Backyard Farming: Homesteading: The Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency - Kim Pezza (2015)
Chapter 8. HOMESTEADING WITH ABSOLUTELY NO EXPERIENCE
So, you’ve decided that you want to start growing your own food, but you have absolutely no experience doing so: you’ve never planted a seed; that potted plant you got as a gift died after only a few weeks because you forgot to water it; you’ve never even seen a chicken in person, let alone cared for one. But you’re determined—you’ve made a vow to plants everywhere that your house will no longer be the place where they go to die; you’ve decided chickens really are kind of cute; and you want to get started … right now!
But where should you begin?
Slow and Steady
If you really don’t have experience with anything having to do with growing crops or keeping farm animals, the best thing to do is to start out slow, especially if you are unsure or nervous about your first attempt. Begin with a small garden.
In terms of structuring your garden to make things as easy as possible, purchasing actual plants for the garden (instead of planting seeds yourself) is more expensive, but virtually guarantees a better start for someone brand new to growing things. If you really want to try seed, start with something that will almost always sprout and grow, like leaf lettuce, basil, spinach, Italian parsley, sunflower, collards, etc. You don’t want to start with something too hard to plant from seed, only to become frustrated when nothing sprouts and grows. Once you get your first sprouts and make it through your first harvest, you can try some of the trickier seeds next year with a new sense of confidence. If something happens and the sprouts don’t come up, you won’t feel quite so defeated; on the contrary, you’ll probably find that you want to try again, as you become determined to see them grow. If you live in an area where the weather is always mild, you can begin a new planting right away. However, if you live in an area with 3-4 seasons, you will need to wait until warmer weather comes for planting time to roll around again (unless you want to try growing indoors in a container).
If you want chickens, try keeping just a few for eggs at first, but build your coop large enough that you can add more birds at a later date (when you feel more comfortable handling them). You’ll soon find that chickens are not as difficult to keep as you may have thought, and will be eager to add more to your family. When starting with chickens (or any livestock, for that matter), read up on their care and maintenance before you bring them home. If at all possible, spend time with either breeders or other owners. These people can help not only to answer your questions, but to get a little hands-on experience as well. Take advantage of this while there is someone right there to guide you. Whenever possible, have housing for the animals set up and ready for them before you bring your animals home. You will find it a lot easier having the coop or barn built to or modified for their needs and ready to go beforehand, rather than having to rush to build something after the fact.
If you have never dealt with livestock before (especially very large animals, such as cattle), it may be a good idea to get in a little practice handling them before you bring them home. If you are purchasing directly from a farm, ask if the farmer will work with you and your animals for a few days before you take them home. Keep in mind that dealing with an unhappy adult cow or steer is much different than dealing with a disgruntled dog or goat in the same situation.
When harvest time comes around and you find yourself with lots to preserve, most extension offices offer workshops on preserving. You can also watch for classes being taught through adult education programs, and even at other area farms. If you would like to see how to can, or the proper way to prepare something for freezing rather than simply read about it, there are always options available. If you do prefer to read about the various preservation methods, there are a number of books (including Backyard Farming: Home Harvesting and Backyard Farming: Canning & Preserving from this series), as well as periodicals and websites on canning, smoking, dehydrating, freezing and pickling. You might also ask experienced family members or friends for advice, as they will usually be very happy to pass along and share their knowledge with you. This can also be a great time to learn those little hints and tricks that are the product of many years of reallife experience.
With all of the fresh food you’ll soon have available, don’t be afraid to try new recipes or even make up your own concoctions. There are so many dishes, desserts and soups that you can try that meal time can always be something different. Even if you don’t have any cookbooks, there are recipes galore to be found online. You could even raid your mother’s or grandmother’s files. For quick meals, you can make extra (or freeze leftovers), creating your own frozen dinners.
Even when you feel like you have no clue as to what you are doing, you can still become an urban farmer or homesteader. It may take a little longer as you take it slow, but with all the information out there, and all the people willing to teach (if you are willing to learn), almost everyone can find their niche and grow to become part of the homesteading movement!