The most difficult aspect of transitioning to homesteading is distinguishing between essential knowledge and the suggestions made by others.
Below, you’ll find a basic list and a brief overview of each thing deemed to be a basic or essential skill. The truth, though, is that, ultimately, you decide what you need and what you don’t.
This is your freedom you are working for, after all.
Basic, Essential Homesteading Skills
It all starts with these basic skills. Everything else will grow organically from there!
Living Within Your Means
When you homestead, your income becomes more varied than just money. Your garden, your livestock, your water systems — these are all now your income. The more you can rely on the land, the less you rely on money and the easier it is to live within your financial means.
Sourcing & Purifying Water
Real water comes from the ground or from the sky. City water is considered clean because it has chlorine in it, which is a strange irony! Chlorine is poison. Don’t assume that city water is clean, but neither should you assume spring water is clean. When you source natural water, get it tested, and run it through a filter if necessary.
Constructing Simple Buildings & Structures
A building is named after its use. Otherwise, it is just a roof, and walls are optional. You can build these out of lumber you buy, scrap lumber you salvage, or even trees you cut down. Once you find a method you like, feel free to recreate it as often as you need.
Planning a Garden
Garden planning is a complex skill that you can learn, or you can use any number of online tools to help. Just remember to hold your plans loosely as life is organic and therefore unplanned.
Unless you are buying starter plants, you will need to know how to bring your plants up from seed. This will require a bit of infrastructure to provide light and heat to those little plant babies!
Preparing Soil for Planting
Depending on where you live, it can take years to build up the soil before you are ready to plant. Years of compost, manure, and cover cropping can go into soil preparation. While this may seem discouraging, just remember that every year you spend on soil building will give you many years of productivity. Be patient.
Tending to a Garden
The better your garden planning the less your garden needs intensive tending. That being said, you will need to get out there and check on your plants every day. If you are mowing your lawn in suburbia, you are already keeping a grass garden. It is similar, but a garden requires more attention.
Garden Pest Management
While tending your garden, you will notice all of the little critters that also love your garden! Hopefully, nature will take care of itself in the form of spiders and wasps should your garden become full of bugs. Either way, you will need to manage that process and decide your best course of action.
Part of your garden planning needs to be concerned with how much of your garden you will harvest and how much you will let go to seed to compost the next season. This is also part of your income — you are just paying yourself in food instead of money. Consider leaving some of the harvest back as a form of investment in next year’s business.
There are herbs for everything: kitchen herbs, medicinal herbs, herbs that serve as cover crops, and herbs for pollinator bait. Many herbs can grow right in your vegetable garden, but others ought to grow out in the field or the woods where they can be left alone for a few seasons to mature.
Harvesting and Drying Herbs
Herbs are much like vegetables: they can be canned, dried, or frozen. They can also be tinctured and infused into oils. Basic apothecary skills should be wrapped up into your cooking and food prep methods.
Maintaining Fruit Trees
Fruit trees are good for their own sake: we all like fruit! But so do the deer and the birds. Your best bet is to have a few sacrificial fruit trees around the edge of the orchard for the locals. You can also use those as bait during hunting season if necessary.
Cooking From Scratch
One thing nobody tells you is that you will be cooking all the time. Your entire life will be about growing and maintaining food, which means cooking and prepping food every day.
With enough planning, you can systematize your cooking so that your food prep time goes into creating those things which become your meals, thus shortening your overall time in the kitchen.
Cooking on a Wood Stove or Over Open Fire
If you need to save gas or electricity, this skill will serve you well. However, it is also a good method because it adds a rich and flavorful quality to your meal. It can also be a good way to cook when your friends and family are over, making the entire meal an experience.
One meal will roll into another. This type of efficiency will make the entire process simpler once you get it down. Lunchtime’s leftover salad becomes dinner’s greens.
Building a Fire
This is a basic building block of human experience. Without fire, all of our ancestors would have died cold and in the dark. Learn to build a fire for your own edification, and then keep the skill as a means of staying warm and being able to cook and clean anywhere you are.
Harvesting, Cutting & Storing Firewood
Different types of wood burn differently. You need to know what types of wood you are harvesting in order to burn in your home versus the wood you burn outside. You will need to know how to cut it and stack it where it will dry after a season and become burnable.
Basic First Aid
Homesteading is moderately dangerous at times, and many homesteaders live too far away to wait for emergency services. The more you can handle at home, the safer you will be, even if that means you can patch someone up enough that they will survive the trip to the ER.
We won’t always have nails and screws on hand, and tarpaulins are more of a necessity on a homestead than even duct tape. Learning to tie a knot will improve your tarp-crafting and your basic building skills.
Building & Repairing Fences
Fences are a constant maintenance issue. They are most important if you have livestock, but even if you don’t, you will need to maintain everything you build. Fences require special tools and materials depending on what type of fencing you use. You will want to check all of your fences about once a month.
Washing Clothes by Hand
Washers and dryers are huge energy holes that use a ridiculous amount of electricity and water. Despite their convenience, sometimes it is easier to wash a pair of work pants by hand in the creek. There are also hand washers and wringers you can buy from Amazon if you plan on washing your clothes by hand on a more permanent basis.
Using a Clothesline
Humidity notwithstanding, if you leave your clothes on the line long enough, they will dry. Hang-drying will keep your clothes in good condition for much longer than a dryer. This is also a good time to practice that knotwork.
On a good homestead, nothing is wasted — not even your waste! Plants and animals (including humans) have always lived in the constant chemical reciprocity of compost. Their waste is our nutrients and vice versa.
Tending a Flock of Chickens
Chickens are ubiquitous farm animal. They are easy to care for and very productive in terms of nutrients and pest control. With even a basic book knowledge and a couple of YouTube videos, you can be a pro flockster.
Basic Care of Livestock
Once you get beyond chickens and poultry and start taking care of mammals, things get a bit harder. Caring for goats and cows is similar to caring for other mammals like dogs and cats; they need water, shelter, warmth, and food like everyone else. Just make sure it is specialized to their particular needs.
Use and Care of Firearms
Firearms can be very useful tools. You won’t need them very often, but when you do have them, you will be glad. You will want hunting rifles and shotguns for every type of game you plan to hunt and then a large pistol to make noise should your livestock or your pantry be under threat from a nuisance animal like a bear or raccoon.
The world is full of weird people. There are weird people in the city, for sure, but at least in the city, you can make some noise and get help if the weirdness gets violent. Out on the land, you have fewer options. Learn to take care of yourself as best you can, either with or without a personal firearm.
Simple Home Repairs
If you live far enough out, a maintenance worker may charge you a drive-time fee. If you can take care of the basic plumbing and carpentry to maintain a house or a barn, you can save yourself time and money.
Neighbors are everything! There is no such thing as total self-sufficiency and nor should there be. Humans live in communities, and your neighbors, both physical and digital, will keep you safe and sane.
Preparing a Bug Out Bag
Disasters happen, especially lately it seems. Keep a bag packed with clothes, toiletries, and maybe dry food in case there is a flood or a wildfire and you can’t stay any longer.
Our culture teaches us to consume at all times and that the answer to our struggles can be purchased. Living on the land will teach you the opposite.
Thinking Outside of the Box
No one has ever had a homestead on your particular piece of land in your particular time or context. You will have to solve your own problems. Everyone will be glad to give you advice, but ultimately, you have to be the creative one.
Advanced Homesteading Skills
By the time you get out there and do things, the rest of this will come naturally!
- Utilizing Solar Power
- Utilizing Wind Power
- Storing Generated Electricity
- Collecting & Storing Rainwater
- Basic Plumbing Repair
- Basic Wiring Skills
- Basic Auto Repair
- Operating a Tractor & Other Heavy Machinery
- Advanced Carpentry Skills
- Sharpening Tools
- The Art of Bartering
- Advanced First Aid (severe wound care, sprains, broken bones, CPR, Heimlich maneuver, stitches, etc.)
- Raising Other Meat Animals (ducks, geese, turkeys, rabbits, goats, etc.)
- Breeding Animals
- Assisting With Animal Births
- Incubating Eggs & Hatching Chicks
- Making Your Own Chicken Feed
- Milking Cows, Goats, etc.
- Routine Animal Care (hoof trimming, vaccinations, etc.
- Emergency Animal Care
- Butchering Small Animals
- Butchering Large Animals
- Using a Chainsaw Safely
- Water Dowsing
- Plant Propagation
- Saving Seeds
- Amending Soil
- Weed Control
- Extending the Growing Season
- Constructing a Greenhouse or Hoop House
- Attracting Pollinators
- Permaculture Techniques
- Weather Forecasting
- Water Bath Canning
- Pressure Canning
- Fermenting Foods
- Foraging for Mushrooms
- Foraging for Wild Food
- Foraging for Medicinal Herbs
- Identifying & Dealing With Predators
- Identifying Venomous Snakes
- Identifying Poisonous Plants
- Pasture Management
- Preparing for Natural Disasters
- Tapping Trees for Maple Syrup
Good-To-Have Homesteading Skills
These things are good, and you will want to dabble in them for sure, but they are not required for your homestead to operate. Many of them, in fact, could be used to turn your homestead into a business.
- Repairing Machinery
- Making Herbal Medicines
- Furniture Making
- Unique Skills You Can Use for Bartering
- Horseback Riding
- Hooking Up and Backing Up Trailers
- Making Candles
- Making Homemade Soap
- Making Homemade Laundry Detergent
- Making Homemade Skin Care Products
- Making Homemade Shampoo
- Making Cheese and Other Dairy Products
- Making Your Own Jams and Jellies
- Making Bread
- Making Vinegars
- Vacuum-Sealing Food
- Freezing Food Properly
- Indoor Gardening
- Making Homemade Cleaning Supplies
- Mending Clothing
- Making Pottery
- Making Homemade Firestarters
- Clearing Land
- Making Your Own Hay and/or Fodder
- Growing Wheat and Making Flour
- No-Till Gardening Methods
- Training Livestock Guardian Dogs
- Euthanizing Sick or Injured Animals
- Spinning & Weaving Wool
- Running a Homeschool
- Curing/Smoking Meat
- Tanning Hides
- Woodland Management
- Trapping Game
- Metal Working / Welding
- Making & Using Whitewash
- Rendering Lard & Tallow
- Reloading Ammo
- Home Brewing
- Making Natural Dyes
- Basket Weaving
- Knitting, Crocheting, etc.
- Tending an Apiary
This list is exhaustive, but don’t let it dissuade you! As I said earlier, this is your freedom on the line… not what someone else says your freedom should be.
That would defeat the purpose, right? Take what you need, and compost the rest.