I am currently a wannabe homesteader. Have been for a long time. To me, homesteading means almost the same as a combination of living off-grid, off the land, survivalistic. In my mind, this thought train follows through to needing all manner of skills not needed by the Average Joe/Josephine living in cities or towns who buy their premade cleaning supplies, clothing, all manner of groceries, etc. I picture the pioneers of the country who had to make most of everything they needed, or did without those things! They bought a few necessary tools to take with them, and a few other supplies to get them through a few months until they could secure their own sources of these items. Like sugar and flour.
So, in MY mind, this Homesteading sort needs to have certain skills to survive, even if they are still pulling power, water, and waste management from the community at large! I will list a few that I have gained on my own, some that I have yet to learn, and maybe some that are still outside my ability. I hope to have a few chimes of things I've not thought of, or skills you have learned and how you came to learn them.
Basic needs are water, shelter, and sustenance, aka food!! If you are vegetarian then raising meat animals won't pertain to you, but I am a meat-o-saurus! So I must become conversant on the raising, butchering and preserving of flesh for food sources. This is perhaps the hardest part, because killing, even to survive, is a harsh thing. Most especially after you have nurtured the creature to a harvest-appropriate stage. My best advice is if you need to name the critter(s), give them food names... Breakfast, Thanksgiving, Porkchop, Steak, Bacon, .... you get the idea. Chopping off the head of a beloved creature makes the rest of the work and consuming very difficult. I myself still have a hard time with rabbit and here's the backstory.
As a young child my mother and her mother told me we were going to eat the Easter Bunny, and served up fried rabbit. My young and tender mind and heart couldn't come to grips with this and so I never ate the "chicken" that didn't have any wings! Years later, as I learned how to raise and process these animals for consumption, it wasn't the killing or dressing out the carcass that got to me. After stripping the body of it's guts and skin, I carried it indoors holding it just in front of it's back legs, and the thing continued to twitch in my hands. I rinsed the carcass and shoved it in the freezer for awhile. Until I thought I could eat it. I think I need to learn to properly cook rabbit as I still couldn't stomach it.
Larger animals require other methods to reduce the carcass to usable portions. And what will we do with the inedible parts? Tallow or lard rendered from the fats. Leather crafts from a well tanned hide and the bones can be fed to the dogs (LGD's?), or made into bone broth and then ground into a powder to use in the garden. Have I missed something!?
I've long been a gardener, and I really have no use for any plant, bush or tree that cannot provide something useful. Maybe the useful thing is simply the beauty of it, or the aroma given off by flowers or leaves. I prefer something edible or medicinal, but a pleasing aroma will do for a small portion of my garden. Many here know that there are these edible and medicinal uses for all sorts of plants, shrubs and trees! But go ahead and list some of the lesser known things! I know that a Birch tree will give sap the same way a sugar maple will, and can be reduced (from 110 gallons to just 1 gallon) for pancake syrup! Or you can get a glue from the same sort of process. Here is just one of many available videos on how to make glue from tree sap. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-FksxvtyiQ
I've given some thought on how I will clean my body, my clothes... and while I have not yet made a soap from lye and fat (the fat from the animals you've butchered and stuck in the freezer), I do have a book in my library to teach me once I get to that point in my preparations to become a homesteader. I have done the melt and pour soaps, but that was with a premade base. Not quite what I have in mind for a skill needed. I do know that you can get lye from wood ashes.
But how will I have clothes that need washing if I have no cloth!? I know that linen and cotton come from plant fibers. Making linen is a long process, as you must grow the flax, then process the long stems repeatedly until you have a soft fiber to spin into a thread or yarn, which must then be woven or otherwise manipulated into a usable product. I watched this to get an idea about linen...( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFuj7sXVnIU&ab_channel=MonreaghCentre
) I've never grown cotton, living in Southern California one cannot get the seed shipped here! Just like sweet potato slips. The seed companies can't send this stuff here. But as I have raised rabbits, and even had a goat for awhile, I feel confident that I could raise angora rabbits and goats for fibers to spin my own yarns, or just to make a felted fabric in which to cut a pattern for a shirt or pants. I have yet to learn the spinning techniques and other necessary steps to washing a fleece before I can spin. I DO know some basics about sewing clothing, and crocheting a garment. I feel adequate to that task.
Preserving methods for food supplies through a winter is another skill, or set of skills, to learn. I have done some canning and dehydrating of a few foods. My favorite dehydrated items are apples and jerkey!! But one can not live on apple chips and jerky alone! I've recently been gaining a bit of information about fermented foods being so very healthy for the body, and a great method for preserving. My mind goes to beer and wine when I think about fermenteds, but I'm learning that fermented veggies are suppose to be a special delicacy in many countries. Which leads me to not only lacto-fermentation, but also to pickles. Pickling often requires vinegar, and how to get vinegar is another skill. Apple cider vinegar is gaining traction in the health communities for all it's amazing powers of health. So we need apple trees for the juice to make the vinegar that pickles the cucumbers, onions, carrots, eggs, etc.
Vinegar making is easy. I've done a superb red wine vinegar from a mix of red wines in a very large glass jar (2 gallons large) with a spigot near the bottom, and a bit of Bragg's ACV (apple cider vinegar) WITH the "mother". The mother can look like a slimy, mushroomy thing (known as a SCOBY https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCOBY
) that grows on the surface of the vinegar. It is what gets that wine working towards a good vinegar. It can be done without this addition, but takes much more time. But once you have a slimy "mother", you can keep things going for years. Much like having a sourdough bread yeast that you feed periodically. Here is a link to more info on the mother ( (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_of_vinegar
Which brings me to the capture of wild yeast to make bread. Hopefully you LIKE sourdough bread, cuz the capture is simple. You know that whitish covering on grapes? It's a great source of wild yeast to capture for your bread products (if you like sourdough.) I've done this when I had a few grape vines some years ago. I don't use any poisons in my yard unless totally necessary, and even then I'm not happy about it. So my grapes were free of any kind of "cides" (pesti-cide, herbi-cide etc), and I dropped a small handful into the flour and water slurry for about a week. Made great sourdough. But one must keep a sourdough culture fed, like any other critter. And I neglected this after several months. But I've done it and know that I have the knowledge necessary to repeat the skill! That is the important part for me at this point in my game.
Another aspect of homesteading is being able to build shelter. For you, for your critters. Most of the time that means lumber. I've recently learned about coppicing and pollarding right here on Permies. Both of these management systems are of great use to a homesteader. I plan to plant black locust trees as they have wonderful smelling flowers, are a legume and so fix nitrogen in the soil, they are a very hard wood lasting decades, and they have fast growth habits. So I'll plant and let them grow a few years before the first coppicing, taking them down to nearly the ground, and allowing another several years of like a 6:1 growth, meaning for every 1 tree planted, after coppicing I should get 6 (or more) logs the next time I cut! I like those kind of increases!
But trees have so many uses on the homestead. Those same black locust trees can also feed my critters, along with some mulberry trees. The leaves are quite nutritious, and I am pretty sure I read somewhere that people can consume the leaves as well. It might be a famine food, but the nutrition is there!
I think any homesteader should also know the difference between good bugs and bad bugs as these have great effect on life in general. There are exponentially more bugs on the planet than people. Knowing the life cycles is useful, as well as the identification of these buggies, whether beneficial or detrimental. For years I thought that an underground bug we knew as an "earth child" was a bad bug. They look terrifying, but are actually a beneficial bug, eating bad bugs that live underground. They are more correctly known as a Jerusalem Cricket. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_cricket
They are really not a bug, or a cricket, or from Jerusalem. And I have such a hard time with people who believe all bugs are bad and should be exterminated. How will we live without the bees!? But that's another post for another time!
Using tools appropriately and sometimes creatively is another skill to acquire. I drool over many power tools, and can use several. I own my own jigsaw, skilsaw, and sawzall or reciprocating saw, and power drill. I look forward to obtaining and using some new hand tools for peeling bark off trees that have been dropped/felled for building shelters for my fiber animals that will come after the basic needs have been met. (Their shelter, fencing, feed and water delivery systems all in place before purchasing!)
Knowing some basic medical skills is also paramount to homesteading. As mentioned above, there are many plants that can be used towards this skillset. Knowing what to use, in what sort of preparation and how to make that preparation... I have been teaching myself alternative and herbal based medicine for decades. Teas are my favorite as they tend to be easiest to make and use. I've designed an all herbal ointment for use on all skin parts, including up your nose or up "there". It relieves pain, swelling, itching, and I use it rather than any sort of triple antibiotic. With the advent of CoVid19 I have learned about some other remedies as both an encapsulated powdered herb (licorice root) and a syrup (elderberry). Filling those capsules is a booger of a job.
What else do you have to add to this list of skills to be successful out there? This is most certainly not a complete list of necessary skills, just a primer to get one thinking about the individual's needs. I think as a whole, many of us have lost the skills needed to survive outside our small circles. Have you met someone who believes their hamburgers come from the market, with no thought to what animal it comes from or how it goes from the live creature to the medium rare hamburger on the plate? I find this lack of general knowledge appalling. Kids who believe the offerings in the market just magically appear!!
OK. Your turn! Go!