I’m introducing a new term that I haven’t really covered before – homesteading. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a homestead is “a house and the farmland it is on.” The act of homesteading, however, is the practice of living a lifestyle of self-sufficiency, including growing crops, raising animals for meat, home preservation and storage of food items, and the use of renewable energy options such as solar electricity and wind power. It deals more with the lifestyle choices one makes, rather than where they live.
Homesteading is a popular practice within the survival and prepper community as it allows you to be able to grow and/or raise your own food in case disaster strikes, as well as be self-reliant when it comes to energy. While practicing homesteading you can learn how to properly store food and water for the long stretch, as well as skills like farming and aquaponics.
This will be the first in a series of homesteading articles dedicated to showing you the best projects, techniques, lifestyle decisions, and tips for the frugal-minded prepper. Homesteading is a very broad topic, so we’ll start small – in an apartment.
While having acres and acres of land would allow you to grow more food, breed more animals, and give you more room to flex your homesteading muscles, you don’t need that much space to live the homesteader lifestyle. While having an apartment that lacks land disqualifies you from raising goats or quail, there are plenty of projects you can begin if you live in an apartment.
If you have a porch or balcony in your apartment then you have the perfect space to start a small vegetable garden. It can be as complex as this article’s title photo or as simple as the photo directly above. Foods you can grow here include lettuce, tomatoes, onions, squash, pepper plants, carrots, potatoes, and strawberries, among many others.
First, you’ll need to make sure that your apartment complex doesn’t have any restrictions on balcony gardening. Some places might consider them an eyesore, wishing to preserve the original look of the complex. Next, you’ll have to check what grows best in the area you live. Some fruits or vegetables can’t grow in certain regions, or can only grow during specific times of the year. Do your research and figure out what you can successfully grow where you live. Make sure you also plant your choices in appropriate containers (for example, carrots do not grow well in pots due to their deep roots).
Have a smaller balcony or porch and not much space? This is no problem, as you can plant your garden in a variety of creative ways. Check out these 5-gallon jugs turned into gardening pots, as an example:
Another option is to get some wood and build yourself a raised vegetable garden bed (pictured below).
This can be an extremely fun project for you and your family, as well as help allow you to grow more food for your homestead. Remember to keep the area clean and smelling good so that your neighbors don’t complain about your new hobby. So find out what your balcony or porch can handle, research the foods you can grow there, and begin the fun homesteading project of growing your own food!
Kitchen Herb Garden
You can also grow a wide variety of herbs right in your kitchen or even hanging from your windows. These require even less space than the balcony garden but can yield just as much rewards. Herbs can enhance any meal and growing your own will help you save money.
Some of the most popular herbs to grow are basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, oregano, verbena, and spearmint. Herbs can be used fresh or dried for cooking, baking, making teas, and to flavor other beverages. You can transform most small containers into herb pots for your kitchen window.
If you don’t have much window sill space to plant herbs, you can set it up to where your herb pots are hanging. The image below demonstrates this with the use of a shower curtain rod, cutlery caddy, and S-hooks.
So look around your apartment for the best spot to grow your herbs. They will need as much natural light as possible. Find a window that gets sunlight at least 4 hours a day. Use a drain pan or saucer underneath the pots to catch water (make sure your herb pots have drainage holes). Most indoor herbs do best in temperatures between 65°F – 70°F (if you are comfortable then your herbs are most likely too). Basil calls for warmer requirements, in the 70’s 24/7.
Since growing herbs requires less space and energy, consider trying to grow these first if you are new to gardening. When you are more comfortable and ready to progress to vegetables then start working on that project too.
Learn How to Can and Preserve Food
Buying or harvesting food during season and storing it for later both saves money and allows you to be prepared in case of a shortage of food or during winter when certain crops don’t grow.
Pressure canning and water bath canning are two ways to can your food such as pickles, beans, and applesauce. Its great for storing food for later and a fun hobby. For beginners, water bath canning is probably the best to start on since its not as intimidating as pressure canning.
If you are going to start trying your hand at canning, I recommend applesauce first since apples are cheap in season, applesauce is a versatile food item you can add to multiple types of meals (including great for baby food), and its easy to learn on. To can applesauce using the water bath method, you’ll need some sterilized empty mason jars, rings and lids, a canning funnel, magnetic lid lifter, jar tongs, ladle, and a saucepan. Other than the saucepan, all of these tools are usually included in water bath canning kits, like this Granite Ware Enamel-on-Steel canning kit. There’s a 9-piece (generally around $35) and a 12-piece set (generally around $45) you can choose from.
Another way to preserve food is to dry meats. You can make jerky this way and make your beef and pork (and other meats) last longer. To dry meat, you’ll first need to select a lean cut such as sirloin or flank steak. Next you’ll want to remove all visible fat from the cut of meat. At this point, you can freeze the meat for 5 hours to make the next step, cutting the meat into thin slices, easier (however, this is optional). Cut the meat against the grain into slices about 1/8″ – 1/4″ thin.
You can marinade the meat with salt, pepper, water, and vinegar, or you can season the meat with a preferred BBQ sauce (diluted with water to a 1:2 ratio). The water will evaporate, leaving the concentrated BBQ on the meat. Marinate the meat overnight. Use tin foil to line the bottom of your oven and arrange the strips of meat on the cooking grate, setting the oven to somewhere around 140°F – 170°F. Prop the oven door open slightly using a wooden ladle to accelerate the dehydration process. To turn the slices of meat into jerky should take around 2-6 hours, depending on the thickness of the slices. Test the jerky by bending it – if it begins to tear then it is about done. Once done, let it air dry for 24 hours before packaging it (though you can begin eating it right away).
There are other ways of preserving food, such as freezing fruits and vegetables, so give a few methods a try and see what works best for you and what you are trying to preserve.
If you’re going to be growing your own food (and even breeding animals for meat) then you better know how to cook. If you are in a bug-out situation and are forced to hunt for food you’ll need to know how to properly cook what you kill. In that situation nothing fancy is necessary, however knowing how to cook should include learning how to combine different meats with vegetables and herbs to create a wide variety of meals.
There are thousands of cookbooks available to you, so look for one that deals mainly with the types of foods you will want to cook. A good place to start looking might be Paleo Diet cookbooks (the Paleo Diet, in a sentence, is if you can’t kill it or grow it, don’t eat it). These cookbooks will help you learn how to cook meats, vegetables, eggs, and other healthy foods. There are also many other cookbooks that are for beginners that you may want to start with, so build yourself up to a collection of a few cookbooks that work for you, and even try making your own recipes.
Growing your own food and cooking it is a very rewarding hobby that will help you remain self-sufficient, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and will save you money in the long run.
Repurpose and Reuse
Remember those 5-gallon jugs that were turned into pots for your balcony garden? That’s just one example of how repurposing household items can save you money and energy and be a fun hobby at the same time. Above is a stove made out of a tin can – a fun DIY project that will serve as a handy backup, just in case.
Repurposing items isn’t limited to empty jugs or kiddie pools (can also be used for gardening). For example, coffee grounds can be used for many other projects other than coffee-making (in a survival situation coffee won’t be your first priority), including:
mix them into your compost pile which adds nitrogen to the soil
use coffee grounds to deter ants, snails, or slugs
deodorize your fridge
rub your hands with coffee grounds to remove odors like onions or fish
make coffee soap and/or scrub
That’s just with coffee grounds. You can repurpose almost anything to fill a different role. Pinterest is a good reference source for getting some creative ideas. Sour milk can be used to make buttermilk biscuits or banana bread, homemade waffles or muffins, or you can feed it to your pigs and chickens (if you have them, though more likely in a regular homestead rather than apartment homesteading).
Other than repurposing food items, you can turn a shoe rack into a garden, newspapers and magazines into fire bricks, aluminum cans into a basic low-end solar panel for heating, and mousetraps and glow sticks into a perimeter “alarm”. Some of these repurposed items don’t necessarily fit with apartment life, so just repurpose it again! Plus, learning multiple uses for everyday items will help exercise your mind for prepping.
If you’re tired of spending money on brand name cleaning products, you can easily make your own right at home with certain ingredients. You can make things like carpet cleaner, laundry soap, glass cleaner, detergent, grease cleaner, stain remover, brass cleaner, disinfecting wipes, body wash, and shampoo.
Some of the basic ingredients you’ll need to purchase if you are going to begin making your own cleaning supplies are:
Castile soap (made from plant oils, like olive oil based)
Start stocking up on these items so that you are ready to begin making your own products. For example, you can make window cleaner by mixing 2 teaspoons of white vinegar with 1 liter of warm water. A few tips when cleaning windows using this recipe – make sure to use either cotton cloth or crumpled up black/white newspapers to clean, and don’t clean your windows when the sun is shining on them since streaks will appear while it dries.
You can also make oven cleaner by mixing 3/4 cup of baking soda, 1/4 cup of salt, and 1/4 cup of water into a paste. Gently moisten the interior of your oven with a wet sponge before spreading the oven cleaner mix you just created on the interior surface of your oven (except on bare metal and openings). Let this paste sit overnight and remove it with a spatula, wiping it clean afterwards. If you have a particularly difficult spot to wipe clean you can use steel wool.
Its pretty easy and fun to create your own cleaning products and keeping at it will help you save money in the long run.
You may not be interested in doing this one, but I recommend trying it out. Drying your clothes from a clothesline rather than from a standard dryer (or especially if you go to a laundromat) will save you a lot of money.
Even if you can’t string a clothesline that covers a lot of space, you can set up a more simple version like in the photo above or an indoors drying rack like this one or this one.
If you are focused on saving as much money as you can this is an easy place to start. It doesn’t require a lot of energy and you’ll save money on the energy your dryer would use every week, or gas money if you drive to a laundromat.
Community Supported Agriculture programs allow you to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. CSA has been going on for over 25 years and has become extremely popular for those who want fresh, healthy food available on a regular basis.
Your local farmer will offer a certain number of “shares” to the public generally in the form of a box of vegetables, though some farmers may include farm products. You would buy a “share” (a.k.a. “subscription” or a “membership”) and you’d receive a box of seasonal produce every week throughout the farming season.
This system has benefits both to farmers and the consumers. Advantages for the farmers include the ability to spend time marketing the food early on in the year before their 16 hour days out in the field start, they receive payment early on in the season that helps the farm’s cash flow, and they get the opportunity to get to know those people who directly eat the food they work hard to grow. Advantages for the consumer include the availability of fresh and healthy food, the exposure to new vegetables and new ways of cooking, they can get to visit the actual farm at least once a season, they find out that their kids tend to prefer vegetables from “their” farm (including vegetables they usually wouldn’t eat), and the consumers get to develop relationships with their farmer and get to learn more about farming and how their food is grown (helping you with your very own garden!).
You can find local Community Supported Agriculture programs by visiting www.localharvest.org/csa and using the map there. Some programs will even let you work to help pay for your “subscription” by getting some dirt under your fingernails.
Become DIY Savvy
This one ties in a little bit with “Repurpose and Reuse” and “Make Your Own Cleaning Products”, but goes further than both by encouraging you to take on more projects like making your own candles or make survival arrow fletching out of duct tape.
You can build a mini survival kit out of an Altoids container or, like mentioned above, create a garden using a wide variety of common objects. The more DIY projects you can tackle, the more your mind will be inclined to start seeing things from outside the box and you’ll start to try to figure out uses for things that you normally would never have thought of.
DIY projects can range from simple, like making those 5-gallon jug garden pots, to more complex like making a solar powered air cooler out of a 5-gallon bucket. Maybe you’d like to make a homemade water filter using rocks, sand, and charcoal? Have a look around the internet or homesteading books to get some ideas, or check back periodically here at SurvivalThrive for ideas for projects. Find one you’re interested in and then Do It Yourself!
Homesteading is not inherently easy. It requires motivation and consistency to be effective or beneficial in any way, and then it becomes easy! Sometimes a project may be quick and simple while another might be more difficult than you anticipated and require more work. Its important to not give up and to keep trying new things.
So find a project or two you’d like to start with and keep at it! Don’t lose your motivation – you can homestead with acres of backyard space or within an apartment. Here are a few final tips to help you and suggestions to keep in mind:
keep spare jars, buckets, and containers… you never know what future homesteading projects you can use them for
items like rubber bands, hair ties, or twist ties (like from loaves of bread) should also be kept for any potential use in future projects
teach your kids and/or get a family member to help you with your projects, its always more fun when someone else who is enthusiastic can help you
write down recipes for any cleaning products you make or steps you take to store/preserve food… this way you’ll remember them more easily and will help you do it again even more efficiently
buy yourself a 3-ring binder or notebook to fill project ideas in, including ingredients or tools needed for each specific project
keep your mind active… exercise physically and mentally to help you maintain higher energy levels throughout the day, giving you more motivation to homestead
don’t let too much time pass between projects… you can even repeat the same project several times to perfect it
remember – always have fun… you’re saving money and learning to be self-sufficient, something that most people cannot say