Urban Homesteading: How to be Self Sufficient in the City
Living sustainably is no longer limited to the size of the land you own. Although you might not have enough space in your garden to grow large crops like wheat and corn, you can still grow fruits, vegetables, and trees in a city garden — or even containers. There’s a growing number of urban dwellers looking to become self-sufficient while reconnecting with nature. So, if you’re a big city dweller and dream of becoming a modern-day homesteader one day, why wait? Here’s how to be self-sufficient in the city.
Know your limitations
Maybe you were born in the city, came to be educated, or simply arrived looking for work. Whatever your situation, you’re here now and quite enjoy everything the city has to offer. But even with all those modern-day conveniences, you still dream of living off the land and creating a self-sustaining lifestyle. That’s where an urban homestead garden fits in.
First, make sure you realize your limitations on your homesteading journey. Chicken coops, livestock, and making your own cheese may be out of the question — for now. But, even if you don’t have a large garden at your disposal, you can certainly create a sustainable garden in your small city space. If you have the desire to create a sustainable lifestyle and reconnect with the environment and the food you eat, then you can apply homesteading principles to your urban garden.
Utilize your space
The traditional homesteads tend to have a lot of land ready to grow on and harvest food year-round. In urban settings, you likely don’t have that kind of space. So, you’ll need to create as much garden or growing space as you can. Balconies, patios, and even concrete walkways are ideal for containers and raised beds. In fact, you can even remove sod from a small backyard to create your vegetable and herb garden. And if you are space-challenged horizontally, then there’s only one way to go…up.
Discover vegetables and fruits that climb vertically or can be guided to climb with a little persuasion. Climbing vegetables include Vine tomatoes, Malabar spinach, cucumbers, zucchini, Indian and runner beans, peas, pumpkins, gourds, and more. Raspberries and blackberries also naturally climb. Don’t forget to utilize the borders of your property with trained fruit trees, bushes, and climbing vegetables.
Create a living wall
Living walls or green walls are vertical gardens that attach to exterior or interior structures. Unlike ivy walls that root to the side of fences or buildings, living walls root in structural supports that are fastened to the wall. They can be as large or small as you like. So they can be tailored to suit the size of your space. You can invest in stackable planters fastened to a fence or structure from the ground up. You can even create your own with painted, recycled containers and holes punched in the bottom for drainage. Additionally, you can use window boxes secured one above the other.
A great garden relies heavily on its water source. Rainwater collection is an inexpensive way to feed your crops. By installing a water collection system, you can utilize the earth’s hydrological cycle. This reduces the demand from water facilities, which in turn improves conservation efforts. Keep in mind, while it is not entirely illegal to collect rainwater in any of the 50 states, some states currently have restrictions on the amount of rainwater that can be collected and the method by which it is collected.
Create your own compost
Compost is great for the environment because it reduces food wastage. Scrap food and plants decompose over several months before turning into nutrient-rich soil (or hummus.) If space permits, why not create your own compost for your garden?
- Select a container for your compost and set it in a grassy, reasonably shady part of your garden. Make sure that the container doesn’t have a bottom. Compost should be directly touching the ground.
- To help aerate the compost, lay a few inches of branches and twigs at the bottom.
- Balance your compost with nitrogen, carbon, water, and air. Nitrogen comes from the green materials you scrap, and carbons comes from the brown material.
- Include: Dried leaves, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, peelings, coffee grounds, and tea leaves, dust from sweeping and vacuuming, shredded newspaper, human and pet hair.
- Don’t include: Meat, dairy, and bread, which rot and attract pests. You should also omit processed foods, since they take a long time to decompose.
- With a spade or shovel, aerate once a week, and water when the compost gets too dry.
- After a few months, your compost is ready to use.
Preserving your harvest
The more skills you acquire, the more self-reliant you’ll become. And that means relying less on grocery stores and more on your ability to grow and create. As you become more familiar with the homesteading lifestyle, you can certainly up your skill level and begin to make, sell, and even barter your hand-made goods. The purpose of homesteading, after all, is to create a frugal lifestyle that allows you to grow your own food while reducing your carbon footprint. But to get there, you’ll need a certain skill set.
Learning to preserve your harvest is a must. When practiced properly, canning is a safe and important method of food preservation. It will keep you well-fed during the cold, winter months. There are three safe methods of canning according to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC):
The boiling water bath method — Food is preserved in jars completely covered by boiling water. Safe for jarring tomatoes, pickles, and fruits, as well as jams, jellies, and other preserves.
The atmospheric steam canner method — In steam canners, jars are set in a rack above a reservoir of water. Steam created from boiling the water provides the thermal treatment to the jars. The advantages of using a steam canner include using less water than a boiling water bath. It also reaches processing temperatures faster and requires less energy. However, this method is not suited for low-acid foods like vegetables. The steam canner is useful for naturally acidic foods that have a pH less than 4.6 like pickled veggies, fruits, and preserves.
The pressure canner method — Filled jars are placed in two to three inches of water and then heated in the pressure canner to 240° F. The pressure canner method is only safe for canning low-acid foods or those with a pH over 4.6 such as vegetables.
If you’re a big city dweller, you might have thought homesteading wasn’t for you. But thanks to space-saving items like containers, vertical planters, and living walls, you can have an urban garden that provides sustenance throughout the year. Enjoy!