December 4, 2023

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Check Out These Beginner Food-Growing Tips From Homesteaders

They grow crops like melons or tomatoes at homesteads of varying sizes.

A hand holding small red and orange cherry tomatoes.

A cherry tomato haul from Ciearra Evans of The Thrifted Planter homestead.

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Or raise livestock, like goats.

Girl with goat in barn

Laurie, human, and Sage, the goat, at Standing Pine homestead in Texas.

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Homesteading is a lifestyle, and sometimes involves land. But anyone, from people with black thumbs to people with apartments without room for chickens, can pick up a few practices, four practitioners told Insider.

Woman and chicken.

Cidni of Standing Pine with a chicken.

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Here are a couple of beginner homesteader tricks you can start yourself.

Wooden barrels of onions, tomatoes, and potatoes.

Standing Pine Farm yield.

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Meet Ciearra Evans, who specializes in cost-effective gardening, known as “The Thrifted Planter” homestead online.

Woman in leafy harvest summer garden.

Evans during the 2021 harvest.

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She says that the most important step to saving money while homesteading is: not spending too much on the startup materials you need.

A seed nursery with multiple shelves and many small pots on them.

Nursing plants at The Thrifted Planter homestead.

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It’s pretty easy to go crazy at Lowe’s and buy everything full-price, she said.


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“You can’t help it. In the summertime, when you walk into the greenhouse or a garden center, and there’s so much to look at…your cart is full before you know it,” she joked

Rural King gardening supplies

The front of the Rural King was decked out with gardening supplies for spring.

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Seeds in particular are easy to over-buy, she said, because they’re cheap and colorful.

A pile of colorful seed packets in a box.

Evans’ seed haul. They’re easy to over-buy.

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So, one should first figure out a plan for what you want to grow and research what materials you need, Evans said.

An orange pot in a garden.

The Thrifted Planter.

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People love to jump into a crop because it looks cool (like this zebra tomato, which is striped even when it’s ripe). “Pick a few things you and your family like to eat,” Evans advised.

A striped green tomato.

A zebra tomato at The Thrifted Planter.

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Once you know what you want, you can even skip the store and save seeds from grocery store-bought food — essentially, anything with a seed, advised Evans.

Grocery store produce section

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Also, add a type of flower for pollinators to your plan. Evans suggests zinnias because they’re easy to grow and easy for pollinators to reach.

Pink zinnia flowers against a blue and white sky, in a garden.

Zinnias at The Thrifted Planter.

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You plan should also include how you plan to nurse your seeds and what containers or equipment you’ll use to grow, from building beds to lights.

A raised wooden bed in a garden.

Gardening at The Thrifted Planter.

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Go to Dollar General or similarly low-priced stores for things like pots, trellises, and seeds, she advised.

Dollar General

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You can also repurpose things cheaply to work in the garden.

Raised garden beds with PVC pipe and plastic sheltering it.

Evans used PVC pipe and plastic to make an ad-hoc greenhouse so she could start the growing season earlier.

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Evans said she grew the tomato plants in bottom right with felt bags she got for a few dollars each on Amazon.

A series of plants in bags in a garden.

Tomato plants in bags from Amazon.

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She said she bought grow-lights for her seedlings on clearance from Walmart and uses the app Honey to alert her to price drops for items she needs to garden.

Seedlings in tiny pots under grow lights.

Seedlings at The Thrifted Planter

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To save on soil, she buys it in bulk when it goes on clearance in August and September, the end of the growing season in her area. Here’s her big shop from last year:

A car packed to the sides and top with fertilizer and soil bags.

Fertilizer and soil haul.

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She ought the bags of soil and fertilizer on clearance for about $2.50 each, Evans said.

Soil and fertilizer boxes on a green lawn.

Soil and fertilizer on the lawn.

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Evans said the bags now cost $14 each (and were just $12 a pop before they went on clearance).

Fertilizer port China

Workers unload imported fertilizer at The Port of Yantai, East China’s Shandong Province, March 9, 2022

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That’s me with my haul,” she said.

A woman with plants and fertilizer and soil.

Ciearra Evans with her haul.

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Evans is feeding a family of six and estimated growing her food saved her family about $100 a month at the grocery store in the beginning.

masks grocery store

People wear masks at a supermarket in Miami Beach, Florida, on April 19, 2021.

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But it varies. Another homesteader, Alliyah Perry of The Green Gardens Homestead in Washington, told Insider previously she saved about $3,000 last year on groceries for her family. “There was a few months in the summer… where we just did not got to the grocery store at all.” she said.

A wooden container of red fruit.

Yield from The Green Gardens homestead in Washington

Alliyah Perry

Aside from money, growing your own food just feels better, Evans said.

A woman in a garden's raised beds, which is covered by plastic and rounded PVC pipe.

Cierra Evans in the garden.

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“I do like to have things in the cabinet we’ve grown ourselves, and you know where it comes from.. There’s a lot of pride in that,” she said.

A woman holds leafy greens to her face and seems to be smiling. Has a basket of greens in other hand.

Evans with greens from the garden.

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Research aside, some crops are known to be easy for beginners or people without a lot of space.

A black plastic tray of seedlings with red SOLO cups in the background.

Seedlings at Standing Pine homestead.

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Tomatoes are the classic homesteader’s first crop, said Nivek Anderson Brown of Leaf and Bean Farm.

Green tomatoes on a vine staked around a square of metal.

Tomatoes at The Leaf and Bean Farm.

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It’s because they’re pretty easy. “You can put [them] in the ground, walk away, and you can get some fruit,” Brown said.

Tomatoes on a white PVC pipe stake.

Tomatoes at Leaf and Bean Farm.

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Tomatoes also take well to bucket or container gardening, advised Cidni, the homesteader in East Texas.

Chickens near plants in buckets.

Chickens and tomatoes at Standing Pine homestead.

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She and her husband started growing tomatoes in containers when they lived in apartments.

Lowe's buckets tomatoes on the patio

Apartment patio tomatoes.

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You can get buckets for cheap at Lowe’s and drill holes, Cidni said.

Buckets of tomatoes on a concrete patio with grass in the background.

Apartment patio tomatoes from Cidni.

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A few plants can produce many tomatoes, especially in bright sunlight. Just make sure to water them early in the morning or at night, so they don’t scorch, Cidni advised.

A tomato vine with a paneled shed in the background.

Tomatoes at Standing Pine Homestead.

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But even beginner tomatoes can get out of hand. Last year, Evans didn’t prune or “top” her tomato plants, so they just grew like crazy. Optimal pruning methods vary—but just don’t forget to do it, or your garden might look like this..

A woman in the middle of a very leafy garden.

The garden gone wild, summer 2021.

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It might sound intimidating, but chickens can be an easy thing to start with, too, noted Brown of Leaf and Bean.

A chicken looking at the camera with two chickens in the background. All are gray and white.

Chickens at The Leaf and Bean Farm.

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If you only have a little bit of space, you can get two birds, she said. They can live in a dog kennel or even a baby pen.

Several chickens in a fenced-in space.

Chickens roaming at Leaf and Bean.

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They’re also cheap. Brown said in her area a feed bag that last several months costs about $14.

Three small brown chickens walking around on a bed of hay.

Small chickens at The Leaf and Bean Farm.

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Compare this, she added, to buying eggs every week amidst inflation and avian flu. Prices have gone up sharply in the last two months, but she estimated it’s cheaper even in normal times.

Eggs in the fridge.

Refrigerated eggs

BI Photo / Isabel Fernandez Pujol

Source: USDA.

Brown said you can get one adult egg-laying chicken for as little as $14.

Chickens pecking at the ground.

Chickens at Brown’s homestead.

Nivek Anderson Brown

If you want to buy a chick, they’re cheaper, but then you have to set up a nursery, which costs space and time, Brown noted.

A tiny chick in a hand.

A chick at Leaf and Bean.

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All of the following, are great for beginners, Shallon said. Going clockwise from the top: cilantro, tarragon, dill, thyme, curly leaf parsley, dark opal basil, and Genovese basil.

A basket of herbs from cilantro to dill.

Herb haul at The Appalachian Homestead.

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