How to Start a Homestead Garden

by Oliver Guess | LAST UPDATED July 2, 2021

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The basic principle of homesteading is to become as self-sufficient as possible and slowly work your way towards completely cutting off your home from any sort of governmental utilities or outside assistance.

We have several articles covering the utility aspect of the off-grid lifestyle that any wannabe homesteaders might be interested in, but today, we thought we’d go a bit more in-depth on the outside assistance aspect.

The biggest hurdle that you’re going to need to overcome when it comes to becoming fully independent is to still be able to have ready access to food without having to go to a supermarket for your fruits and vegetables.

The best way to surmount this issue is to start your own homestead garden.

Homestead Garden

Colorful fruits

The difference between your average fruit or vegetable garden and a homestead garden is whether you’re planning to grow your own food supply or just raise a few plants as a hobby.

Both standard gardening and homestead gardening benefit from providing you with homegrown and entirely natural fruits and vegetables; however, homestead gardening will require a lot more time and effort.

We’ll go into the finer details a bit further down in the article, but it’s important to note that this type of garden needs to be pretty large and will require you to sink quite a lot of resources into it before you begin to see any results from it.

What we’re trying to say is that if you’re just looking to try and raise some home-grown tomatoes to make yourself a salad every once in a while, then you can check out our other article in order to learn all you need to know about basic gardening.

However, if you’re striving for self-sufficiency by creating your own food source, then this is exactly where you need to be to find out how to make the first inroads into the world of homestead gardening.

The First Steps

Not everyone is born with a green thumb, and you’re likely going to kill quite a few plants in the beginning before you get the hang of things. 

Our recommendation is to start out by cutting your teeth on a container garden or raised beds and then move on to an actual large garden and greenhouse setup. Container gardens use pots in order to store and grow the plants, and they can vary in size and shape because they’re simply placed on the floor and can easily be relocated if the need arises.

On the other hand, raised beds are patches of soil that’s collected in a container that’s usually four-sided and made of wood, though the dimensions and the material can vary. These types of gardens can be anything from 2x2 feet to over 6x6 feet or more.

The pots are obviously going to be very restrictive to the plants and are very likely to either stunt the growth of the plant or keep growing until they need to be transferred. Similarly, while the raised beds have more room, there isn’t going to be a lot of space left if you’re planning on planting multiple rows of multiple different types of plants.

In short, the container gardens and the pots are better for singular plants, but they don’t allow for much growth, while the raised beds are a better option for multiple plants and give the plants a lot more breathing room.

You can choose not to have raised beds or container gardens and immediately get started on your garden as you see fit; however, if you take this route, you should expect a lot of trial and error before you actually develop the necessary know-how to be able to properly take care of a large garden.

The Size of Your Garden

A vast yellow field

The exact dimensions of your garden are going to be almost entirely up to you, but there are a few things that you might want to take into account before you start planting.

You should always leave room around your garden space in order to expand it over time. This is particularly crucial when you’re just starting out, and you don’t exactly know how much food you’ll need in order to sustain you and your family all year round properly.

The size of the garden is also going to depend on the size of your backyard. The difference between a small garden and a homestead garden is at least a few hundred square feet, so you should make sure that you have at least half of an acre of good soil that you can work with. This is just a ballpark figure, and depending on any greenhouses or fruit trees that you might want to raise, you’re going to need—at the very least—double that amount of space.

Different plants will require an additional amount of space to grow, and you’re going to want to keep plants with large roots very well spaced out since they’re going to suffocate any nearby plants otherwise.

We can’t go into a lot of detail on which plants have extensive roots and which plants don’t since that explanation would take up a whole article on its own, but we’d recommend getting The Modern Homestead Garden paperback which can answer pretty much all of your questions.

We’ll go into a few plant pairings a bit further down in the article, but for now, all we’ll say is that you should measure out an area of at least 200 square feet for smaller plants or culinary herbs and at least twice that for any larger plants that you might want to grow.

The Soil

homestead garden soil

Aside from paying attention to your plant pairings, you’ll also need to make sure that the soil is good enough to allow your plants to actually get all of the nutrients they might need to grow.

The problem is that you won’t be able to tell if the soil is good enough in the very beginning. Most seeds are going to be able to find enough nutrition in pretty much any type of soil, and the only way that they won’t be able to sprout is if you’ve planted them in sheer rock or ash. Even if they break the surface and actually start to grow, then the sub-par nature of the soil might come into play, and you’ll notice that their growth becomes stunted.

Soil Treatment

All you really need to do in order to make sure that the soil is conducive to growth in your homestead garden is to add in a combination of peat moss, compost, and vermiculite.

Compost is the easiest ingredient to get your hands on since you can simply go to a store and buy a big bag of the stuff, or you can simply use the scraps from your kitchen.

However, if you’re planning on going down the scraps route, then you’re either going to need to use a composter or make sure that the leftovers are ground down nice and thin in any way that you can. A composter is a good addition to any garden, and if you don’t already have one, then we’d recommend going for something like the RSI MCT-MC Maze Compost Tumbler, which can give you everything that you need for a modest $200.

When it comes to peat moss, you can pretty much get any brand, but we’d recommend going for something like the Hoffman 15503 Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss due to it being 99.8 percent organic.

Vermiculite might be the ingredient that you’re the least familiar with, and for a good reason, since the mineral isn’t very well known outside of gardening circles.

We’ll spare you the chemistry lecture and simply say that this specific mineral is used in order to increase the water and nutrient retention in the soil. In essence, it allows the plants to receive higher doses of potassium, ammonium, calcium, and magnesium. You’re going to want to combine all of these materials in some sort of bowl by adding a generous amount of water until they become more malleable and easier to spread on your soil.

As an added measure, after you’ve added the mixture to the soil and planted your seeds, you might also want to add a bit of mulch on top of the garden just to boost the level of water absorption even more.

Plant Choice (Plants to Avoid)

A man standing in a field

Recommending which plants to add to your garden and which to avoid is going to be a bit of a tricky subject to tackle because a lot of people are going to have very strong preferences and are definitely not going to fully agree with our choices.

So, before we dive into this particular topic, we’d like to add a bit of a disclaimer and say that all fruits and vegetables have at least some level of nutritional value, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

That being said, certain plants are too much trouble to try and raise, and others are just not worth the space that they’ll take up.

First of all, avoid apples. Yes, we know the old proverb about doctors and their well-documented fear of this particular fruit, and we know that the fruit itself comes in many different flavors, all of them delicious; however, the trees are a major problem.

Apples, as well as most other tree fruits, are going to need time to mature and actually bear produce. Additionally, the trees themselves take up far too much space, and you’ll need quite a large yard in order to be able to house more than just a handful of them.

Next on our list of fruits that you should avoid are strawberries, watermelons, and cherries. All of these fruits are, frankly, also a pain to raise, and the amount of food that you’ll get for your effort is too insignificant for you to even consider them as a viable homesteading garden option.

Finally, we’d also strongly recommend ignoring both celery and cucumbers. Both of these vegetables contain the same vitamins as pretty much any other plant, but they’re too low in calories to be a worthwhile investment.

Aside from the plants that we mentioned, we could easily endorse growing pretty much any other local fruits or vegetables, so we won’t go over our list of recommended picks and simply allow you to make that choice for yourselves.

The Garden Plan

Certain plants play well with each other, while others need to be kept very far apart. There are also quite a few benefits to adding certain culinary plants in the middle of your tomato patch since they can be very helpful for growth rates and pest control.

Plant combinations are the most important part of your garden structure, and they’ll dictate how you’ll organize certain patches of fruits and vegetables in order to get the most optimal outcome.

We can’t quite cover all of the best or worst plant combinations in this article, but you can easily find them in this article. Five minutes of research can save you a whole lot of headaches, so make sure that you get a good idea of what the layout of your homestead garden should look like before you start planting.

Greenhouse

Greenhouses are essentially small indoor ecosystems that allow you to provide your plants with the necessary warmth and organic matter that they need to grow all year round.

When it comes to the exact greenhouse that you should go for, it doesn’t matter if you pick last year’s model or if you splurge and buy yourself a mansion-sized greenhouse. All that really matters is that there are four walls and that they’re solid enough to protect your plants from the elements.

Aside from that, the inside of the greenhouse can hold raised or container gardens, with whichever landscaping scheme or floor plan you think would be the most optimal.

You also have the choice of either investing in automated pollinators for your garden or simply adding the mixture that we mentioned earlier by hand.

All you really have to do to maintain a greenhouse is to frequently check in on the temperature to make sure that the heat lamps aren’t too strong and keep the soil nutrient-rich and watered.

Conclusion

homestead garden conclusion

First-time gardeners might find all of this information a bit confusing and overwhelming, but that’s only natural when you’re trying to learn something new.

Gardening is a skill that isn’t developed easily, but after you make a few mistakes initially, you should get a pretty good feel for what you need to do.

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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