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How to Turn Your Home Into a Homestead

The homesteading trend is hot—and a major focus of this year’s Colorado Garden & Home Show—so we asked the experts how to pull it off on even the smallest plot.

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Homesteading is nothing new—humans have been doing it for eons, Martha made it cool back in the ’90s, and now, thanks to the farm-to-table movement, it’s going mainstream once more. So much so that it’s a big focus at this year’s Colorado Garden & Home Show, the largest and oldest consumer garden and home-improvement show west of the Mississippi, which takes place February 9–17 at the Colorado Convention Center (find all the details here).

But what does homesteading really mean, and why is it trending now? We put those questions to Jim Klett, a professor and extension landscape horticulturist at Colorado State University’s department of horticulture and landscape architecture, who teaches courses on plant material, nursery production and management, community urban forestry, and annuals and perennials. Here’s what we learned.

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What exactly is homesteading?

Homesteading is a lifestyle choice and refers to ways in which you can increase self-sufficiency at home and with your garden—in particular, through agriculture and the production of local, seasonal, fresh, and organically produced foods.

When we discuss homesteading at this year’s Colorado Garden & Home Show, we are explaining how to keep small livestock in urban and rural settings; how and why to keep bees; and how to compost—that is, turning waste into food for your garden.

Why is homesteading so popular?

Homesteading offers numerous personal and environmental benefits. First and foremost, it can (and should) be something homeowners enjoy. There is a certain degree of independence and self-sufficiency—not to mention cost savings—that can come from keeping chickens and bees and producing other food sources, that is personally gratifying. Composting is a big part of homesteading for many homeowners, and one of the single greatest environmentally beneficial choices homesteaders can make, if they are willing to make the commitment.

Homesteading also offers many health benefits, from adding more healthful choices to our daily diets, to the mental and emotional benefits that come from spending more time outdoors and in our gardens.

Is it possible to homestead in the city?

Whether you’re limited to house plants, a small patio, or an HOA-controlled neighborhood, you can grow flowers, food, or herbs to enjoy at home. You might also consider growing plants for pollinators, companion planting with veggies, and raising backyard chickens.

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How will this year’s Colorado Garden & Home Show help us homestead successfully?

In addition to addressing homesteading and gardening in small spaces, we will cover getting water-wise here in Colorado, and the best plants and florals for our dry climate. There will be lectures about these topics and fact-sheets from Colorado State University Extension available in our garden.

(Read our guide to urban homesteading in the Mile High City)

Homesteading How-Tos

Think homesteading might be for you? Below, Colorado State University Extension agent Andie Wommack, who specializes in horticulture and small acreage, shares tips for getting off to a good start.

eggs Natalie Rhea Riggs
Natalie Rhea Riggs / Unsplash

If you want to raise backyard chickens…

The perks
“Raising chickens on your property is a great way to have access to fresh eggs, although it won’t be as cost efficient as buying them from the store or a local producer. On average, a chicken will lay an egg every 26 hours, but it will not necessarily lay an egg every day.” Bonus: “Chickens can become great companions and can be used in an integrated pest-management system.”

Do this first 
“The very first thing you should do if you are considering having backyard chickens is to check with your county, city, and HOA guidelines on whether you can have chickens on your property. There may be guidelines about how far away a chicken coop must be from property lines, and how many animals you are allowed to have on your property. Roosters are generally not allowed.

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All breeds of chickens have different characteristics, from size, color, egg color, and temperament, so it is important to do some research before purchasing any birds. You’ll also need to consider how you are going to dispose of waste. Composted chicken manure can be a great fertilizer for your yard and garden! Most vets will not treat chickens if you have health problems in your flock, so it is important to follow good biosecurity practices to keep your flock and yourself healthy.”

You’ll need this
A proper home for those hens. “There are several things you need to consider when designing a chicken coop: First, you need to decide what breed of chicken you want, and how many you’ll keep, as that will determine how much space they will need. Small breeds need about 1 square foot of floor space each in a coop, and large breeds need around 3.5 square feet each. You’ll also need to provide nesting and roosting space, protection from weather and predators, easy access to food and water, sufficient light, and adequate ventilation.”

Reality check 
“Chickens need to be cared for every day, so if you are out of town frequently, they may not be practical for you.”

Plan B 
Pick up a dozen eggs at your local farmers’ market, or try online resources like LocalHarvest, which can connect you with egg producers in your area.

bees Damien Tupinier
Damien Tupinier / Unsplash

If you want to keep bees…

The perks 
Fresh, local honey. A healthy colony can produce 50 to 250 pounds of honey a year—and pollinate your vegetable garden. But responsible beekeeping takes the right equipment and considerable time and education (see below).

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Do this first 
“The first things you’ll need to research are regulations at the county, city, and HOA levels to determine if you are allowed to keep bees on your property. Once you have determined that you can have bees and want to pursue beekeeping, the first and most critical step is education. Educate yourself before purchasing any equipment or bees. You should have a solid knowledge of bee biology and basic beekeeping methods. It’s also important to stay informed of the latest changes to beekeeping practices, including the treatment of parasites and illnesses, threats to bee health, and government regulations. Many groups, including Colorado State University Extension, offer basic beekeeping classes that can help.”

You’ll need this 
For starters, a hive, a smoker (to calm the bees), a hat with veil, a protective jacket, long gloves, and a hive tool (to help you remove parts of the hive that have been sealed with propolis).

Reality check 
“Beekeeping as a hobby takes preparation, work, education, and diligence before and once you have a hive established. It is critical that you monitor the health of your hive and be educated so you can respond quickly to pests and disease. Some diseases, like American Foulbrood, are extremely contagious and generally fatal for colonies.”

Plan B 
“If you cannot have bees where you live, you can be intentional with your landscaping and provide habitat for a wide variety of pollinators. You won’t be able to collect any honey, but you can make a big difference by supporting our native pollinators.”

cucumbers Natalie Rhea Riggs
Natalie Rhea Riggs / Unsplash

If you want to grow and preserve your own food…

The perks 
Fresh, local, seasonal produce on demand, plus a lovely garden—and feeling of self-sufficiency.

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Do this first 
“Edible landscaping can be done anywhere. It is, however, always important to check with your HOA to see if there are any restrictions on putting in a garden or greenhouse. Certain types of plants do better than others, so it’s also important to understand what soil you have, what amending may need to be done, and how much water you have available, as that will help determine your success with different plants.”

You’ll need this 
“There are many edible plants—annuals and perennials, even some fruit trees—that can add beauty and function to your landscape. (Just remember that some herbs, like mint and chives, can be very invasive if they are planted in the ground, so it is best to grow them in a contained area.) You can have good success with tomatoes and other vegetables grown in containers, and you can also grow edible plants in pots or indoors.”

Reality check 
“Gardening of any kind can be a challenge in Colorado, but pretty much everyone can have some success growing edible plants on their property. If you are having trouble with your plants or have questions about choosing varieties, your local Colorado State University Extension office has great resources—including classes and workshops—available for you.”

Plan B 
“If you don’t have enough space, or just didn’t have great success with your garden, you can always go to a local farmers’ market and purchase locally grown produce to preserve at home. Just be aware that there can be some special equipment, like a pressure cooker, necessary to do certain methods of food preservation.”

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