Thursday, January 16, 2014

Planning Your Garden: Thinking Beyond Fruits and Vegetables

 This post is part of the series: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Homestead.  If you missed the other posts in this series, you can get caught up here. If you're looking for some great resources for planning your homestead, check out some of the books here.

Growing Other Crops

When people think of backyard farming, they usually think of vegetables, and maybe a few fruit trees. Yet, there are other options available to the homesteader including growing herbs, grains, flowers, mushrooms, and even lesser known crops such as hops.

Growing Herbs

If you decide to grow nothing else your first year homesteading, grow herbs. They take up very little space and using fresh herbs for cooking is hands down better than using dried herbs from the store. Start with the herbs you use the most often in your kitchen, and remember that many herbs such as basil, parsley, and mint can be used on their own to make pesto as an addition to drinks.
Besides their culinary uses, herbs have been used medicinally for years. Even common herbs such have medicinal properties. Many gardeners create a separate medicinal garden where they can select and grow appropriate crops. Herbs can also be used to scent candles and soaps, and make tea.
Growing Grains

With a little space, it is entirely possible to grow grains right in your garden. If you are limited to only a few small gardens or pots, grains are not for you. For those of you with a little more space, it is entirely possible to raise enough grain for baking purposes or as a feed for livestock. Consider wheat, barley, oats, rye, corn, or flax as a starter grain crop. Once you’ve grown the grain, you will need to cure it, thresh it, and grind it for use in the kitchen.

How we see it When we first started our homestead, we ambitiously planted as many trees and bushes as we could afford and could reasonably put in the ground. Since we need to exercise our patience with the delayed harvest of the young trees, we’ve been delighted by the short-term rewards of strawberries, raspberries, and grapes.

Growing Edible Flowers

If you are reluctant to convert your landscaped flower beds to growing vegetables, consider growing edible flowers or eating some of the flowers you already grow. Many common flowers are in fact edible, including dandelions, nasturtium, pansy, violet, and peony. A note of caution: be careful when consuming flowers as some of them are in fact poisonous (such as foxglove); always consult a reputable resource, and avoid eating flowers that have been treated with pesticides or grown near roads or other polluted areas.

Growing Nuts

Just like fruit trees, nuts can take a considerable amount of time and space to grow but can yield delicious nuts for many years. Some nut trees, such as almonds, can be grown as dwarf trees. You can grow peanuts as an annual in zone 5 or higher. Additionally, sunflower and squash seeds  are often used for similar purposes as nuts.

Growing Mushrooms

Growing mushrooms is entirely possible either on a small scale in your home, or on a larger scale outdoor colony. If you are just getting started, purchase a mushroom kit for your home or apartment. This is a wonderful homesteading activity for those who have limited space.

Other Crops

There are several other choices when you are deciding what to plant in your homestead. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, consider planting hops for making beer, hemp for making rope, sprouts for feeding poultry, or plants that can be used for crafting purposes such as cotton.

When space is limited

If you’ve always dreamed of gardening, but are limited by your space, you can start by planting in pots, window boxes, or small raised beds. If this still does not satisfy your homesteading urges, research community gardens or offer to trade work hours for produce in a friends garden. Many CSA’s (community supported agriculture) will discount your produce in exchange for time spent working on the farm.


For those with limited space, lots of rural land nearby, or just a need to wander in the woods, you may want to consider foraging for food. Foraging involves collecting naturally growing foods from forests, meadows, or other wild places. Berries, nuts, and mushrooms are common foraging foods. Before heading out to forage, make sure you have permission, consider  other animals that rely on that food, learn about any chemicals that may have been used on the land, and make sure you know what you are doing since many wild foods are poisonous.

If you're looking for additional books about homestead gardening, check out some of my favorites here (this is an affiliate link)

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Over the next few months, I will be exploring the opportunities available to the homesteader and offering thoughts on how to set goals and gain a focus on what you want on your homestead.  Many of these thoughts are already available in my ebook: The Modern Homestead, but I invite you to follow along here and on my Facebook page for a deeper look into ideas and thoughts on creating your dream homestead.You can also find a wealth of information at the tabs at the top of the blog about gardening, raising animals, and learning new homesteading skills.  If you're looking for experience and examples, check out the Homestead Highlight series for first hand accounts from homesteaders.


  1. Thank you so much for your post. It was very helpful to me. I am a "newbie" in the area of homesteading and I am trying to soak up as much information as I can! It's so invigorating! Thank you again!

  2. Great outline. Another nut worth mentioning for small space and good yield within a few years, is the hazelnut. There are bush varieties (such as Precocious) which are hybrids between the American hazelnut (shrub) and any of a number of European hazels (small trees). They are hardy here in zone 5, and my Precocious shrubs reached about 10 feet in height 2-3 years after planting when they were 2 feet tall twigs. I got a great yield last fall, and we are still eating them. Precocious grows well with no pesticides or other special care, because it inherited its disease resistance from the American hazel.