Urban homesteading is what you do when you can’t move to the country to take up traditional homesteading.
Instead of complaining about what you can’t do in the city, you learn all the things that you can do and then, you do them.
From raising chickens to growing wheat, everything is possible if you know how and we’ve put together the urban homesteading guide to help you put things together.
Time To Think First
You don’t need to rush into this. What you need to do before you start planning your perfect urban homestead is to think about what you can actually achieve with what you’ve got and what you can do that will have the most sustainable results for you and for your family.
Start by investigating the “bioregion” that you inhabit. What are its unique properties? Where is your food being grown?
What happens to your waste when it leaves your home? Where does your tap water come from and how is processed?
Then look at your home area. What’s the weather like? How much space do you have?
How well do you know and get on with your neighbors (a particular essential if you want chickens, for example, is to have good relationships with the people around you)?
Could other people in the area work with you to create things of greater value?
This is the first step in a longer process known as “permaculture” and the design of an ecologically sound way to live anywhere by becoming self-reliant and more resourceful.
You need to know what you have before you can build on it.
Start By Thinking About What Food You Can Grow
We have a Guide To Urban Farming and City Gardening here and we don’t want to repeat everything in that now but what you really want to do is find a decent sized space to grow food in.
Take a walk around your neighborhood if you don’t have much of a backyard and see if you can find some space.
If, for example, one of your neighbors has a yard but it’s a total mess – why not talk to them to see if you clean it up and run the garden and share the proceeds, whether you can use that land for free?
You also want to look out for clean and empty vertical spaces – see our intro to indoor vertical farming here – but both indoor and outdoor spaces where you can grow up rather than out are really helpful.
Learn To Source The Things You Can’t Grow
Homegrown food is awesome but unless your neighbors have a few fallow fields that they can loan you, the odds are that you’re going to be constrained by space and that’s OK.
Find your local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture project and see what you can source nearby.
This is going to save you some money and mean access to higher quality produce.
Also, if you produce a surplus from your own activities, you may be able to sell it at these places.
Get Into Composting
Turning your trash into treasure is something of a fine art and that art is composting.
Almost all your organic waste and the organic waste of your neighborhood, if treated properly can be turned into fertilizer for your gardens and crops.
You will need to take a few precautions to keep the rodents out, mind you.
But once you’ve invested in some decent composting bins, they’ll keep pretty much forever as long as you treat them gently and composting is an easy thing to do.
The folks at Brooklyn Botanic Garden have an excellent free guide to composting that can help you get started.
Let’s Talk About Livestock
The easiest animals to keep in the city are probably rabbits which can be kept in hutches and have the big advantage over chickens in that they’re pretty quiet about things.
Chickens are also pretty easy, and they produce eggs.
You will need to make sure that you’re legally allowed to keep them (and doubly so if you want to keep roosters to breed your chickens with) and that your neighbors don’t mind the noise.
Some neighborhoods also have room for slightly bigger animals like goats and pigs.
The biggest consideration with animals is that they must be properly cared for. You don’t want to find yourself facing animal cruelty charges because you don’t have the time to do this.
We would strongly advise that if you intend to butcher any animals that this is done out of sight of your neighbors as it can be extremely distressing for other people. It’s better to outsource the butchering if you can’t find somewhere private to do it.
Take The Food To Your Kitchen
Once you start making all this amazing food, you need to learn to start making magic with it in the kitchen.
It’s simply not good enough to do otherwise.
We’d advise investing in some local cookbooks that specialize in the kinds of ingredients that you are growing (though there’s nothing wrong with throwing a little adventure into the mix too).
But also that you learn to make wine, pasta and cheese, etc. these are very easy things to learn and while they may be “lost arts” in most homes, we guarantee that you can find a class near you to teach these things or you can just hit up Amazon to find a book or two on it.
Get Into Preservation
If you’re doing all the hard work of growing your food, you’ll soon come to despise the idea of food waste.
That’s your precious time and effort being thrown into the bin! Farmers are the absolute masters of making good food last for longer and so should you be.
You want to learn to freeze, dry and can at a bare minimum.
These are all classic ways to make reduce the moisture or air content in food and thus make it last longer. It’s not hard work either.
You might also, at some point, want to check out how to ferment things as this can be a great way of preserving things that aren’t easy to freeze, dry or can.
Pickling can be a great way to add some zing to your vegetables too.
Making Your Own Energy (And Wasting Less Of It)
Yes, you can start to create your own energy for much less money than you pay for it now. Get a solar water heater (at a minimum – if you have space for more solar panels, then you ought to install them as soon as you can afford to – each panel in, means a lower electricity bill in the long-term).
Then think about using a solar oven too. You can even install a “solar heat grabber” that helps to heat your home and requires absolutely no technical know how to put in, whatsoever.
At the same time, you want to think about how much energy that you waste now and start to cut down wherever you can. Install insulation on walls, windows, heating ducts, etc. Learn to allow your thermostat to run just a little cooler in the wintertime and let it heat up a little more in the summer. Make sure all your light bulbs are energy efficient, that sort of thing. You’d be amazed at how much you can save.
The Department of Energy has a great free guide to saving energy that can get you started on this.
Become More Water Efficient
There’s no doubt about it that water from the tap is cheap and plentiful and yet, we’re also in danger of exhausting our supplies of water and ending up with nothing but chemically treated water to drink in the future. The more water that you can conserve on your urban homestead, the better.
Look at reusing your greywater (that is the water that comes from sinks, showers, baths, washing machines, etc.) in a way that can directly benefit your plants and urban farm. This just requires a little effort in reshaping your plumbing and makes all you water use go twice as far as it did before.
Then set up ways to catch and store rainwater in your neighborhood wherever possible and use that to water your plants too. This is so simple and very cost-effective in the medium term.
Go Green For Your Transport And Fuel Needs
This is our final tip for your urban homestead, but you can seriously reduce your environmental impact by thinking about how you get from place to place.
Walking or cycling are always the best way to go but there’s nothing wrong with electric bicycles or cars if you have farther to travel.
We’d also encourage making your own fuels – biodiesel can power a car and it can power a lawnmower, you may need to read up on how to modify vehicles to use this and getting vegetable oil from local restaurants to make it with is cheap and easy – it is a waste product after all!