Homesteading means something different to everyone however I couldn’t help but notice the systemic nature of this way of life. Everything from the food you grow in the garden, the way you cook it, and how you raise your livestock are intertwined and connected.
You may have noticed that all the homestead-y people you know or follow have the same hobbies and our websites cover the same topics. We’ve all got advice on gardening, raising animals and cooking.
There’s a reason for that, no matter where you jump into this lifestyle it naturally leads you to the next step. I think it’s pretty cool that despite the fact that we’re all pretty much doing the same stuff, we’re all doing it a little bit differently.
I’m not saying you need to do all of these things to be a “homesteader”, honestly, I’m not even a huge fan of that title. In general, I’m not a big label person.
These are just the things I’ve noticed over the years, both in real life and online. Most people do some combination of these three things, either in the past, currently, or have some plans for the future.
The Homestead Lifestyle
You can jump into this loop at any point, I sort of grew up this way through my grandparents and I can’t pick a specific starting point for me. If you are just looking to dip your toe into the homesteading pool pick the area you’re most interested in or the area that fits into your life where you are.
The easiest starting points are going to be in the garden and in the kitchen. It’s pretty much a guarantee you’ll fail at some point (or lots of points) and those mistakes are a lot easier to deal with if living animals aren’t involved.
Read more about The Dark Side of Chicken Keeping
We’ll start in the kitchen because it’s generally the most accessible for everyone.
First off, there isn’t an official “homesteader diet”, instead it’s more of a set of practices. You can be vegan, keto, or anything in between.
Cooking from Scratch
You probably saw this coming. Homesteading and cooking from scratch go hand in hand.
It’s impossible to pick your own vegetables and have them be pre-processed. Your beets will have skins and your cabbages will not be shredded.
I do want to make it very clear that I do not grow 100% or even close to 50% of the food we eat. I go to the grocery store, I go to farmers’ markets and of course, I grow my own.
You don’t have to give up Aldi’s and frozen pizza to be a homesteader.
One thing I really appreciate about homesteading is having a lot of practical knowledge, even if I don’t utilize it regularly. Can I make cheese, butter, bread, and pickles? Yep.
Do I make them regularly? Nope. But when bread disappeared from the shelves in 2020, I knew my kids could still have ham sandwiches.
Homesteaders tend to be curious people. Once you start making your own food you’ll start to wonder about other things you can make. It will quickly spiral from there.
Life, in general, is busy and when you add a garden and livestock on top of the usual day-to-day stuff it’s even crazier. As a result homestead cooking tends to be.. let’s say rustic.
If you’re starting with fresh veggies and eggs laid an hour ago it doesn’t take a lot to make something delicious. I’m a fan of roasting or sauteing vegetables and making giant pots of soup, neither option takes a lot of effort.
One Meal Leads to the Next
No one enjoys wasting food but when you grow or raise it yourself it just hits you harder. You’ll find yourself making your vegetable scraps and meat bones into stock (coming back to why I eat so much soup), turning fruit peels into vinegar, or at least feeding them to the chickens or throwing them in the compost pile.
It’s a pretty common pattern in my kitchen to make a chicken dinner, like Maple Roasted Chicken with Potatoes, one day and them to take the bones from that and throw them in the instant pot with some carrots & onions for a quick stock.
Then the next day I’ll make egg drop soup with fresh eggs, green garlic and the stock or throw it back in the instant pot for some Chicken Sausage Soup.
Homemade stock is completely different from the thin liquid you get in cartons at the store. When you made stock at home the collagen in the chicken bones turns it into a thick, velvety liquid that’s almost solid in the refrigerator.
The last thing I have to say about the homestead kitchen really ties into gardening. Unlike when you go to the grocery store and they have everything all the time, when you grow your own food you either have a lot or you have none.
If you want to enjoy your apples in June you better can some applesauce or apple pie filling in the fall when you get them off the tree.
Read more about Water Bath Canning
Living the modern lifestyle we tend to lose track of the seasonality of food. When you grow your own or start shopping locally, you’ll begin to learn that all food has a season, even eggs and dairy.
The only way to really get around that is by preserving food when it’s at it’s best and when it’s most plentiful.
That second part is also really important. Vegetables and fruit tend to ripen all at once and the shelf-life of fresh food isn’t always on your side.
Interested in preserving the harvest? Check out my Favorite Canning & Preserving Books
Gardening & Growing Food
Moving out of the kitchen and into the garden, let’s talk about growing food. Again, you don’t need to grow all or even most of your food to be a homesteader.
Everyone is in a different place (both literally and figuratively) and you need to do what you can, whether that means growing an acre of organic vegetable or a mason jar of alfalfa sprouts.
Read more about Growing Sprouts for Fresh Food Anytime
The most toxic or dangerous thing about homesteading is the “all or nothing” mentality (if you live somewhere warmer it might be rattlesnakes, that would make this the 2nd most dangerous). What you are doing is enough, you are enough, trying to do everything will only lead to burn out.
Everyone has to start somewhere.
Once you get hooked on gardening you’ll probably end up looking for more unique varieties or just larger quantities of plants than you’ll want to spend money on.
Seed starting has some upfront costs, grow lights and seedling trays can be pricey, but they more than makeup for it over the years.
Once you’re comfortable with starting seeds, hardening off, and transplanting it’s not a huge leap to saving seeds and even creating your own crosses.
Learn more about Starting with Seeds Vs. Starting with Plants
Growing Strange Things
Growing things is a bit addicting, once you get the basics down you’ll want to grow all sorts of things. That might be unusual flowers, specialty tomatoes, or oddly colored potatoes.
This can also lead to some experimenting in the kitchen because weird foods don’t always show up in cookbooks!
The final leg to this stool is livestock or raising animals. I’m going to start with chickens because most people start with chickens.
I like to say they are the gateway to homesteading. It’s really hard to collect your first fresh egg, still warm from being laid, and not get hooked.
There is a lot that goes into keeping chickens and keeping livestock is definitely the most involved thing on this list. I’ve covered a lot on this website so if your looking to get started here is a good place :
Once you’ve got your chickens figured out it’s not that hard to branch out into other types of birds like ducks, geese, guineas, and turkeys.
The biggest differences are between the land birds and the waterfowl but they all have their own quirks. Chickens are the easiest to get and by far the easiest to find any information on.
Ducks and geese are great but they can be loud and they are notorious for being messy. They don’t need pools to swim in but they will be happier with water to play in and they need water bowls deep enough to keep their nostrils clean.
Read more about The Chaotic Reality of Keeping Geese
I know I said geese and ducks could be loud, but they barely whisper compared to these guys. Guinea fowl are the loudest, ugliest and in my opinion dumbest animals on the farm.
My guinea flock enjoys splitting into two groups, one group goes in front of the house and the other stays in the backyard and then they just scream back and forth. Usually until I go chase the ones in the front out back.
They aren’t the kind of bird you want to keep a lot of, I was down to two and they apparently felt that things were getting too quiet so they went off and hatched out 15 babies. In September. In New York. I was less than amused.
You may be thinking, why on earth would anyone want to keep a screeching banshee with smeared clown makeup on. It’s a logical question, the only answer is tick control.
I live in Lyme territory and a few summers ago when we were guinea-less my dog ended up with a tick bite and Lyme. He recovered with medicine but it wasn’t an experience I ever wanted to repeat with him or my kids.
One order of guineas later and I’ve never seen another tick.
Guineas are 100% out in the middle of nowhere birds, they’ll fly over my house so there isn’t a fence in the world that will keep them in. They like to roam and they’re so, so loud.
Our final stop on this barnyard tour is with my favorites the turkeys. I consider mine to be obnoxious lawn ornaments.
Aside from potentially selling their children, they don’t really serve a purpose other than making me smile. Turkeys are seasonal layers so we don’t get many eggs and my daughter would never forgive me if we ate them.
Read more about Raising Turkeys
Of course, you can also take it a step further and raise dairy animals like cows and goats, fiber animals like sheep and alpacas, and meat animals like cows and pigs. They all require a lot more in the fencing, housing, and care department.
Tying it All Together
Now that you’ve reached the end of this you might be wondering where I was going with it. The purpose of this article was to give my perspective on why all the homesteady people do the same things.
Cooking, growing food, and raising livestock all blend together in a bunch of ways with no real start or endpoint. While that can make the homesteading lifestyle difficult to get into (like jumping into a Ferris Wheel cart when it’s still moving) it also means you can start with whatever you want and just pick up the other pieces if and when you feel like it.
Starting with gardening, when you grow your own food and you put in all the effort the get those seeds to grow and then keep the chickens, earthworms, and rabbits away long enough to get a harvest you really want to make those ingredients shine. So you’ll figure out the best way to cook them.
Then no matter how much broth you make you’ll still have some leftover scraps, it would be a shame to throw your hard work into a garbage bag and send it to the dump, instead of that, why not throw it to the chickens so they can make your apple peels into eggs? Or toss it in the compost bin to fertilize the next round of veggies?
Chickens aren’t only good for eggs, they’ll also dig up the garden in the spring picking out any larvae unlucky enough to be spotted. And they’ll poop a lot, give that poo a year to break down and it’s a great garden fertilizer. See where I’m going?
If you’re looking for more information check out these pages: