So you’ve decided to get into urban homesteading and become more self-sufficient. Where do you start and what can you actually do in an urban environment?
As with anything, starting small is your best approach when wanting to make big changes. It can seem overwhelming to try and create an urban homestead and have everything you want instantly.
Some processes will anyways take time such as creating compost, growing plants and collecting rainwater. But there are many first steps you can take to at least start.
And that is the perfect mindset to have: start something, anything that improves your current situation. It can be as simply as planting up a salad container garden that you can place beside your kitchen door so that you have all the makings for a salad or sandwiches.
Or setting up a single water barrel to collect rainwater to water some containers of herbs.
If you can continue to make small incremental progress, you will be surprised how far you can get in a short period of time.
Here are several categories that fall under urban homesteading. These can be started small and then improved and expanded on as you get more experience, find more time and have more money.
Growing Food and Herbs
This is my top priority for my urban homestead. Organic, local food is hard to buy even in season and is quite expensive!
So this is a great way to save money, improve your health and inspire your kids to grow their own food as well.
For the last two summers we’ve been able to eat mainly from our garden for at least three to four months. And we’ve had bumper crops of fruit as well.
As I mentioned above, start small. You really don’t need to have a large garden (and probably won’t have room anyways!). Start with just some containers or one raised bed.
While I wrote the Children’s Garden Planter Box eBook especially for parents to build their kids their own garden, this box can be built as a starter box for anyone just getting into growing their own food.
Initially pick the vegetables that your family likes to eat, that may be hard to find as organic, local produce. Perhaps pick from the Dirty Dozen list, so that you can be assured your produce is free from pesticides.
And once you start growing your own herbs, you can do so much with them as you will see in the next section. Herbs grow really well in containers and you can place them close to your kitchen so that you can always snip off some herbs when you need them.
Harvesting and Preserving Food and Herbs
Once you have been able to successfully grow your own food and herbs, you need to do something with all the abundance. Set aside time to harvest. In fact I try and time it right and take time off of work during harvest time so I can help my wife.
You can obviously eat produce while it is fresh and herbs can be used fresh in teas and cooking. But often you will have a larger harvest that you can eat at one time, plus you want to enjoy your harvest well into the winter if possible.
I also will post more on preserving all types of produce. As well as some great uses for herbs.
Composting and Organic Amendments
Building soil is one of the most important things to do to give back to the earth and grow great plants. Soils worldwide have been stripped of organic materials with all of the chemical fertilize
rs, pesticides and herbicides used over many years. Not to mention erosion from clear cutting forests.
Composting is simple, keeps green and brown materials on your property rather than discarding them and can be done in small or large quantities.
Other organic amendments such as seaweed, manure, cover crops, straw and other organic waste products are also soil builders.
Also consider doing chop and drop as mentioned in my article on dealing with garden waste. It is a great way to get free mulch from fast-growing weeds and bushes.
CAUTION: some jurisdictions do NOT allow any form of rainwater harvesting due to water rights and similar reasons. Before harvesting rainwater make sure it is legal to do so.
Rainwater is free, doesn’t contain municipal water purifiers such as chlorine or chloramine and is usually the right temperature for your plants. All very good reasons to setup a water barrel or two and start collecting water off your roof.
You can get free or almost free barrels that are food-grade from various sources, such as food and beverage processors, shipping companies, or local distributors. Usually for them these are garbage as it costs too much to ship the empty barrels back to the supplier.
These are relatively easy to hook up to your existing downspouts and multiple barrels can be hooked up to one downspout. I even have one in my greenhouse to provide some mass that heats up during the day and radiates out at night, keeping the greenhouse warmer.
You do want to take some precautions such as using a first flush system to discard the initial water collected that may contain contaminants that settled on your roof during periods of dry weather.
And be sure to only collect rainwater from roof surfaces that don’t contain any algicides or other chemicals (these are usually present on asphalt, granular or cedar shake roofs). The best roof surface is either tile or metal for collecting rainwater.
Self-sufficient Energy production
When you can generate your own energy for free, you will likely use it for purposes that you might not otherwise due to the cost of electricity nowadays. The most popular way is with small solar panels that are relatively inexpensive and easy to come by.
One great application for solar energy is greenhouse ventilation. I wrote a full blog post on my system that I setup to help cool my greenhouse in summer. It is purely automatic in that when the sun shines it runs the fans and on cloudy days and at night the fans stop.
Another application is LED lighting to extend daylight hours for greenhouse plants or to propagate seeds. For this you will need some battery storage to store the energy during the day and use it at nighttime.
Small 12 volt pumps can also be run off a solar panel. Use these to run a small pond pump, aerate water when making a compost or weed tea or use it to pump water from a water barrel.
Small wind turbines might also be useful. I have yet to experiment and will one day. Again it helps to store the energy in batteries as the wind doesn’t always blow. And you will not get as much energy if you are not able to put it on a tall pole due to restrictions.
But wait, there must be more? I’ve only included the most important aspects of urban homesteading in this article. Future articles will expand on these but also introduce other concepts. Join me on my journey on the Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead!
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Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC