If you’ve just bought property with the intention of starting a homestead, it can be a bit of a daunting process. How do you get from property to homestead? Where do you even start? Based on my experience, here are 19 steps to creating a homestead that anyone can implement with a bit of land.
I’ve been at where you are right now, and I’ve learned a lot throughout the years, much by trial and error. What I’ve outlined below are what I would do as time and finances allow. You don’t need to do them all, of course, but the more you do the closer you get to becoming more self-sufficient and self-reliant.
The workload varies with each as does the cost. I have outlined what I think you should expect to spend on each step, but these are just cost guidelines, and assume some level of frugality. Now…
19 Steps to Creating a Homestead on Your Property
Here we go – add any additional steps you can think of in the comments section!
1 – Start a Compost Pile – Cost $0.00
This is the easiest project that you can accomplish on this list. Anybody can create their own compost if they have a little bit of land. You don’t need anything fancy either. I called up my local Big Lots and asked if they had any pallets that they were throwing away. They did. I picked up six of them and built two – three walled structures against the back of my chain link fence.
While one box fills up with anything compostable, the other one is resting. After I get one box filled up a decent amount, I switch over to the other box until the first box is filled with compost rather than rotting food.
Everything from my kitchen that isn’t meat or dairy goes into my compost pile. I turn it over with a pitchfork/shovel once every month or two until it turns into compost, and that’s it.
You can become more… scientific about it if you’d like. Here are some recommended books to help educate you on the science behind composting:
I end up creating about 15 – 5-gallon buckets’ worth of compost a year with this method, saving me a ton of money, and helping to make my garden much more productive compared to when I first started gardening. All in all, I create around $200 worth of compost per year.
2 – Put in a Garden – Cost $50-200
The first year that you put in a garden is going to be the most expensive, because you’re probably going to have to buy some form of garden soil, tools, seed, lumber, caging, and fencing. I recommend buying Square Foot Gardening and following the instructions inside to a tee. It’s still the best gardening book that I’ve ever read. I utilize the methods for my garden, and not only do I produce enough to substantially lower my grocery bill (I grow around $1000 worth of organic produce a year), but I’m able to sell some to friends or to use some as thank-you gifts to those who have done something nice for me.
I learned long ago that the cost of seed and plants every year, though it may seem like a lot, truly isn’t when you look at the total amount of produce that you will get back in return. A garden is a bit of an investment in time, energy, and money, but I’ve found that it easily pays for itself and then some EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.
3 – Get Chickens – Cost $300
If I’m being realistic, it’ll probably cost you $300 or so to get your chickens started the first year. After that, they’re pretty cheap (cheep?). You don’t need a fancy coop; a tin structure will work fine. Just make sure that the coop has a window, some perches, and some nesting boxes.
You’ll need a chicken drinker (I use a big tin dish that Tractor Supply sells), and probably a feeder of some sort. I made big candy canes out of PVC that I drilled into the side of the coop hanging upside down. Feed goes in the top and comes out the bottom.
I recommend Black Australorps or another good egg-producing chicken. If you keep track of how many eggs you’re getting per day, it quickly grows frustrating to discover that your prior breeds were stiffing you on the eggs. Black Australorps, to my understanding, currently have the world record for egg production per year as well.
4 – Start an Herb Garden – Cost $20
This is super easy. I did it with plastic pots on my back deck. I don’t know much about medicinal herbs or alternative medicine, so instead I chose to focus on herbs that taste good. Oregano, parsley, mint, thyme, and basil are all herbs that I very much enjoy growing right outside of my kitchen door. They’re very easy to grow, and the flavor of fresh herbs is absolutely fantastic compared to the dried green dust you’ll find at the grocery store.
5 – Plant a Small Orchard or Berry Bushes – Cost $200-$400
This one really depends on how many plants you buy, how old they are, and what type you’re buying. I recommend planting at least two of whatever tree/bush you buy though, because some plants require a female and a male plant to pollinate.
Getting some young apple trees or blueberry bushes stuck in the ground is an excellent investment that will pay off in around three years. Fruit trees are one thing I’m always upset that I didn’t plant more of. You never look around in the summertime and say, “Man, I sure am glad I didn’t plant those peach trees several years ago.” I recommend starting with apples, blackberries, and blueberries, as they’re all very hardy and easy to grow.
6 – Food Larder – Cost $100-$200
You can put away a phenomenal amount of food from your garden if you learn to can. A pressure canner and Mason jars are my main investments here, though I did buy the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, too.
I don’t like to buy all the little canning packets though. I’ve always seen them as a waste, and I like minimal investment when possible. Being able to can, dehydrate, and/or properly store your garden produce will save you a lot of money during the winter months and keep you from throwing out so much of your home grown produce.
If you are looking for something more on the extreme end, consider buying a home freeze dryer. The upfront cost is high, but there can be long-term savings if you are building a serious supply of foods with a long-term shelf-life.
7 – Dig Swales – Cost $0
Digging a swale is essentially digging a ditch. If you live on hilly terrain, swales are an incredible way to reduce erosion, build up soil, and hold more water in the soil. I use a shovel when I dig mine and follow the contour of the land as I do.
For longer swales, you’re going to want to use a backhoe. Whatever dirt I dig out of the swale I place on the downhill side of the ditch. This forces water to slow down as it runs down the hill, forms something of a “soil water tank,” and allows the topsoil to grow more “nutritious.”
8 – Get a Beehive – Cost $500
Getting started with bees is a bit of an investment, but what homestead is complete without one? Bees provide pollination for your plants (meaning you’ll get higher yields), and you’ll get honey and beeswax too! If you’re looking to really delve into what you need to get in order to get started, you can check out another article I wrote on this subject HERE.
9 – Make an Area to Grow Bulk Crops – Cost $20
Every gardener I’ve ever talked to has wished their garden was bigger, lamenting how there’s just never enough space to plant all of the varieties of beans, tomatoes, and radishes that they would like to. However, in my experience, it takes some of the “volume load” off the garden to separate the bulk crops off to their own area.
For example, I grow sunflowers and gladiolus to sell for bouquets. My produce garden doesn’t have enough space to devote solely to flowers, instead being used for vegetables. If I grew all the flowers that I need in it, then I wouldn’t have enough room for other plants.
Having a tilled up area where you focus on your bulk crops, whatever that may be (e.g. barley, corn, flowers, etc.), is an excellent way to drastically improve the productivity of your homestead without crowding out your garden with a monoculture.
10 – Start Mushroom Logs – Cost $30
This is one of the steps to creating a homestead that most people don’t think about. There are different ways to grow mushrooms at home. I like mushroom logs.
The best time to do this is when it’s cold outside. I currently raise shiitake and turkey tail mushrooms (I was supposed to have oyster, but the company sent me turkey tail by mistake). The reason you want to start in the fall is so that the sap in the trees doesn’t interfere with the mycelium growth any (the mushroom roots). I cut down a medium sized oak tree, saw it into 16” lengths, drill holes in a diamond pattern throughout, and then hammer in the spore dowels.
You have to wait a year or longer for the mushrooms to grow, but once they do, they’ll produce for years, and you can end up with some bumper crops.
11 – Incorporate Edible Landscaping – Cost $200-500
You’ll have to do a little research on this one, but this is a fun way to not only increase your property value, but to increase your food security as well. Hostas, kale, and many types of edible flowers can all be used to beautify your immediate landscape while simultaneously producing food for your family as well. Currently, all I’ve been able to incorporate is hostas into my landscaping, but I intend to start some purple kale and colored lettuces as the weather gets cooler in the fall.
For further reading here, I highly recommend Backyard Foraging.
12 – Get a Pig (or Two) – Cost $300
I’ll be honest with you: out of everything on this list, pigs take the most work. Proper fencing before you get a pig is a MUST. Joel Salatin fences his pigs in with a single strand of electric wire, and after raising my own hog, I concur that electric fencing is the way to go. My pig made a mess of my woven wire yet treated the electric pens wonderfully. Pigs serve as a wonderful source of fertilizer, pork, and help to till and aerate the soil as well.
I certainly recommend having an electric fence paddock system put into place where you can rotate the pig through different paddocks for a week or two at a time though before you delve into raising hogs. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a muddy and smelly mess.
13 – Start a Water Collection System – Cost $100
This one’s not too bad. I bought a 500-gallon food grade water tank from an old man who raised cows as a hobby for about $70 and hooked it up to the gutters on my chicken coop for about $20 more. After just one overnight storm, the thing was filled to the brim. You’re going to want to buy a water hose attachment for the spout if you get one of these too. Otherwise, filling up buckets is an impossible, sloppy mess.
Having water storage outside however, allows you to continue to water your garden and your animals should there be a drought, the well goes dry, the power goes out, etc.
14 – Buy Meat Rabbits – Cost $300-400
One of three things on this list that I myself have still not accomplished but intend to in the near future. Rabbits are incredibly prolific and give you both meat and furs. Their manure is an excellent garden-ready fertilizer that won’t burn plants (like chicken poop does), and they could very easily be bartered for goods or services in a post-collapse society as well.
I’m currently looking into New Zealand rabbits. They’re a well-known meat breed, and don’t get as obnoxiously large as Flemish Giants (another well-known meat breed).
15 – Get Goats or Sheep – Cost $1000+
Rick Austin recommends these animals in his Secret Livestock of Survival. I have Nigerian Dwarf goats, a good dairy breed that doesn’t take up very much space at all. I like goats because they can live in rough conditions, seem to be pretty hardy, and are just fun to watch.
In a grid down situation, this exponentially increases your food production ability, and hence your food independence as well. Milk, cheese, yogurt, whey, skins, and meat are just some of the products of a goat or sheep. The babies could easily be bartered in a post-collapse society as well.
16 – Start a Meat Bird Flock – Cost $150
I use Cornish Cross chickens for this. I know a lot of people don’t like them because they’re not a “natural” bird, but the sheer amount of meat they produce makes up for the cons here if you ask me. I buy about 20 of them a year and place them in a chicken tractor. The tractor gets moved every day or two, giving the birds access to fresh grass/bugs, and fertilizes the soil in the process. I probably get 8+ pounds of meat from each bird as well.
They certainly have to be fed a lot (twice as much as my other chickens), but they slaughter at 8 weeks, and have a good feed to meat conversion ratio. The chicks cost around $3 each, and my portable chicken tractor ran me around $100.
17 – Build a Greenhouse – Cost $200
I did the mini version of this, really creating more of a seed starter than an actual greenhouse. Harbor Freight sells a $200 version that utilizes clear plates that would still permit you to grow at least some crops outside during the winter months. If all else fails, a roll of clear plastic could easily serve the same purpose here as well though.
Also take a look at our free greenhouse plans to get your head churning around the endless possibilities for different greenhouse layouts.
18 – Install a Woodstove – Cost $600+
This one is still currently on my list. I thoroughly enjoy chopping and splitting wood, and really like the independence from the grid that a woodstove can give you. I like the knowledge that I can still keep my family warm even if the power goes out, provided I’ve spent enough prep time in the summer doing what I have to do to provide for my family. You can virtually always find used woodstoves for sale on Craigslist within the $200-$300 range (at least where I live) as well.
19 – Get Some Ducks – Cost $100
The last item on this list that I haven’t accomplished as of yet. There’s a reason that organic, pasture-raised duck eggs are $6/dozen at the grocery store. They’re amazing. Duck eggs are creamier and are superior to chicken eggs when it comes to baking. Ducks are a great source of meat as well once they quit producing as many eggs. An argument could be made for starting with ducks instead of chickens.
My current plan here is to build a small pond (maybe 15’x15’) at the top of a hill for the ducks. I’ll then run a hose system down the hill to a lower garden. The rain will keep the pond filled, and the hill will provide me a gravity-fed system to deliver water to a small corn patch at the bottom of the hill.
Final Creating a Homestead Thoughts
By starting with the above projects, your property will be well on its way to becoming a functional homestead that will improve both your disaster resiliency, and your food independence. Obviously, there are a lot of other routes that you could go with things as well (e.g. raising cattle, making soap, etc.), but the above will at least hopefully give you some ideas of which direction you want to go.
Homesteading is a fascinating journey, and I trust that it’s one that you will enjoy along the way.