Urban and suburban homesteading have grown beyond belief in the last decade. Many living in the city or near a city have chosen to be more self-sustainable through gardening, beekeeping, aquaponics, permaculture, and raising/breeding meat animals (rabbits, chicken). Not all inclusive, this list is considered by many, a new way to be more self-sustainable, more “green” in today’s world.
Being a part of suburban homesteading, doing all I can to make the best of our little 1/5 acre, has taught me many lessons. Among those is that this trend is not a new lifestyle- it is a reversion to the lifestyle of our ancestors. Our ancestors being self-sustainable out of necessity were really living a “green” lifestyle before green was cool!
Our trip into homesteading began with two major forces driving our decisions, beginning with the economy, on to the need to house and feed more people under our roof. Economic conditions over the last decade have not been all the best, of course coming to a head in 2007-8 with the collapse of the housing market. This is when we truly became serious about be more self-sustainable.
We have always gardened, but the amount of land dedicated to gardening grew substantially as more relatives (children and siblings) began to move back in with us due to lost jobs, lost homes, and health issues. As our population grew, the need to produce more of our own food grew. We quickly went from one main garden bed in our back yard to over 30 raised beds throughout the property.
Growing our own food became a necessity, but we found that we had some much more control over what was going into our bodies. We chose to never again use any type of pesticide or herbicide within our property limits, determining that using natural substances made better sense and in many cases was more effective. Enter the chickens!
Chicken manure is among the best “natural” fertilizers available, but having the actual chicken made so much more sense with the added value they bring to any yard and garden. The pecking, natural soil aeration, eliminating bugs and other pests, the eggs, and not to mention the shear joy of just watching them run and play in the yard made having them a no-brainer. Of course the County did not have the same opinion and took our chickens after a year because of local zoning regulations. More on this in other posts.
So without chickens, we moved to rabbits. Choosing to raise meat rabbits at least gave us another great fertilizer source, but also another source of meat. There were no regulations on growing personal use rabbits, as well as we did not sell any, nor could we butcher any in public view. So at least we could still accomplish some of our goals without the County constantly in our business.
As our garden grew, we felt a need to expand our ability to insure a good crop each year by adding bees to our little homestead. Seemed like a natural jump and fortunately we live in a county that has no regulations concerning beekeeping. Bees are an interesting lot and require little effort on the part of humans. If we provide proper housing for them, they are very attentive to their own needs to survive. This was a great step into our expanding homestead.
Extending our growing season for some fresh vegetables became a project last year, opting to try indoor aquaponics. Although this process had a huge learning curve for me, since I had no knowledge of fish or gardening without soil, we ventured forward. This has been one of the most enjoyable ventures so far and one that I was able to actually help fill a need to others in perfecting a “portable” AP system for other local enthusiast’s.
This year was a major project year, deciding to build a 10′ x 20′ greenhouse to expand our growing season to year round and move our aquaponics into a larger area outside our basement. Again comes the County! This fight through multiple hearings, petitions, emails and phone calls finally came to an end in our favor after about 8 months. So we have been able to move forward and complete the structure, we are still very much in the set up phase of the interior.
Of course how could I get through this post without thanking my parents and grand-parents for teaching me many of the skills I never thought I would use in my life. Canning, freezing, and dehydrating have become commonplace to extend our ability to use our own fresh crops, which I learned from my mother and grand-mother. Planting, growing, and harvesting knowledge are an extension of my father’s passed down skills. My grand-father taught me about chickens, cows, and horses-although our land could never accommodate large animals, I understood the value of chickens on our property.
Every day is a joy to be able to get out of bed and do something I love that is a benefit to my family, my budget, and my community since we always have enough to spare to our elderly and disabled neighbors and our friends. Although my initial reasoning for our lifestyle had nothing to do with being more “green” I have found that many of the skills handed down to me are just that-a greener lifestyle. Self-sustainable and green can go hand in hand, but a” new” lifestyle it is not. Our ancestors understood a green lifestyle out of necessity, and passed down the knowledge and skills so future generations could enjoy the benefits of a self-sustaining lifestyle!