As we’ve been building our suburban homestead, I’ve often wondered if our half-acre is enough land to qualify as a homestead – or if we could have built a homestead on even less land.
Small homesteads can be made on whatever land is available. A small homestead, on 0.1 to 0.25 acres, can be planned and built to provide enough produce for a whole family for a year. Having more land will allow a small homestead more options and opportunities to be more self-sufficient.
But if you still want to know how much land you really need – or if you can count your backyard as a homestead? Keep reading – and let’s go through what I’ve found in my research and in my experience.
This is How Much Land You Need for a Small Homestead
A small homestead can be as small (or big) as your yard. Really. Unless you’re in one of two specific situations.
- You lived in the times of the pioneers and staked a claim via one of the various, now-defunct Homestead Acts to claim land (in the 1860’s it was 160+ acres whereas Alaska’s expired-in-1986 homesteading acts were 80+ acres).
- You want to live on a homestead and be completely self-sufficient. Then, according to my research, you’re going to need more land – ideally 13 or more acres of land. Even then, more land is better so you’ve got plenty of pasture space, wooded areas, and more.
So in today’s world, a homestead doesn’t have a set or defined quantity of land. It’s more of a mindset to make do with what you’ve got. That way, it’s easier to take what you’ve got (like your yard) and turn that into your backyard homestead.
From there, how much of your yard you’ll need to use is going to depend on several factors. So, let’s list some of those factors here.
- What are your goals for homesteading?
- Do you have specific dreams about how you’ll be living as a backyard homesteader?
- How do you plan to live your homesteading lifestyle?
- How much of your yard are you willing to dedicate to homesteading?
- Are you willing to give up other things and space to be a backyard homesteader?
- How much small-footprint style homesteading are you willing to do?
- What kind of work are you willing to do in order to homestead?
- Does your local laws and coding allow you to do any homesteading? What about gardening? Can you have animals or livestock?
- Are you wanting more land than you’ve got?
- Do you want to become a full-time homesteader or farmer?
- Does your current job give you the flexibility to move and/or homestead?
- Can you move to a more ideal homestead location? If you do move, do you have all contingencies accounted for – like schools for your children?
- Do you want your family to be involved in homesteading?
Once you’ve got a clearer idea of where you need to be, you’ll be able to start planning to use what you’ve got as your homestead (even if it’s your backyard homestead like us) or to plan your move to your dedicated homestead.
Now, if you’re able to move to a dedicated homestead with dozens of acres of land, that’s fantastic. You’re going to have a lot of work and fun ahead of you! However, if you’re like us, then you’re going to need to use what you’ve got as your homestead.
My in-laws, for example, live on about a small lot in a suburb. It’s somewhere between a quarter and a third of an acre. And yet, they’re able to grow a plentiful garden each year – and able to provide plenty of produce for both themselves and some extra to share with friends and family.
We’re currently on a half-acre lot in a suburb – and we’re learning how to improve our garden to do the exact same thing. However, our garden can only get so big – we aren’t willing to give up the kids’ playset just yet!
Are we self-sufficient on a half-acre backyard homestead? No – but we’re working towards being as self-sufficient as we can be. We probably won’t ever be as self-sufficient as a 20-acre homestead – but that’s okay. Our situation calls for us to stay here (both for work and school and other reasons). So we’re working with what we’ve got to build our backyard homestead in suburbia.
So if you’re needing to stay where you’re at, then you’re in good company. You can still make a small homestead, too. Even if it’s just raising herbs and a few plants on your apartment balcony. It’s still possible to use small-footprint gardening techniques to become as self-sufficient as you can – and to have fun with small homestead gardening at the same time.
How Many Acres is a Small Homestead?
So a small homestead needs to be different sizes based on your needs, goals, and expectations. It really can be any size – if you’re willing to use what you’ve got and are focused on improving your family’s quality of life.
|Homestead Goals||Homestead Size in Acres||Notes|
|To improve quality of living wherever you’re at with what you’ve got available.||Use what you’ve got.||Depending on your yard size, you’ll need to use more small footprint (square-foot gardens) or vertical gardening techniques.|
|To have enough produce for a small family||0.1 acres of dedicated gardening space.||You’ll need to become an expert in vertical and square foot gardening techniques.|
|To have enough produce for a larger family and/or to share with friends and family.||0.2 acres or more of dedicated gardening space.||Again, use small-footprint gardening. If you have more land, it’s easier.|
|Have a garden and raise livestock.||0.25-3+ acres of land.||This will largely depend on your livestock choices and the local area’s laws, codes, and zoning.|
|Be largely self-sufficient by gardening and raising livestock.||0.25-3+ acres of land.||Depends on codes, zoning, what livestock you choose to raise, and your diet choices.|
|To be entirely self-sufficient and/or live off of the traditional grid.||At least 13 or more acres of land for a family of 4. More land is better – especially if your family has more than four people in it.||If this were the route we went, we’d want at least 20 acres. We’d like to be able to say that the kids were out playing on the ‘back 40’!|
If I were to give you this information based purely on my research, it would be skewed heavily by homesteader bias. Most people seem to think that a small homestead needs to be at least 3 acres in order to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
- One such source calculated that a completely self-sufficient family of four would need 13 acres for themselves, their outbuildings, animals, and enough wood to heat the house through the winter.
- Another source offered a calculator that, no matter what data I inputted, stated that at least 1.5 acres were needed for organic, holistic, self-sufficient homesteading. Even if I wanted closer neighbors and to only provide 10% of my food from homesteading, this source said I had to have at least 1.5 acres of land.
Based on my experience, though? This is absurd. I can have an absolutely amazing homesteading experience (that focuses on being as organic and holistic as I can or want to be) with what we’ve got. And we can produce a significant chunk of our food needs – while also improving our quality of life and helping our kids learn fantastic life skills. They love their little egg business – and their dozen chickens (read about what factors impact egg production here). And we’re able to do all this on a mere half-acre of land.
Even when we lived on our 0.22 acres, we were able to do some suburban homesteading and it was great.
Just remember this homesteaders’ rule of thumb: the more self-sufficient you want to be, the more land you will need.
Are we totally self-sufficient yet? No. We still very much enjoy buying artisan donuts from the grocery store. Will we ever become fully self-sufficient? Maybe. For now, though, we’re focusing on enjoying our suburban backyard homestead and doing what we can.
What Should You Keep or Raise on a Small Homestead?
This is going to depend on your goals – and how much space you’ve got available. It’s also going to depend, to some degree, on what your land is zoned for – and other local codes or laws.
Do what works for you in your available homesteading space. Raise what you can. Grow what you can.
For example, if you’re on a 0.1-acre homestead and trying to raise enough produce to be completely self-sufficient, then you probably won’t raise a lot of grain – or corn. Instead, you’re going to focus on vertical and small-footprint gardening. You may even skip raising any livestock. Or if you do opt for livestock, it’s probably going to be chickens or rabbits – and probably no more than 3-5 or so.
When we lived on our 0.22-acre lot, we could have a garden – and we did build one. We could also have up to five chickens and our household pets. We had our dog – but we didn’t get to the chickens while we lived there. It was in the plans, but then the plans changed when we moved.
On the other hand, if you have more space, then you can expand your garden horizontally – and add in more livestock if you want to raise them, too.
On our half-acre, we’ve got a good-sized garden, a raspberry patch, a small orchard, a dozen chickens, and two dwarf-sized milk goats. Alpacas are in the plan, too! And yes – this is all in our backyard. We could probably have more garden space – if we were willing to give up the playset or the grassy area where our kids play. But we aren’t – our kids need some play space. So we make do with what we’ve got.
Your answer will vary from anyone else’s – and that’s okay. That’s the way it should be.
How Do I Make the Most of My Small Homestead?
To make the most of your small homestead, be smart in how you plan it. Then, do one thing at a time. Expand as desired and able – without sacrificing your mental or physical health!
Here’s how we’ve done it – and it’s worked really, really well no matter where we’ve lived.
- Check to see how your land is zoned – and see if there are any local codes or laws that could impact what you’re able to grow or raise. If you live in an HOA, make sure you also check the bylaws.
- Next, plan a garden. This may mean doing a lot of research into square-foot, small-footprint, or vertical gardening.
- Plant your garden and evaluate how things go over the course of time.
- Add a composter or worm farm if desired.
- Consider small livestock (like chickens) if able and desired.
- Expand and improve your homestead over time. Or scale back one year if you need to.
- Reevaluate for the next year and adjust your plan going forward.
The downside to this is that you aren’t doing everything the first moment you move in – but is that really a negative? I see it as a positive – it means that we can build as we go and aren’t biting off more than we can chew!
In any case, plan one big project each year- and several smaller ones. What’s a big or a small project will depend on your skill level, how comfortable you are with things, the required research, and build times (if needed).
Start Small and Build As You Go
This is something that’s proven to be a big help and a key to backyard homesteading – at least for us. And it works on two levels.
- Start small in your backyard homestead – and build as you go. That way, you’ll expand your knowledge and ability over time without overwhelming yourself (or your family). For more on this, please refer to the above section for the simple steps we’ve used to start small and build as we go.
- Start where you’re at – it may be small now. But over time, you may be able to trade up and move to a bigger backyard homestead, hobby farm, or full-scale homestead.
Just because you don’t have your dream homestead right now doesn’t mean you have to wait on building a homestead. You can build a homestead on whatever land you’ve got available right now.
Even if it’s an apartment balcony, do what you can. When I was in college (and lived in an apartment with a few friends), we had a salsa garden on our balcony. We grew tomatoes and a few herbs. We learned a lot – mostly about what not to do. But it was still a great experience!
Then, remember that you can always trade up – many homesteaders start in apartments and later move to the suburbs. Many of us backyard homesteaders are totally content to stay there and love having our little slice of homesteading heaven so handy – while also being close to work and other city-based amenities.
Others, however, end up trading in their suburban home and relocate to the rural areas to become hobby farmers – or professional farmers. In any case, it’s okay to start small – and move your way up or build as you go. Not only is it totally fine – it’s also totally normal.
Do I need a homestead land calculator? Most homestead land calculators operate under assumptions that don’t hold true for everyone. As such, they may not be entirely accurate even as a general guide. Instead, build your homestead where you’re at. Learn as you go. Then, expand as your situation and needs determine.
How much land is needed to feed one person for a year? It used to be that an acre could feed a family for a year. For a typical Western diet today, more like 3.25-plus acres are required. Small footprint homesteaders today can produce enough food for a family on as little as 0.1-0.25 acres.
How to choose land for homestead? After doing extensive research and practicing homesteading on your current plot, plan your ideal homestead. Then, search for an area that has enough usable land to support your plan. It’s better to buy larger in case areas of the potential homestead plot aren’t arable.