10 Steps to Start Urban Homesteading

A couple gardening in an urban environment.

Homesteading is a way of life that continues to gain popularity not only in rural areas, but also in urban and suburban places as well. With some knowledge and motivation, even the smallest city rooftop or courtyard can be converted to a productive urban homestead. Here are some ways to get started.

1. Get Growing

A vertical garden with plants hanging against a wall.

Consider growing as much of your own food as possible for the amount of space available. Acres of land are not necessary to grow many vegetables. Several varieties can be grown in containers or small beds. Converting any size lawn into a garden space is a great way to get started.

Depending on what there is to work with, fruit trees and bushes might be a possibility. Just about any tree that produces fruit can be found in a dwarf variety that requires much less space than standard fruit trees, but produces nearly the same yield.

2. Create Compost

A wood compost bin open with compost inside.

To keep the garden healthy and productive, it is a good idea to use compost to supplement the soil. If space permits, designate a spot for compost outdoors. There are many designs that are made with repurposed materials such as wood pallets and old fencing. There are also ready-made options that make turning the compost easy. It is even possible to use a small storage bin with holes drilled in the sides that can be kept under the kitchen sink. For indoor compost bins, adding red worms is the best way to ensure the compost is broken sufficiently and doesn’t become smelly.

All sorts of material can be composted. Any kitchen garbage including peels, rinds, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters can be added to grass clippings, leaves, and newspaper to create a mineral-rich fertilizer that will help your garden and houseplants thrive.

3. Catch the Rain

A gutter emptying water into a rain barrel.

Rain water is much better for plants than tap water because it contains more nutrients and minerals. By adding a rain barrel (or two) to your homestead you can save money and conserve water by collecting rain water from a down spout off a gutter or, if that’s not possible, by setting out a storage bin or bucket to catch the excess rain water.

4. In the Kitchen

A row of canned vegetables against wood paneling.

Another big part of homesteading is learning to preserve the bounty that your garden yields. Most any food can be canned, frozen, dried, fermented, or placed in a cold storage area for later use. Learning how to make your own bread, cheese, and butter is an excellent way to get more self-sufficient, plus it’s healthier and you know exactly what goes into the food you are eating.

5. Raise Some Animals

A chicken standing in a chicken coop.

Many animals that produce eggs and meat are easy to care for, and some don’t require a lot of space to be content. There are several varieties of chickens that can be kept in smaller areas and still lay plenty of delicious eggs. Quail need even less space than chickens and provide more eggs per pound of food eaten. Poultry can be kept in a small yard, out on a deck or patio, or even on a rooftop oasis.

Bees are another good choice for the urban homestead as they demand little space and, once a hive is started, are virtually self-maintaining until the honey is harvested. With a little learning and practice, just about anyone can care for a hive or two and enjoy all the benefits they provide. Honey can be used for everything from cooking to skincare to homeopathic remedies.

6. Cut Waste and Repurpose

A daybed made out of pallets and pillows.

Cutting waste and finding new purposes for things found in the home is an added goal in homesteading. Try to buy products that are not only recyclable, but are at least partially made from recycled materials. Do some research and discover ways to repurpose things like wood pallets and crates, old towels and blankets, and other items that might get thrown out with the garbage. Think outside the box; almost everything can be used as something else. If you cannot think of a way to reuse items, donate them. There are usually others out there who can use many of the things that get tossed into the landfill.

7. Learn New Skills

A close-up of items used for sewing like scissors, measuring tape, and pins.

Self-reliance is at the heart of homesteading. Everything from learning how to cut hair to sewing are useful talents that will lead to a more independent lifestyle. Make your own cleaning products from inexpensive, more natural ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils. As time goes on, try to learn more skills like spinning yarn or brewing beer. Most homesteaders use their prowess to make some extra money selling things they make, grow, or build. Some strive to leave the traditional work force altogether and work for themselves once they have perfected their craft.

8. Shop Wisely and Buy Secondhand

A bookcase being painted.

In an effort to minimize the amount of waste you create, cut back on the amount of disposable products you bring home by purchasing reusable or recyclable dishes, napkins, utensils, and cookware. If you purchase new furniture, opt for environmentally friendly choices made out of sustainable materials like bamboo, cotton, and wool.

Check out secondhand shops for everything from clothing to housewares. There are several books and websites dedicated to showing others how to decorate with items found at yard sales and thrift stores. It is amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do to old furniture.

9. Alternative Energy

Solar panels on a house's roof.

Another goal that many homesteaders reach for is getting off the grid. Sometimes it’s possible with the use of a combination of alternative energy options such as solar, wind, and hydroelectricity. In other situations when these are not a viable option, it is best to try to minimize the energy your household consumes by being conservative with things like lights, heat, and other electricity users as well as buying energy-efficient appliances.

10. Build Community

A child playing in a garden.

Homesteading is about independence, but there are many ways that this lifestyle can bolster community. Sharing excess produce or bread with the neighbors is most always a welcomed effort. It may also be a good idea to get the community involved with some of the labor on the homestead. Chores like pulling weeds or canning tomatoes can be done faster and made more pleasant by getting friends and neighbors involved. Repay them for their contribution with some of the bounty and create a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Also, getting children in on the action is a wonderful way to teach valuable skills while spending time together as a family and community. They will learn the importance of conservation and hard work as well as have an appreciation for where their food comes from.