Grow, Forage, & Preserve Your Own Food: Homesteading Skills
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In an earlier article, we talked about nine essential off grid skills every homesteader should know. But what if you haven’t moved off the grid yet? How do you prepare for homesteading? Can you get started learning the necessary skills you’ll need once you move to your new homestead?
The answer is yes!
Homesteading is living a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. But you don’t need acres of land or an off-grid home to start becoming self-sufficient today.
With all the news about supply chain shortages and food crises in multiple countries, self-sufficiency is regaining the importance it once held for people in earlier times—like our great-grandparents during the Great Depression.
Adding simple homesteading skills to your weekly schedule is a way to grow your skillset and step out of your comfort zone. If you don’t want to learn alone, invite a friend or loved one to learn along with you. You’ll both benefit from the shared experience.
In this post, we’ll talk about the important skills around feeding yourself and your family: growing and foraging food, and cooking and preserving it for food storage.
To get started, choose a skill from my list below, or pick something you’ve always wanted to try. Start simple and work your way to more advanced levels. Before you know it, your confidence and homesteading knowledge will be growing by leaps and bounds!
Keeping track of your progress
I highly recommend finding a way to keep track of your progress so you can look back and see how far you’ve come while you practice homesteading skills. You can make a chart or keep a journal specifically for recording the skills you practice, your results, and what you’d like to try next.
Or you can just jot down each skill on a calendar on the day you practice it.
Tracking your progress can be as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be. However you decide to log your practice sessions, you’re sure to feel great about the results.
Success is often the result of taking a misstep in the right direction. ~ Al Bernstein
Food skills you can practice right now
Cooking with solar energy
One of my favorite off grid skills is cooking outdoors. I learned to cook over a campfire when I was growing up, but I’ve always wanted to learn how to use a solar oven, too. I live in a sunny state, so why not take advantage of all that free energy, and use it for cooking a meal?
Solar cooking is silent, smoke-free, and easier than you might think.
There are a lot of solar ovens on the market and some creative DIYs if you’d like to try to make an oven yourself.
But my favorite solar oven is the GoSun (I have the Sport, but all sizes work similarly). GoSun solar ovens preheat fast and cook efficiently.
I baked cornbread muffins in my GoSun to practice using it and try my hand at learning a new skill. The muffins turned out perfectly moist, evenly cooked all the way through, and tasted delicious—much better than the egg I tried to fry on a tin can the summer I turned 12!
Motivation: Learn to use a solar oven so you can show off your cooking skills at your next outdoor picnic! Simple foods, like the cornmeal muffins I mentioned above, cook in only 20 minutes in a GoSun. Your guests will be amazed when you serve them fresh, steaming hot bread straight from your solar oven.
Baking in a Dutch oven
Dutch ovens are a favorite among campers and are frequently associated with campfire cobblers and stews.
If you’ve never baked dessert in a Dutch oven, I recommend starting by using the Dutch oven in a regular electric or gas oven—then progress to cooking in campfire coals once you get a feel for how a Dutch oven holds heat and bakes the food inside.
When you decide to buy your first Dutch oven, make sure you get one that will stand the test of time and hold up against campfires and hot coals alike. I prefer Lodge Dutch ovens—I’m still using the Lodge Dutch oven my parents cooked with at our cabin many years ago.
If you need recipes, Country Living magazine has some great ideas you can try.
Motivation: Kick your next camping trip up a notch by serving piping hot apple cobbler from your Dutch oven. Move over s’mores—there’s another dessert in town!
When you think of gardening, where does your mind go? Outside to beautiful garden beds bursting with fresh vegetables and leafy greens? Or to an indoor windowsill overflowing with microgreens and sprouting jars?
Gardening is a skill you can practice on a micro or macro level. If you have the space, create a small garden bed in your yard and plant two or three of your favorite, easy-to-grow vegetables.
Tomatoes and squash are easy starters with rewarding harvests. Grow them outside since they require a lot of space to spread out.
In the winter, or if you don’t have yard space, you can grow sprouts and microgreens on a sunny windowsill. Purchase clean seeds specifically produced for sprouting; you don’t want any of the additives that are sometimes sprayed on garden seeds to promote growth or inhibit insect infestations.
Growing sprouts and microgreens is a gratifying experience with a quick turnaround time. You can harvest and enjoy your harvest in a matter of days instead of weeks. Sprouting is proof that there's no need to hold back on improving your gardening skills due to lack of space.
Sprout People is my favorite site for sprouting info and supplies if you’re just getting started. But you can also find seeds and sprouting equipment on Amazon, like this Mason jar sprouting kit that even comes with a ceramic drip tray (so you don’t have to try to balance your jars in a bowl).
To grow sprouts, soak the required amount of seed in clean, filtered water (check the package for the number of hours to soak). Then, rinse and drain your sprouts two or three times a day, and watch them grow. No soil required!
Motivation: Your next work potluck is the perfect place to showcase vegetables you grew at home. Slice tomatoes over a crisp green salad, or bake zucchini bread from your abundant summer squash harvest.
Foraging for wild food
Foraging and wildcrafting are skills typically associated with long hikes in nature spent gathering nature’s bounty. But urban foraging is becoming more common—just make sure whatever you pick hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or other contaminants before you eat it!
Consult a reputable field guide before you start harvesting plants from either rural or urban areas, and never take more than what you need. A good rule of thumb is to leave 10 for every one you pick. By leaving plenty behind, you can protect the species you’re harvesting from and help ensure that it will grow back again next year.
Begin by foraging foods that are easy to identify and unlikely to have toxic look-alikes. Dandelions are a delicious addition to salads and teas and grow just about everywhere. City parks may have fruit trees, like hawthorn or crabapples, that you can turn into jars of jams and jellies or enjoy freshly picked.
Bring the right tools with you when you head out to forage: large, reusable bags and containers or jars with lids will help you tote your harvest home and protect berries and small fruits from getting bruised.
Motivation: Foraged foods are perfect for creating specialty items you can’t find at the supermarket. Try making hawthorn jelly or crabapple butter and gifting it in mini jars for the holidays.
Along with growing food and foraging is food preservation. After all, you’ll want to save some of your harvest for use at a later time.
Food can be preserved through proper storage techniques in a root cellar, drying or dehydration, and canning or freezing.
There is definitely a learning curve when becoming versed in how to can food, but this valuable skill will help you stock your shelves with nature’s bounty to see you through a long winter or leaner times.
I suggest beginning by learning to preserve foods that only require a water bath canning method (used for acidic foods, jams, and jellies). Once you’ve mastered that, you can move on to pressure canning and more complex recipes (like low-acid vegetables and meats).
My favorite canning guides are the Ball canning books—specifically the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.
Dehydrating food is another important homesteading skill that is much easier to learn. I love making dehydrated fruit snacks and fruit leather, and my dogs appreciate the crunchy, dehydrated sweet potatoes I make for them every fall.
Shop your local farmer’s market for affordable produce, or look in the discounted section of the grocery store. You’d be amazed how much your food storage will grow when you bring home produce on its last leg and pop it into the dehydrator to preserve for future snacks.
(And don’t forget to compost all those food scraps you trim off. Your garden will thank you!)
Motivation: Amaze your hiking companions when you share homemade dehydrated fruit leather or trail mix with dried apple slices on your next adventure.
Growing, foraging, cooking, and preserving food are important skills every modern homesteader should learn. Whether baking sourdough bread, fermenting pickles, or learning to use a solar oven, everyone must start somewhere—and there’s no better time to start than now!