Urban homesteading, suburban backyard homesteading or prepper gardening, the concept is one that comes in cycles. From Victory Gardens that helped families and communities deal with food rationing throughout World War II to the beginnings of the sustainable living movement in the early 2000’s that found its footing during the Great Depression, growing your own food has been a way for everyday people to provide for their families during difficult times. Providing for one’s family during such times is the reason so many turn to disaster prepping.
Many of us have yet to afford our solitary home in a country set on rich acreage bordered by abundant wilderness. Instead, we find ourselves in a 3 bedroom, on a postage stamp plot of land in suburbia or a 1 bedroom apartment in the middle of downtown highrises. Now, don’t think of this reality as a limitation but consider it an opportunity to exercise your imagination to reach homesteading goals. As with other aspects of prepping, implementing urban or semi-rural homesteading practices is a matter of scale. The concepts are virtually the same, it’s just a process of scaling up or down. Simply put, it comes down to using what available space there is and grow something useful.
While having a backyard for gardening is nice, it’s not necessary. If all you have is a balcony or terrace consider flower boxes or pots to grow vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, spinach or beans. For those with yard space you have more choices but start small at first. See what works. Experiment with growing methods and vegetable varieties to identify which ones work best for your family and their needs.
Take a gardening class or join a community supported agriculture (CSA) association. A CSA is a system where the public buys shares in a local farm and receives fresh produce in return when harvests begin coming in. This allows you to get to know the local farmers who can offer advice on types of food to grow, growing techniques and often how to prepare new varieties of vegetables you may not be familiar with.
Once the garden is planned and you’re ready to begin planting, make it a family affair. Get the kids and your spouse involved in the preparation and the whole growing and harvesting process. Delegate responsibilities for watering, weeding and keeping pests away. Start composting, another educational aspect of gardening that can be delegated to family members and will give your kitchen waste (coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable and fruit scraps) a more beneficial purpose rather than decomposing in a landfill. And composting can be done anywhere. Whatever your living situation is there are ways to compost. Composting containers are limited only by your imagination as there are innumerable ways to build your own. If you don’t consider yourself the most handy person, there are a number of commercially available types as well, with some designed specifically for apartment dwellers. If you are one who does have a yard, consider landscaping with vegetable and fruit plants and herbs like rosemary, lavender, and chamomile instead of traditional, flowering annuals. And don’t forget to learn how to dry and save the seeds your gardening efforts produce. Seed saving promotes self-sufficiency, it saves money you would have spent on commercial seed packets and it provides the security of knowing exactly where your food comes from, from seed to harvest.
Beyond the Garden
There is more to an urban prepper homesteading venture than producing food. When it comes to prepping one the most important considerations is the long-term storage of emergency essentials for when a disaster befalls your region. Preserving what you produce will go a long way to satisfying your food stockpiling needs. Teach yourself how to can the fruits and veggies you labored to grow. Making preserves from homegrown berries is an easy way to start. Also include in your gardening plan keeper vegetables. These are types of vegetables – mostly winter squashes but they also include onions, potatoes, carrots and some varieties of tomatoes – that you can store for months at a time if certain temperature and humidity requirements are met. Learn how to dry herbs and spices for cooking and medicinal uses. Make your own broth from chicken and turkey bones that you can freeze and use over time. Explore bread making with affordable, bulk bin ingredients.
Think about raising chickens. Don’t laugh. People are raising their own chickens, and other fowl like quail, in semi-rural and urban locations. It’s a trend that is spreading remarkably fast and cities are adapting to the demand. Instead of running to the grocery store to purchase mass produced eggs that seem to fluctuate randomly in price these days, you can simply walk out and collect the morning’s eggs from your backyard’s chicken coup. And need I say it…? A flock of chickens will provide your family with plenty of fresh meat whenever it’s needed. In addition, chicken droppings make for excellent fertilizer for your prepper garden.
If you’re open to chickens then how about bee keeping? Of course, this is one venture you should consult city ordinances before starting but there are surprising number of localities that allow the practice. The benefit of fresh honey from your own hive goes without saying but keeping bees will improve your garden’s productivity through reliable pollination. And imagine the educational opportunities a bee community in the backyard will provide for your children.
Last but not least, Recycle, Reuse, and Repurpose (or upcycle). Start making weekly excursions to the local thrift stores and yard sales for items you can reuse and repurpose for your needs. Add to those secondhand store trips a regular check of online classifieds like Craigslist for anything and everything from plastic buckets for planting containers to old pallets you can use to build a fence around the garden to scrap wood for constructing the chicken coup. You can also find people selling used mason jars and large pots for canning and storage bins you can convert into composters or even plastic barrels that can be used to collect rainwater.
While homesteading, not unlike prepping, looked at from afar appears too daunting to even consider, if you start small and take the one step at a time approach, the whole endeavor becomes manageable. No matter where or how you live, achieving sustainability through the practices of homesteading will allow you to meet the same goals you set for keeping your family prepared against the next big disaster. And it’s all done while promoting healthy eating, family bonding and learning new skills useful throughout your lives.