Homestead Garden 101 | How To Start A Beautiful Garden

by Oliver Guess | LAST UPDATED July 9, 2021

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The basic principle of homesteading is to live as self-sufficient as possible. It’s characterized by agriculture, farming, home preservation of food, and living independently from governmental utilities and outside assistance. 

We have several articles covering the utility aspects of living off-grid, but today, we want to discuss the agricultural side of this unique lifestyle. 

The biggest hurdle to becoming fully independent is to have access to food without relying on a supermarket for your fruits and vegetables. The best way to surmount this issue is to start your own homestead garden. 

Below we’ll explain how to start a basic homestead garden and share insights on garden size, soil treatment, plant choice, and more. 

Homestead Garden

Colorful fruits

Your intent is the difference between your average fruit or vegetable garden and a homestead garden. While many gardens serve the purpose of hobby, homestead gardens are a legitimate food supply. 

Although both types of gardens provide homegrown fruits and vegetables, DIY gardens require a lot more time and effort, especially for the beginning gardener. 

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 requires a lot of resources (and space) to achieve success.

However, if you’re striving for self-sufficiency by creating your own food source, this article will provide the information needed to make the first inroads into homestead gardening. Let’s roll up the sleeves and get started.

The First Steps: Practice on Raised Beds or Container Gardens

Not everyone is born with a green thumb, and you’ll likely kill quite a few plants before you get the hang of things. Our recommendation is to start by cutting your teeth on a container garden or raised bed garden. After that, you can move on to a large setup or greenhouse. 

Container gardens use large pots to store and grow plants. Since they sit on the ground, they vary in size and shape. You can also quickly relocate them if the need arises. 

On the other hand, raised beds are four-sided wooden containers that hold a patch of soil—these types of gardens range from 2x2 feet to over 6x6 feet or more. However, the actual dimensions and materials can vary greatly. 

It’s important to point out that the containers stunt the growth of certain plants, at least until you transfer them. While the raised beds have more room, there isn’t much space for multiple rows or different types of plants. With that said, the small space is ideal for new gardeners or small-scale projects like veggies, annuals, and perennials. 

Although you’re free to skip the smaller versions and move on to the full-size garden, we think it’s good to get some practice first. After all, gardening is hard work that requires a lot of trial and error. 

[Related Read] Beginner's Guide To Living Off-Grid

Step 1: Determine The Size of Your Garden

A vast yellow field

The first step in garden planning is determining the exact dimensions before starting planting. You should always leave room around your garden space to expand it over time. 

This is particularly crucial when building a garden for the first time. In most cases, you won’t know exactly how much food you’ll need to sustain yourself and your family. Therefore, it’s hard to know how much space you’ll need for growing. 

The size of the garden also depends on the size of your property. The difference between a small garden and a homestead garden is at least a few hundred square feet. We recommend at least half an acre of good soil to start. Keep in mind this is just a ballpark figure. If you’re planning on building a greenhouse or growing fruit trees, you’ll need at least double that space. 

Some plants require an additional amount of space to grow, and it’s essential to keep plants with large roots very well spaced out, so they don’t suffocate nearby plants. 

We can’t go into much detail on which plants have extensive roots and which plants don’t because it would require its own article. We recommend reading The Modern Homestead Garden paperback for those interested in learning more. It will undoubtedly answer all your questions on the topic. 

We’ll go into a few plant pairings a bit further down, but for now, plan to allocate at least 200 square feet for smaller plants or culinary herbs and at least double for larger plants.

Step 2: Decide Which Plants To Grow (And Avoid)

A man standing in a field

Recommending which plants to add to your garden and which to avoid is a difficult task. No matter what we include on the list, there are always people that disagree with the plant choice. 

So, before diving into this particular topic, we’d like to add a disclaimer and say that fruits and vegetables with higher nutritional value are ideal for homesteading gardens. Certain plants are too much trouble to raise, and others are not worth the space they’ll take up.

First of all, avoid apples. Yes, we know the old proverb about doctors and their well-documented fear of this fruit. And we know that the fruit itself comes in many delicious flavors. However, the trees are a significant problem.

Apples, as well as most other tree fruits, take a long time to bear fruit. Additionally, the trees themselves cover a lot of ground. You can make the final decision, but apples might not be worth it unless you have lots of land to work with. 

Inexperienced homesteaders may also want to think twice about strawberries, watermelons, and cherries. These fruits are a pain to raise, and the amount of food for your effort is meager. When it comes to viable homesteading gardens, you need to select your plants carefully. Otherwise, you’ll run out of space or buy groceries at the supermarket, which defeats the purpose altogether.

Step 3: Test the Soil’s Nutrients and Apply Treatment

a person checking the soil of their homestead garden.

The next thing to consider is the nutrients of the soil. You should always test your soil to determine if it’s suitable for growing plants and crops. Some basic signs of healthy soil are plant and animal activity underground (look for fungus and earthworms). 

Another simple indication is to pull up a few plants. If the soil is dark and crumbles off the roots, that’s a sign of healthy organic matter. It’s also a good sign if the roots are spread out. What you don’t want is dirt, which is brown and dry.  

The problem is that it’s hard for inexperienced gardeners to know if the soil is good enough without planting seeds first. Most seeds can take in any ground unless you grow them in sheer rock or ash. Even though they might sprout, their growth will quickly become stunted in sub-par conditions.

Soil Treatment

The most straightforward way to ensure the soil is conducive to growth in your homestead garden is to add a combination of peat moss, compost, and vermiculite.

Compost is the most accessible ingredient to acquire since you can quickly get a bag at your local garden center or farm & pet store. The other option is to make it yourself using kitchen scraps. If so, you’ll need a composter and a way to grind the leftovers down nice and thin. 

A composter is an excellent addition to any garden, and if you don’t already have one, we recommend something like the RSI MCT-MC Maze Compost Tumbler for a modest $200.

When it comes to peat moss, any brand will do the trick. Try the Hoffman 15503 Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss for those who want a suggestion. We like it because it’s 99.8 percent organic.

The next item you need to acquire is vermiculite. We’ll spare you the chemistry lecture and say that this specific mineral is used to increase the water and nutrient retention in the soil. It allows the plants to receive higher doses of potassium, ammonium, calcium, and magnesium. 

Once you have the peat moss, compost, and vermiculite, please put them in a container and add a good amount of water. The idea is to make them more malleable so you can quickly spread them on the soil. 

Finally, after adding the mixture to the soil and planting your seeds, put some mulch in the garden. This method will boost the level of water absorption even more. 

Step 4: Consider Plant Combinations

Certain plants play well, while others need to be kept very far apart. As a result, homestead gardeners need to consider companion planting. Essentially, you plant crops in proximity to enhance pollination, provide habitat for welcomed insects, and boost the production of crops. 

There are quite a few benefits to adding certain culinary plants in the middle of your tomato patch since they can accommodate growth rates and pest control, for example. 

Plant combinations are the essential part of your garden structure, and they dictate how to organize specific patches of fruits and vegetables to get the most optimal outcome.

We can’t entirely cover all plant combinations here, but any basic Google search renders plenty of results. There are loads of articles, infographics featuring companion planting charts, and helpful hacks to guide you. We suggest this one from The Spruce

Five minutes of research can save you a whole lot of headaches, so make sure you take the time to carefully plan the design and layout of your homestead garden before you start planting seeds.

[Related Read] Tiny Home Cost: A Reliable Estimate For Building Materials

Tips For Greenhouses

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

The type doesn't matter when it comes to the exact greenhouse. What’s important is that there are four walls, and they’re solid enough to protect your plants from the elements.

Aside from that, the inside of the greenhouse can hold raised gardens or container gardens. It’s your job to develop a landscape scheme that’s optimal for your plant choice. You can invest in automated pollinators or manually add the nutrient mixture mentioned earlier (peat moss, compost, and vermiculite). 

The most important part of maintaining a greenhouse is checking the temperature frequently to make sure the heat lamps aren’t too strong and keep the soil nutrient-rich and watered.

[Enjoying this article? If so, check out Baby Quail: How to Raise Quail]

Final Notes about Homestead Gardens

homestead garden conclusion

First-time homestead gardeners might find all of this information confusing, but that’s only natural when trying to learn something new. It’s expected. Either way, we wrote this article to help make creating a homestead garden a bit more convenient and informed. 

Gardening is a skill that isn’t developed quickly, but after you make a few mistakes, you’ll soon learn how to improve. The best thing you can do is conduct thorough research and plan out every aspect of your homestead garden according to your location and individual needs. 

With that said, homestead gardening is advantageous, not to mention an invaluable life skill. We encourage anybody and everybody to embrace this ancient and reemerging way of living. The benefits are endless.

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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