A growing trend in the United States is urban homesteading. It is popping up from the suburbs through city centers; communities large and small. Whether they have a window sill, small patio, or a backyard, folks are taking steps to become more self-sufficient. One way they can accomplish that is through raising their own food. While each person may have their own reasons why, some of the more popular ones are, but not limited to: better tasting food, save money on food, better quality food, grow food they know is safe to eat, and food is harvested at the peak of ripeness.
According to the National Gardening Association the average food garden is 600 square feet. Within the same survey by the NGA, 1/2 pound of produce can be harvested per square foot of garden (but in order for it to be that productive, it must be well-maintained. A weed-choked garden would produce far less). That means that on average, a 600 square foot garden could provide your family with 300 pounds of fresh produce. How you grow is up to you: containers, raised beds, vertical gardens, or traditional garden beds, the goal is the same… to raise fresh produce.
While produce is at its best when eaten fresh, it may prove difficult to eat everything before it spoils. To maximize the harvest and reduce waste, homesteaders are learning the preserving skills of their great grandparents.
Food Preserving Methods
- pressure canning
- water bath canning
*Cellaring, also known as root cellar is storing produce in a light, temperature, and humidity controlled environment. (Think cool and dark with a relatively high humidity.) If you can manage/maintain these elements, you may be able to enjoy an apple you picked in September in February. An item worth noting for cellaring, you will have the best results if you plant varieties known for their ‘storage’ capacity. Refer to the seed packet or catalog description for that information.
Besides gardening, there are other areas of providing food on the urban homestead.
Urban Homestead Food Self-Sufficiency Areas
- food gardening – raising fruits, vegetables, and herbs
- backyard chickens – eggs and meat
- rabbits – meat
- goats – milk
- beehives – honey
Depending on your community, municipal codes may vary in what is allowed. For instance, you may be able to have the following poultry in addition to chickens: duck, quail, and turkey. Please consult with your city’s ordinances before building any structures and purchasing any animals. Code often dictates the type of animals, the maximum number allowed, gender of animals, size of enclosure, distance of enclosure from the property line, and whether a license is required. Some communities may also require that an exam is taken prior to allowing a certain type of animal on the property. As an example: Fort Collins, CO requires an exam for would-be goat owners within city limits. While this may seem excessive, it is to help ensure that people know how to properly care for goats.
Backyard chickens are the most common urban homestead animal. Chicks are inexpensive (compared to other animals such as goats) to purchase. They are fairly easy to raise. Chickens will eat bugs and grubs if allowed to free-range in your backyard. They provide material for your compost. And best of all… fresh eggs!
Rabbits are also gaining popularity in urban settings. Due to their size, they are generally not considered livestock according to municipal codes (but check to be certain). They are also fairly easy to raise. Their cages can be stacked so they don’t take up much space in a backyard. Rabbit meat is also low in cholesterol.
Beekeeping on an urban homestead is a natural choice. Hives are an efficient use of space. Honey supers are stacked on top of the hive bodies. Growth of the hives is upwards. When compared with keeping hives in a country setting, the pollen sources in town are more diverse. The nectar flow in town is longer (also attributed to the diversity of plants found in an urban setting) than in a rural setting. The bees go out and gather their own food… they are not bothered by property lines so don’t worry if you think your yard is too small to support a colony of bees. They will forage in the neighborhood, but return to the hive to deposit pollen, nectar, and water. Their pollination efforts help improve the production of your garden… a big plus. But best of all… honey! If the hive is strong, you may be able to harvest anywhere from about 45 – 120 pounds of honey (or more) in a single season. Use it in place of white sugar in baked goods. Another honey based item is mead which is a honey wine.
Urban homesteaders, you can become more food self-sufficient. Take a look around at your backyard then read through local municipal codes pertaining to urban agriculture. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you can do in an urban setting. Armed with some basic skills, progressive municipal codes, food gardening, and time, you too, can be eating your homestead.