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The Beginners Guide To Homestead Gardens

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Do you dream of being self-sufficient and lessening your impact on the environment? If so, then homesteading might be for you. Homesteading is sustainable living at its best. Simply put, it’s a lifestyle where you grow your own food while minimizing your carbon footprint. In turn, you’ll be more self-reliant and less dependent on outside sources. Here’s a beginner’s guide to homestead gardens.

What is homesteading?

In 1862, The Homesteading Act encouraged settlement of the Great West by giving away free land to be farmed. Thus, the word “homestead” was born. Today, homesteading is less about free land and more about creating a lifestyle that allows you to live off the land while growing your own food. It doesn’t matter if you live in the country, suburbia or the big city. There’s a place for a homestead garden no matter where you live.  

It’s about being frugal and a little crafty

A homestead can mean different things to different people — and that’s ok. But it’s really about small-scale farming with the ultimate goal of relying less on big chain grocery stores. Some homesteaders also keep chickens for eggs along with other livestock, depending on space. They may even produce their own textiles, crafts, and clothing to use for themselves or to generate a little extra income.

Typically homesteading applies to farms, but it’s also conceivable to be an urban homesteader, growing your own food and living a frugal lifestyle. To provide sustenance during the winter months, homesteaders often preserve, can, and dry produce. So, skills like canning and pickling become essential. In addition, homesteaders usually prefer renewable energy sources like wind or solar electricity. For many homesteaders, the idea of being completely “off-grid” is very appealing.

The White house sustainable garden

Former First Lady Michelle Obama got it right when she set forth to plant a sustainable garden in the White house. In the first year, at its smallest, the White house garden grew 740 pounds of produce in 1,100 square feet of growing space. Today, the White House chefs regularly use the harvested food to prepare meals for official State dinners. Michelle and those who worked together on the project experimented with new crops each year. They fruited mushroom logs, made pickled vegetables, and even set up a beehive that produced pounds of honey over three years. Whether you have over 1,000 square feet of garden space, a small farm, or a small plot of land in your urban backyard, you can create a homestead garden. Here’s how to begin.

Research, research, and more research

Even if you don’t own a farm, you can still create a homestead garden, preserve your vegetables, and create a sustainable lifestyle in an urban community. But first, you’ll need to decide what you want to grow and how far you want to take it. Hobby gardeners normally plant their favorite vegetables simply to enjoy and for the pleasure of gardening. Homesteaders, on the other hand, plant for survival, and use their gardens as a food supply. That requires more time and effort and a great deal of planning and research. But you can certainly start small and grow your garden.

Begin by researching which plants grow best in your particular region. The Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a standard map provided by the USDA. Through this map, gardeners and growers can determine which plants thrive in their location.

Consider soil requirements for your chosen plants. How much sun or shade will your plants need? And what about spacing for optimal growth? Many novice gardeners often place seeds or seedlings too close together. The result? Plants that fight for nutrients and sun. In the beginning, you may want to experiment with a variety of seeds and seedlings to see what flourishes and what doesn’t in your homestead garden.

Purchase your seedlings

If you’re a new gardener, you may want to start from seedlings. Seedlings transfer easily between peat pots to the ground — or into a larger container. Growing your own seedlings indoors may be ambitious for a new gardener. So, keep it simple with purchased seedlings. Eventually, though, you can start saving up your own seeds.

Container gardening is great for the small space urban dwellers, but growth is limited. Growing in the ground or in raised beds is preferable. Moreover, if your space is limited, you may want to join a community garden, if available.

Choose your soil wisely

Your growing success really begins with the soil. Whether you’re growing in large containers, raised beds, or in a garden, the mix of soil is crucial for optimal growth. Your soil should be made up of three components:

  • Vermiculite
  • Compost
  • Peat moss

Purchase soil from the garden center, a local supplier, or even from a big box store chain by the truckload.

Test your soil

If you start with good soil, you likely don’t need to test your soil. But after a few years, if your plants lack in size or are simply not thriving, you may want to test your soil. Testing is a great way to measure the health and fertility of your soil. Although tests are generally inexpensive, professional gardeners feel it is well worth any cost when it comes to growing healthy plants in the homestead garden. You trying to maintain a sustainable lifestyle, after all.

Fertilize

If you own a composter, you may want to add compost from your own food and yard scraps. Organic matter breaks down pretty quickly into nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium-rich compounds. Additionally, you may also want to include an organic fertilizer such as bone meal or blood meal. If you prefer to avoid animal-sourced fertilizer, use a seaweed meal instead.

Create a garden plan

When it comes to homestead gardens, vegetables and fruits are usually planted in rows. So, it’s best to plan out your garden. If your garden is small, utilize the space correctly by using intelligent planting techniques and the right crops. In addition, prioritize crops by growing those fruits and veggies that you and your family really enjoy or are the most expensive to buy. The Farmer’s Almanac provides garden layouts for homesteading.

Consider companion planting 

Consider companion planting for optimal growth. Companion planting is an ancient practice, which employs the use of planting certain vegetables together to support growth. For instance, larger plants can provide shade for shorter plants that thrive in partial sun.

Groundcover plants can block weeds from sprouting. In addition, companion plants may even attract useful insects, add nitrogen to the soil, and give off scents to keep predators at bay. You may even want to consider surrounding tomato plants with marigolds, garlic, or basil, which repel parasites and hornworms.

Harvesting the fruits of your labor

When it comes to harvesting, most fruits and veggies should be picked throughout the summer to maintain plant productivity. However, when, how often, and the method of harvesting vary depending on each species. You may want to include plants that provide a high-yield crop. Many herbs and types of lettuce continuously grow and may be harvested all season. Iowa State University provides a harvest guide to ensure the best taste and quality for your crop.

Homesteading can save you money while providing you with a sustainable food source. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, a homestead garden can be very rewarding. 

-Katherine Marko

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