Quick disclaimer, I am by no means a credible homesteader for I am only just beginning my garden. I simply wish to share what I have learned so far and how things are working out for me. Another disclaimer: some people wouldn’t consider what I am doing as homesteading because as I have learned through my research there is a controversy as to the definition of homesteading. So, for the time being I shall refer to this as a project; and now that all that is clarified I want to speak about what my goals are for this project.
My dream is to do my homesteading on an Earthship, mainly because I want to be more self-sufficient and less wasteful. Between building an Earthship or homesteading, the second seemed the easiest to follow. My logic is if I grow my own food (or a majority of it) I won’t have to buy plastic wrapped food with multiple preservatives shipped from who knows where and how. Having said this, I realize growing foods in the middle of my desert will be a challenge, but I will do my best to maintain the integrity of the natural ecosystem while finding hardy foods to grow. If it becomes too much work, then the second-best option would be to support my local growers and farmers.
Why I want my own garden
As mentioned above the reason I want to start homesteading is because I want to decrease food waste and increase sustainability for my family and me. Also, because I felt a disconnection and distrust towards my food for some time now. I have been renting different houses for the last couple of years so it has been hard to settle and grow my own food, however I have reached a point where I am disappointed by the food I buy and want to try something more natural. I want to know that what I eat is simple, healthy, fresh, and more importantly I know what went into growing those foods. I understand that for others homesteading is seen as a method to earn money by selling their goods, and my hat goes off to them because I can only imagine the work, but for me a small garden is enough.
Is homestead gardening for you?
As I listen to podcasts and read blogs from other homesteaders,
they always warn about the amount of work it requires. Even a small-scale gardening
project such as mine will require hours from at the beginning; therefore, it is
important to understand that homesteading is not for everyone. I remember one
podcast that told of a situation where the family left on vacation but faced
trouble when setting up someone to look after their farm while they were gone
and on top of that there was a winter storm threatening to pass through their homestead.
It must have been a headache to not have anyone at home to protect the animals.
Stories like those help put my project in perspective, and I don’t expect to be
an advanced homesteader by the end of the year, on the contrary I know this
will be a long-term process. So, if you are interested, again start small. One more
tip that many homesteaders mention is do NOT start with animals, leave those
Year long dedication
Homesteading is a year-long lifestyle, gardening is a year-long hobby because even if you only garden for spring and summer in all reality there are tasks that need to be done during fall and winter to prepare your soil. For instance I started my seedlings indoors because of the harsh dry cold weather here in Colorado, but soon I will have to find a way to transport these to Texas where I plan to put them into the ground for their permanent home. There are certain tasks that still need to be done, I anticipate my garden not being completed until July. I need to prepare the soil, add compost, build raised beds, and shade for my veggies because of the harsh hot sun. Likewise, as the seasons change, I will have to find a way to keep them warm during winter. So far from my limited research I would either cover them with plastic sheets or a “fabric” which is also made of thin plastic fibers (polypropylene or polyester). I wonder if covering them with cotton or other fabric scraps I have around the house will be as effective? Or maybe cardboard? The issue with these too would be light transparency and moisture control. I will have to do more research.
Where should I garden?
The different podcasts, blogs, and books I’ve read seem to
come from different states, so I assume a homesteading could potentially be
anywhere. The limitations to a good physical spot involve the access you have
to resources, mainly water. As I have mentioned before I live out in a desert,
so water is something precious and delicate, the way I am trying to resolve
this issue is by choosing drought tolerant and native plants. I admit not all
the plants I currently possess have these qualities but those which are more
delicate I intend to keep them in pots or in the shade to slow down the
evaporation of water. Again do some research about your area, speak with local
gardeners, e.g. if you live near Denver, CO check out https://plantselect.org/ they have a lot of
great information if you are starting your garden. Or do a google search for seed
catalogs. If you live near El Paso, TX I searched through the Chihuahuan Desert
Garden at UTEP or check this website too https://txmg.org/elpaso/learn/gardening-in-el-paso-articles/.
How to start planning a garden
If after all this you are still curious to try gardening as
your first step towards homesteading, here are some tips I used in planning my
Purpose of garden
Observe your landscape
Research the plants you choose for compatibility in your zone
Prepare the soil
Plant your flowers/veggies
Monitor & address pests & weeds timely
The first and most obvious question is what is the purpose of
your garden? Is it to grow food, is it to show off beautiful flowers, why is your
garden? I have listed several gardens for myself: a fragrant garden, edible
garden, sensory garden, and a pollinator garden full of flowers for bees,
butterflies, hummingbirds (I might have bitten too much to chew we shall see).
Next assess your landscape, where does rainwater pool, avoid planting in areas
where water drips off your roof, which side of your lawn faces south, what part
gets the most sun and shade. The next steps involve a lot of research, find out
what plants are native and hardy to your zone, find out any incompatibilities
with your vegetables, what plants prefer sun vs shade. I made a spreadsheet for
each of my types of gardens and every plant I intended to put in them. It took
me a few hours but having all that info in one sheet is worth it. The seed
packets often have useful information, so you don’t really have to look up too
much info. Then after all your hard work finally the fun part, you get to plant
your seeds. Lastly, and really, it’s done while you are preparing the soil is
doing what you can to prevent pests and weeds. From experience you want to
address these early on, because pests are so difficult to remove, I’ve often
had to kill my plants instead. There are several options you could use
pesticides if you are evil, mulching helps with weeds, but what I will be doing
is companion gardening. Some plants and veggies naturally repel certain pests
so these can be planted alongside vulnerable plants.
Trying something new or for the first time can be daunting.
My advice is to learn from your mistakes, I know I do. Also start with
something manageable try growing one plant, your favorite plant and start from
there. I encourage you to discover and try ways you can live a greener