With all of the craziness going on in our current world, achieving self-sufficiency on the homestead has become more and more important to homesteaders and even non-homesteaders. Being able to depend less on others and more on yourself is becoming more of a skill and a necessity.
There are so many ways of achieving self-sufficiency on your homestead. Some are simple to get started while others may require the learning of some new skills. These skills may not be the ones you expect, however!
Modern-day skills work in a modern world but to be truly self-sufficient, you need to learn skills that pertain to yesterday’s world of minimal or maybe no modern conveniences.
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Why Not Use Modern Skills?
Modern skills are great for modern-day. Most of these skills require modern-day conveniences like electrical appliances and tools, being on the grid, and having things like running city water and refrigeration at your fingertips.
What if those modern-day conveniences were suddenly not available? Could you sew without that electric sewing machine? Could you keep water flowing without the city providing it for you? Can you keep food at a safe temperature without that fridge or freezer?
I am not saying we are heading for a major catastrophe. I am, however, saying that IF there were one, what would modern-day skills do for you if the grid went down, or the water quit running? How long would your food and water last and therefore, how would you stay healthy?
If you take the time now to learn to do things that do not depend on modern-day conveniences, you will not only start achieving self-sufficiency on your homestead, but you will continue to thrive for the long haul if the need arose.
Where Do You Start?
So how do you know where to start when working on achieving self-sufficiency? The best place is to make a list of your priorities. Think about what is most important to you and the health and safety of your homestead and your family. Most families start with the most important areas; water, food, and power.
In the event of a natural disaster, for example, ask yourself the following questions:
- Will I have access to clean drinkable water? If not do I know how to purify and filter water to make it drinkable?
- Do I have rain barrels on my homestead that provide filtered water or at least will provide water for animals and gardens
- Do I have enough food preserved in some way to carry my family for a long period of time?
- Am I growing food and saving seeds to replant for later so I have a constant supply of vegetables, herbs, and fruit?
- Am I connected to solar power? Are there enough panels to keep a fridge or freezer going in a long-term outage? Can I at least provide enough power for some lighting?
- Do I know how to cook over an open fire or on a wood stove if needed?
- Do I have a way to provide heat to my home if needed?
If your answer to any of these questions was a “NO”, I suggest you start working on changing those answers to yes’s. If your answer to the questions were all yes then you, my dear, are really well on your way to achieving self-sufficiency!
Your Next Steps
Taking on all of the above ideas is quite a huge undertaking and unless you have unlimited money, know that it is going to take time and patience. Now that you know the areas you need to work on, let’s see how to get started in each one.
Providing a Water Source
No matter what, nothing and no one can live without water. Animals, plants, and people all require water daily. Water is first on the list for a reason! So how do we learn about how to get and provide water?
If you live in a city or a small town where water is provided for you, you probably do not have the ability to drill a well. Therefore, you must either stock up on gallons or 5 gallons of water or start installing rain barrels with a filter system.
Let me add a note here of importance you may not know about. Water that is bottled and unopened does not go bad! However, the plastic that water is bottled in will deteriorate and will let off harmful chemicals after an extended period of time. You can read more about bottled water here.
Rain barrels, if allowed by your zoning laws, may be your answer. If you are allowed to have them installed on your property then make sure you also provide some sort of filter system so that the water can be consumed by your family.
Using a Well
For those in a more rural setting, a well is an option. This can be an expensive endeavor and will require power. If that is the only option, then you may want to invest in a solar-built system or at least a solar pump which is now available for keeping your well running with no electricity. Again it is an expensive option.
It is possible to dig your own well and install a hand pump if you have the right conditions and the ability to install one.
Please keep in mind if digging your own well to have the water tested before drinking it and try to provide some sort of filtration method also.
Stocking Up the Pantry
One of the biggest tasks for achieving self-sufficiency on the homestead is preserving food. This is no easy task because when you are preserving food for your family it is wise to put away enough food for each person in your home for one year. There are many different ways of doing this.
Some of the ways of preserving food when achieving self-sufficiency include the following:
- Canning (pressure and water bath)
- Fermenting or Pickling
- Smoking and Curing
- Freezing (Not recommended for power failures)
- Root Cellar Storage
Let’s look at each one and see what will be best for your homestead.
Dehydrating is thus called because when you do this process you remove all of the moisture from the food in order to make it last longer. But do not fret, because once you add some liquid to the dehydrated food it returns to its original form for the most part.
Dehydrating can be done with an electric dehydrator, or in the sun with a solar dehydrator. You can also use an oven. Just turn it to the lowest setting, cut your fruit and veg into ¼-inch slices, and put them in the oven on a lined sheet pan for as long as they need, usually 6 to 8 hours.
I have made Orange Zest, as well as tomatoes and tomato powder in my dehydrator. Strawberries come out amazing from the dehydrator and make a yummy snack. Grab a copy of The Complete Dehydrator Book for some great recipes and ideas for dehydrating your food.
Many people have turned to canning for preserving food nowadays. From Water Bath Canning to Pressure Canning, just about everything you grow or harvest can be canned for storage. This includes meat too.
Water Bath Canning is the easiest and usually, the first method beginners start with. Water bath canning can be used for the following foods safely:
- Fruits and fruit juices.
- Jams and jellies.
- Pickles and relishes.
- Chutneys, sauces, pie fillings.
- Bottles of vinegar.
There are only a few supplies needed to water Bath Can. These may include a complete kit, or the following list.
Pressure Canning is a bit different in the method and in the supplies. You can learn everything about canning right from Ball Canning Company in the book The Ball Complete Book Of Home Preserving. Foods often pressure canned include the following:
- dairy products
- all vegetables
Supplies needed for Pressure Canning may include the following:
- A Pressure Canner
- canning jars
- canning lids and rings
- jar lifter and canning funnel
- towels and pot holders
- pots and bowls
- spoons knives etc.
- food to be canned.
- other ingredients
Check out Simply Canning for great directions on all ways of canning.
Fermenting and Pickling
Fermentation is an amazing natural tool that can help make food more digestible, nutritious, and flavorful. Fermented foods have historically been valued for their improved shelf life and unique taste, aroma, texture, and appearance. They also allow us to consume otherwise inedible foods. For example, table olives must be fermented in order to remove their bitter-tasting phenolic compounds.
Some examples of fermented foods are:
- cultured milk and yogurt
- fermented sausage
Smoking and Curing
According to Wikipedia, “Smoking is the process of flavoring, browning, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering material, most often wood. Meat, fish, and lapsang souchong tea are often smoked. “
Smoking involves lower heat levels than actually cooking the meat for a meal. There are two types of smoking: Hot Smoking and Cold Smoking. Hot smoking involves heating the meat to temperatures of 150F whereas Cold Smoking is done generally at temperatures of no more than 100F. Cold smoking is usually done to flavor foods and by itself is not an adequate food preservation method.
A smokehouse is ideal. The smokehouse needs to hold the smoke around the meat and allow the temperature to be maintained at about 150F. The better your smokehouse is built, the better it will retain heat and will require far less wood.
Learn how to build an efficient smokehouse on your homestead for smoking meat and fish.
Freezing as a Way of Preserving
Freezing food is a great way of preserving food unless you are looking for a way to save food long-term without power. Now if you live in Alaska or a year-round snow-filled climate, of course, this is an option. For most of us, however, freezing is great for being on the grid, but not for off-the-grid.
If power is not an issue for you and you can keep a freezer running and maintained, freezing food is simple, usually last a fairly long time, and does preserve most foods rather well.
Some foods like herbs can be frozen fresh or in oil cubes for easy use later. Most veggies must be blanched in boiling water before freezing. Meats and many other foods freeze well as long as you remove most if not all of the air from the package in order to prevent freezer burn.
You can download a detailed freezer storage chart from the FDA. You can also visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for an excellent PDF printable guide to freezing meals.
Root Cellar Storage
Having your own root cellar, whether it be in a cool basement or a block enclosure in the ground is always a great way to preserve your root vegetables. However, homesteaders in states like Florida, California, and Texas, for example, may not be able to do so because the ground does not stay cool enough, and/or they may not have basements that stay cool enough either.
If you are lucky enough to afford a root cellar on your homestead, you are blessed with the means to store fruits like apples, and vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips, canned or pickled vegetables, and more.
For an excellent guide to storing different foods with their exact storage requirements, see 22 Foods You Can Store in a Root Cellar from Hobby Farms.
Growing Food and Saving Seeds
Another great way of attaining self-sufficiency is by growing your own food and saving as many seeds as possible for the upcoming planting season. You have so many options when it comes to gardening. Here are some types of gardens you may want to start on your homestead.
- A Kitchen Garden
- An Indoor Garden
- A Survival Garden
- Medicinal Garden
- An Edible Food Forest
- Container Garden
Any of the preceding gardens can provide your family with a year’s supply of vegetables and herbs. You may also want to include some fruit trees and then learn to preserve the fruit you grow too. You can even grow your own pineapple!
Make sure to learn about building a compost pile and what types of materials go into it. You may also want to start a vermicomposting bin and then learn how to harvest it for your gardens. Follow these methods with getting the proper soil ready and you can pretty much plant whatever you want!
How Much Food to Grow
The amount of food you will grow each season will depend on the number of people in your family and what types of food each person wishes to eat. You won’t grow turnips if no one in your home eats them, right? Start out by making a list of which foods your family members eat that will grow in your climate.
Achieving self-sufficiency means you do not depend on others for much if anything at all. Seeds for your gardens should be one of those items you provide yourself. So how do you save seeds from your fruits and vegetables?
Solar power is one item that can be extremely expensive to get started on in the beginning but will definitely pay off in the long run on your homestead. However, there are some lower-cost ways to get started with solar power for your homestead.
I do a lot of research on Amazon and there are a lot of grid-tie kits for those that wish to start off a piece at a time. Starting off slow in this way can allow you to save for each part or item you will need.
Another way of starting off smaller scale is to purchase smaller off-grid solar items like outdoor lights, solar power for your RV’s, and kits for your electronics.
Here is an excellent video on how to calculate how much solar you need for your situation.
Starting a Fire and Outdoor Cooking
Without power, you may need to find alternatives to cook and heat water. That’s where knowing how to start a fire and learning how to cook outdoors may come in handy.
From gas and charcoal grills, mud ovens, firepits, cooking on hot rocks, to solar ovens, there are many ways to cook outside. You just need to decide which is best for you.
Before you get started you may want to invest in a good set of Cast Iron pots and pans. Then make sure you take the time to learn how to use and maintain them.
To properly start a fire you need what else? Wood. Collecting firewood is important and something you want to stock up on year-round since it should be cured before using it to burn. Just cut, split, and store it under a cover to keep it dry. Easy Peasy!
Have you ever heard of rubbing two sticks together to start a fire? Do you think it is impossible? Watch the following two videos to learn two different methods of starting a fire. Then for a fun project, try your hands at a fun craft, Making DIY Fire Starters with your family.
Another important aspect of achieving self-sufficiency on the homestead is providing heat to your home for your family. Many people have fireplaces that are an excellent heat source and relatively easy to maintain. For those that do not have a fireplace, a wood stove is another option for heating your home.
Buying a new wood stove can be expensive, but if that’s what you choose then you definitely need to check out the woodstoves from Lehmans. Another option for purchasing a wood stove whether to cook on or to heat with is to shop on your local Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
Another option for heat in a smaller home is a rocket mass heater. You can research these on YouTube.
Final Thoughts on Achieving Self-Sufficiency on the Homestead
You should now be well-armed with many ways of learning some new skills on your journey of achieving self-sufficiency. Set your list of priorities, choose the most important new skill that you wish to achieve, and learn everything you can with each step.
Remember, achieving self-sufficiency is a journey you will take and it is not a fast one. It could take months, maybe even years to achieve. What is important is that you continually learn new skills and find new resources to make your individual journey a successful one.
A very nice, comprehensive post, thank you.
I would add to the preserving food section, a couple of comments:
First, most, if not all, fermented foods require refrigeration and can’t just be left on the counter, so in my opinion, it is NOT a way to PRESERVE foods. (unless you CAN them, which removes all the benefits of fermenting!!!)
Second: You left out freeze drying. Now I know it is a fairly new way for homesteaders and people at home to preserve foods, but it is getting more and more economical all the time. I recently purchased a home freeze dryer. Yes, they are still expensive (around 2K). But I only eat organically grown pasture raised meat: beef, chicken, turkey, etc. And to find any freeze dried meats that fit my requirements are about $30. an OUNCE!!!! With my own food dryer, I can make up the cost in about 1-2 years.
I can make all of my own prepackaged meals like from Mountain house or any similar company, and for much less than they charge!
You can also offset the cost by sharing it with friends/neighbors/relatives, either by sharing the actual cost of buying one or by ‘renting’ it out for others to use, or by selling your freeze dried foods to them.
About solar: Now I may have been less costly to just save and buy a whole house system, but I bought 4 solar generators in 3 different sizes, that can probably run most of my entire house: 1 160 Wh jackery, (for my jeep),
2 x 1000 Wh and a 2000 Wh, all the Jackery brand.
I have 4-100w solar panels and 2-200w solar panels and a 60 w solar panel for my jeep.
I bought them at different times and 3 of them were on sale.
BEWARE using your freezer for long term storage: I lost over $1400. in meat when a freezer stopped working and I did not notice for a week. I have vowed not to use my freezers (I now have 4 small chest style ones) for long term…only for a few months at a time. But now, I can freeze dry my meats anyway, or can them…..
Again, THANK you for a very thorough post.
Hello, Carol THank you for the kind words! I agree about fermenting but I have to include it since so many of my readers use fermenting to preserve food for their families. As far as freeze drying, because it is still fairly new and a bit expensive, I didn’t include it as so many people are trying to be so frugal when it comes to preserving and stocking a pantry.
I love that you mention the community! It is wonderful when people are willing to share the harvest! Living so rural, we have very few people to share with! I am so happy you can do that!
As far as solar, I feel like anything you do that keeps the power on, even if just a fridge, is worth every penny!
And the freezer! We have a generator we use when the power is out for the short term, so I really don’t have a risk there. However, once everything is solar that won’t be an issue. But for those who do not have a way to save their frozen foods, I agree that you need to be careful how much you put in there!
I am glad you found the post helpful and thank you for being a part of my community!
Oh, one other comment about becoming self sufficient on your homestead: Learn to sew, crochet, knit, etc., and have fabric stored away to make clothing with. Making simple shoes is also another skill you should learn. Especially if you have hunters in the family, to use the skins that would otherwise go to waste…ah, yes, learn to tan hide!
I have both a regular sewing machine and a treadle one …so if the power goes out, I can still sew. I have fabric set away and will be buying more…no real worries about patterns, just take apart the garment you wish to reproduce and there you go: pattern.
I love this advice! Sewing is such an important skill to have and such great ideas!