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Growing Your Own Food: Tips for a Sustainable Homestead

Many people dream of living off the grid and creating their own homestead that doesn’t depend on someone else. But, for those that attempt it, there are some serious hurdles that lie in front of them. For starters, you need to know how to grow some common food items, like vegetables and herbs. Here’s how to get it done.

small homestead
Photo by Fotolia

Have a Backup Plan

First things first: There are times when food will be scarce. If you’ve never been a farmer before, be prepared for these times by keeping emergency food stocked in your pantry. You will want something that’s high-quality, ready to eat, and can be prepared with a minimum amount of fuss at a moment’s notice.

There’s nothing worse than not having any crops to harvest, no chickens to slaughter, and no eggs to eat. A food backup plan will help prevent starvation in dire times.

Be Willing to Learn From Experience

Homesteading and farming are trial and error sorts of gigs, so be prepared to learn from experience. The land that you tend will be slightly different depending on your location, and other farmers’ experiences may or may not help you, but basic guidance will.

If you choose to raise livestock, your animals will inevitably get sick and you may not know how to treat them. You could read in a book how to treat cows that are sick, in a book, but that won’t help you in the field the first time you see it. You may end up losing livestock. If you’re not comfortable with that, this might not be the right lifestyle for you.

Work with Someone Who’s Already Doing It

Of course, you don’t have to learn everything the hard way. You should learn from other farmers as much as you can. Consider working on a farm before you decide to start your own, even if all you’re planning on is starting a hobby farm.

Farmers possess skills that have taken them a lifetime to learn. Some of these skills were passed down from generations and knowledge like that can’t be found in any book. For example, how do you care for cows that live on pasture but end up being milked inside, on a concrete floor? Will their hooves crack? How do you prevent that from happening? You can pasteurize the milk, but what if you want to drink it raw? How do you go about this safely?

Farmers have been doing these very things for hundreds of years. But if you don’t know the proper techniques and sanitation practices, you could make yourself and your family deathly ill.

What about tending a vegetable garden? What should you do to keep it from failing? There are tricks with fertilizer, but beyond that, what can you do? A farmer can teach you how to properly rotate crops, use cover crops,  and if your farm is big enough, how to leave fields fallow and then make them productive again.

Do What You Can, When You Can

Don’t feel overwhelmed. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to homesteading. What you need to do is get comfortable with the idea of living off the land, on your own productive efforts, possibly get used to living without electricity or with reduced electricity, and how to dig your own well for water.

You may want bees, chickens, cows, horses, and all manner of animals, but you can’t just jump into all of it without knowing what you’re doing —not without making very expensive mistakes. Take it slow. Start with a small number of chickens, for example. Then, when you get the hang of them, being learning about beekeeping or how to take care of larger livestock animals. Keep building on that foundation until you’ve built yourself a self-sustaining farm.

What Kind of Lifestyle Do You Value?

At the end of the day, cultivating a lifestyle is what it’s all about. Being a homesteader isn’t for everyone. You have to be the kind of self-reliant individual who never gives up, doesn’t like depending on others, doesn’t care for authority figures telling them what to do, and you must be motivated enough to stick with it when things get tough—and they will.

Sometimes, the land doesn’t cooperate, your plants die, or you don’t get the harvest you thought you would for any number of reasons.

It can sometimes be a spartan lifestyle. Other times, you’re swimming in food that has to be processed quickly. If you’ve never grown up on or around a farm, it can be a challenging and, at times, frustrating experience. Tenacity is a character trait that all homesteaders have.

Allen Baler is a partner at 4Patriots LLC, a Tennessee based small business that provides products to help people be more self-reliant and more independent.  He resides in Nashville with his wife and 3 daughters.