urban homesteading – a story of soil and soul
Along with my husband and two kids, four chooks, thousands of bees and one fat cat, we reside in Canberra, the dust bowl of Australia, hot summers, freezing winters, roundabouts, the capital of Australia. We are living the suburban dream, on a 1000sqm block (about 1/4 acre), which we have been developing into an urban homestead since 2009.
My husband and I started on the path to a lower impact lifestyle over 10 years ago, reducing chemicals & disposables, using cloth nappies, eating more sustainably, and becoming more aware of our footprint on the earth. We have never been ‘green gurus’ but we made many changes, and did the best we could as we went along. Growing and producing some of our own food was a natural extension of that.
We rapidly went from wanting to grow ‘some of our own food’, to planning an urban homestead! We bought a house on a large block, with dreams to turn every inch of our mostly bare suburban block into an edible paradise. It was a way to live more purposefully and productively, by growing and raising some organic food, cooking with real food, and preserving our harvests, using more natural methods of cleaning and keeping house, and doing more DIY type activities.
However, with both of us working, young kids to raise, trying to get fit and healthy, and be an active part of our community, we found that what we had created just in our side and back yard over several years, provided more than enough harvests, experiences and hard yakka! (We didn’t need to convert every inch, 1/3 of the block was more than enough!)
You can read more about urban homesteading here, Beginners Guide to Urban Homesteading and Beginners Guide to Creating an Urban homestead. Read our story below…
- There were existing apricot, nectarine and plum trees
- We started growing food, converting small existing garden bed areas
- We added two apple trees, and raspberries
- We started composting, using greywater, added a worm farm, solar panels
- Started preserving, by bottling & dehydrating
- Bec attended a short course, Backyard Organic Growing with Permaculture Principles
- We added a 5000L rainwater tank, more fruit trees (peach & another apple tree)
- Building community connections, including being involved with PermaBlitz ACT
- Started gaining more knowledge, skills & equipment
- During a Permablitz, we added Hugelkultur, Sheet Mulch & Wicking Worm Garden Beds
- Bec completed an Introduction to Permaculture course
- We finally realised our chicken dream, when we added 6 Pure Breed Chooks in September
- We started Lacto-fermentation as another way of preserving the harvest
- Bec attended a Beginners Crochet short course (to make dishcloths!) & also the Chooks in the City One Day Workshop
- Started pressure canning stock, meats & veges (in bottles/ jars)
- We set up warre beehive & obtained a ‘swarm’ of bees
- We added 3 more Pure Breed Chooks
- Bec attended a Natural Beekeeping Course with Tim Malfroy, through Milkwood Permaculture, Ryan attended a CIT Beekeeping Course
- In late 2012, Growing Home was born, as a way for Bec to take her passion & help others
- We added a full-size greenhouse
- Bec volunteered with Urban Agriculture Australia, at Floriade, developing several FactSheets, providing stock photos, & input
- Bec presented in the Gourmet Garden marquee at Floriade, several times a week, for 5 weeks, including Getting Started with Urban Homesteading, Preserving the Harvest, Cooking from the Garden, and Seed Saving
- Over the last few years, we have continued to grow seasonal produce, harvest, store and preserve it, and develop great family-friendly recipes that use home grown and home preserved ingredients
- In early 2016, Bec started working on Growing Home as a proper small business, instead of just a hobby!
our urban homesteading journey
Do you have memories of fresh food being grown in your backyard when you were growing up? Did you appreciate it at the time, or were you like ‘no more zucchini fritters!’? I distinctly remember wishing that one day I would have a big vege patch just like Mr MacGregors garden in Peter Rabbit books.
It wasn’t until many years later that it actually came true, though it hasn’t quite worked out like his patch. My husband and I started creating our urban homestead in 2009, but the story really began long before that.
Growing up, my family always grew some of their own fresh food. I was born on a farm, in fact, with sheep, chickens, horses and vegetable gardens. Despite the seemingly harsh conditions (frosty Winters and searing Summers) of rural NSW my family grew, raised and ate home grown produce.
In the same town, my Grandmas backyard had grapes, lemons, vegetable patches and more. Being a butchers wife, she knew the meaning of nose to tail long before chefs and locavores started using that term.
In later years, when we lived in a subtropical climate in coastal Mid North Coast, my Mum would grow tomatoes, zucchini and broad beans in amongst the decorative plants. She made bread & butter pickles, and tomato relish. My Dad had banana trees, chickens and a greenhouse.
When my husband and I bought our first home in the same area, we did a lot of gardening and landscaping to grow lush low-maintenance tropical gardens. Then we scraped out a bare section on a retaining wall to grow tomatoes and broad beans! We did have some thriving fruit trees, bushy lemongrass and herbs.
When we moved to Canberra in 2008 with our young kids, we rented a townhouse for a year, which was devoid of anything green or living, but we couldn’t contain our growing itch any longer. We started growing food in pots and foam boxes. In 2009 we bought our current home, and that is when it all really began. It’s funny how all the years we lived in a beautiful coastal climate with ideal growing conditions, that its only since we moved back to a harsher climate, we are now growing and raising food.
SAVING THE WORLD… FROM ZOMBIES?
Tradition and family influence aside, there are a couple of main reasons why we got the idea to become urban homesteaders. For many years, our family was into living a ‘lower impact’ lifestyle, with a focus on preparedness. We were inventive enough to call it ‘survironmentalism’!
Our interest in environmentally-friendly living began about 10 years ago. With our increased knowledge about the state of our world, we made a lot of changes to incorporate more sustainable measures in our life, and we began to think about how we would feed, protect and provide for our family in an uncertain future. When we moved to Canberra, we wanted to increase our resilience and have some level of self-sufficiency. Having a renewable source of food seemed like an essential element when preparing for zombies, and saving the world.
We were never hard core Doomsday Preppers, preparing for the end of the world as we know it (it’s cool if you are though, I know where to come when TSHTF). We couldn’t afford to buy and set up any kind of off-grid living option, but buying a house with a decent sized block in Canberra was possible. Urban homesteading became our way to adapt in place.
It’s more than just being sustainable, or about preparedness, it is about:
- the convenience of fresh food at our back doorstep
- being able to afford organic and ethical food
- reducing our reliance on packaged and processed foods
- getting the whole family outside in the fresh air
- learning about science, nature and lifecycles
- improving our health and wellbeing
- gaining a bunch of new skills and knowledge
- having abundance to share with our neighbours
TAKE SOME SOIL, ADD A FEW SEEDS… HOW WE BUILT AN URBAN HOMESTEAD
Our house is on a 994sqm suburban block, but the areas we grow and raise in, equal about 1/3 of that. From 2009, over the years we built a lot of infrastructure, and had a steep learning curve for so many elements. The set up consists of very little in the way of orderly rows of cabbages and lettuces like Mr MacGregor. We go with more of a permaculture, jungle type theme.
We are a working family, living in suburbia, leading a relatively standard life, both of us working, raising kids and enjoying a good life. It hasn’t always been easy, this urban homesteading gig. When we started out, ours kids were toddlers, and we took turns getting jobs and projects done. Now they are older, we have sports, activities, social events and lots of stuff we like to do as a family. We also have community commitments and spent a lot of time involved in community projects in the past. We don’t have any family support living nearby. It has meant a lot of balancing and squeezing things in. These are not extraordinary challenges. In the grand scheme of things, it actually reflects how fortunate we are.
People make the time and effort, when they believe in what they are doing.
Whilst it seems like a big undertaking, we believe that growing our own produce & cooking real food is important. We want to live in a way that enhances our health and wellbeing, that feels like we are living with purpose, where we feel vibrant and surrounded by abundance.
This hobby we decided to embark upon does take time, effort and money (it’s a cliché, but it has been worth the time and effort for the benefits we have gained). We knew that when we started. Admittedly, there have been times when I have become too consumed by this hobby, or feeling like I had to do it all. Wearing myself out trying to preserve a years worth of tomatoes, or spending countless hours volunteering for like-minded community groups. For my own sanity I knew I had to cut back on the amount of things I thought I could get done. I don’t know where I got the idea that I needed to somehow provide home grown, home made tomato sauce for my family and they should never eat bought sauce again!? (They eat bought sauce).
WE DID IT. YOU CAN DO IT TOO.
Looking back on all we have set up, its an awesome feeling to know how much we have accomplished, and how great it is that we are still picking our own fresh produce every day. In amongst the challenges, even the times where I felt too tired to pick the zucchini and magically transform it into kid-approved dinner… I still had that inner excitement about growing my own food. It is immensely satisfying to plant and nurture a seed, until it becomes a thriving plant that gives back to you. That is a feeling I want to share with the world!
Urban homesteading can help people, from all kinds of backgrounds, and in a variety of situations, to provide for their families, and to get awesome benefits every day. We cannot all move to the country and eat a lot of peaches. Nor can we all live off-grid and hunker down with our tinned beans. There are a lot of people living in cities, suburb-dwellers, just like us.
Urban homesteading is a way for people in cities and suburbia to develop resilience.
Maybe you have already embraced this revitalisation of the grow your own food movement, and are force-feeding, I mean, lovingly serving your kids zucchini fritters. Maybe your family is following traditions set by your own parents, grandparents and generations before you. Perhaps you are just starting out, or dreaming about getting started?
What would be really cool, is if you would join the Growing Home Community and share your story! I’d love to know, is edible gardening in your genes? Is it something you happened upon? What made you start urban homesteading, or what makes you want to start?
read more of our adventures and stories
Did you ever imagine you would become a backyard beekeeper? Me neither! Yet here I am, donning the whites and smoking it up all in the name of apiarism…
Chickens give you eggs, give you poo, and eat your kitchen scraps, maybe even eat pests from your garden (& hopefully not your seedlings!) They are entertaining, and educational for us all…
To me, real food is less processed, less nasty chemicals, more nutrient dense, AND whatever foods you can happily digest & nourish yourself with. My family took quite the journey to get to that food philosophy though…