Guide to Urban Homesteading

Learn about urban homesteading skills, such as small-scale composting, urban beekeeping, and how to set up a rainwater catchment system.

| April/May 2014

  • City Seeds Urban Farm St. Louis Garden
    A 2 1/2-acre vegetable garden, native plant nursery, and dwarf fruit tree orchard comprise City Seeds Urban Farm near downtown St. Louis.
    Photo by Jason Houston
  • Dwarf Fruit Trees For Container Garden
    Dwarf fruit tree varieties are preferred for container gardens. Although dwarf fruit trees are only a fraction of the size of conventional trees, they produce the same size fruit.
    Photo by maXx Images/mcPhoto
  • Vertical Gardening In Vegetable Planters
    Vertical gardening is a food-growing strategy for small spaces. These DIY vertical planters grow a prodigious amount of herbs, greens, and vining crops.
    Photo by K. Ruby Blume
  • Abandoned Lot Converted To City Garden
    A city food-growing strategy can include planting crops in sunny abandoned lots. People’s Grocery has transformed this Oakland, Calif., lot into a community garden in an effort to bring healthy, local food to West Oakland.
    Photo by Jason Houston
  • Mushrooms Grow From Compost
    Edible mushrooms thrive in shady spaces, and can even be cultivated to grow from a compost pile.
    Photo by K. Ruby Blume
  • Meat Rabbits Cluster For Feeding
    One rabbit doe’s offspring can produce 300 pounds of meat in a year.
    Photo by iStockPhoto/grafvision
  • Backyard Chicken Coop In The City
    Find materials to build an inexpensive coop at demolition sites and reuse stores.
    Photo by maxX Images/Environmental Images
  • Greywater Filters Through Aquatic Plants
    Aquatic plants filter greywater in a repurposed bathtub.
    Photo by K. Ruby Blume
  • Water Storage Tanks Collect Rainwater
    Water tanks harvest rainwater on a useful scale.
    Photo by K. Ruby Blume
  • Vancouver Urban Farm Potluck
    Urban homesteading is about sharing time and skills with your neighbors.
    Photo courtesy Vancouver Urban Farm Society

  • City Seeds Urban Farm St. Louis Garden
  • Dwarf Fruit Trees For Container Garden
  • Vertical Gardening In Vegetable Planters
  • Abandoned Lot Converted To City Garden
  • Mushrooms Grow From Compost
  • Meat Rabbits Cluster For Feeding
  • Backyard Chicken Coop In The City
  • Greywater Filters Through Aquatic Plants
  • Water Storage Tanks Collect Rainwater
  • Vancouver Urban Farm Potluck

If you live in a city and dream of someday being able to work the land and become a modern homesteader, consider this: There’s no need to wait — you can easily do many homesteading activities in the city. You may not have enough garden space to grow your own wheat or corn, but you can harvest an amazing amount of many crops from a collection of containers. Owning your own milk cow is likely not an option, but keeping backyard chickens certainly is. Plus, in the city, it can be much easier to build a community of like-minded neighbors who can share tools, knowledge and friendship.

Here’s what it can look like: In a single year, six households working with the organization Daily Acts in Petaluma, Calif., produced more than 3,000 pounds of food; foraged 2,000 pounds of local fruit; collected more than 4,000 pounds of urban organic waste to be used as compost and mulch; planted more than 185 fruit trees; installed five greywater and rainwater catchment systems that saved tens of thousands of gallons of water; tended to bees, chickens, ducks, quail and rabbits; and worked to reduce energy use and enhance public transportation opportunities. All of this from six households! (For another example of urban self-reliance, read about a Midwestern neighborhood that created a “homestead hamlet” in Neighborhood Gardens Create Community Food Security.)

Learning traditional skills such as canning, fermenting, soup-making, seed saving, sewing and knitting, beekeeping, candle-making, and water and energy management brings you and your neighbors together in constructive ways. These urban homesteading tasks will save money, create abundance, harness your creativity and put you in touch with the necessities of life. Classes and lectures, neighborhood elders, community projects, and resource books at the library can help you learn these skills.

Why not start re-skilling your community today? The following steps will get you moving along the path to more sustainable urban living.



1. Observe and Interact

Slow down and look critically at where you live before taking any action. Through observation, you will make wiser, more responsive choices about your homestead that will have long-lasting results. Learn everything you can about your bioregion: Can you trace the water you drink from source to tap? Who is growing your food? Where do your garbage and sewage go?

Observation should not only include a clear-eyed assessment of the natural resources where you live — water, sun, wind, and available space for growing — but also interactions with your neighbors. For example, consider how close your neighbors are to where you want to site your chicken coop. Sharing a flock, chores and the bounty with your neighbors will be more efficient.

Mary Porter
8/5/2018 2:57:09 PM

Every community needs a garden area. Kids need to learn this as part of their schooling. Seniors would love this. Use free labor from people who owe community service. We went from our self built off grid farm to a small ranch house on a very small village lot. We have apple trees,flower gardens and I'm planting for a wildlife habitat. A small backyard pond will be going in. A rain barrel too. I got a nice rotating drum composter that sits next to the garage. I found a guy 5 minutes away that sells nice eggs. Amish farms all around us plus a farmstand in the village every week at our hardware store. I did container gardening on our deck this year while we find someone to rotill a place in the backyard.My husband made 2 gallons of maple syrup from our front yard trees this past Spring. We have a generator for emergencies. You can get tools and plants at local auctions and yard sales really cheap. Instead of grass in the backyard plant a garden. Everyone used to not long ago. My family grew up in a small city nearby. We had a big backyard and it was a garden for everyone. My mom and aunts canned everything and the jars went on racks in the basements.







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