The top 10 urban homesteading tips to get your place growing, bountiful, and more self sufficient, no matter if you’re in a city or the suburbs.
Do you live in a subdivision or an apartment and dream of working your own land? Then you may be a future urban homesteader.
The good news is there’s no need to wait, you can practice homesteading skills anywhere, from an apartment in a city to a small subdivision lot.
Even if you do not have enough garden space to grow your own wheat or corn, you can harvest an amazing amount of crops from containers or, if you have a bit of land, a small garden.
Granted, owning your own milk cow is likely not an option for most urban homesteaders, but keeping backyard rabbits in a subdivision is certainly possible.
In The City
City dwellers even have a big advantage over country folk. It can be much easier to build a community of like-minded neighbors who can share land, tools, knowledge and friendship.
For example, six households working with the organization Daily Acts in Petaluma, Calif. produced more than 3,000 pounds of food, foraged 2,000 pounds of local fruit, collected more than 4,000 pounds of organic waste for composting, planted more than 185 fruit trees, installed five grey water and rainwater catchment systems – all the while tending to bees, chickens, ducks, quail and rabbits!
All of this from six households! Imagine what 60 could do!
Learning Traditional Skills
Add to those skills water and energy management (such as rainwater catchment and solar power systems) and you are well on your way to being a proper urban homesteader. Skills such as these not only save money but they also put you in touch with the necessities of life.
Why not start your path to urban homesteading today? The following top 10 tips are skills that will set you on the right path to a more sustainable way of urban living.
1. Observe and Interact
I know, I know, you want ACTION and immediate results, right?! Well, hang on a second.
You also need to know where to begin…. You wouldn’t pull the trigger of a gun without knowing exactly where that bullet was going to end up, would you? The same principle applies to urban homesteading, knowing where you are and where you want to end up can mean the difference between success and failure.
Slow down and look critically at your particular situation, where you live, what skills you already know, and what you are physically capable of before doing anything else.
By taking the time to observe you will make wiser and more reasonable choices about your new homestead venture. Learn everything you can about your area: Can you trace your tap water from the source? Where is your food coming from now? What happens to your garbage and sewage?
Think about and take the time to actually observe the water, sun, wind, and available space for growing food on your property.
Consider interactions with your neighbors. For example, consider how close your neighbors are to your new chicken coop (FYI, there will be a smell and roosters are LOUD, and always seem the loudest at 6AM on a lazy Saturday morning). Yes, you probably could (most likely illegally) raise a pig in your suburban backyard, but are your neighbors going to call the cops as soon as they get a whiff of the smell?
Sharing the bounty with your neighbors might gain some goodwill, but you need to know your neighbors and their attitudes before beginning. Also don’t forget to carefully consider your HOA, landlord, and local & state laws before starting a new project in the Land Of The Free* (*terms and conditions apply).
Going the next step – Find out exactly what you should consider in A Beginner’s Guide to Self Sufficiency. Learn more about dealing with neighbors in Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City.
2. Grow Your Own Food
One of the biggest issues for urban homesteaders is finding space to grow food. In a city community gardens provide a great opportunity for you to learn next to other committed gardeners on a small plot of land.
For another take on neighborly love, if you find yourself looking over the fence at your neighbor’s unkempt yard consider offering to turn it into a productive garden and share the bounty.
Vertical space is a (sub)urban gardeners best friend. City gardeners may find flat rooftops, and abandoned lots with owners willing to allow them space for a small garden.
In many subdivisions, the economic downturn of America has yielded a depressively large amount of partially or completely undeveloped lots, many of which can be turned into abundant food-growing zones. Many of you may have these lots touching your own property.
Do not underestimate the amount of food that can be grown in a small space. On a patio or parking lot that gets sun for about six hours per day but has no soil, you could plant a garden in raised beds, or in barrels or storage bins with drainage holes punched through the bottom. You can grow many carrots, leeks, potatoes, and heads of lettuce in 5-gallon buckets.
Going the next step – If you are lucky enough to have soil and space for a garden, make the most of your space by using Biointensive Gardening and Permaculture. Learn more about suburban gardening in Backyard Farming and Home Skills for Self-Sufficient Living.
3. Get Creative In The Kitchen
Learn how to make your own bread, cheeses, wine, jams, and more. It’s really not rocket science and just takes a little willingness to try.
Learn how to can your garden bounty and preserve your own food. Not only will cooking save you money, but it will give you control over the ingredients.
Buy a few good cookbooks, get the tools and supplies your missing, watch cooking shows, explore cooking videos on YouTube, take advantage of cooking classes held near you, and invest time and energy into learning how to create your own staples.
4. Preserve Your Food
Speaking of canning… freezing, drying, smoking, and canning with water bath and pressure canners are simple methods of preserving bulk food, seasonal hauls from a local farmer, or your own harvests.
If you glean fruits from nearby apple trees or score a large box of super-ripe tomatoes from a farmers market, you’ll want to know how to can apple butter and pasta sauce.
Don’t be afraid of fermentation either, 150 years ago it was one of the most widely used preservation methods. Cheese and sauerkraut are just two examples.
Going the next step – Brush up your canning skills in DIY Canning – Over 100 Small-Batch Recipes for All Seasons. Learn to preserve everything and anything possible and become a food preservation professional in Preserving Everything – Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk, and More.
Compost is the single most important skill you can learn in gardening. if you can fix the soil you can fix anything. Spend an afternoon and build a simple compost bin for your backyard by hammering together three wooden pallets. Or, if you can’t get any pallets just collect your grass clippings into a big pile and mix in shredded leaves and vegetable food scraps.
You could also purchase a pre-made plastic compost bin with a lid. If you struggle with animals or nervous neighbors then a pre-made compost bin may be your best bet. You can even simply drill drainage holes in the bottom of a large plastic or metal garbage can with a lid.
Vermicomposting, the art of worm composting, is easier than is seems, has almost no smell, and can be kept indoors. A worm bin is a small-scale composting container that can be maintained indoors to transform your smaller kitchen scraps and bits of newspaper into some of the best compost known to man.
Going the next step – Learn how to master composting with An Indoor and Outdoor Guide to Composting for the City (and Suburban) Homesteader. Take your vermicomposting to the next level in How to Start a Worm Bin – Your Guide to Getting Started with Worm Composting.
6. Raising Livestock in the City or Suburbs
Animals can turn a backyard garden into a mini-farm and provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer, but in an urban setting care must be taken to appease the neighbors and abide by local laws and HOA ordinances.
Backyard chickens and rabbits are the most common animals on urban homesteads, with rabbits being the easiest to start. Even urban beekeepers (with larger spaces of land) are growing. Some urban homesteaders will the room and good neighbors are even raising goats and pigs with no problems.
If you can provide a source of water such as a pool or mini-pond, ducks and geese are another option… although keep in mind that geese can be loud and even bite.
Check with your local municipality to find out which animals are allowed in your area — for example, some places allow chickens but not roosters. Most areas will allow rabbits at least to some extent.
Undertaking animal projects with others will spread the work and responsibility. Get only the number of animals that you can humanely care for, and think about what you’ll do when your chickens stop laying or the mama rabbits get too old to reproduce.
Going the next step – A comprehensive guide to raising livestock in a city or suburb can be found in An Urban Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals. More info can be found specifically on rabbits in Backyard Meat Rabbits (The Urban Rabbit Project).
7. Reuse Your Water
Greywater – water that empties from washing machines, bathroom sinks, showers, and baths – can be reused with some cheap plumbing. You can direct this water to your landscaping and gardens (just make sure your soaps are biodegradable or you’ll kill everything).
The simplest way to reuse greywater is with a bucket placed beneath a sink drain. Just disconnect the sink from the wall and let it drain directly into a 5-gallon bucket. Don’t forget to empty it regularly.
As with most things urban homesteading, check your city ordinances before configuring a greywater system as there are several laws about proper greywater disposal.
Another source of water comes directly from the sky. Catch and store rainwater from gutter downspouts diverted into rain barrels.
Going the next step – Find out how you can save and conserve water in How to Conserve, Capture, and Reuse Water in Your Home and Landscape. Go even further and create a customer greywater solution with Create an Oasis with Greywater – Choosing, Building, and Using Greywater Systems.
8. Conserving Energy and Producing Your Own
Renters and homeowners can take advantage of simple home energy improvements. Adding thermal window shades and blinds will not only save energy but also save you money.
Even renters could caulk window frames and insulate heating ducts for a few dollars, the savings on your light bill will pay for it many times over.
Adjust your thermostat to be cooler in winter and warmer in the summer. Switch to LED bulbs, which will pay for themselves in energy savings.
Use the energy of the sun whenever possible. Install a solar hot water system if you can. Some DIY options are extremely easy and affordable and do not leave any holes.
String a clothesline and cut down on your dryer usage. You’ll feel like a super homesteader if you use your newly acquired cooking skills to cook a pot of soup or bake a loaf of bread in a DIY solar oven.
Going the next step – Get started with solar power with Build Your Own Low-Budget Solar Power System. Learn how to make your urban homestead more energy efficient in Easy Ways to Conserve Energy, Protect Your Family’s Health, and Help Save the Environment.
9. Sourcing What You Can’t Grow Or Make Yourself
If you live in a place where you really have no room to grow, or can only grow a few items, you can still source healthy food from your local farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) projects and local food co-ops. Even buying organic from your local grocery store is a step in the right direction.
If you have the opportunity to join or start a bulk-food buying group to purchase staples directly from wholesalers you can cut out the middle man and save a fortune over the years.
Going the next step -Learn the skill of eating great on the cheap with Organic Eating On A Budget – How To Buy Affordable Organic Foods To Achieve A Healthier Diet And Lifestyle. Learn how to eat organic for less than $5 a day in Wildly Affordable Organic.
10. Getting Around
Embrace walking and bicycle travel. Not only will you be mentally and physically healthier but you’ll save a ton of money on gas, tires, oil changes, and upkeep.
Electric scooters and electric-assisted bikes are the way to go for long trips or hilly terrain, plus they don’t make you sweat (we all like biking but showing up to the office sweaty and smelly isn’t an option for most of us).
If you must drive, consider the big step of making your own biodiesel fuel. It requires the right vehicle and some real knowledge of the process but it can be a big savings for most. Urban Homesteaders are usually surrounded by restaurants willing to give away used vegetable oil or it sell for pennies on the gallon.
Going the next step – Learn all about making your own biodiesel in Backyard Biodiesel – How to Brew Your Own Fuel.
Modern homesteading is not a race for the off grid hills, nor is it a return to that old Depression-era mentality. It’s not about austerity or the zombie apocalypse. Instead, homesteading, particularly urban homesteading, involves skills and practices that lift us out of a dead end culture of inaction and gives us an abundance and freedom that cannot be found elsewhere.
An urban homesteading lifestyle is not just about making a nice pie out of cheap pecans, it’s about living a life that shift our daily activities toward self-sufficiency and empowerment.