How many acres does a homesteader need — or not?

how many acres

“I’d love to do what you do, except I live in town.”

“I wish we could grow our own food, but we only have half an acre.”

These are a couple of comments that I hear frequently. But they are not really valid reasons to avoid homesteading or growing your own food. Virtually everyone can grow at least some of their own food, even if they live in a condo or have a small yard.

Condo homesteading

If you live in a condo and don’t even have a balcony, you can grow sprouts in a jar on your kitchen counter, as well as herbs in a pot on a sunny windowsill. Even though we have 32 acres, I still grow alfalfa sprouts in the winter because I love having genuinely fresh green food in my diet, and I don’t always get lettuce going in the low tunnels before fall gets established.

You can have a vermicompost bin for composting food waste with worms, and then use that as fertilizer for your container garden. You can grow mushrooms in a dark closet or basement.

If you want to grow more, you can garden at a friend’s house in exchange for giving them some of the produce. In many areas, you can rent a garden plot from the park district or other organizations.

You can go to the farmer’s market and stock up on whatever produce is in season, then preserve it by canning, freezing, drying, or fermenting. Buy 20 pounds of tomatoes and can enough spaghetti sauce to last a year.

Urban homesteading

If you have a small sunny yard in a city, you can grow beans, tomatoes, and peppers, as well as onions and herbs. These are also some of the easiest vegetables for beginners to grow.

In more than 90 of the US’s largest 100 cities, residents can have backyard chickens. In some areas, roosters are prohibited, but that’s okay because they’re not needed for egg production. Having a rooster simply means your eggs would be fertilized, so the eggs won’t hatch.

Suburban homesteading

When we lived in the suburbs of Chicago on a quarter-acre lot, we had eight tomato plants in our backyard, which was enough to provide us with frozen tomatoes to make sauces for a year. If you have half an acre, you can do far more than most people think. In addition to a respectably sized garden, you can easily have hens and even goats, if your zoning allows them. You may be surprised by how many cities do allow livestock.

If your neighbors are fairly close, however, you might not want to own your own buck because they can be stinky in the fall. That would mean that you’d have to take your does somewhere to be bred. (Like all mammals, does have to have babies before they can produce milk.)

Rural homesteading

Like most people, we thought we needed at least 10 acres to create a homestead. When we saw 32 acres was available, we jumped at it. Even though we have had as many as 5 head of cattle, 30 adult goats with up to 60 kids, 32 adult sheep with a couple dozen lambs, 5 adult pigs (and up to 20 piglets), plus 85 chickens, a couple dozen ducks, and a couple dozen turkeys, we have only utilized about 10 of our 32 acres.

One thing that does utilize a lot of land is cattle. If you want to have cattle, you will need to have at least a few acres per head of cattle. The exact number of acres will vary based upon your local growing conditions. That’s one reason I wanted cattle. I thought it would be an “easy” way to utilize a lot of out land. Although it did use a lot of our land, keeping cattle fenced in when you have a creek turned out to be more of a challenge that we wanted.

How much land do you need?

The answer to that question really varies depending on exactly what you want to do. But there’s no reason you can’t get started today. I always say that my first successful crop was a jar of alfalfa sprouts! Start where you are with what you have.

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5 thoughts on “How many acres does a homesteader need — or not?”

  1. I dream of having enough land for a milk cow, 3-4 goats and maybe 6-10 chickens. Nothing huge but enough to grow our own food and become susustainable. In the meantime, we currently live on 1.5 acres and do grow a 3 season garden and preserve all that comes from it. I love reading your blog. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Love this! Love the encouragement to get people started! We live on less then half an acre in town. I’ve got a big garden that just keeps getting bigger and bigger lol. Potatoes, dill, oregano, basil, tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, snow pea. We used to live in a condo when we lived in the big city for a year but I didn’t let that stop me. I had tomatoes, basil and Poll beans there. I also can and freeze lots of foods to keep us through the winter like cherries from our tree, peaches from locals, tomatoes, pickling is a new hobby. I freeze other fruits. We hunt and butcher our own meat. We are hoping to sell in town next year to get a little bit of land in the country. Hoping 10 acres min.

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  3. I would love love LOVE to have 5-10 acres someday – I want a milk cow, chickens, a few pigs from spring to fall, a large garden, a couple fruit trees, honeybees, and a wooded acre or two. Right now I’m living on a 1/4 acre and all I have is a small garden. Hoping to make it much bigger and possibly get a fruit tree. However, though I can have up to 6 hens, I will not be getting chickens because my parents don’t want them (I’m 12). But I’m visiting farms and want to do 4H so that I can learn to care for livestock. Thanks for this, it’s inspired me.

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  4. Currently living on 2/3 acre with over a dozen fruit trees, a garden, and 15 hens. This year we are leasing 15 acres near us to start a small herd of nigerian dwarves, pastured poultry for our own use, and maybe a pig and a steer the next year. It’s family acreage that we will inherit part of. I will say, that my biggest challenge is finding enough time to do everything I want to do. During the growing season I easily spend a couple of hours a day out in the garden and it really needs to be twice as big to feed our big family. And preserving season is very busy but I do enjoy it.

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