How to Create a Homestead


In pioneering times, creating a homestead was a legal process. A live-off-the-land lifestyle is practiced, to varying degrees, by today’s homesteaders. Instead of squatting on a section of property and staking a claim to the site by farming, hunting and fishing it, homesteaders must buy or rent their land before working it. They always risk losing it to mortgage, tax or assessment default. Longtime homesteader Sue Robishaw notes that living simply, growing and preserving food, animal husbandry, resource conservation and other homesteader practices combine to create today’s rural homestead.

Things You'll Need

  • Shelter
  • Building permits
  • Animal housing
  • Hunting and fishing licenses
  • Gardening tools
  • Excavating tools
  • Water buckets
  • Water storage containers
  • Garden baskets
  • Gloves
  • Fencing materials
  • Lumber
  • Staple gun and staples
  • Vegetable seeds
  • Non-perishable canned goods
  • Can opener
  • Wood-burning cookstove
  • Cast iron cooking pans
  • Poultry
  • Livestock (goat or pig)
  • Canning jars and lids
  • Canner

Your Site and Property

  • Acquire property with some sunny, fertile soil and access to a dependable water supply. Many homesteads are created while still connected to the electric grid, and later leave the grid through alternative energy installations.

  • Arrive at your homestead with the tools you need to accomplish what must be done. If you must build your own shelter, you’ll need either a contractor or your own builder’s tools and equipment. For gardening, you’ll need a hoe, rake, watering can and fence materials.

  • Verify that your local government permits such typical homesteading activities as raising chickens, goats and pigs. Obtain whatever licenses and permits you need to conduct your homesteading operations. These include building permits and hunting, fishing and trapping licenses.

  • Design your home or shelter with simplicity and utility in mind. Insulate it well both to retain coolness in the hot months and to discourage cold seepage during winter. A wood-burning cook stove can do triple duty as a stovetop/oven, a home heater and a hot-water heater.

  • Establish priority homesteading projects according to urgency. Animal housing, fencing and well-digging are typically top priority items when creating a homestead, as are planting a garden and sowing winter feed for poultry and goats or other livestock. Establish systems for water, food and shelter, in that order.

  • Collect fresh water daily for storage until you have a six-month supply ample for all household activities. Keep water purification tablets on hand in case of emergency. Add a hand pump to your well.

  • Store enough canned and home-preserved foods to feed your family for a year without replenishing. Grow and dry your own spices and herbs, such as garlic, sage, mint, thyme, onions, rosemary, dill and cilantro.

  • Forage wild leaves and berries to dry for teas. Grow a stevia plant as a sugar substitute. Freeze extra eggs during the summer to ensure you have an ample supply during the less productive cold-weather months.

  • Insulate your shelter during cold months with straw bales stacked around the foundation. Cover inside windows with clear plastic to catch window frame leaks. Keep a tea kettle steaming on the wood-stove to add warming moisture to the air.

Your Food, Water and Clothing

  • Keep several months’ worth of nonperishable items on hand as you create your homestead. Eat nutritious, easy-to-fix and easy-to-clean-up meals rather than spending your time, energy and cash on eating out or preparing elaborate meals at home.

  • Keep an ample supply of cast iron cookware, which will last for decades with proper care. Pare down your belongings, including your clothing, to just what you need. Sell, barter or give away what you do not need.

  • Set up a compost heap near your garden to provide a free source of nutrients and fertilizer for your growing plants. To build your compost heap, collect and mound grass clippings, leaves, vegetable skins, non-citrus fruit peels, chicken litter, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea leaves, hair, fingernails and non-fat leftovers. Water when dry and turn frequently with a pitchfork until decomposition turns the heap to rich dirt.

  • Allow your chickens to free-range outside of your garden fence. Build a chicken wire fence stapled to wood posts with sturdy horizontal top and bottom boards to deter curious animals.

  • Eat out of your garden as much as possible. Set aside time to dry and can in-season foods. An outdoor fire pit will help keep your cooking and canning heat outdoors during the warmest months of the year.

  • Keep bees if you want honey and beeswax for candles. To make a candle, roll out the soft beeswax, add a wick the length of the roll, then cover the wick by rolling the candle into a taper shape. Hang to dry.

  • Make your own breads, soups and dried fruit snacks. To make bread, add 2 cups of hot water to 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of yeast to begin making bread. After the yeast froths, mix in 1/4 cup of oil and 2 teaspoons of salt. Add 6 cups of flour, one cup at a time.

    Knead the dough on a floured board until it's soft and nearly dry. Let it rise until twice its size in a warm, draft-free spot. Punch down and allow to rise again. Separate the bread dough into two equal portions and place into two greased loaf pans. Bake in a wood-burning stove for about an hour, turning after 30 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees electric stove for 35 minutes.

  • Make your own baking mix for muffins, pancakes and waffles by mixing 9 cups of flour, 1/3 cup baking powder,1 tablespoon salt, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, 4 tablespoons granulated sugar and 2 1/2 cups nonfat dry milk solids. Cut in 2 cups of shortening with a spatula until mixture is crumbly. Store in a covered container at room temperature.

Your First Homestead Winter

  • Excavate a portion of your homestead for a root cellar by digging a large hole at least 4 feet beneath the surface to avoid the winter freeze line. Cover the top of the hole with a solid plank, secured in place with heavy, large boulders.

  • Grow several rows of root crops, such as potatoes, turnips and beets. These will store nicely all winter.

  • Collect a bushel of dry kindling each day from the day you arrive at your homestead. Cover it with a tarp until you’ve built a shed or lean-to. Dry kindling will be among your most valued possessions when winter hits.

  • Determine how many logs you’ll need each day to feed your wood stove. Plan to have at least 60 small logs or 30 large logs on hand for each day's burning. Try to have several months’ worth already cut and dried before the cold weather hits because, despite fatigue, injury, illness or blizzard conditions, your stove will still need to be fed.

  • Supply insulated sleeping bags that are good to at least minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit for every person living on the homestead. Have a water supply of at least two liters per day per person stored two months in advance.

Your Livelihood

  • Calculate how much cash you’ll need to pay your bills every month. This should include all property and local taxes, drain assessments, special millages, self-employment tax, licenses, utilities, transportation, groceries and other recurring expenses. Whatever is left over can be applied to homestead development projects.

  • Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Learn as much as you can about what your community needs and has to offer. See where you can carve out a niche for home-grown and homemade goods, barter goods and other means of sustenance.

  • Set aside specific days each week to work on money-making projects. These can include candle-making, homespun goods such as quilts, aprons, crocheted and knitted items, as well as home-made food items, soaps, gifts, potpourris and toys.

  • Advertise your homestead goods with fliers and signage. Rent a booth at a weekly farmers market where you can sell your goods and build awareness for your homestead’s offerings.

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  • Photo Credit riverfront homestead image by Scott Patterson from
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