How to Start a Homestead in 2023: priorities, staple crops, and survival

The best time to have started a homestead was ten years ago, the next best time is now. This is what I would do if I were starting out homesteading now.

Animals for food and fertility

toggenburg goats
Goats can be an excellent choice of dairy animal on forested land and in small spaces.

Look at what resources are around you and find the right animal to make the most of what is growing where you live. If you’re starting with lots of pasture, cows and sheep are good choices. If you’re in a small backyard, meat rabbits are a good option. If you have access to trees and scrub, goats make sense. Chickens and ducks are great for eating wasted food and scavenging for insects and seeds around the garden and can fit in anywhere. Even if you have to buy in food for your animals at first, in my experience it is always worth it, because not only do they give you better meat, dairy, and eggs than anything from a shop (and a reliable supply of it in these times), they also give manure to fertilise the garden. 

Perennial food

blueberries in hands
Blueberries are a tasty and nutritious perennial crop that grows well on acid soils

I wish I had put more effort into this earlier. Even if you intend to have a big berry patch or orchard one day but it’s not a priority for now, it’s worth having some plants, as you can propagate new plants from these later on and get experience with growing them. In these uncertain times it’s hard to say whether fruit trees and berry plants will be easy to find in the future so it’s worth having some to begin with. Some of these plants can take several years to start bearing (although berries are very fast), so if you plant these early on your homestead, you will be harvesting them earlier and will thank yourself later on.

Grow and eat what grows well for you

Find an online gardening calendar for your local area and plant your crops at the right times. Experiment with growing a bit of everything, and then observe what grows best at different times of the year. I am pretty hopeless at growing cabbages (but every year I still try), but turnips and daikon radish grow easily here, so I plant lots of those and use these as I would use cabbages in cooking and fermenting.

Focus on staple foods

pink fir apple potatoes and purple top white globe turnips
Potatoes and turnips, excellent staple crops for many cold climate homesteads

Find a combination of calorie-dense and nutrient dense foods that grow well for you. Calorie dense foods are those that contain lots of energy for their weight – potatoes, pumpkin/winter squash, swede/rutabaga, carrots, parsnips, beetroots, and other root vegetables.

Nutrient-dense foods are those that contain lots of vitamins and minerals for their weight, animal fats and leafy greens are good examples of this. These nutrient dense foods complement the calorie dense foods to form a complete diet – many meals are combinations of these two foods – baked potatoes with sour cream, root vegetables roasted in tallow, bread with butter, rice with bacon, and many more examples.

On my homestead, our staple calorie dense staple crops are potatoes, swede/rutabaga, turnip, parsnips, and carrots. Our nutrient dense staple crops are goats milk, goats cheese, eggs, and kale. I grow many more foods than these, but no matter what happens, we can survive on these foods alone, so I grow them in abundance.

Meeting water and energy needs

Ideally, a homestead should be able to meet its own needs for water, electricity, and cooking fuel. Finding a homestead with established firewood trees, or planting your own can be a big priority in cold climates. If you need to irrigate in summer, set up systems to catch water when there is rain, such as ponds and rainwater tanks. For electricity, it can first make sense to reduce the need for it as much as possible, and then to design a system to meet those reduced needs.

One thought on “How to Start a Homestead in 2023: priorities, staple crops, and survival

  1. Keirra says:

    Nice to see an update on the blog. Hope you are doing well.

    In central qld we sweet potatoes and pumpkin that grows like weeds!

    We just harvested 20 pumpkins from our pumpkin vines.
    They are the kent variety.

    All colors of sweet potatoes grow well here. White potatoes of the night shade family grow here, but they only grow small here. About the size of new potatoes harvested early. But I will keep trying with potato.

    Banana and citrus and grapes grow well here. Same with mango and macadamia nuts.

    We had 25 tomato plants grow on their own because of the pigs and they survived with no care. Same with the pumpkin they were planted by pigs.

    From the grey water we got a watermelon vine and that grew and gave us about 20 watermelons too.

    We also have apples here but they are smaller and not as big as ones grown in cold weather.
    There are other foods that grow okay here but those are the main ones.

    Like

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