Beginning Homesteading – Starting Where You Are
We started our homesteading journey as suburban homesteaders in a townhouse not far from Washington, D.C. Growing vegetables and herbs in containers on our tiny back deck, replacing landscaped azaleas and ivy with tomatoes, cucumbers, and bush beans, learning to can, sew, and cook from scratch were the tasks we started with.
As much as we wanted a home in the country and to increase our self-sufficiency, we weren’t in a position to move. For five years we dreamed and planned of beginning a homestead in the country. We spent those years budgeting, saving, researching, learning new skills, and preparing ourselves for when we finally found ‘our place’.
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Starting a Homestead
We arrived at our new home Thanksgiving day 2014, with much relief and excitement. Finally! We were home.
There was so much to do! We were determined to transform this land and house into a homestead. We tackled one project after another, and enjoyed a sense of forward progress. Most of our energy went into creating or improving our infrastructure – home improvements, transforming lawn into garden, and building hutches for our meat rabbits.
Of course, like many new homesteaders, our goals were overly optimistic and many of our second year goals were not accomplished. The first year it was easy to see the tangible results of all our hard work in beginning our homestead. But for this past year, I would say much of what I did accomplish was more intangible – mainly in the way of lessons learned as I dealt with prolific pests in the garden, trying new varieties and gardening techniques, and learning more about the process of growing, harvesting, and using the medicinal herbs.
Slowing Down – Homesteading and Family
As we approach our second anniversary on our homestead I am slowing down a bit and focusing on our mindset. My husband and I have reduced our work hours outside the home to focus more energy and time on increasing our self-sufficiency, homeschooling our youngest, and taking care of our health. We started this homesteading journey to live a slower, more contented life focused on family, home, food, and community. And I believe we are already succeeding.
Not that we have reached any kind of milestone. Not at all. In fact, everywhere I look around me, I see projects waiting to happen, and like most homesteaders, we face the challenges of time and money. Homesteading is never-ending work. There is no “end point”, no destination where we can sit back and say, “There, now our work is done.” The house will always need repairs, the grass and weeds need managing, the animals require food, water, and fresh bedding, seeds planted, food harvested and prepared. The house will never magically stay clean, the laundry washed, or our stomachs full.
Our focus has shifted this year. Homeschooling the youngest changes the rhythm of our days. It’s exciting to watch my daughter learn and to experience her enthusiasm for working alongside me in the home, with the herbs, and in the gardens.
Homesteading – Projects and Goals
We expanded our garden this year by adding a circular garden bed for our perennial herbs directly in front of the house. I have had little time or energy for creating pretty spaces, but eventually this bed will be mulched properly, a bird bath added, and there is space for annual flowers between the medicinal herbs.
Amy at Tenth Acre Farm has a great post on creating beautiful and practical circular garden beds.
But the big project and the one I am most excited about is the creation of a berry patch. This is a project I started and abandoned several times during the spring and summer, and I’m excited it’s finally finished! There is a layer of cardboard, soil, and pine needle mulch covering a large patch of lawn adjoining our existing garden. In the spring we will rake back the pine needles, add finished compost, and be ready to plant.
We are enjoying warm fall days, but with hard frosts overnight. I am still unaccustomed to the swift changes in temperature that happen here in the mountains, so different from my home along the coast on the Outer Banks, where the temperatures were much more steady.
I am still learning the land, weather patterns, and how the plants and animals respond. Our roses and a wild patch of violet continue to bloom despite the overnight freezes. And the caterpillars are still abundant and eating their way through my cabbage patch.
Our goals for the coming year include:
- Plant blueberries and blackberries in the spring
- Add laying hens
- Obtain new breeding pair for our rabbit stock
- Add a garden shed
- Focus on growing more root and storage crops
- Choose a location and prepare for apple trees
This winter my goals are to focus on learning more about:
- Cold storage and above-ground root cellars (our water table is too high to build a proper root cellar and our crawl space is difficult to access)
- Composting and soil building
- Garden planning, crop rotation, and varieties of cover crops
My husband has some projects he is working on including:
- Building a wood shed
- Building a potting shelf
- Building a chicken tractor for our laying hens
For everything in life, I think it’s important to look back, acknowledge our achievements, examine the lessons learned, and to assess our overall progress. And it’s important to have goals and plans for moving forward.
But the present is where we are, and staying mindful and grateful for all that we have, no matter where we are on our homesteading journey, keeps us grounded. I’m hoping you are finding gratitude and groundedness, wherever you are.
More on getting started homesteading: