This Tips to Start an Urban Homestead guide is NOT sponsored and was written based on our honest experience as a mom and dad who strive to become more self-sufficient every day!
Homesteading is a traditional lifestyle that’s become immensely popular, especially over the past couple of years.
And it’s no wonder – taking charge of your life and food supply is a powerful move that puts you in control!
There are dozens of reasons why people choose to homestead including:
- a sense of independence from the system
- security over basic needs like food and water
- connecting with God through nature
- physical fitness – homesteading requires a LOT of work and will help keep you in shape
- mental health benefits – homesteading offers a more slow-paced and gentle approach to life than the rat race in the city
- knowing where your food comes from and what goes into it (we recommend watching Food Inc for a reality check on the food industry!)
- financial benefits – whether saving money or creating a new source of income
So, are you ready to make a change?
We can’t wait to show you a few ways to do it!
Keep reading to learn:
- what is considered an urban homestead
- how to build an urban homestead and where to start for total beginners
- tips for urban versus suburban homesteading
- other ways to become more self-sufficient
- our top choices in urban homesteading books (and which ones we have)
Disclosure: Affiliate links are used throughout this post. You can read our full disclosure here.
15 Tips to Start an Urban Homestead: Complete Beginners Guide
Let’s cover a few basic things before we get into it.
What is considered an urban homestead?
A household in the city that produces the majority of its own food is considered an urban homestead.
Urban communities are located within of a town or city and have a high population densities.
How to build an urban homestead
Research, plan, and don’t wait to get started!
The sooner you start trying, the sooner you’ll begin learning fundamental skills and become a better urban homesteader in the process.
Even if you plan on moving apartments (perhaps to one with bigger windows and more natural light for your plants and trees), you can start reading, purchasing and planting seeds, as well as accumulating tools and even fruit trees.
Start following homesteading channels on YouTube, checking out books at the library, chatting with friends, family, and even neighbours who already have the skills you’d like to learn.
If you want to buy just one, this book is your must-have guide to urban homesteading for beginners!
What is suburban homesteading?
A suburban homestead is a household just outside of the city that produces the majority of its own food.
Suburban areas are less dense than urban ones and are usually a commute away from the city.
What is a suburban homesteader?
Typically, a suburban homesteader is someone who practices backyard homesteading meaning, most of the food they eat comes from their backyard – and maybe the front yard too!
What is homestead life?
Homestead life means a lifestyle focused on self-sufficiency.
Instead of being a consumer, you become a producer with control over the most important aspects of you and your family’s life!
Whether you begin with an urban apartment homestead or an suburban backyard one is up to you.
Now let’s check out some ideas to make that dream of yours a reality.
Self-sufficient homestead ideas
Here are 15 ways you can become more self-sufficient with an urban homestead:
- Vegetable garden
- Fruit trees
- Hunting and Fishing
- Home Brewing
- Get Creative with Energy
- Monetize It
- Community and Farmer’s Markets
More ideas for building an urban homestead:
- How to Make an Easy DIY Seed Binder
- Costco Fruit Trees Buying and Planting Tips
- Here’s What to Buy and What to Skip at The Costco Garden
1. Vegetable Garden
A small homestead garden might look like raised beds in your front and/or backyard, elevated planters on your balcony, or both if you’ve got the space!
We started at our apartment with an elevated bed, two grape vines in containers, and a couple of fruit trees (peach, pear, and fig trees).
When we purchased our house, we planted fruit trees and raspberry bushes along the fence before eventually buying a greenhouse and a few more raised beds.
You don’t need to go overboard to make an impact though!
A small greenhouse like this one is perfect for an apartment balcony – I still use ours annually to start seeds and for surplus tomatoes.
This larger pop-up greenhouse is super easy to assemble, affordable, and convenient to use for those who are just starting out.
We bought a more expensive and studier Palram greenhouse a couple of years ago once we knew we were 100% committed to the homestead life and only recommend it to others after they’ve got a few years in.
You honestly just don’t need it before a certain point.
2. Fruit Trees
These are a great plant that’ll give back more and more each year you care for them!
Choose fruit trees that are native to your growing zone for best results.
We’d recommend checking out Costco for fruit trees that are affordable or your local garden centre to chat with an expert.
Here in Vancouver, BC, we have a Zone 8B rating – if you’re in Canada, you can check out West Coast Seeds zone finder tool to see your rating.
Choosing plants with a purpose beyond their natural beauty is a must for urban homesteading.
Perennials are plants with no woody growth that live more than two years.
Some of our favourite perennials are:
- lemon balm
- spearmint (this stuff grows like crazy!)
- lavender (the purple flower are great for attracting pollinators like bees)
- chives (they also have beautiful purple flowers that bees love!)
A few fruit bushes and vines you might want to consider adding are:
- blackberries (our kids LOVE these so we have them in a pot since they grow like crazy)
- grape vines
- kiwi vines (choose a self-pollinating variety)
A refrigerator full of your own homegrown produce is such a wonderful feeling!
Composting is a great way to recycle food scraps, grass clippings, and other yard trim that reduces waste and encourages healthier soil and plant growth.
You can start a compost pile today on bare land or use an enclosed bin if you live in an area with heavy wildlife activity – we have bears!
We recommend using a compost tumbler since it speeds up the process of composting, contains strong smells, and keeps wildlife out.
To create a great compost you’ll need:
- carbon-rich matter (“brown” things like branches, twigs, stems, plant stalks, dry leaves, and brown paper bags or untreated cardboard)
- nitrogen-rich materials (“greens” things like leaves, grass clippings, kitchen and vegetable scraps*, and manure)
Aim for about 2/3 “brown” carbon and 1/3 “green” nitrogen materials.
*Unless you have a composter specifically designed for it, do NOT compost meat, fish, or bones as they’ll attract pests!
Learning how to make it yourself can save you thousands of dollars and puts the control back in your hands.
Cooking and baking are a great start since everyone has to eat a couple of times a day!
You might want to start out with a meat dish and baking some bread.
From there, you can learn how to create homemade cleaners, laundry detergent, candles, soap, and even sewing your own clothes!
The options are endless and will quickly take you from consumer to producer status.
Learning how to fix, rebuild, mend, and patch can extend the lifetime of your things by years and save you thousands of dollars in the process.
As a society consumed with fast food and fast fashion, it never ceases to amaze us how quick many people are to throw things away.
We were guilty of it once too!
A really basic household tool kit like this one will go a long way – you can fix everything from kids toys to furniture and fixtures with it.
There are a ton of homemade remedies out there for removing stains and cleaning too – you’d be amazed at what you can accomplish with a little bit of vinegar, baking soda, and a lemon.
And it’s even better if you grew the lemon yourself, haha!
There are some cases where you can’t completely repair everything!
My husband’s old t-shirts are one of those situations – but they do make for great rags!
Upcycling is all about salvaging old materials you were going to toss and repurposing them.
One of our favourite ways to do it this year was with plastic containers for starting seeds – we had a really successful gardening season this year starting everything from our tomatoes, peppers, and even cucumbers in individual 100g yogurt containers!
And if you’re like us and shop at Costco, you’ll probably accumulate a lot of them before next spring too.
We even conducted an experiment with peat pots for fun and found that the plants started in yogurt containers did much better 🙂
All you need to do is use a drill or a skewer to pop holes into your yogurt containers so your soil can drain.
No need to buy drip trays though – keep up with the repurposing by using a boot tray!
We found boot trays to be a cheaper and more spacious alternative to traditional plant saucers which are designed more for their minimalistic look and reflect this in their price tags.
Here’s our indoor seed starting setup – we also use a few milk jugs!
Once the weather starts getting nice, you can begin taking your seedlings out for field trips in the sun 🙂
Going from indoors to full sun will cause shock and kill your plants, so start with a couple of hours a day.
8. Hunting and Fishing
If you aren’t zoned for keeping livestock where you live, consider taking control of your food supply by learning how to hunt and fish.
Between the wild meat you acquire from hunting, fishing, and trapping and the fruits and vegetables you grow in your garden, you may never have to buy food again!
To get your hunting license in British Columbia, you’ll need to:
- complete the the Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education (CORE) hunter education course and/or read the CORE manual at home (we did both!)
- pass the CORE hunter education exam
- obtain your CORE certificate
- obtain your Fish and Wildlife ID (FWID)
You can borrow the CORE manual for free at your local library or purchase a copy of your own from the BCWF shop.
You may also wish to purchase an official CFSC manual through BCWF if you intend to get your Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL).
Personally, I found it easier and enjoyed reading through the physical books more than e-books.
That said, the Hunting and Trapping Regulations Synopsis can be difficult to get a physical copy of but regularly updated online – you can download the PDF here (and print it at home if you want to) and check the Correction and updates page for news.
A rain catcher can go a long way!
Here are just a few of the benefits of having one:
- provides cleaner healthier water for plants (tap water contains yucky things like fluoride)
- saves money on water bills
- reduces rainwater runoff
- prevents soil erosion
- conserves water during drought
- provides emergency drinking water (you’ll want a good purifier if you’re thinking about this)
Learning how to preserve your own food – beyond just freezing it – is a game changer!
Don’t get us wrong, we love our freezer too but it has limited space and potential.
Creating layers of preparedness, however, is a wise thing to do for you and your family.
Heaven forbid, the freezer or electricity were to go out, how much food would you have to cook and how would you do it?
When you know how to can, dehydrate, and freeze-dry, you’ll have plenty of options and fewer worries in dire circumstances.
Canning and dehydration are the two best methods to learn now since they’re easy to get started with and less expensive than freeze-drying.
Affordable Recommendations for Beginners
This canning kit is great for water bath canning.
In terms of a starting point for your jar size, go with 8 oz – it’s a pretty versatile size that’s good for things like jam, herbs, honey, broth, and sauces.
An inexpensive dehydrator like this one is all you need to make jerky, fruit leathers, dry herbs, and even seeds.
11. Home Brewing
We’ve been making homemade wine for a while now and in addition to saving a boatload of money, it’s a really satisfying endeavor!
More Control of Ingredients
When you make your own wine, you know what’s going into it but if you’re using a box kit, you can toss yucky preservatives like sulfites to make it more natural while you wait for the grapes you’re growing to ripen.
I used to get asthma when I drank storebought alcohol but don’t have a reaction when I have our homemade wine.
Cost Benefit of Homemade Wine
In terms of finances, here’s what it looks like for us in BC (Bring Cash) or British Columbia.
Checking a flyer at the time of writing this (July 2023), I see that the cheapest bottle of wine on sale is going for $8.99 and after PST (10% on alcohol instead of the usual 7%) and GST (5%), you’ll be paying an additional 15 percent.
So, $10.36 for the cheapest wine available.
Now keep in mind, when you buy a wine kit, you’re purchasing grape juice NOT alcohol!
That means you’re not paying PST at all where we live, just the 5% GST.
So, if we buy a wine kit for $75, it goes up to $78.75 after taxes.
In our experience, you never get the 30 bottles advertised on the kits though – we average around 27 or 28 for a great-tasting homemade wine.
So, $78.75 divided by 27 bottles means that each bottle costs $2.92 to make.
That’s a savings of $7.44 a bottle (72% off).
Purchasing 27 of those $10.36 bottles would have cost $279.72!
Ready to start making your own wine?
We recommend this all-in-one kit since it includes both the juice and all of the supplies you’ll need to get started.
Once you have homebrewing supplies like a fermenting bucket, airlock, siphon tubing, corker, carboy, etc., all you need to do is get juice whenever you’re ready to brew another round.
We like to mix our homemade wine with carbonated water, a slice of calamondin orange, and a bit of spearmint from the garden on hot days – cheers!
12. Get Creative with Energy
But creative energy use doesn’t necessarily mean charging devices.
Consider a few of the following simple ways to cut back on energy use and save money:
- invest in solar power, even if it’s just a couple of small things described above
- unplug devices and appliances when you aren’t using (your electronics use energy even when you’re not using them)
- unplug your chargers when you’re not using them (see above!)
- consider chargeable low EMF lights instead of plug-ins (we love our Block Blue Lights)
- upgrade your windows and doors for better insulation
- if updating your windows and doors isn’t in your budget right now, purchase heavy duty blinds to prevent cold and heat transfer – this worked well for our sliding door!
- hand wash clothes and/or use cold water cycles
- use natural light whenever possible – it saves money and also makes for better photos
- dress for the weather – layer down in hot weather and layer up in cool weather instead of adjusting your thermostate
- dress your home for the weather – we have two sets of blankets for each room, one for spring/summer and one for fall/winter
- learn different ways to build a fire and how to use them (cooking, staying warm, etc)
These days, I often have a prepping mindset and always ponder worst case scenarios.
For instance, how would I cook if my electric stove weren’t working?
If none of my electric appliances were working?
What would I do if my fridge broke?
Do we have enough food stocked up that doesn’t need to stay frozen?
Having answers to all of these questions and then the others you come up with later on is an incredibly powerful feeling!
13. Monetize It
This is one of those modern homesteading ideas that I rarely see people talking about!
But with the way the world is rapidly changing, we think it’s becoming more and more important to diversify your income – and it’s even better if you can do it while you’re working for yourself!
Whether you sell at farmer’s markets, post signs around your local community, or sell online through sites like Facebook Marketplace, there are a ton of ways you can make money while building your urban or suburban homestead.
I’ve been selling plants for a while now and am moving towards seeds and DIY products.
If you make and grow things you’re going to use anyway, it’s also no loss to you in terms of time and money spent!
Just keep in mind things like seasonality, trends, and effort.
14. Community and Farmer’s Markets
Shopping at farmer’s markets and within your community is a great way to establish connections and keep your dollars local!
Although we love going there too, massive grocery stores like Costco don’t provide the same experience or quality as local farmers do.
And every time you make a purchase with a local business, you’re supporting a family and their self-sufficient lifestyle instead of a corporation!
In a “stuff hits the fan” scenario, you’ll also be glad to have those local connections!
Some farmers will give you a discount for buying in bulk AND paying in cash (seriously, keep cash alive).
If you buy eggs in bulk like we do, ask your supplier whether their eggs are unwashed to determine whether or not you can water glass them – this is a great method for preserving eggs without the use of a refriegerator!
I know that some of you may be shocked to see that this is last on our list BUT small-scale homesteading doesn’t necessarily mean animals!
If you’re like us and aren’t zoned for anything beyond beekeeping, don’t let it stop you from making your homestead dreams come true.
Chickens would be an amazing starting point and cows are a fantastic long-term goal though!
Urban homesteading books
If you’re like us, you’ve probably begun to embrace the idea of a traditional library over a digital one as well.
Here are a few of my favorite books for getting started with homesteading:
- The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City – this book is a fantastic beginner’s guide for getting started on your homesteading journey. It covers the basics as a must-have reference for your home library!
- Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture – this is a great book for learning to create a beautiful and functional backyard garden ecosystem
- Grow BIG in Small Spaces!: The Urban Farmer’s Practical Guide to Container Gardening & Home Canning – this book is a must-have, especially for those with a limited amount of space. We’re big fans of the “start where you are, use what you have” approach and love the way this book takes you from container to canning!
- The Indoor/Outdoor Urban Homestead Plant Guide: A Complete Blueprint for Growing Houseplants and Organic Vegetable Gardening with Raised Beds or Containers – we love the ability to continue growing food indoors over the winter and recommend this book as a guide to learning the basics when it comes to caring for houseplants and vegetables
- The Backyard Homestead Revolution: Transform Your Backyard and Maximize Space with Innovative Gardening Techniques, Grow Organic Produce, Raise Health Animals – this a wonderful beginners guide and reference with easy-to-follow instructions on how to convert your yard into a backyard mini-farm
15 Tips to Start an Urban Homestead: Final Thoughts
There’s a famous saying that goes,
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can”
And I think that this applies to the majority of us!
As much as we’d love to go off the grid and take everyone we love with us, this just isn’t an option right now.
But whether you have a job in the city, small kids, or aging parents, you CAN start your homesteading journey anywhere you are.
In an apartment, this might look like bright windows and several plant stands to utilize vertical space.
If you have a balcony, you could also place a couple of raised garden beds and a potted fruit tree outside – that’s exactly how we started!
In a rented house or townhome, it could be the same with the addition of some more potted fruit trees in outdoor full-sun locations.
The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll begin learning how to care for and manage a variety of plants and/or animals, if you have that option.
And with each day, you’ll gain knowledge and skills to grow your confidence and your garden!
So, what will you do first? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Happy homesteading, friend!