By James White
Did you know that Hilary Swank raises her own chickens from eggs? She’s not the only celebrity getting into modern homesteading: Julia Roberts composts her kitchen scraps and chicken poop while Oprah has a 12-acre organic garden in Maui. Even the White House has a vegetable garden thanks to Michelle Obama!
Anyone willing to give modern homesteading a try — from celebrities to people like you and me — can find it to be a fun hobby and a healthy lifestyle choice. Here are some tips for starting your own modern homestead.
Grow Your Garden
Growing a garden is the first step to starting your homestead. You’ll be eating fresher in no time once you start your vegetable garden! What kind of garden should you make, though? To help you make the decision, here are the pros and cons of some popular garden types:
|Raised Bed Garden
|· Protects plants from bad soil and erosion· Allows you to pick the size that works best for you· Reduces weeds
|· Overheats and dries out easily· Requires expensive supplies
|In-Ground Row Garden
|· Versatile· Grows more food to can, share or sell
|· Requires lots of space· Vulnerable to weeds and pests
|Straw Bale Garden
|· Easy and cheap to set up· Somewhat portable
|· Gets gross and falls apart late in the season· May sprout fungus
|· Small and portable· Reduces weeds· Allowed in areas that could restrict more permanent garden arrangements
|· Requires frequent watering and soil changes· Requires a container, which may be expensive
Ultimately, the perfect garden for you depends on where you live and what you’re hoping to get out of gardening. Straw bale gardening is a great strategy for gardeners on a budget, but a row garden may be a better choice for those who want something big.
Add Some Animals
Chickens are an obvious livestock choice for a beginning homesteader. They’re easy to care for and provide a steady supply of fresh eggs. Orpingtons are a great breed to start with thanks to their charming personalities and egg-laying capacity.
The key to raising chickens is to secure your coop. Learn what predators live in your area and how to keep your flock safe: You don’t want your chickens to get picked off by hawks and raccoons.
If you have a little extra space, why not add a little dairy to your backyard farm? With goats or cows, a trip to the store for milk will be a thing of the past. Here are a few facts to consider when choosing between goats and cows:
- Goats are smaller than cows, which makes them cheaper and easier to house, feed and transport. However, it also means they produce less milk.
- Cows need a pasture to graze in, while goats are less picky and prefer to browse in more wooded areas.
- Goats are expert escape artists, while a simple fence will keep cows in place.
- Cream is easier to get from cow milk than from goat milk.
My advice is to start with a couple of goats before expanding — either by growing your goat herd or by adding a dairy cow to the mix.
Know the Rules
You don’t want your chickens to be taken away! Be sure to read up on your local laws and ordinances to make sure you know what you can or can’t put in your yard. Here are some rules to look for:
- Zoning Ordinances: Your city may restrict the number or type of animals you can keep on residential property.
- Building Codes: If you’re planning on building a chicken coop or digging a garden, familiarize yourself with your city’s building code. Otherwise, you could be looking at a hefty fine or a lawsuit from a neighbor.
- HOA Rules: Your homeowners’ association may restrict what plants and animals you can keep in your yard, so ask about their rules.
If your community forbids farm animals or gardens, don’t lose hope! In some cases, you can ask for special permission — called a “variance” in legal situations. The key is to ask ahead of time instead of waiting until you get in trouble.
If all else fails, start small. A container garden is a great way to start homesteading without causing a legal ruckus. Whether you’re gardening in your windowsill or putting cows out to pasture in your backyard, modern homesteading is sure to make your life happier and healthier.