Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Too Poor: To Homestead

I know you have heard someone say they are too poor to do something. This is going to be a multi part series. I will be honest and tell you I don't yet know how many posts there will be in this series. I already know of three, but there could be more. Today we are going to be talking about homesteading and several aspects of the term.

First some definitions

Homestead -  if you look up the definition of homestead in a dictionary it will say something along the lines of a home, lands, and outbuildings that are the residence of a family.

The Rural Economist definition of homestead- a place where an individual or family works to improve their self reliance, improve their health, and live a happy, productive life. 

Notice the massive difference in these two definitions. One is about possessions and only possessions. The other is about attitude. 

 Poor- not having the money to purchase basic necessities. i.e. shoes, clothing, food

What does it mean to be too poor to homestead?

I have talked to people who have told me they couldn't afford to grow any of their own food. Yup, I really have. I admit that there are people who do not have the resources to go out and buy a tiller, fertilizer, and plants and grow food in what we now call a traditional manner. There are many that truly do not have the money to afford the basic necessities. I work with a man that struggles to make ends meet. He works hard too. You will never see him in new clothes or a new vehicle, but he still makes a way to plant a small garden. He has told me, "Harvest time is when I eat the best". 

What most people really mean when they say they are too poor to homestead.

I am convinced that what most people mean when they say they are too poor to grow some of their own food is they really don't want to try. But there are some people who honestly believe they cannot afford to take any money away from the pantry today to provide for tomorrow. Others just don't know how to grow any of their own food and are afraid to try or are unwilling to learn.

Ways to be able to afford to produce some of your own food.

No till.

One of the biggest expenses for the first time gardener is acquiring all of the equipment they think they need to produce their own food. A tiller is one of the largest upfront costs for the backyard gardener. What if I told you you didn't need a tiller? In many circumstances a tiller can be counter productive, especially in the long run. Tillers produce an upsurge in fertility in the short term because they kill several things in the soil. The organisms decaying increase available nutrients for a short period of time. Tilling too much can actually impact the soil even more, several inches under the surface, but for "new ground" or heavily compacted soil I will till the first time or two so the ground is capable of being worked. After that I start working toward going no till.

Here is the how. Lots and lots of stores will give you cardboard boxes if you ask or find someone in your area that has livestock and ask for their paper feed sacks (I actually prefer the feed sacks). Plant your plants and place the feed sacks or cardboard around the plant, then cover with mulch, leaves, or straw. This will decrease the amount of weeding you will have to do and will actually increase the health of your soil for next year. Look at your ground as a long term venture.

For a little more information on no till and some information on hugelkultur you can read this previous post. It is a really old post and really isn't up to the visual standards we have now, but the information is still valid.


Compost is a great at improving the soil. Best of all you can make it with things you throw away. This is your fertilizer. Now I want to make something perfectly clear. If you are looking for instant results, compost will not work in the same way as a chemical fertilizer. A chemical fertilizer has a faster uptake into the plants, but tends to damage the soil in the long term. When possible I advise against chemical fertilizer. There are organic fertilizers available, but they tend to be expensive and we are trying to make food production affordable for the less fortunate here.

For more information on composting you can see another previous post.

ways of composting on the small homestead

What kind of garden to grow?

Seeds are always cheaper than plants. But plants help you get produce sooner or even harvest things that you couldn't due to growing times. If at all possible I suggest starting all of your plants from seed. If you have decided to start your garden and it is a little late in the season, you may want to start a garden or maybe even a container garden to produce at least a little bit of food. You will need to decide how you are going to grow your food. You can learn more about that by reading our post, Garden Design: What Should You Build. You can produce at least some of your own food no matter where you live. You can do this.

How to afford seeds or plants

Even if you are on a very limited budget you can still get either seeds or plants. Many libraries offer seeds to the public. Gardeners are some of the most generous people you will ever meet, if you talk to a few you will find someone who will be willing to give you some seeds.  If you cannot find someone who will give you seeds you can purchase seeds.

I recently found out that EBT cards can be used to purchase vegetable seeds, plants, fruit trees and even canning supplies. This is something I can believe in. I just wish it was more widely publicized. I have been told that this is covered in the information packet that is handed out when someone receives foodstamps. Unless a person reads the information thoroughly they may not know this. Other than the informational packet it is up to individual retailers to make this information know. Anywhere that is set up to accept SNAP can sell you seeds or plants.

All Wal-Mart stores accept SNAP and most sell garden seeds and plants. Sometimes, however, the employees may not know that you can use this benefit for that. If you are told you cannot use your SNAP card for seeds or plants ask for the manager and have them look up the SNAP Gardens site. This can really help improve your self reliance.

So you see, no one is really too poor to begin the homestead journey. One step at a time and person by person, we are
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