Essential Urban Homesteading Skills for Beginners

Urban Homesteading Skills for Beginners

Have you ever thought of ditching the rat race and living a simpler life? Have you considered living off the land, and getting back in tune with the cycles of nature? Simple homesteading practice allows you to enjoy the advantages of providing for yourself.

It allows you to trade in the nine to five for something that is a lot more sustainable. All you need is some land and the determination to make your backyard homestead a success.

You don’t even need all that much land. You can start building something more sustainable even if you just have a balcony to spare. Now, the more space you have, the better, but don’t let a lack of space stop you.

Even on a small balcony, you can grow veggies and herbs. The actual definition of homesteading is to become as self-sufficient as possible. For some people, that means moving off-grid and starting over.

The urban homesteader may not be able to have a cow in their backyard, but there is still a lot that they can do to reduce consumerism. The principle behind homesteading is simple – provide what you can for yourself and reduce your reliance on shopping and consuming.

So, maybe you can’t set up a dairy to produce milk for your family. That doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from homesteading ideas. Why not learn how to turn the milk you buy into cheese, or to make your own butter? Or, you might learn to sew your own clothes.

Modern homesteading is about learning skills that most people have forgotten, skills that were essential when there was no convenient corner store available. In this post, we’ll look at some vital skills that you should consider learning as a homesteader.

Here are some essential tips to help you get started.

Start Reducing How Much You Buy

We like to use the example of Christmas time here. Can you remember what gifts you were given last Christmas? What about the year before? Or five years ago? Now, granted, those gifts were meaningful at the time, but you barely remember them now.

That’s the problem with our consumer society. If you want something, you go out and buy it. If you’re bored of it, you dump it in the garage and go and get something else. It’s a vicious cycle because there’s always going to be something else you want.

This year’s iPhone that excited you so much will seem mediocre when a new model comes out. It’s natural – our society is geared towards collecting material things. Having the latest gadgets shows how successful you are. It’s a recipe for disaster because it means that there will never be enough.

Get yourself off that treadmill for your peace of mind. What do you need? You need:

  • Food to eat
  • Clothes to wear
  • A good support network
  • Entertainment and stress relief

Anything else is extraneous. How important is getting everything that you want if it means working yourself to the bone to afford it? Of course, you need stress relief – making money to buy things is stressful.

Starting today, make a pact with yourself and consider taking the “No Buy” challenge. With these challenges, you buy only what is essential for survival. So, yes, it’s difficult at first. Start with implementing it for a week at a time.

Do yourself a favor and steer clear of stores that you don’t need to visit. As you get more used to it, you can extend the period to two weeks, and even a month. What you’ll learn, though, is that you buy a lot of unnecessary items. 

Over time, you’ll start looking at things more creatively. Maybe you’ll haul out your old cookbooks to find out how to make cookies and meals from scratch. Perhaps you’ll try mending items rather than replacing them.

Once you have developed the correct mindset, the sky is the limit.

Start Relearning Old Skills

Challenge yourself to start learning old skills that our ancestors would have needed. You can repair your clothes, alter them, or make new ones. You can grow herbs on a windowsill in your kitchen. Learn to make cheese, preserves, and so on.

backyard chickens

We do advise starting with things that you think you’ll enjoy. Raising chickens, for example, can be fun, and you’ll get fresh eggs to eat every day. Maybe you’d prefer to stop there – not everyone wants to slaughter their own meat, for example.


Choose simple skills that are easy to learn to start with. Give yourself some easy wins so that you are motivated to learn more. Once you get more advanced, you can start learning more tips and tricks.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of information online to help you learn. YouTube is full of channels that feature people who have taken the same journey you are embarking on now. Learn from them, and adjust their ideas to suit yourself.

Reduce Waste

Every household should aim to produce as little waste as possible. That’s difficult at first, but it’s something that becomes easier once you have the right mindset. Start off by seeing where you can cut back on one-use plastic.

Make your own shopping bags to carry groceries. Go one step further and consider buying mesh grocery bags to pack fresh produce as well. Speak to the store where you regularly shop about reducing packaging.

Clearly you should recycle, but look at recycling differently. Putting a glass bottle into the recycling bin is better than having it land in the dump, but only fractionally. It still takes energy to recycle that bottle. See instead if you can reuse it in some way or another.

What about all the waste that can’t be recycled at all? Foil packets are a prime example here. We have an excellent solution for what to do with that waste. Why not use it to fill an empty large soda bottle and use that to build something?

You want to pack it in really firmly and squash in as much waste as you can. Now you have an eco-brick. It’s strong enough to be built into a wall, and you’ve gotten rid of a whole bunch of waste at the same time.

Homesteading is about finding creative ways to do things. What else can you think of?

Organic Gardening Skills

It might surprise you to learn that you only need a patch of ground the size of a door to grow enough veggies for a family of four. You’ll have to learn some smart gardening techniques, but it is pretty easy. Look up square foot gardening to find out exactly how this works.

If you do have space, great – branch out and plant more. You can always: 

  • Preserve the excess veggies
  • Barter them with your neighbors for items you need
  • Consider selling them at a local farmers market

Naturally, you’ll want your garden to be as organic as possible. Not only will the food you grow taste better and be healthier, but you’ll spend less on fertilizers and so on. Here are some of the things that you’ll need to learn more about.

Making Compost

composting in backyard

The seasoned homesteader knows that a good garden needs nutrients. Fortunately, composting is easy and can help reduce food and garden waste in your home. You can use a composting bin if you like. A hole in the ground, however, works just as well if you don’t want to go to all that trouble.

Get into the habit of dumping veggie peelings and other organic waste into the compost. You can also drop in coffee grounds and egg shells. Both are very good for the soil. There are some rules that you have to follow, though.

Don’t put cooked food, dairy, or meat into the compost. These can all attract pests. Do turn the pile once in a while and wet it down. Do add the grass cuttings from when you mow the lawn. If you’re going to add weeds, make sure they are chopped up and have no seeds on them.

Growing Your Own Seedlings

Being able to buy seedlings and plant them is convenient. It’s not nearly as satisfying as sprouting seedlings yourself, though. All you need is some good potting soil and your seeds. We keep the tubes from toilet paper to get them started.


All you need to do is to cut four slits in the tube, about a half-inch from the bottom. Fold the flaps created this way up to seal off the bottom of the tube. Then add soil, plant your seedlings, and stand the tube upright. Water and wait for it to sprout.

When the seedlings have grown their first couple of sets of leaves, they’re ready. That’s where the genius part of using toilet paper tubes comes in. The tube is biodegradable, so you can plant it directly where needed. That means that the plant’s roots are not disturbed as much.

There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you watch your babies grow up. Then, as a true homesteader, you’ll need to save the seeds for planting in the following year.

Read Up on Planting Techniques

Different crops require different techniques when it comes to planting. It’s best to read up on these methods to give your vegetables the best chance to thrive. For example, carrots should be planted in situ. They don’t like to be uprooted and replanted.

Also, carrot seed is so small that it’s better to sow them into a trench.  Later on, as the seeds grow, you’ll have to thin out the seedlings to get a good crop.

Find out:

  • Which fruits and veggies do best in your area
  • The best time to plant them
  • What care instructions there are. Do they need to be watered once a week, or more often? Do they like sun or shade?

Keep a notebook about what crops you grew, when you planted them, and how good the yield was. Did you use a different compost? Did you add fertilizer? Put in as much detail as possible so that you can replicate your results year after year. 

Learn About Irrigation

One thing is certain; you don’t want to plant anything that you don’t have the time to water. Several irrigation techniques make watering easier, but it has to be done. New seeds and seedlings need water daily. As they get older and more established, you can reduce the frequency.

Green Manure and Crop Rotation

In Medieval times, it was standard practice for farmers to split their land into three different sections. Two would be planted with crops, while the third was allowed to rest. This principle can also be used in your garden, but we advise taking it up a notch.

First off, crop rotation doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the ground bare. You can plant a completely different veggie that requires different nutrients. This also prevents diseases that can result from planting the same crop in successive years.

You could also put in a crop that you can use as green manure.

Green manure helps to enrich the soil naturally. Here you’ll use crops like alfalfa, mustard, and clover. You plant them and let them grow to about a foot or two in height. You then chop them down and dig them into the soil.

You’ll be able to do this a good few times during the growing season.

Getting Rid of Pests

Part of the reason for growing your own food is to get away from foods sprayed with pesticides. So, using those same pesticides when growing your food defeats the purpose. Fortunately, it’s possible, and even simple, to get rid of pests without these chemicals.

Your first step is to learn more about techniques like companion gardening. For example, planting Marigold Tagetes around your veggies can help to stave off pests.

Your next step is to ensure that the growing conditions are as near to ideal as possible. A healthy plant is more easily able to resist disease. Check the pH of the soil from time to time to ensure that it’s exactly correct for the plant.

Next, find out everything you can about the pests that you encounter. It’s important to be able to see when something is curable, and when it’s dangerous. A plant infected with a fungus, for example, may need to be pulled out and discarded to stop the fungus spreading.

Look up organic pest control methods. Slugs, for example, don’t like moving across broken eggshells, or diatomaceous earth because of the sharp edges.

Raising Chickens

If your city allows you to, raising chickens can be a fun and rewarding project. Chickens can make good pets, especially if you raise them yourself. The advantage of raising chickens yourself is that you can decide what they eat. As a result, you know exactly what is going into the eggs that you eat.

How do you get started? Let’s go through it.

Start by Checking with the City

Are you allowed to keep chickens according to the laws in town? Some bylaws, for example, limit the number you are allowed to have. Others make it illegal to have a rooster because it’s noisy. Overall, you want to be considerate of the law and your neighbors.

What Chickens will You Start With?

By that, we mean, baby chick or adult chickens? Most people will need to start with chicks. It’s not a good idea to try and hatch chicks yourself until you’re more experienced. If you’re using chicks, you’ll need to create a brooder for them.

This provides them with a similar experience to what they’d get from their mother. The brooder must be:

  • Clean
  • Secure – nothing in or out
  • Warm
  • Stocked with food and water

You can make your own using plywood or a cardboard box. The sides must be high enough that the chicks can’t get out. You’ll need some bedding for them as well. Corn cob bedding, usually used for horses, is a good option.

You’ll need a heat source with adjustable temperature controls. A heat lamp might work, but there is a danger of fire. A specially-designed brooder heater is a better bet.

If you’re getting adult chickens, you’ll need to build them a coop.

A Chicken Coop

You could let the birds run free, but this is not a good idea. They’re bound to lay eggs elsewhere, and they could get out. They’re also not protected from predators.

Consider building a portable coop. These can be picked up and moved, and they have either a mesh bottom or no bottom at all. That way, you can place the coop wherever you like in your garden, and the chickens can be left there for a short time.

They can grub around for worms, and their feces makes for excellent fertilizer.

The coop should be strong enough to keep out predators and give the birds some shelter for their nests.

What Breed to Get?

There are hundreds of breeds of chickens to choose from. You want those that will lay well, and be relaxed and calm. Light Brahmas or Speckled Sussex are two good breeds to consider. You’ll be able to get them at the farm store or a hatchery.

If you’re part of a local barter group, you might also be able to get chickens that way. If possible, a sexed chick is better. That way you know you’re getting a hen. Ask if the chicks have been sexed.

How Many to Get?

That’s going to depend on how much space you have. If you’re brand new, start with two or three at the most. You can always buy more later if you feel you need to. You’ll get up to three eggs per day when they’re mature if they are cared for well.

It’s tempting to get a few chicks – after all, they’re so cute. Just keep in mind that they don’t stay that small forever.

Taking Care of Your New Babies

Once you have the brooder in place, it’s reasonably simple to care for the babies. Give them clean water every day and feed them with great quality food.

If it’s summer, and the sun is shining, you can let them out and about. We’d suggest corralling them in an area that they can’t get out of. Catching them once they escape can be challenging.

Move them to the Coop

chicken coop

When they’re old enough, you can move them into the coop. The coop should provide them with a sheltered space to build a nest. Setting up nesting boxes is a good idea here. They’re pretty simple to make – essentially, they’ll be a box with one open side.

You should go into the coop every day, even if the hens aren’t laying yet. This helps them to get used to you coming and going. It will also make it easier to remove the eggs later.

If you use a transferable coop, cleanup is as simple as moving the outer cage. If you’ve decided to have one fixed in place, sand would be a good option to line the inside.

You should go in now and again to clean out the bottom of the cage. Don’t remove the nests, though.

Other Decisions You’ll Need to Make

You’re going to have to, first of all, find out what the regulations in your area are. If you are allowed to let chickens roam, do you want them to be able to? This makes your whole garden their playground.

This can be a natural form of pest control. When they poop, it’s great for the soil. The chicks have access to a more varied menu and tend to be more relaxed here. You’ll also get away with a smaller bill for feed.

Free range is not going to suit everyone though. If your home is not properly fenced, you should use a coop. Another consideration is if you have dogs. Are they going to attack the birds? If so, keep them protected.

Hens on the loose also provide a tempting target as prey. They could be picked up by cats, dogs, and even hawks and other raptors.

Overall, whether you’re raising birds, growing veggies, or just getting started on your adventure, do your homework. Try to find a mentor in your community, or find some community groups that you can join.

The more planning you put in initially, the more likely you are to succeed. It’s hard work initially, but you’ll reap long-term rewards. Running your own “mini farm” means putting in some extra effort. The satisfaction you’ll get from bringing in your harvest or your eggs, though, makes it worthwhile.

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About the Author: Red Neckistan