Ever dreamed of being not only the ultimate gardener, but the ultimate homesteader? A homesteader is someone who gets back to their roots to grow and make just about everything in the comfort of their own home. If you’re interested in becoming an extreme gardener – A.K.A. a homesteader – then you’ll want to learn some of these essential homesteading skills! Read on for 33 skills you should know!
Garden Season Tips | Essential Homesteading Skills
Essential Homesteading Skills For Gardeners Who Want To Do It All
From the outside looking in, it might seem like homesteaders need to know and have everything. I remember seeing a lengthy list of homesteading skills just as I was diving into it, and feeling intimidated by its contents. The truth is, homesteaders do need to have plenty of abilities. Being a homesteader is a vocation, a philosophy, a belief system, and a lifestyle all rolled into one. So of course, there is a lot involved.
But here’s the good news: you don’t need to possess them all when you start out. You can start off small and work your way up to being an expert. Following is an extensive list of homesteading skills needed in the house, garden, barnyard, and community. Take a look, and see how your skill set fits into the big picture of homesteading.
Homesteading Skills In The House
One of the tenets of homesteading is to raise your own food. A natural extension of that is to be able to cook it. You will not want to buy your food in a box if you have a backyard full of vegetables, eggs, and berries.
Eating local is a year-round endeavor for those of us attempting to live off the land. Putting up jars of food for the offseason is a key component.
Not all types of food can well. Cruciferous vegetables, greens, eggplants, and strawberries, for example—not to mention vegetable purees and cheeses. Freezing correctly is easy, but it takes a little know-how.
Another tool in the homesteader’s food preservation tool belt is drying foods as a perfect option for seasons of already-full freezers and minimal energy consumption. Knowing how to dry broccoli for winter soups, and make your own yummy fruit roll-ups are assets on the homestead.
Living sustainably is not enhanced by eating store-bought bread that contains twenty ingredients you can’t pronounce. Start out with something doable, even just a quick no-knead baking powder bread if you need to. And remember, use whole ingredients, not a box!
Yogurt, butter, and soft cheeses are so easy to make at home that you will wonder why people ever started buying them at the store. If you have access to the raw ingredients, give it a whirl.
The natural world includes a lot of species, some of which are not our friends. Fresh farm food can host bacteria, insects, and other unsavory characters. Get used to dipping dairy supplies in disinfectant, and soaking cruciferous vegetables in salt brine to kill worms.
Learning to eat from your larder is a tough one for many 21st century cooks. To everything there is a season—rhubarb in spring and pumpkins in fall—and the discovery of a forgotten corner of cabbage in the back of the freezer means a week of cabbage at every meal. From soups to stir-fries to pan-fried in butter and mixed in with mashed potato.
Why buy a commercial cold medication when a mullein tincture from your own backyard will work better?
Say no thanks to the dry cleaners and yes to the clothesline. You can even consider homemade laundry soap if you are feeling adventurous.
You don’t need the additives, packaging, and high prices of commercial soap. You might not want to support mega-corporations, either. By making your own, you can keep a lid on chemicals and costs, and maybe even create a marketable surplus for a little extra income—always a good thing on a homestead!
If sustainability and independence are among your goals, using wood for heat and cooking may well play a major role. It might take a little practice, but there is nothing quite as cozy as snuggling up next to the wood stove with the cat and a good book on a cold winter evening.
Homesteading Skills In The Garden
13. Plan Your Garden
Choose areas with the right amount of sun, drainage, and resistance to frost for your plants. Include space for walkways, protection from neighborhood dogs and curious children, access to water, and anything else your garden needs.
You are not likely to get it 100% right every year, and maybe not any year. But getting it close is great. Just be a little patient, and you’ll eventually get to determine your own gardening zone.
15. Till the soil
Use a shovel, a walk-behind apparatus, a horse-drawn plow, or a modern tractor. Even if you choose a so-called “no-till” method, you still have to plant your seeds in soil and do some preparations.
It might sound obvious, but knowing how to get your garden started is an art in itself. Indoors ahead of time, directly as seeds, close together, far apart, deep or shallow, warm soil or cool—there’s a lot to it.
Some weeds can be chopped off with a hoe or easily pulled, while others must be dug out with a spade. Although weeds can be such a headache, you have to learn and accept that weeds have their purpose too. They keep the soil conditioned, fertilized, and protected from erosion.
Every single herbivorous creature for what seems like miles around is ready and waiting to feast upon the free lunch your garden provides. From the tiniest aphid to mice and rabbits to deer, it will be a constant battle to keep them out. And it’s not only visible pests, but those we cannot see as well—fungi, viruses, and bacteria. They’re all looking for pieces of your action as well. Pesticides, mineral applications, traps, and scare tactics all have their place on a homestead.
You need to know when it’s ready to be picked, and how long is too long to wait. Will it continue to ripen off the vine? Will a frost kill the plant? There are also certain techniques to use. Cut, don’t break. Don’t handle when wet. Twist, don’t pull.
It’s not just garbage. Compost is organic material that is carefully chosen, contained, stirred, and heated until it is just right.
To extend your harvest season, you may have to build a greenhouse. You can also go for a cheaper greenhouse by building high tunnels.
The Barnyard and Beyond
Most of them are stronger than we are. Animal behavior, like making them go where we need them to go and do what we expect of them, is a skillful combination of training, bribery, and luck.
Barnyard animals require food, water, shelter, comfort, hygiene, grooming, (sheep) shearing, and medical attention. Juggling grain dishes, giving shots, and trimming hooves are just part of the homestead fun.
Not all homesteads include dairy animals, but many do. Keeping a milk cow or dairy goat fills a wonderful niche that helps provide nutrition for not only humans but other livestock as well. Keep in mind that it takes a little more skill to get milk from an udder than it does from a plastic jug.
Shelters, fences, gates, pens, and feeders all need to be in place and kept in working order. In addition to the universal livestock needs, many working animals use halters, yokes, harnesses, saddles, and other farming equipment.
26. Use Hand Tools
Pitchforks, shovels, power impact drivers, hammers, saws, and pry bars are just a few of the tools that quickly become homesteaders’ best friends. Whether they are powered by gas, electricity, or elbow grease, tool use is an important skill.
Most homesteads use some kind of equipment, be it a tractor, skid-steer, utility vehicle, power wheelbarrow, horse-drawn farm implement, or just a pickup truck. You will need to acquire the skill to use yours.
It is a good idea to spot invasives that crowd out native species, and an even better idea to recognize plants that can do you harm. From poison ivy to giant hogweed to wild parsnip to poison hemlock. What you do not know can hurt you. Knowing how to deal with these dangerous plants can also help you.
Obviously, everyone recognizes the potential harm from tangling with a grizzly bear or copperhead, but how about the brown tail moth or deer tick? Or the emerald ash borer that can wipe out a woodlot? Or even an otherwise innocuous animal afflicted with rabies? Homesteaders need to be aware.
Knowing how to spot helpful insects and plants that are edible or medicinal is an excellent skill to have on any homestead.
Homesteading Skills In The Community
Offering some of your surplus in exchange for what you need is a handy skill. Extra peaches from your grove for eggplants can replace your lost crop. Firewood for pork chops. Labor for compost. Your skills for theirs.
Homesteading can be a lonely endeavor, and most of us have to go out of our way to turn aside from our own work to reach out to socialize with our peers. Learning to do so is a valuable skill.
33. Recognize Need
Homesteaders are self-sufficient by nature and are not always the first to pipe up and ask for help. Knowing how and when to step up and step in with a helping hand or a donation is a real skill.
Watch this video from Wranglerstar for homesteading skills inspiration, tips, and ideas:
If you have mastered all these skills, you may now consider yourself the best of the best. You can do it all, and are ready for anything homesteading throws your way. But if not, you are more like me, and there are still many of these homesteading skills that you have yet to perfect. Don’t worry. You can get there, one step and one skill at a time.
Looking for more Homesteading Skills? You should check here.
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