If you’re a beginner to homesteading, trying to get started can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Even if you’ve been learning small homestead skills a while, knowing where to focus is difficult, and growing both knowledge and access can feel out of reach.
I get it. Our family has recently bought a small property—less than 1 acre. It’s been exciting, but also an adjustment. We had spent years renting a much bigger, more established old farm nearby.
We are still part of a food share that enables us to be involved in projects that require more land, such as raising and butchering our own beef cattle. However, as we branch into developing our own small homestead, there are some things that are more efficient small homestead skills to learn.
These ideas are a great place to start for a new homestead, no matter what size of property or home you are in.
Are there any small homestead skills that you’re particularly keen to learn? Which have you already mastered? Some of the books I suggest are affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Small Homestead Skills to Get Started
Growing a garden is the low-hanging fruit of self sustainability. It doesn’t matter where you live, you will almost certainly be able to grow something that you can eat. Additionally, no matter how deep you go, there is always more to learn on the subject of gardening.
Building a few raised beds in the backyard is a great place to start. If you have nothing but a patio or windows you could also try growing a variety of crops in pots or soil bags.
Apparently you need roughly 4000 sq feet to grow enough produce to feed an adult for the year. This is a solid goal—but it’s pretty ambitious if you’re new to the art of growing food. However, starting much smaller will still provide satisfying results. There isn’t anything that is quite a gratifying as enjoying quality food that has been freshly plucked from your own little plot
See some of my posts about getting started in gardening:
–Easiest Composting Method Ever
–How to Calculate When to Plant Seeds
–Easy Tips to Improve Soil for Potted Plants
–Establishing a Garden Plot: Building Up the Beds
Keeping your own honey bees is a fascinating endeavor. Beekeeping is something that is even possible in many urban settings such as on a rooftop or a back patio. Some places have bylaws against honey bees, so check the rules where you live—or at least make sure that your newfound interest is ok with your neighbors.
We do keep honey bees here. Each hive is only a few square feet, although you will probably want to start with at least two colonies.
Beekeeping does come with a very steep learning curve. However, growing your own honey can save lots of money, as well as provide a fabulous form of self sufficiency. Having honey bees around is also an excellent way to make sure you have ready pollinators for any plants you are growing on your small homestead.
I have found lots of great articles about beekeeping, which I have saved on my Honeybees Pinterest board—feel free to browse. You could also see about taking a course from a local beekeeper, or check out one of these popular books on getting started in beekeeping:
–The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginners Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard or Garden
–Beekeeping for Beginners: How To Raise Your First Bee Colonies
I love putting food by. The best part is opening a jar of preserves in January, or adding berries to my baking in March.
If you have a kitchen, you have what you need to preserve at home. You don’t even need to grow your own produce—buying bulk and in-season from a local grower is a perfectly valid.
There are a variety of ways to choose to preserve produce. Canning is one of the most popular, while options such as freezing and dehydrating are even easier. Either way, Preserving food at home is one of the small homestead skills you will want to consider mastering.
See some of my posts about getting started in preserving:
–Canning Tips for Beginners: What to Know to Get Started
–6 Reasons to Choose Fermenting for Food Preservation
–5 Reasons to Choose Canning for Food Preservation
And my all-time favorite preserving book:
–Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
While raising large mammals is likely to be difficult on a small homestead, chickens (and to a lesser extent, ducks) are very popular. Chickens are even allowed in the backyards of many cities.
There is a reason that poultry is a staple on virtually any homestead of any size. Chickens and ducks produce eggs or meat, both excellent sources of protein, using relatively little space. They can also be free ranged, depending on the size of your plot or the acceptance of your neighbors.
You will likely want to choose a breed based on whether you are hoping primarily for meat or eggs. We have raised both here, sometimes at the same time. Chickens that are intended for meat grow very quickly and are known to develop health problems. However, we free-range ours, feed them bugs and scraps, and have never had problems keeping them healthy to butcher weight and beyond.
Check out our chicken and duck posts here:
–Automatic Chicken or Duck Feeders: Everything to Consider
–Setting Up Automatic Coop Lighting: Everything to Know for Chickens or Ducks
–10 Reasons to Keep Ducks on the Homestead
–10 Real Benefits of Keeping Muscovy Ducks
–5 Reasons Muscovy Ducks May Not be Right for You
And some chicken-raising books with solid reviews:
–Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, 4th Edition
–The Chicken Chick’s Guide to Backyard Chickens: Simple Steps for Healthy, Happy Hens
Raising meat rabbits is another way to bring a sustainable source of protein to a small homestead. Rabbits don’t require much space, they grow to slaughter weight quickly, and they produce a lot of offspring very fast.
We have kept rabbits for several years, and find that they are a wonderful fit for our small homestead. These animals eat grass in the summer, as well as many of our fresh kitchen scraps. While they do require supplemental pellets and hay over the winter, they are an efficient source of meat for us.
–10 Reasons to Keep Rabbits on the Homestead
There are also plenty of good books available on the subject of raising rabbits:
–Raising Pastured Rabbits for Meat: An All-Natural, Humane, and Profitable Approach to Production on a Small Scale
–Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits, 5th Edition: Breeds, Care, Housing
–The Rabbit-Raising Problem Solver: Your Questions Answered about Housing, Feeding, Behavior, Health Care, Breeding, and Kindling
–Raising Rabbits for Meat
Wildcrafting, or foraging for food, is a popular activity. It can be a part of your small homestead skills whether you live on several acres, in an apartment, or somewhere in between.
You can even forage in your own garden plot with a little knowledge about which weeds are beneficial, such as lamb’s ear, purslane, and burdock root.
One of my favorite benefits of foraging is that you develop a set of small homestead skills that lives in your head—it cannot be lost, sold, or stolen from you.
Here on our small homestead we forage elderberries, mushrooms, rosehips, stinging nettle, and huckleberries, among other foods that grow wild in our area. Wild foods, harvested ethically, can provide wide-ranging nutrition and variety to a local-food diet. It can also be an incredibly fun and engaging hobby.
The best resource, honestly, is a trusted friend who can share his or her knowledge. However, someone like this is not always easy to find. One of my favourite blogs has a foraging category over at Grow Forage Cook Ferment.
You can also check out these books on foraging, some of which we use ourselves. It is best to look for one that is specific to your own area or growing zone:
–The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
–Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods
My husband, Mr. M., is out bass fishing as I write this—I’m not confident he’ll be successful, but fishing brings him lots of joy as well as access to local healthy meals for our family table. (He brought one home… That his friend caught.)
Like foraging, both hunting and fishing can be ways to sustainably bring food onto your small homestead. As long as you keep well informed of bag limits, hunting regulations, and licensing requirements, harvesting wild meat can have an active place in anyone’s set of small homesteading skills.
Depending where you are in the world, hunting may be much less accessible than it is here in North America. However, if you’re in a location where it is a viable option, you should seriously consider adding hunting or fishing to your small homestead skills.
Here are some books to read if you’re considering getting started with harvesting wild meat:
–The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1: Big Game
–The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 2: Small Game and Fowl
–Basic Fishing: A Beginner’s Guide
–The Total Fishing Manual: 318 Essential Fishing Skills
If you own your own home, setting up an off-grid system is one way to become more self sustaining.
Probably the most accessible direction to move if you’re interested in reducing reliance on the grid is solar panels. These can be tied into the grid to reduce or eliminate the cost your home is pulling. Another option is to hook your panels to a battery bank, which you can draw power from—the downside is that batteries are expensive, difficult to monitor, and have a limited lifespan. However, installing a battery bank will go even farther to ensuring your home will be self-reliant in the future.
Of course, you don’t need to limit your interest to solar power. Depending on your location and resources there are other options such as micro-hydro electricity generation, geothermal heating, or wind turbines. You can also consider independent water sources such as drilling a well, capturing rain water, or using greywater systems on your property.
Even using wood to heat your home, or as a cooking fuel could be considered an off-grid system. Green Building Canada has a good intro article to some of the off-grid applications.
Most off-grid systems have a significant up-front cost, and may come with a reduction in convenience or comfort. They can be complicated, finicky, and expensive. However, generating your own power and water can be a gratifying way to grow your homesteading skills, and the cost will often pay itself off over the long haul as you reduce your reliance on common utilities.
It’s also true that many areas regulate various off-grid activities. Make sure that what you’re considering isn’t outright illegal in your area.
Here are some more resources to check out if you’re interested in moving off-grid:
–Solar Energy: The physics and engineering of photovoltaic conversion, technologies and systems
–The Doable Off-Grid Homestead: Cultivating a Simple Life by Hand . . . on a Budget
–Going Off the Grid: The How-To-Book of Simple Living and Happiness
In a similar theme to gardening, growing your own fruit trees, and other perennials, is a low-risk way to become self reliant. Buying fruit is expensive, and most of it comes with heavy food mileage and packaging.
Even a small plot of land is generally capable of accommodating a few dwarf fruit trees and berry bushes. Actually, any perennial, from asparagus to herbs can be gratifying to grow and can provide you with years or decades of produce.
Perennials and fruit trees usually have a more significant cost to set up than common garden seeds. It is also helpful to have an over-arching vision and plan for your plot so you know where to locate these long-term investments. However, it’s hard to go wrong with growing your own little orchard or food forest. You will also generally increase the value of your property with established trees and fruiting bushes.
Once you are producing your own abundance of fruit every year, you will want to dive into food preservation and continue to grow other small homestead skills. You might even want to install more sustainable water systems. It’s like a self-perpetuating rabbit hole.
And if you can grow citrus, I’ll just be over here feeling jealous! Here are some good resources if you’re interested in starting a small orchard, or other perennial garden, on your small homestead:
–The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way
–The Permaculture Orchard : Beyond Organic (DVD)
–Trees for Gardens, Orchards, and Permaculture
–Successful Berry Growing: How to Plant, Prune, Pick and Preserve Bush and Vine Fruits
Do you have a basement? Or a small corner of a small room? What about space for a jar on your countertop?
Growing some produce inside is among the most accessible small homestead skills on this list. Even a small apartment can generate some produce.
However, a little more ambition can lead one down the road of micro-greens, spirulina, or indoor hydroponics.
None of these are as self-sustaining as the other small homestead skills you’ve read about—most require seeds, a power source, and sometimes soil. However, they are accessible ways to grow really good quality food year round.
Here we grow micro-greens in the winter as well as sprouting periodically. Both of these help us supplement the seasonal produce that we grow. We even have this indoor worm bin, which provides very nutrient-rich soil from our kitchen scraps.
If you’re interested in indoor growing, you check out these books:
–Microgreens: A Guide To Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens
–The Sprout Book: Tap into the Power of the Planet’s Most Nutritious Food
–DIY Hydroponic Gardens: How to Design and Build an Inexpensive System for Growing Plants in Water
Which of these small homestead skills are you already practicing? Are there any you would add to the list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!