6 Easy Steps to Urban Homesteading
The married couple tends seven vegetable beds, 10 fruit trees and a chicken coop on their 1/12-acre lot in the urban Silverlake area of Los Angeles.
Coyne and Knutzen use most of their land for homesteading -- a term that refers to producing your own food and satisfying your subsistence needs at home through gardening, fermenting, canning, brewing and bee keeping.
"The essence of [homesteading] is self-reliance," says Knutzen, 45. "It's the sense that you can do things for yourself and [experience] the joy in making and growing things."
Coyne, 43, makes her own cosmetics and soap, and her husband likes to make his own beer. The two share one car but ride their bikes much of the time.
They chronicle their daily activities in their blog, RootSimple.com. Coyne and Knutzen also are the authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City and a second book, Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, which is being published by Rodale in April.
Urban homesteading may sound time-consuming, but the couple points out that incorporating even just one practice into your lifestyle allows you to maximize your natural resources and space, save money, and feel the satisfaction of enjoying something you cultivate yourself.
Knutzen offers six practical ways to start homesteading, no matter the size or location of your home:
Even if you don't have a yard, you can still find space on a balcony or in a container to grow at least one vegetable or herb. The Apartment Therapy website offers some great visual examples of how to grow vegetables in small spaces. Tending to a garden takes some TLC, but "it gets down to the taste of a good tomato," says Knutzen. "And of course, the nutrition comes too when you're harvesting something very fresh."
2. Plant a Fruit Tree. Or Two.
Growing a fruit tree is a great way to get your own food locally without doing a lot of work. "It's really just pruning twice a year and making sure they have water," Knutzen says. He suggests Dave Wilson's Backyard Orchard videos to help you get started. Coyne and Knutzen manage to fit several trees in their yard by using Wilson's methods of planting their trees close together and keeping them pruned short. They have nectaplum, pomegranate, quince, fig, guava, avocado, apple and plum trees in a 40 x 150-foot space.
3. Bake Your Own Bread.
Knutzen suggests The New York Times' No-Knead Bread Recipe. "It's great for busy people who don't have a lot of time," he says.
From pickles to yogurt to kombucha tea, you can make all sorts of foods at home through fermentation. Knutzen likes this Wild Fermentation site by Sandor Katz.
5. Make Your Own Beer.
6. Raise Chickens.
Coyne and Knutzen keep four chickens (solely for eggs) in a coop that's 4 x 9 feet with a 9 x 14-foot run. The biggest challenge is securing a coop to keep other animals out, but once you figure out housing for the chickens, "they're easier to take care of than a dog," Knutzen says. He recommends Chickens in Your Backyard: A Beginner's Guide by Rick and Gail Luttman to get started.
Coyne and Knutzen write about homesteading for a living, but you don't have to live and breathe the DIY lifestyle to work it into your daily routine.
Just ask Los Angeles resident Tom Provost. He keeps two compost bins going at the same time (which eliminates much of his kitchen waste), and enjoys canning apple butter, tomato chutney, peach chutney and corn relish at the end of every summer.
"It's not nearly as hard as people think," he says.
Here's a video showing the basics of canning on the Fine Cooking website.
Provost enjoys tending fruit trees and a vegetable garden in his backyard, where he grows herbs, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, green beans and gourds.
"We cook a lot at my house, and it is so easy -- and satisfying -- to be able to go pick a lemon off a tree, get some herbs for cooking, or pick some lettuce rather than have to run to the store," says Provost, a 46-year-old editor and filmmaker. "The vegetables [and fruit] taste so much better when you grow them at home. And once you get the hang of it all, it does not take a ton of time."
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