How to Become a Homesteader Pt 1 - Starting Your Garden

How to Become a Homesteader Part 2 – Starting Your Garden

In what felt like the snap of my fingers I went from living a completely city-bound life to wanting to homestead and become self-sufficient. Being in the garden and making my own food filled me with such joy and helped me find my purpose in life. This change was all thanks to the 2020 pandemic and I’m so grateful for it. It helped me see what truly mattered and made me prioritize things in my life to become a homesteader.

Once I decided that the homestead life was for me, I wasn’t sure how to get to where I envisioned myself being. It seemed like an impossible journey. Moving to the country – how would we make money and work when our jobs were in the major city? Growing and making my own food – how could I do that when I barely knew how to cook or grow anything? 

If this sounds like you, then you’re in the right place. 

This mini-series will provide a simple road-map for how I was able to go from a city-slicker to a homesteader in a few short years. 

Read: Part 1 – Starting with Food here. 

Preface: My Story

It started small in a tiny suburban backyard with an 8×8 garden bed and from there we focused on eating real whole foods. When we cut out restaurants and pre-made/pre-processed foods and opted for more delicious homemade food it literally changed our lives. We started canning and freezing our garden abundance to utilize throughout the winter. Then we started baking our own bread and (proudly) haven’t bought a loaf from the store since 2020! But we wanted to do more. We loved our time in the garden, learning, growing, eating real food and becoming more self-reliant in a time when food was becoming scarce.

We made big career changes that were really hard and tough so we could buy a new home with some land to keep building our dreams. In 2021 we built nine 4×12 garden beds, a greenhouse and got our first livestock animal – chickens.

2024 marks our fifth year gardening, eating whole foods, and cooking from scratch. Also our third year with chickens and gardening with a greenhouse. We’re planning and prioritizing our most eaten foods from the garden to make the most of our investment. All while also learning new things along the way and still planning for our big forever homestead property with acres of fruit tree fields, vegetable crops, farm animals, and medicinal gardens. We’ve come a long way and I truly hope to help others reading this with what I discovered to get us here. 

Banana Peppers
Banana Peppers

What’s Next In Your Homesteading Journey?

Know Your Gardening Zone 

Based on where you live there is a universal map called ‘zones’. These zones are designed to help people know what they can and can’t grow in those zones. Each zone is based on your weather climate and the first and last frost dates in this area along with the average temperatures. At first it’s a bit overwhelming, but once you get the hang of it, it makes sense. 

Below is an example of the growing zones in the USA found on an official USA government website: A simple google search will easily provide you with an idea of your zone and any details.

USA Growing Zones Map from

Decide What Plants You Want to Grow

Now that you’re aware of your zone, you need to decide what you can grow and when you can grow it. 

There are a lot of ways to maximize your use of the your garden beds depending on your zone. If you’re in a warmer climate with a higher zone then you can do crop rotations in your beds all year. But if this is your first time I suggest starting small with a traditional summer garden.

For example, I live in Zone 5B. My summer garden starts around mid-May and lasts until the end of September. There’s so much nuance behind each plant and the seasons your zone goes through, it will take research and experience to understand how to best grow your garden for your zone. 

Some traditional summer plants for inspiration include: tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beets, zucchini, peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, beans. We have a large catalogue of growing guides to help you in your gardening journey – check out the different growing guides here.

As you get more and more confident, try some fun things! Cucamelons are a fun one for us. They are small like grapes, look like watermelon, and taste like cucumber with a hint of lime. 

Garden basket with cucamelons

How to Build Your Garden

Now that you know what you want to grow, you’re going to have to map out your garden space to see how much you can plant in your garden bed. If you haven’t built a garden yet, you will also need to figure out where you want to build it in your yard. 

In-ground garden beds where you direct sow into the ground after a bit of tilling is one method. But the most common garden bed is a raised bed. You build a box above the ground and fill it with compost, manure, and soil and plant in that. 

You will want your garden beds to be in full sun or at least partial-sun. Some plants do want partial sun, like lettuce and kale. Depending on the amount of yard space and experience you have this decision will be nuanced. 

Our first garden bed was a raised 8×8 bed in full and partial sun – the only spot in our suburban yard. Now we have nine 12×4 raised beds, six are in full sun and three are in partial sun. 

If this is your first season I would recommend starting your first bed in a full-sun spot. Most plants want full-sun so there won’t be any issues with that. 

Showing the tomato trellising style called Florida Weave
Florida Weave technique to support tomatoes.

Map Out Your Garden

You know what you want to grow and you have your garden bed planned out or built, now it’s time to map out this year’s garden. 

This is every gardener’s fun winter activity. We evaluate based on our garden journal from last year what plants went where, how they did, what we ate a lot of, what we want more of,etc. 

Seed packets will always say how much sun the plant needs, how deep to plant it,  how far to plant from other plants, etc. That information is also available online. As you do this more and more you will quickly learn how to plant and the spacing required, but for your first garden, follow the packet. 

Spring planting seeds in a basket
Spring planting seeds in a basket

Tip: When a tomato plant says 30” between each row, remember that 30” doesn’t mean: tomato plant, 30” of space, tomato plant, 30” of space, etc. You can do 15” a tomato plant, 15” tomato plant. This is something a lot of experienced gardeners do to maximize spacing. Each plant is still 30” apart, just in a different way. 

Mulch Your Garden Beds 

Once everything is planted, you must mulch your soil. Take this from an experienced garden grower. We were told to mulch and didn’t do it. While our plants still grew, they didn’t reach their maximum potential. Mulching helps retain moisture and keeps the soil temperature cool on hot days. Mulching can be scary to new gardeners because too much mulch can prevent seedlings from breaking through the organic material. For a detailed overview you can check out my mulching 101 article.

Up next, is Part 3 – Harvest & Learn From Each Gardening Experience. Subscribe to our email list so you don’t miss any of the next installments of this How to Become a Homesteader series!

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