Homesteading can be incredibly expensive. It can also be done within a budget. Today, I’ll be sharing about how we are using what we already have as we build our urban homestead.
Using What We Already Have Instead of Buying Everything New
Yesterday, I had a few hours of uninterrupted time dedicated to writing, and I kept coming back to this idea of using what we already have and just getting started, imperfectly.
In the chaos of the last few weeks, I stepped away from social media quite a bit and it was incredibly refreshing. Although Instagram can be a place of making connections and learning new skills, I notice that I am easily sucked into a mind-game of comparison when I don’t set boundaries for myself in that space.
I follow a lot of gardening and homesteading accounts, and some of them look more like a carefully curated botanical garden than a backyard garden. There are chicken coops with exteriors nicer than my house and greenhouses that cost as much as our car. Although I adore my house and the backyard homestead we are slowly expanding, it definitely looks a lot more makeshift and pieced together than the majority of what I see online.
But, there is beauty in that, friends! And sustainability, too.
If your goal is to grow your own food and pursue a slower pace of life, it doesn’t have to look pretty or perfect. Yes, beautiful country homesteads are stunning, but it is not necessary for producing food to nourish your family.
Keep reading to find out some of the ways we are homesteading by using what we have as well as ideas for how you can try some of these ideas, too!
This coop has gone through so many phases since we first walked through this property. Initially, half of the wire in the run was missing and the other half was a mangled-mess. It was completely overgrown with weeds and volunteer trees. I remember spending a full day clearing it, only to refill it a few months later with piles of debris from our yard.
A few months ago, we worked as a family to clear it for the final time. Carson built a door and stapled new wire. We patched the holes, raked the floor, and added new bedding for our chickens.
We found free tires on Facebook Marketplace to build dust baths for our hens. Next, used an old pallet leftover from when we got our bathtub shipment as a perch and hiding spot for them.
It isn’t the prettiest coop, but it is functional. We’re currently getting 4-5 eggs a day from our six chickens, and hopefully we will double that number later this summer when we integrate the younger chickens that we are raising.
We want our chickens to be happy and to have access to fresh grass and the bugs that come with it. For the first few weeks, we let the girls free range when we were able to supervise them. The problem was, we couldn’t just leave them to roam our entire 2.5 acres unattended. Our garden isn’t currently fenced, and our flower beds are full of plants that: 1. are toxic to chickens and 2. I don’t want destroyed by chickens.
Chickens In The Garden
One day, I was home alone with the kids, enjoying one of the first warm days of spring. The birds were chirping, the butterflies were fluttering, the children were happy, and then… the chickens found my garden and the peace turned to complete chaos.
The chickens were digging up my strawberries and onions 10 times faster than I planted them. I tried chasing them, but let me tell you, one mom trying to chorale half-a-dozen chickens while simultaneously keeping a baby from eating grass and a toddler from staying within eyesight is not an easy feat.
I looked absolutely ridiculous as I chased chickens and picked them up and set them down only for them to come right back. They were ruthless. I finally lured them back to the coop with some food, and I only lost a few strawberry plants that day. But it definitely scared me from letting the chickens free range while I was home alone.
Finding a Solution by Using What We Already Have
Carson used one of his paternity leave weeks last week, and he built a fenced-in area for the chickens to range that is directly attached to their coop. We still let them roam around the yard in the evenings, but this fenced-in area allows them to roam throughout the entire day, even if we aren’t able to supervise.
To make the fence, Carson used a leftover piece of lumber, t-posts, and fencing that were present on the property when we moved in.
The fencing was falling down and covered in weeds when we bought the house, and Carson took it down and left it in our shed for the last year. At one point, we almost tried to sell it, but I’m so glad we held on to it. It was an inexpensive way to satisfy our chickens, protect my garden, and give me peace of mind when letting the chickens roam.
So these weren’t 100% made with what we have, but we built four separate trellises for our climbing plants–cantaloupe, cucumbers, zucchini, and peas.
One of the most inexpensive ways to build trellises is by using cattle panels. We purchased three panels from a local farm store for $30 each and paid a $30 delivery fee instead of attempting to safely transport 16 foot panels home on our minivan.
We secured the cattle panels with UV-resistent zip-ties and t-posts that we already had. Then, built the pea trellis with the same fencing and t-posts that we used for the chicken fence.
We build all of these trellises for less than $150, which is the same cost that many store-bought trellises of the same size would cost. I think these make-shift trellises will look magical when covered with climbing vines and summer fruit.
Shortly after closing on our house, I started researching ideas for 2 acre homesteads. There was a lot of information about backyard homesteads and a lot of information about 10+ acre homesteads, but not a lot about urban homesteads somewhere in-between.
I found Shaye Elliott’s blog, The Elliot Homestead, on my search for inspiration, and I was mesmerized by the cottage gardens and rustic pathways that ran through the 2 acres her family calls home.
I have been dreaming of building our own pathways, and last week, I finally got a chance to start them. The previous owners graciously left us with two enormous mounds of junk, rock, and debris behind our garage. I cringe nearly every time I look at them as I imagine the snakes that are probably making their home inside of them.
Well, I felt quite ambitious last week, and I started digging into one of the piles. To my surprise, under the weeds and grass and wild onions, there were hundreds of beautiful landscape rocks. I’ve been working on digging these rocks, laying winding paths, and eventually, I will fill them with cardboard, weed barrier, and the leftover mulch from our Chip Drop.
Overtime, I hope to surround the pathways with cottage gardens and fresh herbs. The work is slow, but so far, building these pathways haven’t cost us a thing!
If you don’t have a huge pile of rocks hanging out in your yard, you might be able to find someone selling some second hand rocks or bricks for free or for an affordable price.
We started this compost bin a few months ago, and it is already overflowing. I searched for free pallets and drove all over our city to pick them up, but it was an inexpensive way to get started composting. We are planning on building more as we find more wood pallets.
One important thing to note when using wood pallets is to check for the symbol HT on the wood. This means that the wood was heat treated as opposed to chemically treated. This will ensure that nasty chemicals won’t be making their way into your homemade compost.
I had no idea how much composting reduces waste. Daily, I fill up a small tub with kitchen waste. Weekly, I fill up a large bucket to dump outside. And that’s just the food waste! We now have a place to decompose our chicken bedding and manure as well as yard debris like weeds and sticks. For the amount of weeds that we have in our yard, I’m going to need an endless supply of compost bins. So if you happen to have any spare wood pallets, send them my way!
I’m still learning how to compost, but the general rule of thumb is to put three parts of brown matter (i.e. dry, woody plant material) to one part of green matter (i.e. fresh grass clippings, fruit and veggie scraps, farm animal manure). We try to keep the compost pile wet, and turn it every few days with a manure fork similar to this one.
The first step we did when building our no-till garden was to lay out a border to know exactly where the garden would be. This border also helped hold down the cardboard and keeps the compost and mulch in place.
When cleaning up our property, we found hundreds of broken bricks. They are imperfect and rustic and absolutely beautiful in my opinion.
Right now, we don’t have a fence around our garden because our entire property is fenced, but someday we might add a garden to keep out bunnies and squirrels if they become an issue.
Someday, I would love to add a dreamy greenhouse to our backyard to start seeds and tend to young plants. However, spending thousands on a greenhouse isn’t in our budget right now, and it really isn’t necessary for the scale of gardening we are currently doing.
Although we did buy some of the items for this makeshift greenhouse, I tried to use as much as we had to get started. For example, used a wire shelf that we had in our laundry room. I purchased the seed trays and shop lights; however, I saved the containers from past plants purchased, sanitized them, and will use them when it comes time to up-pot my seed starts.
This is my third time attempting to start seeds this year. I keep over-watering or under-watering. Hopefully I can get it right this time!
Leftover Chicken + Ribs
So this last one is more of an inside-the-house project than outside, but it is something that anyone can do–whether you have land or not.
I have goals of growing most of our food and learning how to preserve the harvest; however, right now, I know very little about food preservation. I often throw out fruits and vegetables that go bad before we can eat them, or I run out of uses for the meat in our fridge.
I’m not preserving a harvest at the moment, but I have been using this time to learn about how to keep learning about using what we already have and not let food go to waste.
Using What We Already Have to Create Multiple Meals Out of One
Last week, we had dinner with my family, and my mom gave us the leftover ribs and chicken. We ate some for the next two days, but then we were getting a little bit tired of eating the same thing for every meal. Instead of letting the food go bad, I looked up ways to use the food in a different way.
I shredded the rib meat, we had tacos the next day, and then I froze the rest. Next, shredded the chicken, and baked it into taquitos for Carson to take for lunches. Then, I used the rib bones to make a savory bone broth in my Crockpot, and I used that bone broth to use the extra onions I had on hand to make a nourishing French Onion Soup. We ate the soup for dinner, and I froze the rest for another week.
Future Food-Waste Goals
Soon, I hope to start turning about-to-go-bad fruit into freezer jam or bake it into bread. I just bought this canning book so that I can continue to learn the basics of food preservation.
Groceries are incredibly expensive right now, and I encourage you to consider how you can use what you already have! With some creativity, leftover ingredients can go a long way.
What Can You Do With What You Have?
Sure, you may not have a few dozen t-posts, a mangled fence, and overgrown piles of rocks in your backyard, but think about what you do have.
Do you have some cardboard from a recent online order? Use it to start a no-till garden.
Have some beautiful blooming plants overtaking your flower bed? Divide them and transplant them to fill in a bare spot in your yard.
On a limited budget? Check Facebook Marketplace and local garage sales for free or inexpensive planters, old fencing, or wood pallets.
Do you have some leftover meat in your fridge? Google some recipes and see how far that food can get you.
Get creative and enjoy the satisfaction of using what you have to nourish and care for your family.
It might not look Pinterest-worthy. It might be a little shabby. But I promise you, the eggs from our old chicken coop taste just as good as the ones from that fancy coop that I saw online. Our garden might be a little uneven, but it is growing food to nourish my family. I might not currently have a root cellar overflowing with canned goods, but I can take the leftover ingredients in my fridge to make something delicious for dinner.
And you can, too.
Don’t believe the lie that you have to have it all together to homestead. You don’t need tons of land or all of the right supplies or a garden that looks picture-perfect.
Get started today. Don’t wait. Use what you have. Look for affordable ways to continue. And never, ever stop learning.