A Modern Spin on Backyard Homesteading


While the Homestead Act of 1862 granted land to applicants after five years of living on the land and demonstrating improvements (such as planting windbreaks and constructing buildings), modern homesteading has no such requirements.  Believe it or not, it is taking place right now in backyard across urban America.  People are returning to a lifestyle of self-sufficiency lived by many of great-grandparents.  The best part?  Anybody can do it.

lettuce in hanging basket

lettuce in hanging basket

Now while raising your own produce may seem daunting, it is very rewarding.  As a fruit, herb, and vegetable gardener, my family is literally living off the land.  We raise as much as we can to feed ourselves.  With cold frames, harvest season runs from April through December.  With the extended growing season, that means fewer trips to the grocery store.  Examples of what we raise includes: apples, plums, strawberries, raspberries, parsley, oregano, lettuce, peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, garlic, cabbage, and whatever else we can shoe-horn into our garden beds.  But to ensure you eat what you harvest, plant what you like.  Not a fan of kohlrabi?  Plant something you want to eat instead.  Also take advantage of planting in pots or even hanging baskets.

A modern homesteader does not need (nor necessarily have) acres of land.  It may be 1/4 acre or perhaps a 5,000 sq ft backyard or less.  Residents of townhouses, patio homes, or apartments may have a patios or fire escapes as their ‘plot’.  Several sunny windows with pots may be the extent of  a garden, but produce can be raised.  And it is something that you grew… no grocery store required.

backyard eggs

backyard eggs

Communities across the country are approving municipal codes that make it easier for residents to be more self-sufficient.  Some of these ordinances fall under the heading of ‘urban agriculture’.  Examples of your own community may allow (but check your code just to be in compliance) are: chickens, bee hives, miniature goats, and rabbits.  All of these creatures adapt (and fit) in a backyard setting.  Clucking, buzzing, and bleating are becoming common sounds in neighborhoods across America.  Imagine gathering fresh eggs daily, enjoying honey from your hives, and drinking a glass of milk fresh from your goats?  Local food does not get any more local than this.

Composting is a skill that fits in the modern homestead.  Compost is basically plant recycling.  Plant materials naturally decompose with the assistance of water, oxygen, and heat.  Vegetative debris from your garden or kitchen, as well as dirty straw from your chicken coop can all be composted.  These items which normally may be destined for the landfill can be returned to your garden in the form of compost.  Once the compost is ready, it can be applied to your garden beds.  Best of all, it is free and it will help improve the structure of you soil as well as add much-needed organic matter.

Canning is a skill of the modern homesteader.  Popular through 1950s,  this skill began to wane as companies began to mass produce canned goods in earnest.  But with the rise of the local food movement and self-sufficiency, this skill is making a comeback.   Cooperative extension programs and local chefs are teaching the art and science of canning (both water bath and pressure cooker).   People are taking pride in ‘putting up’ their own tomatoes, jellies, jams, and pickles.   Stores such as hardware and kitchen goods are stocking jars, preserving pans, lids, rims, and canning books ready to supply eager canners.  Garden harvests are preserved for the winter months.

produce canned from the garden

produce canned from the garden

Clothes lines also offer the modern homesteader another step towards self-sufficiency.  (Now for some communities, HOAs (Home Owners Association) do not allow clothes line stating that they are either an eye-sore or do not fit in with the community aesthetics.)  This no-cost method of line-drying sheets, towels, and clothes is a little more time-consuming that using a commercially made clothes dryer, but the act of hanging clothes on the line is a simple pleasure.  Drifting off to sleep on sheets that smell of fresh air is sublime… no dryer sheet can equal that experience.  All that is needed is a line strung between two posts and clothes pins.  (Don’t worry… they are making a comeback as well.  To find them in stores, look for clothes baskets… they will be nearby.)

Backyard homesteading is within your reach, whether you garden, keep bees, raise chickens, compost, or milk your own miniature goats. The size of your property does not matter, it is what you do with what you have.  Composting makes use of vegetative materials you have on hand.  Adopt a self-sufficient attitude… you can dry clothes on a line for free rather than spending money on gas or electricity to run a clothes dryer.  Modern homesteading is here to stay.



14 responses »

  1. So many good points! Did you know that it is actually AGAINST THE LAW for any HOA to prohibit clotheslines or any other method of using natural resources (rain barrels, wind turbines, etc,)? They can dictate where they are placed, but they cannot forbid you to have it. I found that out through research because I live in an HOA community which is very strict (won’t make that mistake when we move). We’ve enjoyed our clothesline for a couple of years and have 3 rain barrels near our garden. Hope you have a great homesteadin’ weekend!

    • Some HOAs are very restrictive when it comes to regulations and sometimes it is the state. Colorado has some very odd water laws (water rights and barbed wire built the west) and so for us, water barrels are illegal as the law claims they would divert water meant for those with water rights downstream. But I am hopeful that will change. Hope you have a great homesteading weekend as well!

  2. I am so excited about the growth of “Modern Homesteading”, I really am. When I was younger I dreamed of a farmlet or lifestyle block, always realising I would probably never get one but unaware of what could be achieved on a smaller property. I love reading what others do on a small property, especially younger couples who are raising their kids to know self reliance. A good post 🙂

    • I am really seeing this happen in our community and throughout our state. While I fall towards the ‘older’ end, it does my heart good to see young families determined to grow their own, raise chickens, and do beekeeping. It inspires me. I am glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you.

  3. There is the feeling of accomplishment, but also some significant $$ savings from drying your clothes on the line and composting!

    • It is indeed. I am heartened when I see photos and stories shared across the globe about people growing their own food or learning a skill that was common in our grandparents’ generation. Have fun going vertical. I am trying it this season with a trellis that has hanging baskets. So far, I am growing assorted lettuce and some Swiss Chard.

  4. This reminds me of my cousin who lives in a very small apartment with a balcony almost as big as her apartment. She loves eating tomatoes and basil, but more than that, she loves the smell of them. So, in the summer she has several large planters filled with tomatoes and basil, then she line dries her sheets and towels just above the plants. Now her sheets and towels have the scent that she loves, she has all the tomatoes and basil she can eat, and she takes such good care of her plants that they are a beautiful accent to her indoor decor! She calls it her balcony homestead and I think it is just wonderful – and ingenious!

    • How wonderful. Your cousin’s balcony homestead sounds wonderful. (And like her, I love the aroma of tomatoes and basil.) Modern homesteading is not about the size of the space you have, it is just what you do with it.

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