Backyard Homestead

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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A few years ago we sold our condo and built an off grid homestead on 40 acres in the mountains. Pretty extreme. Surprisingly it turns out that many of you would like to do the same thing.

I’ve been contacted by hundreds of people the past few years who would like to do something similar. We’ve discussed everything from a “modern homestead” like ours to a yurt in the woods. Just recently I was contacted by a group of young ex-military folks from California looking to buy the property next to us and start out in a large canvas tent with a woodstove building everything else from the land as they could afford it. They also planned on two greenhouses, rabbits, and goats to start with. They actually had things pretty well thought out and could probably make a successful go of it. Now that’s extreme!

What about those of you who would like to do something similar but can’t due to the circumstances you currently find yourself in? Work, family, and financial obligations are just a few of the distractions we all face going through life. If that sounds familiar, don’t despair! There are a lot of things you can do right now to experience the homestead lifestyle right in your backyard.

None of the ideas mentioned here are new but good ideas are always worth repeating.  I’m talking about things you can do in your own back yard to help you become healthier and more self sufficient even if you live in the city. You don’t even need a lot of room.

Growing your own fresh vegetables is a good place to start and it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Convert an old flower bed into a vegetable garden. Replace some of your flowered pots with vegetable plants. Convert some of that lawn to beans, carrots, potatoes, squash, broccoli, and cauliflower. Section off a piece of ground for tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and other summer salad items. You don’t need a rototiller. A broad fork, shovel, and hoe will do just fine. Grow your own pumpkins for Halloween and pumpkin pie. Grow your own herbs and spices.

In previous blogs we’ve talked about all of the ways you can grow food at home all year long. There simply isn’t any reason you can’t. Some of the products out there are hands free! Gardens are a little different. They do take some time and effort but the rewards are worth it. HOME GROWN FOOD IS SAFER, HEALTHIER, AND TASTES BETTER THAN WHAT YOU CAN BUY IN THE STORE. Growing your own food also creates a certain amount of pride and satisfaction – old fashioned ideals that are good for you.

Somehow the word homestead conjures up pictures in my mind of chickens. I had chickens as a kid in the city. Now I have them again. They

are a source of grand entertainment and nutritious and delicious eggs. Our chickens are free range. That won’t work in your backyard but that’s okay. There are a huge variety of small backyard coops you can get. I prefer the “chicken tractor” or any coop that is mobile so you can move them around the yard. You don‘t need a rooster to get eggs to eat. Happy chickens are pretty quiet. They make a soft cooing sound when happy.

I hope the recent trend of city chickens isn’t a fad. They are a diet staple for most of us and again – there are some old fashioned benefits from taking care of animals.

Another thing you can do is capture rainwater from your gutters to water your garden. Using what Nature provides to survive is an essential ingredient to self sufficiency. So far this summer we haven’t had to pump any water from our well to water our garden. We have cisterns that store water from our roof every time it rains. Even though yours may be on a smaller scale (one or two downspouts) you can accomplish the same thing in your own backyard!

These are just a few ideas anyone can do to become more self sufficient no matter where you live. Grow your own food, raise a few chickens, and harvest water naturally to experience a little bit of country in your urban setting. The benefits are worth it and if you ever decide to “go all the way” your backyard experiences will give you a running head start.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website and