When most people think of homesteading, visions of sprawling pastures and big red barns come to mind. Even after the recent popularity of small-scale homesteads, it is difficult to understand how to homestead in the city. I recently moved from a small homestead to a garage apartment with access to a fenced backyard. I thought my days of homesteading were behind me but, happily, I was wrong. Homesteading starts with the mind and moves outward. Whether you call it micro-homesteading or urban homesteading, there are plenty of ways to stick to your homesteading values—regardless of where you live.
Change Your Mindset. As I said, homesteading begins in the mind. Values that you hold dear do not change based on geography. Obviously, you won’t be able to keep cattle on your homestead in the city, but you could participate in a cow-share. Make a list of the things you value most about homesteading and create a plan to incorporate those values into everything you do.
Minimalist Mindset. While minimalism has become something of a buzzword, it is necessary when downsizing. On a farm, it is fine to collect and store items for projects you plan to get to one day. Micro-homesteading is not conducive to collecting for the future. Everything you have, other than sentimental items, should be useful right now. The list of values will help you decide what you must keep and what you can part with.
Grow Your Own Food. You can grow a portion of your food wherever you are. In addition to raised beds, vertical gardening, and microgreens, take advantage of the miniature varieties of vegetables. From eggplant and tomatoes to snap peas, there are plants available that can be grown successfully in containers. Instead of going to the supercenter for the things you can’t grow, shop at the local farmers’ markets.
Grow Miniature Fruit Trees. To save even more space, espalier those trees to your backyard fence.
Every Yard Needs a Hedge. Hedges are great for privacy and provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. Create your privacy hedge with blueberry or blackberry bushes.
Grow an Edible Landscape. Kale comes in varieties pretty enough to stick in a flower bed. Grow beans up an outside wall, and mushrooms such as the Giant Wine Cap can grow under your hedges.
Save Those Seeds. It takes practically no space at all to save seeds. Since you have gone through the trouble of finding the perfect varieties for your homestead in the city, you may as well save the seeds for next year.
Compost. It is amazing how many by-products gets thrown out of the kitchen. Composting these odds and ends decreases the amount of trash you produce and provides you with free soil amendments for your garden. Compost is especially great for container gardens.
Forage Green City Spaces. Once a forager, always a forager. It may seem there is nothing but asphalt surrounding you, but cities maintain green spaces and, if you look hard enough, they have wild spaces as well. A quick internet search will give you an idea of the wild edibles in your area. Many cities also offer wild edible guided tours.
Eat Seasonally. Growing your own food, shopping at farmers’ markets, and foraging wild edibles go a long way toward keeping the diet seasonal, and local. From the first hunter-gatherers to our grandparents, staying in tune with the seasons was a way of life. Getting away from that has hurt us physically and mentally.
Eat Like a Homesteader. Of course, this means cooking from scratch. Whether you are a meat-eater, vegetarian, or vegan, everything you make in your kitchen is healthier than what you can buy from the fast food or sit-down restaurant down the street. Not a good cook? Master two simple recipes and add a new recipe to your repertoire each month.
Build an Outdoor Kitchen. If you live in a tiny space, cooking can really heat it up quickly. You don’t need to build an entire outdoor kitchen, but an outdoor stove is always nice and doesn’t take up too much space. Building a small outdoor pizza oven is fun to do with kids.
Make Your Own Cheese and Yogurt. It is unbelievable how much better homemade yogurt is than store-bought. There are a number of online tutorials, but making your own yogurt mainly requires you to heat up milk. Making soft cheese doesn’t involve much more.
Learn Basic Fermenting. Cheese and yogurt require one type of fermentation, which you are going to find quite simple to master. When you have an abundance of cucumbers or cabbage, try your hand at a different fermentation process and make pickles or sauerkraut.
Make Your Own Stock. Cooking with homemade stock makes the most basic foods delicious. It also cuts down on the waste that comes from your kitchen.
Decrease Your Energy Usage. Getting and staying off the grid is a goal for many homesteaders. The key to successfully living off the grid is to practice. Your electric bill will tell you how much energy you use each month, making it easy to measure the effectiveness of any energy changes you implement. Start with simple things like turning lights off, going without air conditioning, and using manual appliances.
Line Dry Your Clothes. There is really no reason to use a dryer for every load of clothes that are washed. Hang a line. Use a drying rack if your neighborhood does not allow a clothesline.
Simple Solar Projects. A step or two above line-drying your laundry, solar power is intimidating for a lot of people. Learning how to harness solar energy is a perfect project for homesteaders. Don’t get trapped thinking you need to start with a solar farm. Learn the basics with a small solar project, such as a phone charger.
Be Waterwise. You may not be in a position to dig a well, but you can be aware of the amount of water you are using and the amount you are wasting. Simple rainwater collection systems are simple to build and can be designed to fit the space you have available. Collecting and using greywater prevents waste. You can create a simple irrigation system for your garden using plastic jugs.
Build a Small Aquaponics System. This may seem too large for a backyard, but you can customize the size for your needs. An aquaponics system raises fish as well as vegetables, which is a smart use of a small space.
Raise Quail. If you simply cannot imagine homesteading without animals, try raising quail. Quail are quiet and low maintenance. They also grow to their full size quickly, providing you with meat in 6-8 weeks.
Keep it Non-Toxic. If you are worried about the toxins in the environment, or in your home, consider making your own non-toxic detergents and household cleaners. They clean just as well as commercial brands, and you have the security of knowing exactly what the ingredients are.
Get Really Clean. Bath soaps, salts, shampoos, and lotions are very simple to make. Like non-toxic cleaners, you can feel comfortable with the ingredients. You can also customize the scents and colors, getting precisely what you want every time. Not only are bath products practical, but they are also a big hit at farmers’ markets and craft fairs.
Find Your Tribe. The city, with all its people, can be surprisingly lonely. Take or teach classes to quickly find people whose interests align with yours. It’s too easy to give up if you feel like you are on this journey alone.
Become an Expert. This is a bonus, and one of the biggest benefits of downsizing. A tiny space could be viewed as a negative, but because your space is so small, you are in a great position to focus on one thing and become an expert. Refer back to your list of values and think about what you are most interested in learning more about. Expertise is hard to find, and you will be sought out, regardless of the micro-niche you pursue.