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All Things Garden,  Beginner Basics

How to Start a Homestead: 9 Must-Read Tips for New Homesteaders

Do you dream of homegrown, home-cooked meals? A more simple, healthy and sustainable lifestyle? A deeply gratifying connection to your property, plants, and animals? If so, it sounds like homesteading is right up your alley! But how do I start a homestead, you ask?

The idea of starting a homestead can definitely feel overwhelming. There is so much to consider; so many things to do! What steps do I take? What should I do first? Let me try to answer that complex question as best I can.

The short and sweet answer is: Just start. The longer (but still relatively vague) answer is: The steps you take to start a homestead will depend on your goals, and what you can do within your means. By “your means” I am referring to each persons unique property, budget, free time, skills, climate, town regulations, availability of local resources, and so on.

Unfortunately, I can’t provide an exact formula to start a homestead that will work for every budding homesteader. However, I hope this article will give you some good ideas to help set attainable goals, priorities, and most importantly: remind you that it doesn’t happen overnight! I will also share our experience of turning an average suburban home into a mini modern homestead, with tips we learned along the way. Be sure to check out our year-by-year project timeline (with before-and-after photos) at the end of the article!


But first…


A two part image collage that shows a before and after photograph of the front of the house. The first image shows Aaron and DeannaCat standing in their front yard which is mostly grass. The second image shows a similar angle of the front of the house yet now the yard is full of annual and perennial plants for pollinators, raised garden beds full of vegetables, trees, shrubs, vines, landscaped with gravel and paver walkways.
The front yard garden of our urban homestead, on the day we bought this home in 2013 versus 2019.


What is a Homestead, or Homesteading?

There are many definitions and ideas of what a homestead is. In a historical context, a “homestead” was defined as a parcel of land (typically 160 acres) that was granted to any US citizen willing to move West to settle on and farm the land for at least five years, as part of the Homestead Act of 1862.   

In more modern terms, the act of homesteading is used to describe an agrarian and largely self-sufficient lifestyle. Homesteading activities typically include growing and preserving food crops, cooking meals from scratch, raising animals, making homemade medicines, personal care products, perhaps even clothing, and an overall goal to “live off the land”. Homesteaders may also barter and trade for the things they cannot produce themselves.

Homesteaders come in many forms and styles these days. Some homesteaders have acres of land to play with (and maintain), while urban homesteaders are challenged and creative in smaller spaces. There are some hard-core, very traditional homesteaders that attempt to live a fully self-sufficient, zero-waste, off-grid, or near “prepper” status life. Then there are your hobby homesteaders, who are simply drawn to this lifestyle and enjoy it as a light-hearted escape from their usual 9-5 “real life”. All versions of homesteading are awesome and acceptable! I’d say we are somewhere in between.


Keeping that in mind, let’s see if we can help you better wrap your head around how to get started on your personal homesteading journey. 


9 STEPS TO START A HOMESTEAD


Let’s talk about 9 steps or tips to start a homestead. However, keep in mind that they don’t necessarily need to all happen in this order, or even at all. Also many things, such as learning and getting crafty, are an ongoing process that will never stop – as long as you’re homesteading!


1) Evaluate Your Property


Every property will come with its unique strengths and challenges. When you first set out to start a homestead – what type of property are you working with? Do you already own land, or are you still on the hunt to find a slice of Earth to call your own? Are you currently in your forever home, or do you hope to move again someday soon?


Temporary vs Forever

While you will not want to invest a huge amount of money or energy into a rental or temporary space, don’t let it stop you from practicing at least some homesteading activities! For example, when we lived in rental accommodations, we still built a couple of raised garden beds. We also grew food in containers, and started composting. This small introduction enabled us to learn some basics of gardening before buying our first home. Just be sure to check with your landlord before doing anything too permanent.

We know this current property isn’t our forever home, but we certainly haven’t let that stop us from enjoying it to the fullest while we are here! Before we were able to have an extensive garden, we stocked up on seasonal produce at local farmers markets to practice various food preservation techniques. You can also learn to sew, craft, brew kombucha, or make homemade sourdough – no matter your living situation!


A four part image collage showing what one can do in a rental property with limited space. The images vary from getting the necessary supplies to build raised beds such as wood and soil, filling the raised bed with soil once it is built, planting out the raised beds with various plants of choice, in this case it was tomatoes, squash, peppers,and basil, and finally using containers to grow vegetables. They can easily be moved and don't take up as much space.
Our garden in the last rental house we lived in before buying this home. We snuck in two raised beds where there was space, found random patches of soil to amend and plant strawberries and flowers directly in the ground, and used a few containers too!


Size, Restrictions, & Layout

Now, think about the property size. A modestly-sized property will be more manageable in regards to maintenance, but may also limit the activities you can do on it – such as what types of animals you can raise. Goats, cows, or pigs would not be happy in our 1/5 acre town lot. Nor could we legally keep them! Be sure to familiarize yourself with your town regulations regarding livestock, poultry, bee-keeping, or even things like having a farm stand or collecting rainwater if those are things you’re interested in doing. 

Now, assuming you do have some property to work with… it’s time to make the most of it! Before diving into any permanent projects, be sure to take time to sit back and observe first. For example, you should evaluate an area’s sun exposure and source of shade before installing a veggie garden. Also keep in mind how the sun’s path will change with the seasons.  

Spend time wandering about in your space. How do you want it to eventually look, feel, and function? While nothing needs to be set in stone now, try to dream up your optimal layout – which should be convenient and functional. 

A great example of a thoughtful and purposeful layout is through permaculture design, as shown below. You won’t want your farm animals directly next to the house. They may be stinky or noisy! Yet you don’t want them so far away that it becomes a trek to go visit and care for them, especially if you live in an area with cold winters. Something you will visit frequently, such as a kitchen herb garden, would be ideal just outside the front or back door. Keep your compost area fairly accessible, but not outside your bedroom or kitchen window. I think you get the idea!


An image of a permaculture design from a book that is laid out on the bricks of a fireplace. Using a permaculture design is a great way to start a homestead.
Image from the book Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. In permaculture design, there are zones by use and intensity. Zone 0 = The home and kitchen. Zone 1= Highly accessible kitchen garden, areas frequently visited and maintained. Zone 2= Often visited, a good place for chickens and additional food production. Zone 3 = Fruit trees and larger grazing farm animals. Zone 4 = Increasingly wild food forest and animal forage area. Zone 5 = Wild, unmaintained, and rarely visited.

 
2) Make a List of Projects & Ideas


If you’re dreaming to start a homestead, two types of thoughts are likely going through your head. 1) You’re fantasizing about all of the wonderful, healthy, uber-rewarding things that this new lifestyle will bring you. And it will! I promise. But 2) You are also fretting over all the skills, tools, money, time, or other resources you may not have to make all of those dreams come true right now. Here is the deal: pretty much no one does. Not right at first, and not all at once! 

Remember that creating a homestead is a process, and this is just the start. 


Before you read my example idea list below, please know that it is NOT intended to add to the feeling of overwhelm! Yet for me, it feels good (great, actually!) to get all of the ideas swimming around in my head OUT and down on paper. I find it easier to focus, and then narrow down or prioritize what is next, which is exactly what you’ll have to do.


Example Homesteading Projects & Goals

  • Create a veggie garden space
  • Plant an herb garden
  • Plant fruit trees or an orchard
  • Start a compost area, worm bin, compost tumbler (or all of the above)
  • Create a pollinator bed, area, or even a meadow full of flowers
  • Learn how to ferment, can, dehydrate and/or pickle your harvests
  • Adopt chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, pigs, cows, or other “farm animals”
  • Build a barn, stables, or other auxiliary structures 
  • Create a root cellar or large pantry
  • Learn how to make kombucha, homemade sourdough, apple cider vinegar, homemade seasonings, vegetable (or bone) broth, and other useful staples
  • Learn how to make natural medicine like Fire Cider and Elderberry Syrup, or personal care products like calendula oil, soap, lotions.
  • Start a beehive
  • Learn how to sew, knit, crochet, or use natural dyes
  • Turn your property in to a Certified Wildlife Habitat 
  • Build or install a greenhouse or hoop house
  • Set up a rainwater collection system system
  • Learn how to make compost tea
  • Start a farm stand
  • Sell homemade goods locally or online
  • Host workshops, classes, or homestays to share your knowledge and skills with others


SO many great ideas, right?! 

While great to have dreams and goals, let’s take a step back first. 

A hand is holding a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat plaque in front of a view of the front yard garden. There isn't a lot of open space with many plants for pollinators, raised beds for vegetables, shrubs, and trees spaced throughout the area.
A wonderful long-term goal is to turn your property into an ecosystem of its own. But there are usually many smaller (manageable) projects and steps along the way to get there!


3) Prioritize 


Now take just one or two manageable projects at a time, and forget everything else on the list for a while. It is 100% unrealistic (and 7000% stressful) to try and do everything at once, within a year, or even within a couple of years! That is, unless you are diving in to start a homestead full-time with unlimited resources and help.

Where to begin? Well, your priorities are personal. This journey to start a homestead is all about what you want to do, and when you want to do it. There are no rules! 

Will this simply be a hobby homestead, or do you intend to make a living from your land? That will obviously influence how seriously or quickly you approach projects, and which ones to focus on first. For example, do you hope to sell eggs locally? Then building a secure chicken coop and establishing a flock will be at the top of your list.

Certain homestead projects will dictate the order or timeline for others. For instance, you shouldn’t set up a beehive until you have a healthy pollinator garden, orchard, or other nectar and pollen-producing plants established first. 

Circumstance will also drive your priorities. Like: “Oh crap, the irrigation line broke! I guess it is time to brush up on our plumbing skills…” Or that moment when your kitchen counter is overflowing with homegrown tomatoes, but you’ve never preserved tomatoes before. Evidently, the time to dive in and learn is now!


DeannaCat is cradling four chicks between two hands and hers torso. Two of the chicks are golden brown in color while the other two are black and white. Chickens can be an important step when deciding to start a homestead.
For me personally, getting baby backyard chickens was a top priority when we first bought this home.


My Recommendations

If I had to recommend three homestead projects to focus on first, they would be: create a small vegetable garden, plant trees, and think about irrigation. Edible and/or ornamental trees are a quintessential part of a productive homestead, but they can take a long time to grow! The sooner you get trees planted, the sooner they’ll mature to provide food, shade, and privacy. The trees and garden space will both need water, so establishing a functional irrigation plan is also key! 

The next step I highly encourage is to start composting, even on a small scale. The goal of starting a homestead is to be self-sufficient and sustainable, and compost pretty much screams both of those things. Close the loop and up-cycle kitchen scraps or garden trimmings into free rich organic fertilizer. Homemade compost (aka “black gold”) is invaluable and will significantly boost the fertility of your garden! Soil health is everything. Check out this Compost 101 article to learn about 6 different ways you can compost at home, or learn how to create and maintain simple worm compost bin here


DeannaCat standing with a potted avocado tree in the Homestead and Chill gardens, about to plant the tree
Plant trees? Yes please!
Two hands are cradling a mound of red wriggler composting worms. There is a plastic bin in the background and a tub full of hydrated coconut coir that will be used to start a worm composting bin.
Say hello to your best homestead friends.


4) Never Stop Learning


Now that you have your priorities straight, it is time to do a bit of research on the task at hand!  Personally, I feel that anything worth doing is worth doing right. I’m not saying to overthink every tiny detail or fret over every little what-if; there is definitely something to be said about enjoying the process of “learning by doing”! Yet it is a great idea to become at least somewhat familiar with the ideas that you’d like to implement before diving in.

Let’s also be clear about this: mistakes WILL be made! It is normal and expected. Plus you’ll learn and grow from them! On the other hand, if you educate yourself on a skill or task first, you may nip a few mistakes in the bud – and prevent potential wasted time, resources, and heartache. 


Where to Learn How to Homestead

One of the most common questions I get asked is “where did you learn all this stuff?” The answer is: All over the place! Wherever I can! I’ll admit that I gained a slight head start in college by choosing to focus on environmental studies and sustainability, but SO much more of what I’ve learned about homesteading came after that.

Pick up a few good books on subjects of your interest, such as urban homesteading, gardening, raising chickens, bee keeping, herbal medicine, or compost. Cold winter months are an especially great time to read, soak in new knowledge, and plan. Check out some resources that helped us start a homestead below, and a full favorite book list here – including recipe books and more!


Instagram is a great place to find photos for inspiration, and also connect with other modern homesteaders to share experiences and learn. I truly love being a part of that community. (Come find me @deannacat3 if you haven’t already!) Seek out other relevant websites, forums, or simply Google questions as they arise. Are you more of a visual person? Me too. I can’t tell you how many how-to YouTube videos we’ve watched and acquired skills from. 

Even better, get up close and personal! Look into local organizations that may offer tours, workshops, or classes. For instance, our local Farm Supply Company routinely hosts free workshops on various incredibly useful topics. We have attended talks about how to plant and prune fruit trees, the basics of keeping chickens, safely canning food, and more. I know our local Master Gardeners chapter does the same.

Last but not least, I’m here to help the best I can! Here are a handful of our foundation 101 articles that may be useful as you start your homestead:


Aaron is inside the greenhouse while it is still under construction. There are tools laid here and there and there are at least two panels of the roof that still need to be installed. A greenhouse is a great use of space to start many plants by seed.


5) Start Small


As you may likely imagine, maintaining a bustling, productive, full-blown homestead can take up a lot of your time! Truth be told, we don’t have much of a social life outside of our home and day jobs these days – but we’re perfectly okay with that! It is by choice, and we don’t view it as a sacrifice. But you need to ask yourself: How much free time do you have, or are you willing to dedicate to your homestead, garden, or animals?

Time commitment aside, starting small will enable you to enjoy the process and give each project your full attention. Personally, I’d much rather take my time on something and feel like I “nailed it!” than half-ass five things at once. Or even worse, start things and never finish them at all.

For instance, I recommended starting a vegetable garden as an early homesteading priority. However, that doesn’t mean I suggest building and installing 15 raised beds all at once! Start a small manageable garden area, especially if gardening is new to you – and leave room to expand later. You’ll continue to learn as you go, and also get a better idea of what you can realistically keep up with. 

What if there is an issue you didn’t anticipate? Such as a problem with the soil you used to fill garden beds, or gophers coming from below and eating your crops? Or, if you change your mind about the style or method of a project? It is SO much easier to make adjustments or even completely re-do a smaller space than if you went overboard in your initial pursuit. See what I mean in the photos below.

The idea of “start small” applies to all types of homesteading activities and projects. Maybe consider planting your first garden with nursery seedlings rather than growing everything from seed, or at least a portion of it. Adopt and learn how to raise a handful of chicks, rather than starting your first flock with 20. Master the art of one food preservation skill before tackling them all. 


A three part image collage, the first image shows raised garden beds halfway through construction, there are two similar sized patches of dirt where the grass has been removed as a place for the garden beds. The second image shows the garden beds after four of six months of use and there are weeds growing up and around the garden beds amongst the vegetables, the third image shows Aaron removing the soil from the beds because they are infested with weeds and the space needs to be redone to do it correctly. This was a lesson learned through trial and error.
When we first started the front yard garden, we didn’t prepare the space well. We simply removed two garden-bed size sections of our super weedy crabgrass “lawn”, put the raised beds down (lining the bottom with chicken wire for gophers but no weed barrier), and then filled them with soil. Within just a few months the new beds were getting totally infested with crabgrass. The damp rich soil inside was like a damn magnet. No amount of mulch would keep it down. Thankfully, we “started small” and only had two beds to move and re-do! Yes, we dug all of the soil back OUT of the beds to fix the issue.
A three part image collage, similar to the three just shown, however, this is showing how we corrected our initial mistake. The first image shows Aaron bending a the waist as the dirt and weeds from the final bed is taken out. In the foreground you can see that construction grade weed block fabric has been laid down and the other bed as been refilled with weed free soil. The second image shows the area halfway redone, The four garden beds are in place and the back half of the area is covered in gravel, the front half is still visible which shows the weed block fabric. The third image shows the area once it is completely finished. Raised beds full of vegetables, the surrounding area is landscaped with gravel and paver lined walkways. You must be prepared to correct a mistake when you decide to start a homestead.
Once we removed the soil, we lifted the beds out of the way, removed all of the grass in one half of the lawn, covered the entire area with a layer of thick painters paper then commercial duty weed blocking landscape fabric, put the beds on top of that (plus two little ones relocated from another area), and about three to four inches of 3/8″ green rock gravel around them. Note that this type of extensive ground covering isn’t necessary or recommended in all situations. I will be writing an article about “how to kill your lawn and grow food instead” soon, which will dive into that idea deeper.


6) Get Comfortable in the Kitchen


As your homestead (and plants!) begin to grow, you’ll need to know your way around the kitchen. Preparing meals with fresh homegrown food is the bees knees, and one of the key components of homesteading! If you aren’t already a “natural” in the kitchen – don’t worry! Dig in and have fun. While I totally embrace following recipes at times, don’t let them restrict you either.

Improvise. Experiment. Work with what you’ve got. Make a meal your own! 


In addition to playing with all that fresh homegrown food, there are times that homesteading outright demands your time in the kitchen – to preserve the excess bounty! When your garden looks like it is ready to burst at the seams with veggies, you’ll want to find ways to preserve it. If I had to estimate, I’d say that we eat 65-70% of our homegrown produce fresh, preserve 25%, and the remaining 5-10% is split between the chickens and compost pile – but nothing goes to waste!

“Putting up” your bounty is an excellent way to reap your rewards into the winter, or enjoy something later when it’s no longer in season. Preserving food also enables you to enjoy your homegrown goodies in a different way, such as a seasoning or condiment, which keeps things interesting and palatable!

There are many methods to preserve homegrown food, including: fermentation, dehydration, freezing, canning, vinegar pickling, or even extending shelf life via simple cold storage. We rely on the first three listed the most.


Our Top Homestead Preservation Recipes:


A four part image collage, the first image shows seven pint jars of roasted tomato sauce lined up and ready to freeze for preservation. The second image shows a hand holding a half pint mason jar full of freshly made pesto sauce while three full jars sit in the background. The third image shows a glass crock full of apple chunks, water, and sugar which is the start of making your own apple cider vinegar and the fourth image shows five pint jars of different seasonings, they are oregano, onion powder, lemon powder, chili powder, and garlic powder. There are two half gallon mason jars in the background full of dried chilis. Preserving your harvest is a key step to start a homestead.


7) Adding “Farm” Animals to Your Homestead


Not all homesteaders raise animals, but it is more common than not. Ducks, goats, cows, sheep, chickens, rabbits, pigs, quail, llama… the list goes on. Animals can serve many purposes – beyond being raised to eat! 

We are vegetarian, so I won’t be able to teach you much about raising animals for meat. Our chicken’s eggs provide us with a nutritious and organic source of home-raised protein. However, we see our chickens as beloved pets and friends first and foremost. We’d also love to raise goats for milk and cheese one day, but only when we have enough time and space – which definitely isn’t now! Other vegetarian homesteaders keep rabbits as companions. Plus, bunny poo is a wonderfully rich but mild natural fertilizer. 


A wire basket is full of an assortment of fresh eggs. They range in color from light brown, to blue, to light green, to dark brown.


More than a few things to consider with animals…

If you are interested in adding animals to your new homestead, I beg you to do your research first. Above and beyond any other homestead project, it is your responsibility to thoroughly educate and prepare yourself to care for your animals. Make sure you know what you’re getting into, and that you can make the commitments required to provide them a safe and comfortable life. Each type of farm animal has unique needs, but they also each have a lot in common. 

Providing secure, clean, and predator-proof housing should be a top priority. This is true no matter if you’re living in the country or an urban setting, and particularly important for small and vulnerable animals like chickens. I can’t tell you how many people have contacted me completely heartbroken and shocked after a “predator incident” with their chicken flock. The worst part is, 99% of the cases were preventable with better predator-proofing. 

Other things to consider are: the animal’s dietary needs, daily or weekly care routines, waste management (read: poop), local regulations, and ranging space required. Also, do you have a plan for when you go away on vacation? Is there a local specialty veterinarian to call on when they get sick? Are you comfortable jumping in to help during emergencies? 

I don’t mean to dissuade you from bringing home some farm animals! Just be prepared, please. 


DeannaCat is standing amongst a sea of green with trees and flowering perennial and annual plants surrounding her. She is clutching a wicker basket full of freshly harvested apples. In the foreground, there are three chickens pecking around on the stone lined "pollinator island".
I love these dang birds… but they do cause us some extra work, plus effort and creativity to provide them ample free range space without destroying the gardens!


Interested in raising backyard chickens? These resources may help!


8) Get Crafty & Thrifty


The journey to start a homestead may push you out of your comfort zone in many ways – which is one of the things I love about it most! Don’t be afraid to get crafty, creative, and build things you never have before. DIY projects can help you save money, add character to your homestead, and are always an excellent learning experience – frustrations and all! 

Trust me, when we first started our homesteading journey, I did not consider either of us handy… at all. Sure, I always liked to sew or do crafts, but actually building things? Nada experience. We even attempted to build our very first raised garden bed using a hammer and nails instead of screws and a drill. It was 1000 times more laborious and far less sturdy than our future garden beds. Lesson learned!


DeannaCat is shown kneeling down taking a measurement of a partially made wooden raised garden bed. Constructing garden beds and structures may be a necessity when on decides to start a homestead.


Saving Money on Homestead Projects

The cost of projects is often a big concern for new homesteaders. Thinking outside the box can definitely make things more affordable. Be an opportunist. Seek out used or discounted materials, equipment, or tools online, on Craigslist, Nextdoor, at thrift stores, or local yard sales. Many of our ceramic garden pots, harvest baskets, mason jars, and other kitchen goodies are thrifted.

Another awesome way to save money (and be sustainable!) as you start your homestead is to up-cycle things you already have. Our chicken coop is made of about 70% up-cycled wood that we found in the rafters of our garage when we moved in. It was the first “structure” I ever designed and built! 

There is one caveat here. Sometimes it is worth buying the “right” materials for the job rather than sacrificing durability or quality by using something cheap. For instance, it may be really inexpensive to build a raised garden bed with used fence boards or pallets from Craigslist… but how long will it last? Or, is that wood potentially pressure-treated and toxic? Having to replace garden beds in a few years (as opposed to the decade-or-longer lifespan of cedar or heart redwood raised beds) may actually cost you in the long run. Similarly, be smart and recognize when it is worth hiring a professional contractor to help with high-risk jobs. 


A three part image collage, the first image shows the chicken coop n mid construction. There is a plywood floor with a plywood side and nest boxes hanging off of one end. There are 2x4's running along each side in different directions for support of the structure. There are 4x4's protruding out of the bottom of the coop which are the legs and feet of the coop. The second image shows DeannaCat on a small step ladder nailing roof shingles to the top of the  chicken coop roof. The third image shows the coop and run once fully complete, there is hardware cloth predator proofing lining the run and underneath of the coop.
Our mostly up-cycled scrap wood DIY chicken coop. The windows are made from thrift store picture frames. Isn’t she cute? The perfect size for 2 to 6 hens. We have always had 4.
The coop and chicken run are shown once again after a few years of use and a new paint job on the coop. Both structures remain sound in their construction and have kept out all predators to date.
The coop now. I gave her a fresh coat of paint and new cobblestone border a couple years back.


9) Have Fun

Last but not least, my final bit of sage advice to instill in you is this: don’t forget to enjoy the process. Isn’t the whole idea to start a homestead and leave some of the “real life” stress behind, slow down, and stop to smell the roses?! Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will your new homestead be. 

When you see the timeline of how we transformed our home into a homestead below, you’ll notice that we focused on just a couple projects per year. I personally loved spacing it out. Not only was that the only realistic way for us to approach it, but it kept me excited and busy – for years! Taking your time means you always have something to look forward to and plan. Honestly? It is far less exciting now that all of the big projects are mostly done.

While you’re busy planning where the gardens, chickens, bees, and trees will go, don’t forget to create space for yourself too! Add places to relax around your homestead, such as outdoor benches, tables, or a fire pit. Create interest and a touch of whimsy with garden art, sculptures, or other things that bring you joy. Make the space inviting after dark with the addition of solar lights. Take time out to pat yourself on the back and admire your hard work.

The backyard patio is shown during dusk. There are two beers on the patio table and the string lights that line the eaves of the house are lit. When one starts a homestead, it is a good idea to take time for yourself and relax on occasion.
We always make sure to relax and reconnect after a long day working in the garden. One of our favorite ways to unwind is to grab the Firefly, put on some music, pop a kombucha, and play a game of cribbage by the fire.


Our Journey to Start a Homestead

People are always quite curious about how we turned our very average, fairly barren .19 acre beach town lot into a thriving mini-farm. The answer is: with hard work, patience, and love! 

To be honest, I don’t think we ever said “let’s start a homestead”. It simply started with two garden beds and a chicken coop, and naturally continued to grow and evolve from there. We fell in love with the process of planning and working on outdoor projects together, and simply kept going until we ran out of space and projects to do. We’ve also put almost all of our energy into the outside of our home rather than inside – which definitely needs some major love too!


DeannaCat and Aaron standing in their newly designed and constructed patio garden. DeannaCat is holding a grey chicken and Aaron is holding a glass of beer. Vegetable plants have been planted and can be seen in the new garden beds.
The key to homestead success: work hard, have fun, hug a chicken, repeat!


How we prioritized & budgeted for projects 

It became a routine to tackle two “big projects” per year, usually about 6 months apart. That is just what worked well for us! You might not be surprised to hear that my mind never stops going, and neither of us like to sit still much. Our mild climate also allows us to work outside year-round. The bulk of the work was done from 2014 to 2018.

I’m sure you may be wondering about budgeting, so here is the scoop: First of all, we don’t spend much money outside the home except for bills and necessities. I am not a big shopper. We don’t go out to eat, go to the movies or other spendy activities, and travel very rarely. Additionally, we have done everything DIY – except for replacing the roof. Remember, know when it’s best to call in the pros!

Even so, we usually could not afford to save up several thousand dollars at once for a big garden project. But then we found out about the Home Depot consumer credit card and its special promotions. Not to encourage anyone to go into debt! But I want to be honest, and it did help us achieve our goals. When you spend a certain amount on the card at once (usually $500, 1000, 2000, etc) you can qualify for a corresponding interest-free period (either 6, 12, 18, or 24 months, depending on how much was spent). Then we’d pay off that project within the interest-free time frame BEFORE starting the next one. We knew we had the means and diligence to do this.


Our transformation & project timeline


Prior to 2013, we lived in rental accommodations and only casually gardened with a couple raised beds and a handful of started nursery seedlings. We also learned some basic dehydrating and canning skills, read books, and dreamed of the future.


2013

  • Purchased this home
  • Brought two old raised garden bed frames (and bagged up the soil!) from our rental house. We put the beds in the backyard but knew we’d re-work the space later (the future “coop garden” area)
  • Planted a few trees and pollinator-friendly perennials 
  • Started a new worm compost bin


2014

  • Built the chicken coop and run, and got our first flock of chicks 
  • Started making fermented foods (simple cabbage kraut and carrots)
  • Got a compost tumbler


A three part image collage of the process of starting the original coop garden. The first image shows Aaron digging out a place for the garden beds in the ground. There is not coop or chickens yet. The second image shows the coop garden after the chicken coop and run have been built. The garden beds are shown full of soil but devoid of plants. There are two adirondack chairs nearby for relaxing and enjoying the space. The third image shows the same space after tomatoes have been planted out and have grown for multiple months. Aaron is inspecting one of the tomato plants which is almost as tall as him.


2015

  • Put two new raised beds in the front yard, but without properly preparing the space first. The weeds quickly took over the beds (Spring)
  • Re-did the raised beds in the front yard, removed the weedy grass from one half of the yard and replaced it with gravel, and added the trellis wall along the north end of the front yard. (Fall, as shown in the “Start Small” section above.)
  • Began brewing kombucha
  • Started growing more from seed, started some seeds indoors
  • Planted more trees


2016

  • Created the “Patio Garden“: Installed raised beds and trellises around the outer perimeter of the concrete patio in the backyard, as a way to grow more food and also block the free-ranging chickens off from the patio itself. (Spring)
  • Renovated the side yard, added the greenhouse, and transitioned to growing 99% of our garden from seed (Fall, shown above)
  • Built our larger compost pile area
  • Installed our first small rainwater collection system


A three part image collage of the backyard patio. The first image shows the patio as it was taken while the house was listed for sale, there is a small patio table with chairs, some grass, and a sand pit of sorts. The second image shows the backyard patio garden after the garden beds and trellises have been installed surrounding the concrete patio. There are plants growing in every bed, a larger patio table on top of an outdoor rug, and a lit gas fireplace in the foreground. The third image shows the backyard patio after many of the plants have grown in, the main one being the passionfruit vine which has covered the metal arch over the gate to the backyard area. There are much more plants than before as the image is mostly green.


2017

  • Backyard “Coop Garden” renovation: Removed the two old raised beds we brought from the rental house, built taller and larger beds in a more south-facing orientation with improved chicken-proof fencing (Spring)
  • Phase 2 of the front yard garden renovations: Removed the remaining grass from second half of the front yard, changed all remaining lawn sprinklers to drip, and landscaped the area with cobblestone-bordered “pollinator islands” full of perennials and herbs (Fall)
  • Purchased our first large 530-gallon rainwater storage tank
  • Planted more trees


A three part image collage of the coop garden area during its second renovation. The first image shows coop garden after the original garden beds have been removed, a large swathe of area has been leveled and raked clear of debris. The second image shows the garden after the new garden beds have been constructed and installed. They four beds were positioned in a U-shape next to the side of the house, there are trellises on the beds and a small fence and gate on the front side of the beds to keep the chickens out. The beds are full of soil and ready for plants. The third image shows the same coop garden from the opposite direction, the beds are overflowing with flowers and kale, the sun is shining through the trees and there are four chickens pecking around the outside of the garden area.
An image of the front yard garden facing the house. There are raised garden beds full of vegetables, islands lined with river rock that contain flowering perennial and annual plants, cacti, shrubs, trees, and vines. The pathways are landscaped with gravel and walkways lined with pavers and stone.
A before and after two part image collage of the front yard garden. The first image shows grass in the front half of the yard while the back half has gravel hardscape with lined paver pathways. There are plants growing in the garden beds and around the perimeter of the yard. The trellises on the backside of the yard have vines growing up them yet they are still somewhat sparse in vegetation due to them being fairly new. There is also a white picket fence along the left side of the image. The second image is the same as before only taken a couple years later. The front half of the yard is now gravel hardscape with stone lined walkways, there are flowering perennial plants planted in the ground in river rock lined "islands". All of the plants in the yard have continued to grow and are more lush and full of flowers than before. The left section of the yard has been redone by removing the white picket fence and angling a new fence further out to create more square footage of space. There is a new stone terraced corner that is planted out with perennials, annuals, and fruit trees.
When the final bit of grass was removed from the front yard garden. The corner and fence on the far left was done later in 2018, shown below.


2018

  • Removed the last of the backyard “grass” between the patio and coop garden areas (which the chickens had basically decimated anyways), built a large oval stone raised bed and filled it with flowering perennials and herbs (Spring)
  • Removed a portion of the asphalt driveway and a big corner of useless ice plant, expanded the front yard garden, terraced the new area, and built a new front fence. The last real big transformation project left to do! (Fall)
  • Learned how to make sourdough
  • Started raising monarch butterflies
  • Became a Certified Wildlife Habitat and Monarch Way Station
  • Installed the 2nd large 530-gallon rainwater storage tank 
  • Planted more trees


Three part image collage of the backyard facing the coop garden. The first image shows the yard shortly after purchasing the home, there is a lot of grass and dirt and a few trees along the perimeter of the yard. The second image shows the same part of the yard after the chicken coop and coop garden had been built. there are five chickens picking around the dying grass in the foreground. In the distance the coop garden beds are visible as well as the chicken coop itself. The third image shows the same as before, yet the grass has been removed and a large stone lined island has been constructed. In the middle of the stone island there are many perennial and annual flowers growing while the chickens are outside of the area picking around at the ground. Some of the patio garden is visible as there is a vine growing along the trellis on the backside of the garden beds.
In Spring 2018 we built the stone raised bed in the last “open” space in the back yard.
Three part image collage of the last front yard renovation project. The first image shows a large portion of asphalt and ice plant has been removed along with the white picket fence. The second image shows the newly constructed horizontal fence that has been constructed in its place, it is made of redwood boards and there are steps in the height of the fence, starting off at 6 feet tall while finishing close to 4 feet once you reach the gate to the front yard. The third image has been taken from the back corner of the front yards newly constructed stone terrace. There are perennial and annual plants planted in the three sections of terracing along with a fruit tree planted in each on as well. The terrace has bee mulched with bark as is the perimeter of the yard. Flowering plants, shrubs, vines, trees, cacti and vegetable plants are seen throughout the image.
Fall 2018: Bye bye useless corner of ice plant and asphalt, helloooo new fence, terracing, fruit trees and perennials! This was the first fence we’d ever built.


2019

Started this blog to share our experiences with you all!


2020

Began dreaming of our next property with more space.

Yup. Despite all of this work, we do want to move on to start a new homestead one day in the next few years! I envision space for a pollinator meadow, an orchard, bee hives, bunnies, a studio with space for classes or workshops, and perhaps even a yurt for you all to come and visit.


And that is how you start a homestead!


Welcome to the start of your homestead life; one that will keep you busy, active, healthy, and both mentally and physically connected to your home. I hope our experiences and this article were insightful, and provided you with both information and peace of mind as you go forward to start a homestead of your own.


Please feel free to ask questions, share your homesteading experience with us, and spread the love by sharing this article – or Pin it below! I plan to write individual articles on each of the major projects we’ve completed, so stay tuned.


Now it is time to go turn on some music, dance, sweat, laugh, cry, brainstorm, maybe even bleed a little, and enjoy your newfound hobby and love. Don’t forget to relax in your space and keep the “chill” in Homestead and Chill.



An image of the front yard garden facing the house. It is dusk and the string lights on the porch are lit. There are raised garden beds full of vegetables, islands lined with river rock that contain flowering perennial and annual plants, cacti, shrubs, trees, and vines. The pathways are landscaped with gravel and walkways lined with pavers and stone.


DeannaCat signature, keep on growing

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