This is entirely my own definition; I think of homesteading as a situation where you have a property that somehow makes you some money rather than you merely paying rent or a mortgage on it. It is not necessarily the case that the property “pays for itself.” Even if you can make a few hundred dollars off of your property you feel a little bit less like a slave to it and a little bit less like a slave to the system of the world.
It doesn’t require that you have many acres in order to homestead. I’m on less than 1/3rd of an acre but have yet found a number of ways to earn money from the property and to increase the value of the property were I one day to sell it.
It is fortunate that we have a number of walnut trees on our property. This was not the reason we purchased the place. In fact, I scarcely noticed the trees at first. Then I had to take a massive (and dead) one down. Though the outside was rotted “punk” the inside was more than 20” diameter of beautiful black walnut. From this I’ve made a bench, trim for windows, trim for a bathroom, and some spoons. The less desirable parts of the tree became firewood. And now having installed a wood stove I acquired for free, we’re heating with wood and so savings money on our energy bill.
We’ve taken out a couple more walnut trees to open up more sunlight to the garden. But you scarcely need to have your own trees to do woodworking or even to get firewood. It seems obvious to say – trees are everywhere. And neighbors and tree-trimming companies will gladly let you have their wood. I got the trunk of a large walnut tree from next door when a company came and cut the tree down. The wood was free and I cut over 100 board feet of 1” walnut boards out of it with my chainsaw mill.
You might want to have your own trees though if you’re going to tap for syrup. And apparently its not just Sugar Maples that can be tapped, but other Maples and Walnut and Birch even. So we’ll be trying to tap our walnut trees this coming spring and make some syrup.
Another way to have your property return some money to you is, as they say in Portlandia, “rent it out.” If you have some extra space, you can probably use it in a way that gets a financial return. We’ve done some of this on our property.
Another simple way that we’re using our property to our advantage is through gardening. Each year we’ve added another bed to the garden. Growing a variety of food has been fun and while perhaps we haven’t saved a massive amount of money from the garden, we’re probably eating slightly healthier.
In our modern world even things like hanging out clothes out to dry in the sun is an oddity. We’re glad to embrace being odd when it comes to homesteading. We’ve got stacks of firewood on the front porches and I think it makes for a nice old-fashioned feel. The heat of the wood stove also brings one back into the real world, taking pride in heating your home for yourself and not relying (entirely anyways) on natural gas or heating oil.
We’re constantly looking for other ways to produce value from our property. But sometimes you can simply go a short ways to find other resources. Neighbors have allowed us to pick mulberries and black cap raspberries off their property. From other sources we’ve gotten free apples, peaches, and grapes for canning and making jams. And from yet other places I’ve found sassafras root for making old-fashioned root beer. It will be some years before they produce, but we’ve planted pear trees and soon will plant an apricot tree and a peach tree.
Homesteading in our modern world comes with many challenges. Sometimes it is nature that challenges you. More often it is other people that present the challenge. They’ll think you’re odd, that’s for sure. Your local government might not like the noise of your chainsaw or the size of your wood piles. But I think all told it is a more authentic life and one spent more outdoors.
I look forward to future homesteading projects and finding new ways to enjoy the world and maybe make or save a few dollars in the process.