Homesteading is a growing trend in the UK, as rising energy prices and a changing climate encourage families to rethink their way of life.
For some, becoming more self-sufficient is about saving money and living within their means. Others relish the opportunity to get back in touch with nature, and transform practical skills and hobbies into a sustainable lifestyle. Self-reliance can also help environmentally-conscious families to reduce their carbon footprint, and provide endless hands-on lessons for children of all ages.
Whatever your reasons for becoming more self-sufficient, and regardless of how much space or experience you have, these six steps will help you on your way.
1. Preparing your Home
Before embarking on your journey to self-sufficiency, make sure that your home is fit for the ride. Getting a professional EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) for your home will give you an indication of how well-insulated it is, and whether there are any immediate steps you can take to improve its condition. Double or triple glazing will prevent substantial heat loss, and upgrading the insulation in your walls, floors and roofs will go a long way to maximising the efficiency of your home.
Use technology to your advantage. Replace traditional bulbs with LEDs throughout your home, and invest in smart plugs and timers so you can easily control your electronics when they’re not in use.
2. Generating Energy
The biggest leap to becoming self-sufficient is managing your own energy supply. The up-front costs of off-grid equipment are usually quite significant, but considering you can recoup your costs within around 8 years, it can be worthwhile if you’re in it for the long run.
Solar panels and wind turbines both offer clean and inexpensive energy, with start-up costs setting you back between £3,000 to £8,000. While both systems will work fine in the UK, you will need to make a much larger investment before you can rely on them as your sole energy generator. Instead, consider them a boost to your mains supply, helping to lower your costs and reduce your strain on the system.
Complement your electricity supply with a heating fuel you can control, like wood or oil. Growing trees for biofuel will provide you for a self-sustaining energy source for life, but isn’t practical for every homestead. Oil does leave you dependent on a supplier, but you will have a reliable fuel to fall back on throughout the year, and can easily monitor and control your consumption. The safest way to install an oil tank is to speak to a professional installer, like SG Tanks, who can help you choose the best storage options for your needs.
3. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
It’s a familiar adage, and for good reason. Habitually reducing, reusing and recycling the things you use will reap benefits for your home, wallets and the planet.
When you’re shopping, try to be more conscious of buying products with less packaging, resisting the urge to over-purchase and limiting the amount of disposable goods you choose. Before you throw something in the bin, consider whether it could be donated or sold instead. Or perhaps it could simply be washed and reused for something else? Worn out garments make great cleaning rags, and most non-recyclable food packaging can be used as storage containers. All biodegradable waste should go into a compost bin or heap, ready to use for fertiliser on your plants. The goal is to let as little go to landfill as possible, and make the items you buy (new or second-hand) work harder for your home.
4. Growing Your Own
The easiest step in the direction of self-sufficiency is to start growing your own produce. You don’t need a lot of space or skill to get started, and the British climate is perfect for cultivating a multitude of fruits and veggies to supplement your shop-bought food.
Tomatoes, peas and strawberries are the perfect place to start, and as your thumbs get greener you can move on to more challenging crops. Brush up on your veggie seasons to make sure your supplies are steady all year round, and calculate how much room each plant will need. Herbs can be kept on a windowsill and strawberries in pots on the balcony, but you’ll need a sizeable patch of gardens to grow potatoes.
When your harvest gets larger than you can eat, start preserving them into jams and chutneys, selling them or trading them with friends and neighbours.
5. Talk to the Animals
Just like flora, choosing which fauna to cultivate will depend on your existing skills and how much space you have to rear and graze them. The key to successfully keeping animals is to start small, and build up the variety as your mastery develops.
Chickens are a good place to start, and can provide both eggs and meat with relatively little maintenance. If you don’t have quite enough room for a brood, quails are a smaller alternative. Similarly, a few cows can keep you stocked with milk and cheese, but so will goats if your garden is small.
Whichever animals you choose, make sure they are kept safe from free-roaming predators. Coops, fencing and a guard dog will be a worthwhile investment.
6. Helping Yourself
The last step is perhaps the most important, which is learning the practical skills to keep your home ticking over. Most people can manage a bit of flatpack furniture and turning the oven on, but for a truly self-sufficient lifestyle, you’ll need to learn a lot more.
First and foremost, is understanding how to look after your crops and animals, if you choose to farm any. Next, you should be able to manage your energy supply and make any basic repairs that the system requires – you don’t want to be learning this last minute when your boiler breaks or fireplace clogs up. Other incredibly useful skills include first aid, sewing techniques, and learning to cook nutritious meals using your own harvests. Any practical hobbies you already have can certainly be used to your advantage in sustainable living, and what better way to enjoy them?
There is no quick and easy route to self-sufficiency. It takes a lot of patience, and practice, and you will question your decisions more than once along the way! Just remember your reasons for doing it, and how satisfying it will be when you finally reap the rewards for your efforts.
Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.