Archive for the Homesteading Category

3 Year Review On The Luggable Loo

3 Year Review On The Luggable Loo

When I was growing up I could never imagine that I’d be sitting here writing an in depth review on a toilet, but here we are!  This is a review of my experience with a 5 gallon bucket composting toilet with the Luggable Loo toilet seat.

luggable loo review

I want to qualify this review before we get started.  I’m a very particular person, my house is kept very clean and tidy, I have germaphobe tendencies and I work in a white collar work environment where good hygiene is a must.  I say this only to give people an understanding of where I’m coming from because when I was reading reviews I couldn’t find others with similar lifestyles or standards.  When I first started, I was concerned how making the shift to living tiny might impact my corporate job at the time.

Where To Buy The Luggable Loo

You can find the seat in a few different places in the stores, Walmart, Dicks, and REI all carry them from time to time.  The problem is that it’s pretty hit or miss, they don’t carry many of them on the shelves.  So going online is the best option and I’ve found also happens to be the best price.

Shopping List To Use The Loo

Using A Luggable Loo For My Tiny House

With that out of the way, when I first sat down to plan my tiny house a flush toilet was a very important thing for me to have.  I was dead set on having a traditional toilet.  Then the real world happened.  The city I live in prohibits septic systems unless you have an extenuating circumstance (read: it ain’t happening).  For me to get a sewer line ran to my tiny house, permits, connection fees and labor it was close to $50,000!  I was shocked.

So I started looking into options: Nature’s Head, Envirolet Systems, Sun-Mar, Incinolet and many others.  The one thing that stood out to me is that they were all big, complicated and expensive.  I hadn’t made a decision because whenever I’d talk to friends who actually used them in real life, they all weren’t super happy with them and many didn’t like it.

While I was trying to decide what I was going to do, I had to move into my tiny house and just needed something.  So I swung by my local big box and grabbed a 5 gallon bucket ($5) and a Luggable Loo ($13) and some hamster pine wood chips ($3.50) and a roll of 13 gallon trash bags ($4).  A Complete kit for $25.50, much cheaper than a $600 composting toilet or $50k for a sewer line.

The setup was simple.  Take a five gallon bucket, place a trash bag in the unit with the edges hanging over the edge, put on toilet seat (which firmly clips onto the lip of the bucket) and then toss in some wood chips.  The lid will keep the bag in place so you don’t have to worry about an edge falling in.

how to setup composting toilet

Luggable Loo Review Over 3 Years

Like I said, at the time I viewed this as a stop gap, something that I was begrudgingly going to use until I could make a decision.  Then something interesting happened… I really liked it!

I will be the first to admit that there was an initial ick factor to get over, but that goes with all composting toilets.  But after a few weeks I realized it’s seriously no big deal.  If you’ve ever had a kid and changed diapers, that’s way worse.  With this setup I pop the seat off, pull the trash bag draw strings, tie it off, and drop it in the trash bin at the street.  You only have to touch the draw strings.

Urine Diverting Composting Toilet Setup

pee diverterOne caveat that I do want to make here is that, as a male, since I keep my toilet outside, I just pee straight forward on the ground, I keep the liquids out of the bucket for the most part.  I don’t have a diverter of any kind and if a female needs to use it, I just toss in a bit more of the wood chips for a little extra absorption and not worry about it.

Keeping your solids and liquids separate is very important in terms of ease of use, but also reducing smell.

If I had a live in girlfriend I may look into more complicated setups such as this urine diverter insert, which you the only place I could find online (or anywhere really) was here on Amazon.  There are some other options where you use a funnel, but honestly I like this molded plastic insert, it’s totally worth it.

Luggable Loo Tips Learned Over Time

luggable loo tips and tricks

I’ve been using this setup now for over 3 years and that means I’ve had a lot of experience in different weather, temperatures, rain, snow, etc.  Here are some experiments and lessons learned:

Skip The Wood Chips

Since I’m a guy I don’t have much liquids coming into the mix, so I thought I’d try not using wood chips at all.  That was over a year ago and now I don’t use them at all unless I have company.  Wood chips absorb liquids – some what – (I want to do a test with peat moss) so in reality it’s only to cover up what you leave behind and keep it out of sight.  If I was using it with someone I might switch back to chips or opt for a his and her throne.

Double Doodie Bags Review: Nice, but not required

double doodie bag review

These bags are very popular with the Luggable Loo, mainly because Reliance (company that makes them) is the same maker.  In many cases they’re sold together or have a coupon, which is how I tried them out.  While the bags work really well, I found that as a guy, I just would pee separately.

 

Summer Vs. Winter

summer vs winter on a composting toilet

I like the toilet setup much better in the winter.  Since I keep my toilet outside, the weather is a factor.  With cooler weather means less bugs, which means less flies and gnats.  To mitigate the bugs in the summer I just empty it once a week and I never have to worry.

There may be a few flies inside, but I give the bucket a kick and they fly away.  If you wait a few weeks in the summer you’ll run into flies laying eggs, which leads to larvae, which are gross.  Emptying it once a week means you’ll never have that happen.  In truth you can get away with a few weeks, but why chance it.

In the winter I usually empty it once a month.  There are no bugs to speak of in the winter and the cold of Fall and Winter make everything a breeze.

The Smell

smell of composting toilet

This is a very common question and here’s the truth: there is a smell.  This is really why I started using this outside.  Now that said, there is a smell, but it’s never worse than if you just went.

I have considered adding two little fans to the cover to bring in fresh air and draw smells out.  With those fans, there never would be any smell.  For those of you who are skeptical, consider that I’m a very clean person and the smell has been so little of a concern I felt adding a simple fan wasn’t worth my time.

Keeping The Toilet Outdoors

keeping toilet outside

I don’t really know anyone else that does this, but I am a major proponent of this.  I have considered building a little enclosed area to keep it in, but living on 32 acres, I don’t really have to worry about privacy, plus the view is much better!

My recommendation would be build a little outhouse, throw a little solar panel on the top and have a tiny fan always running.  If you’re camping you can get one of these pop up toilet tents which are great.

Many people ask me about rain and snow, but honestly it has never been an issue.  Every time it has rain I just put it under a base of a tree and the leaves shelter me pretty well.  There was one time when I got very sick and needed to use the facilities very often, it also poured for several days.

I just put it on my tiny house porch and it was totally fine.  In the snow, which it doesn’t snow a lot here in NC, it wasn’t a big deal either.  Even in wind, no big deal.  I have been surprised at how little it matters when it rains, is windy or is snowing.

Going To The Bathroom Outside Is Awesome

There is something really pleasant about taking care of business when you have a really nice view or just enjoy the peace and quite of nature.  If you’ve ever gone backpacking and use a toilet with a great view, it’s very enjoyable.

The Seat Of The Luggable Loo

luggable loo toilet seat review

I am very impressed how comfortable this seat is, for $13 it’s totally worth the money.  The lid for me broke off after about a year and I like it better because the lid kind of hugged a tad too close in the back.  The lid still works, I just set it on top and it has a pretty good fit.

The other thing I really like about the Luggable Loo is how well it snaps onto the 5 gallon bucket.  It has a very positive snap on the lip of the bucket, but still leave room for you to put a trash back and lock it in place.  It’s holding power on the bag is very important because it means the bag is kept in place and your business goes where it’s supposed to and stays here.

Worst Case Scenario

luggable loo horror story

The setup has worked really well for me, but there was one thing I’ve always dreaded: if it tipped over.  One day I came out and it was apparent that some animal had come up to it, knocked the lid off, then flipped the whole thing seat down.  This mean that the “contents” literally were on the ground.

This was very unfortunate, but I figure out that I could grab my shovel, slide it under the leave on the ground, using the leaves as a barrier layer, and in one motion, flip it right side up.  In the end not one bit fell out and I just bagged it and it was all good.

So far, knock on wood, I haven’t ever had a bag leak.  Even if I did, I keep a few extra pails on hand and a few lids.  This means if I ever have a catastrophic failure I just put a lid on the bucket and seal it all in, then toss it.  Pail and a lid are super durable and at only a few bucks, you don’t care if you have to toss one.

 

So that’s my review and experience with the Luggable Loo 5 gallon bucket composting toilet.

Your Turn!

  • What are you planning on using for your toilet?

What is Homesteading?

What is Homesteading?

The image that usually comes to mind is a self-sufficient farm, full of animals, jars of home-canned food on the shelf, and a loaf of homemade bread in the oven. While all of that can certainly fall under the umbrella of homesteading there are many other interpretations of the homesteading lifestyle as well.  Over the years we have figured out what homesteading means to our family, but here’s some of the basics.

what is homesteading

 What is the Homestead Act of 1862?

The origin of homesteading comes from the homestead act of 1862 where land was given to families in an effort to encourage western migration. Those families had to stay and work the land for five years before it was given to them. It sounds like a dream but it was often very difficult for the families settling the west.

 

The Modern Homesteading Movement

modern homesteading

Homesteading today is a mindset before anything else. It is a can-do attitude. Homesteading starts as a little spark when you look at something you just purchased and realize you could produce it on your own or the realization that our modern, consumer-driven society is not a sustainable model. Next thing you know, you are shopping for seeds and weighing the cost of backyard chickens.

Right now our family is on 1 1/2 acres of rented land, in a small city. We are making our dream come true while we search for our forever home. But this is not where it all started. Our story began in a town in southern Arizona. We were learning about the health benefits of organic food but struggled with the cost. That’s when we got the bug to begin producing our own food.

Chickens for egg production

While the Homesteaders of 1862 were pioneers off in the wilderness, today it’s all about becoming self sufficient and building skills to grow your own food.  Many people take advantage of off the grid systems like solar power, wind turbines and other energy methods.  A variety of animals can be raised on your homestead including chickens, ducks, quail, bees, goats, and pigs.  Some people even branch out into larger animals such as cows or horses.

Homesteading For Beginners

start a homestead

We started with chickens, the gateway animal as we like to call them, 25 of them filled our little suburban backyard. Next thing you know turkeys and quail were added to the menagerie. I would have put a cow back there too if I could have figured out how to do it!

We quickly realized that we had been bitten by the homesteading bug. That set us on a mission to grow as much of our food as we possibly could. We now have a big garden that feeds us through the summer and into the winter. Our Family have learned to can, dehydrate and freeze any surplus. We are raising our own chicken and beef too.

Starting Small Is Important

Time and time again I see new homesteaders wanting to do it all, only to get discouraged and burned out.  Our family did the same thing and boy did we learn this lesson the hard way.  Start with one or two homesteading skills and spend your first year focusing on those before adding anything new.  Starting small is also budget friendly, so take your time and do it right.

Define Your Homesteading Goals And Your Ideal Life

homesteading goals

before you jump head first, take a few minutes to consider what you want to achieve with your homestead.  Think about your life and what you want it to be.  Make sure that anything you do on your homestead is getting you closer to your goals and supports your ideal life.  Too often people think homesteading has to be done a certain way, but it’s a very personal thing.

I’ve seen many people get all the homesteading items (gardens, tractor, cows, etc) only to realize they couldn’t ever leave their farm because they have to milk the cows twice a day!  Make sure you consider how different paths will impact your life and if that’s something you want in the first place.

Get Started Homesteading:

  1. Walk around your property and take an inventory
  2. Look at current needs, brainstorm how you could meet those needs
  3. Make a list of homesteading projects and order them in priority
  4. Choose the top 1 to 2 items and spend 30 minutes researching each
  5. Set a small baby step goal to do this week towards that larger goal

Beginner Homestead Resources:

Building A Homestead From Scratch

Homesteading is not a list of boxes that need to be checked off until you become a homesteader. It is the way you look at and interact with the world around you. Our dream is the big land, where we can live off-grid and be as self-sufficient as possible. But we have learned that homesteading can happen anywhere.

Garden produce

Plan Out Your Homestead

A little planning can go a long way, make sure you plan out your property and all the locations of your little farm.  Consider how you’ll bring in materials, the daily tasks you need to do, what tools will be needed most often etc.  Put the things that need the most tending closest to your back door, while things that don’t need as much attention can go back further from the house.

Don’t Skimp Infrastructure

building a homestead

I’ve seen even some of the more senior homesteaders not spend enough time on their infrastructure.  While you want to stay flexible, having a solid foundation is important.  What things make up your homestead’s infrastructure?

  • Water lines – have water right where you need it, buried lines below the frost line
  • Access – A solid path or driveway for wheel barrows, tractors and dump trucks
  • Storage – good storage is critical.  Keep equipment out of the rain
  • Power – Solar or grid, get these lines in the ground to where you need it now
  • Fences – one of the larger expenses, but a good fence is critical
  • Workshop – A place to fix and build things
  • Compost Bins – Every homestead makes waste, have bins to make great soil
  • Garden Beds – Spend the time and money to build quality beds that will last

Homesteading Is A Progression

It is something you can do in an urban apartment or on a sprawling farm. It usually starts small. Maybe you buy a couple of herb plants and realize the joy of growing your own food. Something that costs several dollars for a meal or two you can sustainably produce on your windowsill for pennies.

Not only is the cost difference convincing but the fact that it grows and continues to produce is inspiring. Soon you have a tomato plant in a pot on the patio and a couple of lettuces in another pot.

What about all of the food scraps you throw out? Couldn’t those be put to good use too? Now you are deciding between a compost pile, worm bin or a small flock of chickens. I am sure you are seeing the progression.

Farm fresh eggs

It can take you as far as you want to go. You might end up at an off grid farm out in the country where you raise animals for meat and have a market garden. With enough to feed your family, put up food for winter and take the rest to the farmer’s market.

Maybe you are more of an urban homesteader who wants to bring change to the community around you. You have solar power, gray water, and rain catchment systems and are producing more food than most people think possible by utilizing vertical growing and permaculture.

Homesteading Skills – Back To Basics

A good homesteader learns to be more of a producer and less of a consumer you realize the joy that can be found in the simple things. Learning to heat your house with wood, growing your own food, cooking from scratch, herbal remedies, caring for animals, the list goes on and on.

Canning apples

You develop a new way of seeing the world. Instead of being concerned about having the career, the house, the car that society thinks you need, you realize that none of that brings lasting joy. However, when you take a bite out of that sweet, crunchy carrot that is the fruit of your own labor, you experience a joy you can’t find at the grocery store.

Homesteader Skill Ideas:

It is a joy that only comes from laboring with your hands, being patient, nurturing, and producing something most people take for granted. Learning these skills is liberating as you realize you don’t have to rely on someone else for your most basic needs.

As exciting as it all sounds, it can be daunting. If you are looking to start your homestead journey, here is a guide to starting today in five easy steps.

Your Turn!

  • How did your homestead journey begin?
  • Are you a country, farm homesteader or an urban homesteader?

Getting Ready For Winter On The Homestead

Getting Ready For Winter On The Homestead

It’s the start of Fall now, even though it’s still hot here in North Carolina, so it’s time to start getting ready for winter on the homestead.  Winter is a slow time for most homesteaders, with the garden being cleared out and animals taking it easy, it’s time for you to do the same!

getting ready for the winter on the homestead

I love settling in for winter, its a quiet time to spend with family, the holidays keep us busy and while there is always something to do on a farm, it’s a great time to relax and get ahead.  Here is a list of some things to make sure you get ready for the winter on the homestead.

1. Clear Out The Garden

Clearing out the garden in the fall

Get a good start on next year’s garden by clearing out everything that you don’t want.  I always pull my plants in my garden and then let the chickens loose in the fenced in area for a few weeks.  They find all the things you missed, they scratch at the soil, find weed seeds and bugs, plus fertilize as they go along.  It’s a great way to really clean up things.  Don’t forget that just because it’s cooling off, you still can garden in the fall and early winter.

2. Mulch All Your Garden Beds

mulching garden bed

After you’ve cleaned up your gardens, make sure they stay weed free! First I’ll turn my beds a little bit, then top dress the bed with compost.  From there I’ll add my mulch layer, putting it on really thick. Whatever your mulching material of choice is, get a really good layer of it on all your beds.  This will keep the weeds at bay when spring comes back, giving you time to plant without much hassle.

3. Get Your Compost Piles In Order

Clean up your compost bins

At the end of the season you have a lot of organic matter you can put onto your pile.  Get your piles built up the right way, making sure you have the proper mix of carbon and nitrogen in the pile to get things cooking.  You want to make sure your piles start off right so they can build up heat and kill unwanted critters, weed seeds, and fungus.  I’ll often add a microbial inoculate right after the heat of the pile starts to taper off to make sure we have a great microbe profile in my soils for later years.

4. Fix Irrigation And Drain Water Lines

fixing broken irrigation in the garden

Over the season things break and irrigation lines are sometimes hard to keep up with when they’re covered in a mess of plants.  I try to take this time to figure out what worked and what didn’t and make repairs for the next year.  Since water can freeze in the line I also make sure all my water lines are totally drained and then blow them out with an air compressor.  Hoses I bring inside, but since we have pretty mild I leave most of the infrastructure in place.

5. Clean Up Your Perennials

cleaning up your perennials in the garden

You most likely have some perennials in your garden, for me I always keep a basic set of herbs and blueberry bushes.  Mint is one of those things that can get out of hand, so I make sure to cut it back some.  I’ll also trim up other things that have gotten unruly.  You don’t want to do too heavy of a pruning because the stress of a major trim plus the onset of cold can kill a plant, but tidying is totally worth it.

6. Fix What Bothered You On Your Homestead

Fixing things on the farm

A homestead is an ever-changing machine.  We try new things: how to better grow a vegetable, a new way to water our chickens, a way to handle post-harvest produce if we sell at market.  The experiments we run never end and we are always looking to improve things.  Think about things that you love about your homestead, then think about what things you don’t like.  How could you make those things better?  What little things bother you on a daily basis during the busy season?  What things are a total pain, constantly breaking, or just don’t work?

When you think about these problems on your homestead, how can you fix them?  Now’s the time to get them on your to-do list and get them done.

7. Improve Your Workflows On The Farm

Improve workflows on the farm

One thing that I see too often is people not considering their workflows on the farm or homestead.  What are the paths in and out of your farmstead?  You bring in a dump truck of compost to add to garden beds, diesel fuel for your tractor gets trucked in, and you buy lumber to build things.  Once on your land, you have to do various things: you spread mulch, fuel up the tractor, and you work on things in your shop, etc.  From there you grow things and harvest them which requires an area to do post harvest cleaning and packaging.  You might bring them to a farmers market, you might can them for your own pantry, or you store things in your root cellar.  Think about all these flows!

All of these things take up time, occupy space in storage sheds, and you have to lift and move materials here and there.  Think about how you can make work easier, how you can reduce the number of times you move something or the ergonomics of lifting things etc.  This will let you get things done faster, it lets people who might not be “farm strong” help you since it’s optimized and you spend less time laid up because of less risk of injury.

8. Fix Your Fences

fixing fences on the homestead

An old farmer once told me the easiest way to collect firewood is to put up a fence and watch all the trees that fall down on it.  It’s funny, but also seems to be some unwritten law of the universe, trees seem to always fall on my fencing or across my driveway.  All. The. Time.

Take time this winter to get your fencing back into tip-top shape and consider upgrading or expanding if you need to.  In some places, the ground will be too hard to use a post hole digger, but in many places, you can do this most any time during the winter.  I also like to take this time to cut back the vegetation near my fences so that I can run a bush hog along my fences easily.  I’ll help dying trees fall away from my fence and prune branches.

While many don’t like to spray, the fence is one area I’ll use a spray at the base of it to clear the ground totally right where the fence meets the ground.  This let’s me easily see areas where predators might be be crawling under your fence, where water route out a ditch that life stock can slip through, or weaken a post’s purchase.

9. Winter Homesteading Activities And Crafts

homtest crafts and hobbies

Making soap for the coming year and gifts during the holiday.  Melting down wax for salves, wood finishes and candle making is the perfect time for this.  Mending clothing, knitting a sweater or scarf, or other needle crafting.  Whatever you love doing, take this time of year to get them done and enjoy your time.  Explore other great hobbies you can do, even in a small space!

10. Split And Stack Your Firewood… For Next Year

stacking and splitting firewood

It can be tough to keep up with all the wood you need if you have a wood stove or fireplace, but if you really want to be on the ball, you need to be splitting and stacking wood for 2 years away. Living off the grid isn’t easy and a solid plan for heating is really important.  Firewood needs to dry out and become “seasoned” so that it burns better in your wood stove, burns hotter, and doesn’t build up as much creosote.  You should always split your wood and then allow it to dry out at least one year before you burn it.  A hydraulic wood splitter is a great investment for this task on your homestead.

If you buy your wood, go ahead and buy a double order this year so that you can have one pile sit for a year and dry out.  I’ve seen too many people get told that the wood is dry and come to find its basically green and freshly cut.  If you bite the bullet this year, you’ll never have to worry about it.

11. Take A Vacation From Your Homestead!

during the winter take a vacation from the homestead

This is the perfect time to take a vacation.  You can enjoy the winter weather or escape to somewhere sunny.  With things winding down you can take a week or two away from the farm or have someone watch your homestead when things aren’t as complicated.  You’ve worked hard all year long, so take this time to recoup, relax and enjoy time with your family.

Read Also:

Your Turn!

  • What would you add to my list?
  • What’s your favorite part of fall and winter on the homestead?

fall on the homestead pinterest

Solar Oven Guide & Reviews

Solar Oven Guide & Reviews

solar oven review guide

Considering a solar oven? In this comprehensive solar oven guide, I’ll go through everything you need to know about solar ovens and solar cooking. You’ll find comprehensive, honest and unbiased solar oven reviews on every top solar oven available right now, videos explaining my experience testing each solar oven, and even my personal interviews with each solar oven manufacturer. Using this solar oven guide, you’ll find the best solar oven for your needs—or you can even learn how to make a solar oven on your own using simple materials.

CLICK HERE FOR THE GUIDE & REVIEWS

Why I Created This Solar Oven Guide

cooking with solar oven
Moving into my tiny house took many adjustments at first. Not only did I downsize, but I also went off the grid. Off-the-grid living presents quite a few challenges—and one of the biggest was how to cook food without electricity. When you rely on solar power, you can only store so much energy in your battery reserve, so I needed to cook food in a low-powered way. My quest led me to explore how to cook using solar ovens and solar cookers: appliances that capture and concentrate the sun’s heat in a box, to cook up delicious dishes—no grid required!

CLICK HERE FOR THE GUIDE & REVIEWS

 

 

The Basics of Homestead Gardens (For Non-Gardeners)

Some of us were born with a natural green thumb. Others of us…well, we aren’t so lucky. That said, one of the draws of homesteading and tiny house living is learning to live off the land. To grow your own food supply, it’s necessary to first learn the basic requirements of planting homestead gardens.

The Basics of Homestead Gardens | a patch of vegetables in a garden

As with most suggestions on this blog, I’m a big advocate of baby steps. Learn to cultivate a small garden the first year, don’t stress too much about it and see what happens. Then the next year you might want to tackle a bigger project. Don’t expect to live off your garden right away, especially if you’re a novice, even experienced gardeners have bad years.

Lean the basics of planning a garden, setting up your plot and growing a few veggies. Research what plants work best in your area. Understand the soil you’re working with and which plants compliment each other (as I’ll explain).

So, if you’re interested in starting to grow your own food this year, here are the basics of homestead gardening for beginners.

1. Research the Requirements of Homestead Gardens

There are several factors to consider when you plan your garden set up and it goes beyond which vegetables you like to eat. Most of us know plants require the basics:

  • Water
  • Oxygen
  • Sunlight
  • Nutrients

It sounds rudimentary, but many first-time gardeners make mistakes by forgetting these simple four requirements. I’ve seen new gardeners attempt to grow plants in the wrong climate or in a shady spot, so plants don’t get their preferred amount of hot/cold or sunlight. Or first-time gardeners don’t know that plants require good soil, assuming they can plant in any patch of dirt. Planting seeds too close together can cause plants to fight for enough sun. There are also plants with competing nutrient requirements that steal from each other if planted together in a smaller space or container (more on companion planting under #4).

Raised garden bed with plants and herbs in soil.

If all this sounds complex, yes, it can be. Ask any farmer and chances are he or she will tell you hours are spent planning for their gardens. To yield enough food for even one person’s needs requires a lot of foresight and effort. Hobby gardeners generally plant their favorite crops to enjoy and for the pleasure of gardening itself, rather than survival. Homestead gardens that serve as a food supply, will require more learning and effort. Again, start small and remember: this is a journey, not a destination. You want to start by planning a garden you can keep up with.

Of course, it’s certainly possible to plant a big garden that will give you many vegetables to enjoy. Start with vegetables recommended for your particular region. Take into consideration the days to maturity and compare it to your growing season. There are many growth charts, like this one from Iowa State University to show you the length of time required for each plant.  Also look up your local “extension” which is a government office that helps people start gardens or farms. They can assist you with troubleshooting issues, conducting soil tests and understanding some common challenges in your area. Extension offices are in each state, in most mid-to-large sized cities and their services are often free to the public.

Compare the growing dates to the plant hardiness zone maps and heat zone maps for your homestead. This will tell you exactly what you should expect in terms of the growing season and which plants will thrive. It will also help you know when to plant each variety of vegetables you hope to grow.

seeds for the garden

It’s hard to say how many plants you should plan for. Generally, beginning gardeners may want to experiment with a variety of seeds and seedlings to see what flourishes and what struggles in your garden plot. As you identify which plants do well, focus on growing those in the future (although it may vary from year to year).  Check out my post on the top 5 vegetables for beginning gardeners, for great ideas to start.

2. Move Beyond Container Gardening (If Possible)

Container gardening seems to go hand-in-hand with small spaces, but from my experience container gardening is challenging because the plants end up pot-bound and their growth is limited. Of course, if container gardening is your only option, it’s better than nothing. But my recommendation is to plant in the ground or raised bed whenever possible.

aquaponics small space gardening

There are many alternatives to container gardening like vertical gardens and hydroponic setups that still work in a small space or if you don’t have much planting space on your land, but I find these to be more trouble than they’re worth. My best recommendation for people with limited space is to join a community garden. These shared-spaces give people a chance to contribute to a garden even if they don’t have room on their property, you get the benefit of more space as well as advice and help from experienced gardeners. Best of all, community gardens are often very affordable.

Transplanting plants from container to ground with seeds.

New gardeners may want to start with seedlings rather than seeds. Eventually, if you prefer to use heirloom varietals you can start saving up your own seeds, but when you’re beginning it helps to have a head start. Seedlings are easily transferred from peat pots right into the ground (or your larger container). If you wish to start your own seeds indoors, you need to harden off the sprouts first before planting them. This gives them a chance to get used to life outdoors, no matter what type of container (or plot) they ultimately end up in.  My suggestion is to wait at least a few years before you add in trying to start your own plants indoors as seedlings. Growing from seed is an art form; keep it simple at first and buy seedlings.

3. Set Up Your Soil for Success

A big factor in the success of your homestead garden is the soil. No matter how large the container, raised bed, or piece of land, the mix of soil is critical for your plants. In short, your soil should have three components: vermiculite, compost, and peat moss. These items are easily purchased at a big box store or in truckloads from a local supplier.

in bed composting

Additionally, you may wish to add in compost from your own food and yard scraps. If you own a composter, you may be surprised at how quickly organic matter breaks down as compost. This nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium-rich compound feeds your plants and helps them grow. I also suggest you include a fertilizer such as bone meal or blood meal. If you prefer to avoid animal sourced fertilizer, use seaweed meal.

If you start with good soil, a soil test isn’t always necessary, but it’s always best practice. After the first year or two, if you feel your plants are lacking in size or failing to thrive in the soil combination you’ve selected, get the soil tested. Soil tests are usually obtained through your state university’s cooperation extension service (CSREES) and are typically inexpensive. You can also purchase a soil testing kit at a home improvement store, but the CSREES test is more comprehensive.

4. Use Companion Planting to Your Advantage

Companion planting is an age-old practice of planting certain vegetables together that support and complement each other. Larger plants might provide shade for shorter plants, which prefer partial sun. Tall plants can be used a trellis for vining plants. Low groundcover plants will block weeds from coming in. Some plants even draw nutrients from deep in the soil to make them available to other plants with shallow roots. These companion plants may attract beneficial insects, add nitrogen to the soil and even give off scents to detract predators.

hornworms on tomatoes in garden

Tomatoes, for example, don’t play well with brassica vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. They also attract pests who love eggplants and peppers, so avoid planting those nightshades together. Surrounding your tomato plants with marigolds, garlic or basil repels parasitic nematodes and hornworms.

Companion planting is somewhat nuanced, but there are many companion vegetable chats and guides available to help you understand crop rotation and learn which plants complement each other. As you’re planning your garden, take advantage of companion planting to really help your plants flourish.

5. Choose High-Yield Plants

Select plants that give a high-yield crop. I’ve found herbs and lettuce are continuously harvested all season and offer a lot of bang for your buck. On the other hand, if you have a small space, one pea plant probably won’t give you more than a serving of peas (if that).

Zucchini and summer squash are two types of squash to grow in a garden

Zucchini and summer squash are two notoriously high-yield plants great for beginning homestead gardeners who want enough vegetables to harvest and enjoy for the season. Lettuce and leafy greens are also great starters. Tomatoes and pepper plants may result in a high yield too, depending on your area.

Other plants called perennials come back year after year, like berry bushes and asparagus, take time to establish and may not yield much if anything for the first few years. If you want these plants as part of your garden in the long-term, plan ahead and plant a few each year, but give yourself plenty of payoff plants to help you stay motivated. Find out what plants really thrive in your particular region and focus your efforts there.

6. Plan Your Watering and Irrigation System

Watering and irrigation is a high concern in certain areas. I always try to have a setup because life gets busy, so having your system on a timer keep plants alive and makes life easier. Even small container gardens dry out quickly during dry spells. Fortunately, plants do quite well with recycled grey water (as long as it doesn’t contain soap). Save your extra water from showering and household use, to keep your garden hydrated.

Rain barrel with plants and a hose attachment.

Investing in or making a rain barrel will give you a nice supply of water if a water hook up and a hose isn’t possible. Pour your extra household greywater in your barrel as well if the water gets low. Many rain barrels feature a hose attachment, making it simple to water your garden. Some water municipalities even offer rain barrels at a discounted rate to promote water conservation.

No matter what, be frugal in your water usage—soaker hoses or drip tape help you target only the plants (and not the surrounding dirt). Remember you only need to water the roots of your plants. Water on the leaves of plants will even damage younger plants and cause them to become susceptible to fungus and mildew. Keep the water at the root.

Mulching is key when it comes to maintaining a garden with less water. Mulch holds moisture in the soil and helps keep the water from evaporating. You can create inexpensive (or free) mulch from wood chips, hay, grass clippings and leaves.

7. Weed & Maintain Your Garden Regularly

Homestead gardens require plenty of maintenance, just like any other type of garden. Regular weeding is important. Weeds will steal nutrients from your vegetables, stunt growth, crowd them out and create shade. So, while you may feel there’s no aesthetic reason to pull weeds, it still needs to be done.

If you choose to garden organically, it means avoiding pesticides and other chemicals. Use natural remedies and hand removal of slugs, bugs, and pests. Plucking them off into soapy water is one method. Beer traps and eggshells also work well for slugs and worms.

Chickens roaming in garden and tall grasses.

Of course, some organic gardeners choose to rely on bigger predators to control smaller pests. Chickens, ducks and even garter snakes will help you control the slug and worm population. Attracting beneficial insects such as hoverflies, ladybeetles and praying mantis help control aphids and pests. Certain beneficial insects are also available for order and through garden suppliers.

As for larger pests, fencing and even chicken wire will keep digging, burrowing and stealing to a minimum. Keep brush, stone and wood piles cleaned up so their natural habitat is nowhere to be found. Rabbits and voles are also averse to garlic and hot pepper, so spraying plants with these organic deterrents may also help.

8. Note What Grew (and What Didn’t)

When your garden is finished for the season, it’s important to note what took off and what didn’t. Homestead gardens require careful planning over the course of several years. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, so keeping notes will help you remember what to change from one year to the next.

There are certain crops that succeed in a specific garden patch one year and then fail the next. Often this is because they drain the soil of nutrients (broccoli is a common offender), so changing the planting location and rows in your garden will help you avoid issues down the road. Draw a map of where each item was planted and keep any other notes like pests you saw, drainage or sunlight issues, mildew or disease.

take notes about what worked in your garden

Once you’ve got a year or two of gardening under your belt, you’ll feel more and more confident to plant new plants and expand. If there’s a crop you love to grow, or one that does particularly well on your land, that veggie may even become a source of side income or trade.

Talk to other gardeners in your area and farmers. Learn what common problems they face with crops, what disease and concerns are prevalent in your area and what treatment they recommend. As you become more comfortable with maintaining your homestead garden, you may even wish to volunteer at a local organic farm. This will give you a chance to learn from agricultural experts and see how to garden on a larger scale.

I must admit, gardening becomes addictive. Once you experience success with your first harvest you’ll be well on your way to an entire farm. Take steps today to start your own homestead garden and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Your turn:

  • What are your favorite tips for gardening success?
  • What are you going to grow this year?