If you’ve been wondering how to get started as a homesteader – but you’re living in the middle of an apartment in town, you’re at the right place.
Homesteading, to far too many minds, requires forty acres, a barn full of livestock and fields of produce.
What about city and apartment dwellers? Must they simply wait until they’re “out on the land” or is it possible for urban people to homestead?
When we began our homesteading journey, we asked the same questions.
Our apartment was within walking distance of downtown, in a rough, low income area of a large Canadian city. Converted from an old parking garage, that basement unit lacked almost any natural light but made up for it in ants and mice.
Living there, I joked that a benefit of living in a slum apartment was the safe feeling caused by an almost constant police presence.
As I discussed in my post defining homesteading, there is nothing in the definition that requires a garden, livestock or even land.
Homesteading is about taking control of your food, the energy you use, the resources that you employ. It is about pursuing a life of self-sufficiency and an awareness of your impact on the world.
Wherever you are, whatever you have, you can get started now. Are you ready to find out some of the surprising ways you can homestead – no matter where you live?
Cook From Scratch
Start working towards eliminating all boxes, cartons and cans from your pantry and making three meals a day from scratch.
It is harder than it seems!
This includes learning how to make bread on a regular basis and having a selection of breakfast recipes that you can make while half-asleep.
My grandfather used to say that we should eat food that remembers where it came from, and I think that this is probably one of the most fundamental skills to develop before moving out to that “back forty”.
Although you cannot have a root cellar or a smoke house, there are still many options open for you.
Dehydration, cheese-making, canning, curing meat in your refrigerator, fermentation and even brewing are all possible in an apartment. Okay, you probably can’t have a root cellar, but you would be surprised at what you can do in an apartment in the middle of a city.
I know because I’ve done all of them.
Of course you will not be using animals that you raised yourself for curing, nor your own vegetables for canning, but trust me – when you’re starting out, you do not want to deal with six bushels of tomatoes or a full side of pork.
Even then, if you’re so inclined – I’ve put up dozens of bushels of tomatoes, and even cup and processed a full pork carcass in my city apartment!
I’m a little biased, but I definitely recommend my cookbook A Cabin Full of Food as a guide to filling your pantry with home-preserved food and using what you have put up.
From crochet to sewing, there are many practical needlework skills that do not require a lot of space. Knowing how to sew on a button or make simple repairs to clothing will save you a lot of time and money once you’re outside of the city.
Learning to eat seasonally, to know and preserve what is available at different times of the year, is a vital skill.
Find a friendly farmer and become familiar with natural food availability. This is the time to wean yourself away from the grocery store and learn to talk with farmers. Even after you have your own land, you will need the market farmers, so get to know them now.
This also applies to dealing with the glut of each available food.
Unlike at the grocery store, seasonal food arrives all at once. It is mid-October and I have 32 butternut squash sitting on my kitchen counter, and, since we didn’t grow carrots this year, a friend just called me to say he has ten bushels of carrots in his cooler waiting for me. And, since the weather is cooling off, there are a dozen chickens outside who have an appointment with the chopping block.
It all has to be done right now.
When I lived in the city, my friendly farmer (and now a very dear friend) would gradually increase the amounts she would give me of vegetables, pushing me each time past what I thought I could handle. One time when the tomatoes were all hit with blossom end rot, she loaded me up with several bushels and said, “You’re good now with handling a lot of vegetables. Someday every tomato in your garden will get blossom end rot. Now’s the time to learn to deal with it!”
If you have a south-facing balcony, consider setting up small solar panels and learning to wire a mini solar array. While it will not be enough to power all of your needs, this is a great way to learn the details of solar power before you are trying to rely on it. There is a huge learning curve to this stuff.
Recently, we were having some problems with our charge controller (a very important part of the system) and the Mister spent hours on the phone with our supplier. At one point, while the Mister was trying to figure out what he had been doing wrong and what he needed to do next, he was told “You know, there’s a FOUR YEAR course that people take to do what you’re doing.”
There is. And if you can take it, you’ll do better than we’re doing. But if you can’t take it, and if you don’t want to rely on a solar contractor to come in every time there’s a problem, it is certainly possible to learn on your own.
Another skill that lends itself well to apartments is simple living.
Start looking at your “stuff” and figure out what is truly necessary. Down size, simplify, and look at ways to remove the busy-ness of your life now.
A bonus is that, when it is time to move, you’ll have fewer things to move.
Depending on the available light and electricity, many apartment homesteaders have grown a variety of food.
Sprouts, microgreens, container vegetables on a balcony or under lights and herbs are all options.
Seed catalogs now contain entire sections of tiny vegetables for balconies. Unfortunately, most are hybrids so there is no real sense in seed saving, but it will at least provide practice at growing things.
In our dark apartment, I could grow nothing.
But then I planted a sweet potato in a large flower pot and place it in our damp, south-facing bathroom. After a short time, it threatened to take over the room and I had to start cutting it aggressively in order to avoid a jungle bathroom. That one plant provided my farming friends with hundreds of free sweet potato slips! And as a side benefit, sweet potato vines are gorgeous.
This is not something that I hear about a lot lately, but twenty years ago, many of us who lived in apartments had worm composting bins in our kitchens. I always remember the guide book Worms Eat My Garbage. Even if you cannot have a garden, the compost is wonderful for houseplants or as a gift to a gardening friend.
There are so very many skills and habits that you can begin while living in an apartment in order to gain control over your food and resources. This only touches briefly on a few of them.