Backyard Homesteading Made Simple

I don’t know about you, but spending time outside connecting with nature is a HUGE source of joy for me. As I have learned more about sustainable living, I have tried to make small changes to my yard to spend my “nature time” in a generally more sustainable and self-sufficient space. This is how I first learned about running a backyard homestead! 

Contrary to popular belief, enjoying a self-sufficient homestead doesn’t have to be for those living on sprawling acres of land… even city dwellers can try it! 

Let’s find out how anyone can have a sustainable backyard homestead!

What is backyard homesteading

Running a backyard homestead is about self-sufficiency, reducing waste, and saving money!  

Rather than buying their food from the grocery store, those who practice sustainable backyard homesteading grow all or a portion of their food. 

Many of those who have adopted this lifestyle follow the principles of eco-friendly landscaping and consider the natural environment in their homestead maintenance and management decisions. This might include using eco-friendly gardening tools, limiting synthetic chemicals, and saving water. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (or the EPA for short), agriculture is responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States! By backyard homesteading, you are participating in more sustainable food systems by learning how to preserve the food you grew.

You can also contribute to a more sustainable backyard by practicing zero waste and other sustainable gardening principles. 

Rural homestead with garden.Pin

How do you homestead on a small property

Looking for homestead garden ideas but have limited outdoor space? You don’t need sprawling acres of fields to try sustainable horticulture and have a sustainable homestead! While you might have to skip raising animals, you can still have a sustainable garden indoors or make better use of what outdoor space you do have - whether that be a balcony or a smaller urban yard. 

I am trying to say that sustainable gardening and homesteading can be for everyone! Let's dive into my favorite suburban homesteading ideas!

1. Vertical Gardening

One of my favorite small homestead garden ideas is to adopt a vertical gardening approach. This is also a great way to go if you are gardening indoors in an apartment.  

For example… 

  • Try using hanging baskets to grow herbs like strawberries or trailing plants. 
  • Attach planters or pots to a vertical wood pallet and lean it against a wall or fence. You can also hang wall-mounted planters to your fence or an exterior wall that receives a lot of sunlight. 
  • Install trellises for climbing vegetables like cucumbers, beans, or peas.
  • Utilize stackable pots or specialized vertical gardening systems to make a tower garden.

2. Companion Planting

Companion planting is another principle of ecological gardening where you use the space you have most efficiently. 

According to Martha Stewart, companion planting is “growing different plant species close together to create a beneficial relationship that can offer better growth and production or aid in deterring or trapping harmful pests, or encouraging beneficial insects.” 

For example…

  • Plant beans, corn, and squash together to make a three-sisters garden! Corn supports the beans by fixing nitrogen within the soil, while squash acts like a living mulch. This will prevent any weeds from popping up and conserves moisture in the soil.
  • Basil and tomatoes work great together to repel pests, and pairing these two together actually improves the flavor of the tomatoes! Planting carrots, onions, nasturtiums, cucumbers, or marigolds with any vegetable has similar benefits.

If you want to learn more about what plants go well together, Gardens Nursery has a handy Companion Planting with Vegetables chart, which is VERY helpful.

3. Container Gardening

Raised vegetable container with selection of vegetables and flowers.Pin

Old, repurposed containers don't just make great indoor compost bins! They also make great plant pots. For example…

  • Grow a herb garden on your windowsill to bring the outdoors inside. 
  • Plant lettuce, spinach, or arugula in containers for a DIY fresh summer salad. Grow edible flowers like pansies, nasturtiums, and calendula in pots to add color and flavor to your salad!
  • Choose smaller, compact dwarf fruit trees already suited for smaller containers like dwarf apple or citrus trees. 

Pro tip: I have a guide about how to recycle plant pots so you can dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way afterward!

4. Raised Bed Gardening

Raising your garden bed while using the space underneath for storage can help you maximize your space while still having a beautiful garden! 

For example…

  • Divide raised gardening beds into square-foot sections (this is known as square-foot gardening). 
  • Create a herb spiral, a spiral-shaped raised bed with a relatively small footprint. Similarly, you can build a tiered raised bed, which is great for growing salad greens.
  • I would also recommend using raised beds to your advantage, depending on what kind of plants you want to grow. Longer, raised, narrow boxes are great for growing root vegetables like carrots, radishes, beets and berries like strawberries and raspberries.

How to plan for a backyard homestead?

Running a backyard homestead doesn't have to be super complicated, but it does require some planning in advance if you want to have a garden that will produce food year over year. 

Here are some ideas to consider in your backyard homestead garden design…

1. Season-Extending Design

  • Construct or purchase cold frames to protect plants during cooler seasons. Cold frames act as mini-greenhouses, capturing heat and extending the growing season.
  • Use lightweight row covers or floating row covers to shield plants from frost or chilly temperatures.
  • Build hoop house structures covered with plastic or greenhouse film to create a protected growing area for early or late-season crops.
  • Set up portable or temporary greenhouses that can be moved around to optimize sunlight and temperature for different crops.

2. Succession Planting

  • Instead of planting all your seedlings at once, sow them in intervals (this is known as staggered planting), so you have a continuous harvest throughout the season.
  • Choose vegetable varieties with shorter maturity times to allow for multiple seasonal plantings.
  • As you harvest crops, immediately sow or transplant new plants to maximize your garden's productivity and fill in empty spaces.

3. Multiple Plantings

  • To optimize space and maximize yields, try intercropping and plant fast-growing and slow-growing crops together. For example, grow lettuce between rows of tomatoes or radishes between rows of beans.
  • As mentioned earlier, adopt companion planting and pair plants that have mutually beneficial relationships, such as planting aromatic herbs near susceptible vegetables to repel pests or attract beneficial insects.
  • Utilize vertical space by growing vining plants, like cucumbers or pole beans, alongside taller plants, such as corn or sunflowers.
  • Divide your garden into overlapping planting zones and sections and stagger planting times, allowing for different crops to be sown or transplanted in each area to extend the harvest period.

How to save water and waste while suburban homesteading!

1. Harvesting rainwater

  • Install a rain barrel to collect rainfall you can then use to water your lawn and garden. You can also look into installing a cistern or in-ground reservoir (depending on how much space you are working with). 
  • Use gutters and downspouts to direct and channel the water where it needs to flow. 

2. Use graywater when possible

  • Place buckets or old tupperware around your yard to collect rainwater which you can use whenever you need it. 
  • Reuse household water from sinks and showers, but be careful not to reuse water containing fecal matter (black water). 
  • Gray water from the kitchen and bathroom can be reused on vegetables and other edible plants as long as the water does not touch the edible part of the plant.

3. Try composting at home

  • There are many different types of composting, so research which one will work best for you and your space. Remember that some items labeled “compostable” are at home, while others are not.
  • Green matter like frozen veggies or yard waste can be mixed with brown matter like cardboard, sticks, and twigs to make nutrient-rich compost known as hummus. Hummus is GREAT for your garden and can provide many essential nutrients your plants need to grow. 
  • Finally, make worm tea to give your plants that extra boost.

Pro tip: If you want to learn more about composting and running a zero-waste garden,  I have many composting facts and garden-recycling ideas here at the Eco Hub!

What are the best animals to keep on a backyard homestead?

The choice of animals for a small homestead depends on available space, local regulations, personal preferences, and the time and resources you can dedicate to their care. '

Red broilers at the farm. Pin

Here are some animals commonly kept on small homesteads…

  • Chickens are popular for small homesteads due to their relatively low space requirements, ease of care, and the benefit of fresh eggs. They can be kept in a small coop and provide natural pest control by eating insects. 

Pro tip: if you struggle with managing insects on your backyard homestead, make your mosquito-repellent planter!

  • Rabbits are compact animals that can be raised for meat and fur. They require minimal space and are relatively easy to care for.
  • Beekeeping is an excellent choice for small homesteads with access to flowering plants. Bees are extremely beneficial for pollination, increasing biodiversity in your garden, and can provide honey and beeswax. However, beekeeping requires some knowledge and investment in equipment. There are many steps you can take that will help to attract more birds and bees to your garden
  • If you have more space, goats can be a valuable addition to a small homestead. They can provide milk, meat, and fiber and are excellent at clearing brush and weeds. Keep in mind that goats require secure fencing and proper shelter.
  • Ducks are an alternative to chickens for egg production and pest control. They are hardy, adaptable, and produce rich eggs. 
  • Quail are small game birds that are gaining popularity on small homesteads. They require less space than chickens and provide eggs and meat. Quail are also relatively low maintenance and can be housed in small enclosures.
  • Miniature pigs, also known as "micro pigs" or "teacup pigs," are small-sized pigs that can be kept on small homesteads. They require proper shelter, space for rooting, and a balanced diet.

Before adding any animals to your homestead, it's essential to research their specific care needs and local regulations and ensure you have the necessary infrastructure and time commitment to provide for their well-being. Additionally, you may want to consider the noise, odor, and potential interactions with other animals and neighbors in your area.

A final word on backyard homesteading

Running a backyard homestead is a wonderful way to connect with nature, whether on a small balcony, a large farm, or anything in between!

The idea is to grow (or raise) your food and be fully or partially self-sufficient. Bonus points if you do this more sustainably by conserving water, reducing waste, and minimizing your use of chemicals.

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