Apartment Homesteading: What It Is and How to Get Started

by Oliver Guess | LAST UPDATED November 10, 2021

Apartment homesteading
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As the name might suggest, apartment homesteading, otherwise known as urban homesteading, is the act of trying to become more self-sufficient while continuing to be an apartment-dweller.

We don’t blame people that think that this is impossible to do since, honestly, it’s tough to get the hang of this lifestyle in the first few months, and people often give up before they get in the groove.

If you’re trying to get into apartment homesteading, then we can’t promise that it’ll be easy since you’ll need to develop quite a lot of new skills and get into a prepping mentality at some points.

However, if you can tough through the first few months, we promise that you’ll get the hang of things after that. As a result, not only will you become more self-reliant and eco-friendly, but you’ll also spend much less money.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves; while we’ll get into the money-saving aspect of the lifestyle as well, we should probably cover the main points first.

There Are Limits

The first thing that you’ll need to come to grips with is the fact that you might not be as sustainable as a traditional homestead. 

This seems pretty obvious since a house can have a 200-square-foot plot of land to work with, while you might have a single balcony at most. Our point is don’t get discouraged or give up just because you are limited on space. 

We’ll show you a few tips on how you can reduce your spending on food supplies and other everyday expenses. We’ll even point you in the right direction when it comes to making a garden in a tiny apartment.

However, if you’re looking to learn how to fit a chicken coop in your apartment, this isn’t the article for you.

As long as you stay realistic about what you can manage to do when trying to create a homestead in an apartment, then we’re pretty confident that we can give you some pretty good pointers.

Groceries

There are several obvious advantages to home-cooked meals. They tend to be more nutritious than a restaurant, the ingredients are cheaper to buy, and you customize the recipe and make it just the way you like it.

Unfortunately, you can’t have all the ingredients for that meal come from your little home garden, but you can do the second-best thing: get them from a farmer’s market that might be located near you.

The ingredients you can find there usually come from local farms, so they’re much fresher than anything in a grocery store. As an added bonus, you’ll be engaging in CSA or community-supported agriculture by giving your money to local farmers rather than corporations.

But, ultimately, the main reason why going to these types of markets is a good idea is because you can get the best quality of fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats, and so on. 

Food Preservation

a lot of items placed on a table

The most power-hungry items that we own are, without a doubt, our kitchen appliances. You might not be able to stop using electrical appliances altogether, but we can show you how to at the very least minimize the power they use.

While your refrigerator is a pretty vital device that you really can’t live without, you might be able to save a few bucks by unplugging it in the winter and simply storing your food and drinks on your balcony where the weather itself can keep them cool enough.

Keep in mind that this only works when the weather is somewhat constant, and you shouldn’t do this if you live in a country where the temperature gets balmy during the day, even in the winter months. Additionally, if you want to cut down on refrigerator costs, you can also get a smaller fridge or a cold box that you can use to store your food in, even during summer.

As for the microwave and the oven, the only way to circumvent having to warm up your food is to experiment with your food preparation a bit.

Fermenting your food can work; both fermented soybeans and fermented cabbage are a delicacy in some places, so there are plenty of recipes online that you can try out. 

You could also try dehydrating your fish and your meat to make them last longer, turning any fruit that you have at hand into jams of different flavors, and you can even pickle vegetables like carrots or peppers to enhance their longevity and flavor.

Again, you won’t be able to stop using your appliances completely, but if you’re crafty enough and willing to try some culinary homesteading skills, then you can come up with some very creative ways to save on electricity.

Growing Your Own Food

The most important step towards becoming more self-reliant is to start growing your own food. As we’ve mentioned before, you won’t be able to completely skip going to the market unless you have a sizable plot of land somewhere in the country, but you can still grow more than a few plants in your home garden.

That said, there are ways to make sure that the growing process goes as smoothly as possible. We’ll give you a few tips on the best course of action, but if you’ve never tried gardening before, then be prepared to make a few mistakes.

Whether you have a green thumb or not, trying to grow vegetables in an apartment environment can be particularly tricky.

Community Garden

a woman sitting in a garden

Many of the problems you might face when growing a garden in a small space can mostly be alleviated if you simply use a community garden. These gardens are shared spaces where many people have their own little plot of land to grow and raise the plants they want.

There are buildings that have such gardens either on the roof or somewhere nearby, so you might want to ask your landlord or fellow tenants for more information. Just keep in mind that community gardens aren’t all that common everywhere.

The alternative would be a local community garden center that’s relatively close by, where you can rent out a plot of land.

Renting out a space in community gardens is usually pretty cheap, and some even allow you to use the facilities for free as long as you don’t neglect the plot you reserved. Lending a helping hand to your fellow gardeners here and there will surely go a long way as well.

The convenience that a bigger garden provides makes it worth the drive, even if you have to hit the road to get there.

Garden Size

Surprisingly enough, the size of your garden has less to do with the size of the pots that you use and more with their placement. Naturally, bigger pots will take up more space, and you’ll have a harder time finding a spot for them in your apartment, but placement really does matter.

For example, if your garden is just in one area in the room and all of the pots are pushed together, then not only will you be closing off an entire section of your apartment, but you’ll also find it difficult to get to the pots at the back.

On the other hand, if you space out the pots around your apartment, you’ll still have room to move around, and you’ll have access to all of your plants much more easily. Just make sure that you place the plants that need more sunlight near the windows.

If you have a balcony, then you can simply put the majority of your pots there. This strategy will free up space in your apartment and allow your plants to receive a lot more fresh air and natural sunlight than they would behind closed doors.

Just remember that you’ll need to give yourself room to move on the balcony as well, and filling it up completely with pots will make maintaining your garden a bit more difficult.

Choose Your Veggies

Just like some vegetables are better than others when it comes to nutritional value, certain veggies are much more suited to being grown in small pots, while others need a lot of space in order to grow properly.

It should be fairly obvious that the reason why we’ll exclusively be talking about vegetables is that fruit trees are far too big to be viable for most full-sized farms. Hence, a small apartment isn’t exactly going to be their natural habitat.

You’ll also want to skip cabbages and eggplants since they require a lot of room to grow. Next, you’re going to ignore cucumbers or tomatoes since they need a lot of vertical space.

Our personal preference for vegetables that you can grow in your home is spinach, kale, and peppers since they take up very little space and are all easy to grow.

Potatoes and carrots also require a lot less space than people think, and radishes are such quick growers that you can usually pick them within a month or six weeks of planting them.

Aside from that, we’d also suggest looking into microgreens, since as their name might suggest, you can easily find a spot for them just about anywhere.

Composting

For the love of God, please don’t buy a bag of compost off of Amazon so that you can use it in your home garden. You might find it ridiculous, but beginners often make the mistake that a small bag of commercial compost might not be too bad to use on house plants.

Compost that comes in bags usually has warnings that specifically state it should only be used outside or in well-ventilated greenhouses. A small amount of this stuff can make your whole apartment smell of you know what, but in larger quantities, it can actually be detrimental to your health.

However, we do realize that plants need compost in order to survive, so the better method is simply to use your food scraps as a substitute.

If you cut and grind down your leftovers, you can add them to the soil along with water and have them absorb a bit more nutrition.

This method is better for your health (and sense of smell), helps you save money on commercial compost, and makes sure that even the scraps that you don’t eat can be useful in some way.

Sunlight

sunlight hitting a table near a wall

If you’re trying to grow microgreens or a small amount of local medicinal herbs, then you won’t need anything other than a small flower pot and a few tools for watering, composting, and pruning the stray leaves here and there.

The best part of gardens such as these is that they can be placed virtually anywhere, making it quite easy to position them in an area of your apartment where they can get enough natural sunlight.

However, container gardens that can’t fit on your windowsill will need to either be placed on your balcony or in spots of the room that’s near a sunny window during the morning hours, at least.

If you don’t have a balcony or if you live in an area where you don’t get much direct sunlight for most of the day, then you’re going to need to get yourself a sunlamp.

These items are also very useful during the winter months, so they’re a recommended purchase for any gardener. As for the exact model of lamp that you should get, we have a few recommendations, but you’ll have to do a bit of research on this topic yourself. You’ll need to find out the sort temperature that would be ideal for the plants you’re growing and get a lamp that meets those requirements. The last thing you want is wilting your crop with a misappropriated lamp.

Herb Garden

Herb gardens are much easier to maintain than vegetable gardens since they usually take up a lot less space, and they’re actually easier to raise.

Vegetable gardens need water, compost, and sunlight at regular intervals in order for the veggies to grow properly. While most herbs also require the same basic necessities, albeit in smaller quantities, there’s a lot less fuss required and the plants will grow just fine even if you don’t do everything properly.

Additionally, a herb garden isn’t all that vital to the homesteading lifestyle, but it can be a good way to plant and grow your own spices.

Furthermore, you can also pick up and plant a few local leaves that could be turned into medicinal teas. It can certainly be useful to have tea leaves at your disposal that may be able to help with a sore throat or a headache.

Washer and Dryer

As we mentioned before, your appliances are the biggest power drain you own, which is especially true for your washer and dryer. Luckily, there are a few simple methods that you can use to entirely get rid of these items and save on electricity bills because of it.

First of all, a drier isn’t as necessary as some people think it is. While it might take a bit more time, a simple clothesline for the balcony in the summer and collapsible clothes drying rack for the winter can both still dry your clothes, and at no expense as well.

As for the washing machine, you essentially have two options - either get a bit of detergent and manually wash your clothes in a tub or simply get yourself an off-grid manual washing machine.

The hand-washing method is pretty self-explanatory, but if you aren’t quite sure what a manual washing machine is like, then you can check out this article to learn a bit more about the specifics of the devices in question.

Everything Else

When it comes to the homesteading lifestyle, people can choose to simply make small changes to their day-to-day habits or go all out to become as self-reliant as possible.

However, if you’re not quite ready to start making your own hand soap yet but you want to develop a few useful new skills, then we’d recommend going for sewing, making candles, and baking bread.

  • Sewing

Getting the hang of sewing, in the beginning, can be a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it and persevere for long enough, then you’ll be able to patch up any hole as good as new.

While this seems like a simple enough skill, not many people can actually do it well enough that the repaired damage isn’t noticeable. If you work on it a bit, you’ll easily be able to fix any damaged clothing yourself, saving you from having to spend money on clothes or any other fabric—one, more step toward self-sufficiency.

  • Candle Making

Candle making is so simple and easy that many people simply do it as a hobby rather than for any potentially beneficial homesteading ideas. This means that there are plenty of candle-making kits that you can buy, which will provide you with all of the supplies you need to get started.

If we went into the process of making candles, however, we’d need to take a lot more of your time. If you’re willing, there are plenty of guides, and the end result will be saving on electricity by spending a few nights by candlelight. Don’t forget that you’ll be in quite a nice mood as well.

  • Baking

Bread isn’t expensive, but instead of spending money on it every day, why not just get a bag of flour, a bit of yeast, a bit of water, and make your own at home. It’s often said that baking is an exact science, so all you have to do is find a YouTube video or recipe that you like and simply follow the instructions down to the smallest details.

While you might struggle with the kneading process during your first time, and you might not be used to wetting your hands so that they don’t get stuck to the dough, there’s not much else to keep in mind.

Conclusion

two people talking

Apartment homesteading can either be seen as a difficult way of life that requires a lot of sacrifices or as a great way to cut down on some troublesome living costs while being as green as possible and developing some interesting new skills.

Your outlook on the whole process will have a significant effect on how well it goes. As long as you come into this with an open mind and a willingness to change, then you should be able to adapt just fine. You’ll soon find that there are quite a few benefits to a few of these new habits as well.

Oliver Guess
Oliver is an off-grid living enthusiast currently residing in the mountains of New Mexico. His interests in sustainability originally lead him down the path of an off the grid lifestyle. When he's not tinkering with his broken solar panels, Oliver enjoys searching out hot springs, whittling and cooking.

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