If you are on your own homestead, chances are you are wanting to separate yourself (at least a little) from “the masses” and become more self-reliant.
Some of us might even live far enough away from the main town that we are actually separated from people.
In either case (but especially in the case of the latter), there are certain skills every homesteader should know.
For the sake of this article, we are going to assume you live an hour or more from town.
How to Grow Your Own Food
Growing your own food is a great way to not only save money on groceries, but also know exactly where your food comes from. You can practice organic gardening and keep harmful chemicals off your food, and if you buy non-GMO heirloom seeds and have a decent harvest, you won’t have to buy seeds the following year — your harvest can continue to provide for your family for as long as the seeds are saved properly.
Gardening really is one of the best ways to get into the homesteading spirit. I’m fairly certain that anybody who considers themselves a “homesteader” by any sense of the word has some kind of food growing somewhere — in the ground, in a greenhouse, or in some sort of container garden. The good thing is, even if you live in an apartment, you can still grow a garden. Just get some planting pots and grow everything you can!
If you are living in your own home, not only can your garden help feed your family, but you can actually work the plants into your landscape and beautify your property.
How to Make and Use Compost
Composting is nature’s process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a rich soil. If you read my article on composting, you’ll discover just how easy it is. Kitchen scraps, leaves, even old newspapers can be turned into compost to use in your gardens.
Start your composting in the kitchen in this counter-top compost bin that holds in odors. Toss all your fresh fruit and vegetable scraps in and let them get started in the right direction. Once you have that started, move on to the bigger stuff outside.
If you’re a DIYer, you can build your own compost bin from pallets, hinges, galvanized bailing wire, and a gate latch. If you’re not so much a DIY type person, you can buy something like this that will help the micro-organisms breakdown all the organic waste to produce a nutrient-rich soil.
If you really want some fertile soil, a vermicomposter (aka a “worm factory”) will not only help break down the organics, but the worms you put in there will leave castings behind (worm poop) that is awesome in the garden!
How to Tend Animals
You can learn to tend a variety of animals. Chickens can give you fresh eggs, cows and goats can give you fresh milk, sheep can give you wool for sewing, knitting and weaving — and in the long run, they can all give you meat.
They are a good deal of work, so don’t think you can just get a half dozen of everything and be ok. Start slowly — 3 or 4 chickens would be a good start.
The Backyard Homestead’s Guide to Raising Small Animals is a good read. It will teach you how to get started with raising chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, rabbits, goats, sheep, cows, pigs, and honey bees successfully in both urban and suburban settings.
Also, it’s fun just being around these animals. They are highly entertaining.
How to Store Water Long Term
If you are on well water, there is always a possibility of water contamination, or worse — pump failure (unless you are using one of these old school water pump rigs). If you live in a very cold climate, there is always the chance of frozen pipes.
Any one of those reasons would be reason enough to learn proper water storing. The amount of water you store will greatly depend on the amount of space you have in your house.
For those living in an apartment or if you are looking to fill a somewhat small area, you can get some stackable water bricks. They hold up to 3½ gallons of water (or food, for that matter), and a single one is only about 9 inches high — perfect to slide under any bed in the house.
If you have a little more room, you could get some storage shelf units to hold 5 gallon water bottles and store multiples in one place or different places around the house. You could also get some of these 7 gallon water jugs that are also stackable.
If you are looking for mass amounts of water, I would recommend looking into a 55 gallon drum kit (just make sure if you get one locally that you are sure it is food grade and has not had any harmful chemicals in them). If you want to make sure you have the potential to have emergency water, but you are not looking to keep it full all the time, one of these water blobs would be ideal — they fit in a standard bathtub and hold 100 gallons!
Just remember that the more water you can store and have ready at a moment’s notice, the better off you are in the event of an emergency. It also helps to know how to purify water, too.
How to Use Basic Tools
If you don’t know how to properly use the tools needed for these tasks, you can get hurt very badly — and quick!
If you need a tool that you don’t know how to properly use (chainsaws are a great example here), ask a friend, relative or neighbor if they’re experienced with them.
Don’t be afraid to ask them to show you the basics. It’s much better for you to learn from someone that knows what they’re doing, than to be prideful and cut your leg off.
If you already know how to use the tools you need around the homestead, don’t forget to maintain them, keep them cleaned and oiled, and keep all your blades and bits sharp!
How to Prune Trees
The limbs can wear away your shingles, siding, and press against glass windows. Worse, yet — they could fall off the tree completely and damage your house or vehicles… or injure you or a family member!
If you see dead, dying, or damaged limbs hanging around on a tree, take care of it as soon as possible to avoid damage to property, injury, or even death.
It’s also mandatory if you’re growing any sort of fruit trees to keep them pruned so they yield as much fruit as possible. Learning which branches to prune at what time of year is detrimental in the grand scheme of your permaculture or orchard layout. Prune those trees wrong, and you could kill them, or at least damage them enough for them to stop producing.
How to Bake Bread
If you enjoy toast at breakfast — or a good tomato sandwich every now and again (with homegrown tomatoes, of course) — you’re going to need bread.
If you only get to town once a month for supplies, you’d either have to pick up enough bread for a month (and watch half of it mold), or learn to bake it yourself.
To be honest, a fresh loaf of homemade bread tastes better than store-bought any day of the week. Plus, there’s the added bonus of making your whole house smell like a bakery!
If you’re having difficulty getting things right from the start, a good bread machine will make things easier! With most of them, all you have to do is measure the ingredients, add them to the machine, push a couple of buttons, and wait. In a couple of hours, you’ll have a perfect loaf of freshly baked bread!
How to Can Food
Gardening can be advantageous for many reasons, but one big reason is that you can grow twice the amount of produce that your family will eat in the growing season and can half of it to eat during the off-season.
You can also can meats, homemade soups, and homemade jams and jellies. Canning will assure you have food year-round.
I used to think canning was a daunting task, but it’s really not. Get yourself a good 21-qt pressure canner and a set of canning tools, and you’ll be canning anything and everything in no time! (It’s a little addictive after you learn.)
The reason I recommend a pressure canner is that it can double as a water bath canner. You don’t need to even buy the water bath (unless you plan on doing a LOT of canning at one time). Just leave the lid on the pressure canner loose, and it does the same job!
Although you can do anything with a pressure canner that you can with a water bath, the same cannot be said the other way around. (You can process pickles in a pressure canner, but you cannot process meat in a water bath.) Save yourself some money, and just go with the pressure canner.
How to Freeze Food
Just like with canning, freezing food is a way to preserve excess fruit, veggies and meat so they don’t go bad before you can eat them. It’s another way to stretch your dollar and your harvest. There are many recipes floating around the internet for meals you can prepare in advance, freeze, and then pop into the crock pot to warm up. It doesn’t hurt to vacuum sealer them, either, to extend the freezer life of the food.
How to Mend Clothing
Sewing is one of the most underrated skills a homesteader can have. People used to make all their own clothes. While we have easy ways to get clothing in today’s world, it’s great to know how to stitch-up a rip in your favorite gardening jeans, throw a patch on your fall jacket, and darn socks that get the heels worn out in them fast.
How to Light a Fire
Lighters and matches are great to have, but if you can’t find them or run out, you’re going to need to know how to light a fire “survivor style.”
How to Heat Your House With Wood
Not only does this skill help you get off the grid a little more, but there’s a certain sense of pride in knowing that your house is warm because YOU made it that way. From cutting the wood in the summer to actually lighting the fires in the winter, your house will be warm all season by your own hands.
How to Live Without Technology
The internet and cell phones are great to have, but if you rely on them too much, you’ll lose yourself in your technology. Getting out on the homestead working, you won’t have as much time for all that technology, anyway. It may seem silly to call this a “skill,” but it truly is a skill to be able to get up in the morning and not rush to check your Facebook for new messages.
Basic Vehicle Maintenance
Being this far away from town, if your car, tractor, tiller or lawn mower breaks down, you’ll need to know at least some basic repairs to keep them running. Regular maintenance will help a lot, too. The more you maintain your vehicles, the less you’ll have to repair them. Keep a log of the maintenance you do on your vehicle for reference and warranty information.
How to Barter
Barring all these other skills, if you know how to barter, you will be fine. Maybe you don’t know how to can food, but your neighbor does. You can trade them some of your harvest for them to train you how to can. If you can’t work on your own car, you can bake some fresh bread for a neighbor that knows how to change your oil. Bartering is one of the best skills a homesteader can learn.