbits are an excellent meat source for the backyard (apartment) homesteader. They reproduce rapidly and provide an excellent lean white meat at about 8 – 12 weeks, depending on the breed. A single doe can produce a 1,000 times her weight in meat every year; you’ll never see those kind of results from any other livestock! A breeding trio could easily keep a family of 4 stocked up on rabbit meat for entire year. Processing takes about 15 minutes start to finish and the cull is quick.
Keeping rabbits will be great for your garden too – rabbit droppings are easy compost additions!
Homesteading isn’t just what you do in your yard or on your patio. Bring some indoor skills into the mix for a truer homesteading life.
- If you can get your hands on some good raw milk then start making cheese, butter and yogurt.
- Bake some bread or cook from scratch – especially the things you’re growing in your garden.
- Start canning, dehydrating and freezing extra produce.
- Make some rich and nourishing bone broth from your home grown meat or a local rancher.
- Consider knitting, crocheting or sewing
- If your great-grandmother did it, give it a try!
The backyard homesteading movement is about sustainability, self sufficiency, vintage skills and reclaiming a vibrant part of our history – well that is what it means to me. Your reasons might be very different. Whatever your reasons I encourage you to start – the hardest step you’ll take is the first one!