Apartment and Urban Homesteading: The Essential Guide

There are many things we have to take into account when we begin to prepare for a SHTF scenario. A lot of time, research, and preparations go with the lifestyle, and some of us don’t know where we should start. One of the obvious choices is growing your own food, but how do you do that when you live in the suburbs, or worse, an apartment complex?

There are a lot of challenges that come with food growing. Even when you have the land for it, you run into diseases, pests, and many other hurdles that you will have to navigate when growing produce.

plants on a wooden table under grow lights

This doesn’t even take into account a SHTF situation, which brings a whole slew of problems on its own. But, with our guide, you will have the confidence to start your own prepper’s homestead in your backyard, or in your apartment.

We will be addressing ideas and solutions that will help you prepare for both situations, so let’s begin with homesteading in a home.

Why You Should Consider Urban Homesteading

No matter what city you live in (or in what kind of housing), there are countless benefits associated with urban homesteading.

Not only can you enjoy fresh food, which is the most common reason why people turn to urban or apartment homesteading, but you’ll also learn vital skills you need to become more self-sufficient. The education process involved in this endeavor alone is enough to boost your self-efficacy and self-esteem!

You can become a steward of land and resources and also learn how to live more simply, something that at the very least can boost your mood and at best can make you feel more at peace with yourself and the rest of the world.

There’s a misconception out there that in order to homestead, you need to have thousands of acres at your disposal. That’s not the case. Really, to homestead, all you need is a tiny bit of space – and the right skills.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the ways you can break into homesteading, even if you live in an apartment or in an urban setting.

Homesteading in an Urban Environment

How is it possible to grow all the produce I need in my backyard? This is a question that gets asked over and over again. Most are surprised that you can even do it.

Before you even start planting those first seeds or building that chicken coop, there are some things you will want to figure out beforehand.

Most importantly, you will want to find out if your city, HOA (Homeowners Association), or community will allow you even to have an edible garden. MANY cities are cracking down on this, and many HOAs forbid them.

Not only do you want to find this out, but you will also want to check on everything you want to do. That includes chickens, aquaponics, water catching, and anything that may cause you grief in the future due to laws and ordinances.

Of course, the biggest consideration you will need to make in starting your homestead in a city is how to utilize space.

You’re likely already feeling a bit cramped in your tiny apartment, and adding chickens or a garden to the mix might not be at the top of your list of priorities.

However, the good news is that there are ways you can utilize vertical space to your advantage, particularly in regard to gardening.

You’ll also want to think about how you are going to get your soil for your plants – urban soil tends to be contaminated by chemicals and there’s a good chance that you probably don’t have access to large amounts of soil where you live, either.

Buying soil is an option, as is making your own compost (which we will discuss below).

There are high costs associated with urban living, too, such as those for water – again, we’ll give you more information on how to make water usage more affordable and efficient in this article as well.

Don’t forget that when you’re homesteading in an urban area, you have a higher risk of theft and vandalism from other people. That’s especially true in a survival situation.

So you know the laws and it’s time to start, but how? In this article, we’ll break down all the tips you need to know in order to start homesteading in an apartment or otherwise urban environment.

Apartment and Urban Homesteading 101

Planning Out a Traditional Garden

To start, you need to plan out your garden in the most efficient way, so you maximize your grow space.

Every inch of your property has potential to grow for you, or provide energy or water. So the best advice to give is to start slowly with a plan and maximize your space.

If you’re living in a house that you own or rent in an urban environment, you have a slight advantage – you have more space to work with than if you are renting a tiny apartment. However, space is still likely at a premium here.

Start on the edge of your property, and here will go mostly fruit trees and some vegetables. As you work towards your house, you will gradually make it more and more garden for strictly vegetables and herbs.

Maximizing your limited space with options hanging baskets, vertical gardens , and companion planting will turn a small backyard into a thriving ecosystem full of edibles.

If you have the space for a small greenhouse, do it! You will extend your growing season like you wouldn’t believe.

With the greenhouse, you can start earlier, and grow through the winter inside it. This gradual shift from fruit trees to produce gardens will help to mimic nature and give you a huge advantage over traditional methods.

Within the greenhouse, you will want to grow medicinal herbs  like chamomile, lemon balm, and St. John’s Wort.

In fact, you will find out as time goes on which herbs are your favorite and those are the ones that you will want to move from the herb garden and into the greenhouse. The sole purpose of this is, so you have ‘go-to’ herbs always ready for you.

If you haven’t researched it yet, we have an article on permaculture design that will help you to understand this concept. No to mention, the trees will contribute in concealing your garden from neighbors, looters, or anyone that just happens to walk by your place.

With your garden planned out, you will want to start composting your scraps, lawn clippings, and anything worth putting in there. The compost is an integral part of the garden because, without it, you will slowly deplete your soil of vital nutrients that it needs to grow those beautiful vegetables and fruits.

Balcony Gardening

If you live in an apartment, there’s a good chance that you’re a bit limited. After you have a good understanding of your limitations, you can begin to grow with planter boxes and hanging baskets. Hopefully, you have a balcony and some large windows.

These areas will have to be covered with edible plants for this to produce enough edibles to make it worth your time.

Planter boxes should be staggered, and or stacked to create a vertical garden so you can have a whole wall full of plants. Grow things that don’t need a lot of sunlight in the bottom boxes, and you guessed it, full sun crops in the top ones. From here, put hanging baskets everywhere you can.

Hanging baskets work wonderfully well for vines and plants like tomatoes and cucumbers. They hang down and become an easy way to harvest.

Always experiment and look for ways that you can maximize your growing space. This will also help to conceal the inside of your apartment, but of course, you are also the person that has a garden on your balcony.

You can also use large containers for things like potatoes, carrots, and radishes.

Your medicinal herbs can be grown inside as most herbs don’t need a lot of sunlight to thrive. If you have a window in your kitchen, you may want to use this window as your medicinal herb garden.

This is also a great location for all your go-to herbs for culinary uses. The point is, bring the medicinal herbs inside so they are within arms reach and your balcony space is used strictly for vegetables.

Find out about co-ops in your area, or better yet, ask your apartment owner about establishing one for the apartment complex. This option will ensure that you have all the growing space you need.

In regards to fruit trees, you do have an option, albeit small. You can bonsai fruit trees or train them to stay small; growing them in pots. This will give you smaller fruits, but it is a way for you to grow some yourself.

Container Gardening

Although many people would consider container gardening to really be in the same category as balcony gardening, we include it as a separate entity on this list because container gardening is absolutely important for urban homesteaders.

Not only can you grow in containers to maximize the amount of space you have available for growing plants but you can also use this technique to allow yourself to grow plants that otherwise would not be able to survive in your area’s climate.

Tropical fruits, for example, often thrive in containers and can be grown anywhere in this fashion.

Consider planting a few containers of plants around your apartment. Even if you don’t have any balcony space to devote to container plants, you can easily grow a few plants here or there on a windowsill or even beneath grow lights.

Some plants that are particularly well-suited to growing in containers include:

  • ✅ Any herbs
  • ✅ Tomatoes
  • ✅ Zucchini
  • ✅ Leafy greens
  • ✅ Potatoes
  • ✅ Carrots
  • ✅ Eggplant
  • ✅ Peppers
  • ✅ Fruit trees (choose dwarf container varieties for best results)
  • ✅ Berries

Hydroponics and Aquaponics

Hydroponics is perfect for beginning apartment homesteaders. An efficient, well-designed hydroponics system can be built in just a closet or spare bedroom, allowing you to grow food year-round without having to worry about watering, pests, or diseases.

If you can set up your own aquaponics system, do it. These things are amazing for the garden and an excellent source of fish for you.

With an aquaponic garden, you will have the fish fertilizing your edibles, and the added benefit of another source of protein.

These can become relatively complicated or simple enough to complete on a Saturday. This is something that you would want to keep away from prying eyes, so the garage or in the house is a good place to keep it.

It is possible for you to set up a small aquaponics system in your apartment. This is completely up to the rules of the apartment complex, though, as some do not allow fish tanks.

If you are allowed to, you will provide a lot of nutrients for your garden that would otherwise be hard to come by due to your situation.

Many people choose to grow microgreens in their apartment hydroponic or aquaponics system (though you can of course grow microgreens in a traditional growing environment, too).

Microgreens are perfect for apartment homesteaders because they are ready for harvest in just a couple of short weeks, meaning it doesn’t take a lot of resources to go from “farm to fork.”

Urban Composting

Learn everything you can about composting, and you will surely reap the rewards. Because you are growing in a confined space, an excellent idea to learn and implement is ‘hot composting.’

This composting method isn’t far off from the traditional method, ‘cold composting,’ but there are some differences. Primarily you focus on getting the right balance between materials high in carbon and nitrogen.

When you do this, and you turn it every two days or so while making sure your compost is ‘spongy’ wet, you get beautiful black dirt high in microbes and nutrients in about two weeks as opposed to months with the traditional method.

You can create a hot composting system just about anywhere you have the space, but do be aware that many cities have restrictions on where (and even if) you can have a compost pile at all.

Disclosure: This post has affiliate links, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. See my full disclosure for more.

A great alternative to the traditional compost system for an urban homesteader to consider is an indoor composting bin. There are several options to choose from.

One is a traditional style compost bin that is made for indoor use. You can buy these online, and they are compact and odorless enough to be stashed indoors (typically in an out of sight, out of way place such as under a sink or in an unused cabinet).

You can also create a vermicomposting bin. Vermicomposting is the act of composting with worms, typically red wigglers.

The worms break down the composted material for you (usually, you can compost materials like kitchen scraps and other organic waste) and since they’re doing all the work, it’s a mostly odorless and pest-free system. This makes it perfect for urban homesteaders!

Getting Water

Now that you are growing and composting, what is next? Water should have come to mind immediately. Without it, you are going to have a hard time growing anything.

The only reason this one isn’t at the top of the list is that, hopefully, you have running water; considering you are in the suburbs or an urban environment.

There are many methods of doing this, and if you are patient, you can collect all the water you need for your urban homestead. Installing barrels for your gutters to drain into is a good way to collect water.

You are very limited into how much water you can collect from your apartment. You can install gutters onto your balcony, and with permission, set up rain collectors outside or on your balcony as well.

This will be one of your biggest challenges, because of the limited space, and the need to water plants inside, and typically, underneath a balcony, so rain doesn’t naturally fall into these areas in large quantities. Having a co-op will give you more options.

Some people may have issues with the chemicals used to make shingles washing into this water, but if you NEED water in a SHTF situation, you will be glad you did this.

You can also use tarps to create some great water collectors. And of course, you can dig a retention pond to store excess water. If you are concerned about chemicals leaching into your water, a water purification system can take care of this for you.

A simple way to pump water when there is no electricity is a ram pump. These pumps develop pressure by a two-chamber system and work solely off of water. A prepper’s dream for watering the garden when there is no electricity or water pressure.

In many cases, you may be able to recycle greywater from inside your home too. Greywater is water used for things like bathing and washing dishes.

While you may need to treat it to get rid of soaps and other contaminants, greywater is an inexpensive way for you to water your plants in an urban environment.

Energy

Since we touched on the threat of no electricity, you may want to invest in alternative energy like solar and wind. There are many DIY guides in building your own solar panels  and wind generators.

They are also becoming more affordable as the demand for alternative energy rises in the global consciousness. With a home, you have the benefit of having a lot of unused surface space on your roof.

In regards to alternative energy, you are going to find that you will need to make some sacrifices to your growing space if you want to install solar panels.

This will have to go on the balcony, and if your apartment happens to have little sun exposure throughout the day, it might not even be worth the investment. The best advice is to hire a professional to look at your situation if you have any doubts.

Chickens

A homestead wouldn’t be complete without a few chickens. This is heavily subject to where you live, as there are cities that explicitly forbid them. Not only that, they are loud, and everyone will know that you have them.

There are ways to limit this, though. One is to get rid of the rooster. One of the chickens will ‘take command, ‘ but she won’t be as loud as a rooster.

Another method is soundproofing your chicken coop as much as possible. There are also breeds that don’t make as much noise like Wyandottes, Cochins, or Brahmas to name a few.

If you are allowed to have a chicken in your apartment, you may want to find a new apartment complex. Jokes aside, this is probably not an option for you.

If the apartment owner is willing to establish a co-op within the apartment complex; that will give you more space to grow food, make allies, and possibly have chickens.

The best option for raising your own meat in this situation is undoubtedly rabbits. They are quiet, fairly easy to take care of, provide a decent amount of meat, and they breed like crazy.

Developing a co-op(also known as a community garden) at your apartment complex is a great way to grow all the produce you need, and as stated, build relationships and allies with your neighbors. Prepping isn’t easy alone, and like with most things, there is strength in numbers.

Using opportunities like a co-op to bring together like-minded people may be the catalyst to building a lasting relationship with fellow preppers. The worst thing that could happen is the owner says no you can’t have a co-op garden.

Using Vertical Space

The biggest challenge for the homestead gardener is likely in figuring out how to make the most of the space that is available.

Maximizing vertical space is a great place to start. Consider installing vertical gardens made out of pallets or trellises so that you can grow up instead of out.

Choose plants that are well-suited for this style – those that vine up like cucumbers and zucchini are great choices, as are things like tomatoes and strawberries.

Rabbits

Although you’re somewhat limited when it comes to what kind of livestock you can raise in an apartment homestead, rabbits are a great choice.

Due to their size and quiet demeanor, the rabbit is a great choice for a homesteader who has neighbors close nearby. A single rabbit needs around 12 square feet and with just one breeding pair, you can get dozens of rabbits each year.

Rabbits have a brief gestation period of just around 30 days and since rabbits are ready to mate at around six months, it won’t take you long to have a huge colony going in your apartment.

When you raise rabbits, you can harvest them both for meat and for their fur. They’re not fussy in terms of food and require minimal space – so while pigs and sheep probably aren’t on your list of things to add to the apartment homestead, rabbits definitely should be.

Learn Classic Skills

The best thing about the modern homesteading movement is that it’s flexible – homesteading, by definition, has no definition. It’s all about what you make it!

You might want to learn some classic skills to help you be more self-sufficient. Even if raising chickens or growing a garden isn’t in the cards for you right now, you can hop on board the homesteading bandwagon by doing things like:

  • ✅ Making your own cleaning products
  • ✅ Learning how to can food
  • ✅ Baking your own bread
  • ✅ Learning how to sew
  • ✅ Working with leather
  • ✅ Make candles
  • ✅ Create your own herbal remedies
  • ✅ Recycling and repurposing
  • ✅ Forgoing the clothes dryer and installing a clothesline on your balcony
  • ✅ Learning how to make pickles, jams, and sauces

Of course, learning how to cook and ditching the prepackaged convenience foods of the supermarket is one of the easiest (and best) ways to start homesteading if you live in an apartment. It requires no extra space, and we can practically guarantee that you probably have a refrigerator and a stove in your apartment, no matter how tiny!

Leverage the Community

Last but not least, the best tip for homesteading in an apartment or in any urban environment is to take advantage of the city’s best resource – the other people that surround you.

Visit local farms, if there are any near you or just outside the city, and meet the farmers. Take part in a CSA program. Join gardening groups or best yet, participate in a community garden.

Doing these things will not only provide you with a strong sense of community, but it may also help you learn long forgotten skills that will help you be a more prepared homesteader later on.

containers filled with soil ready to plant

Wrap Up

Remember always to look to maximize your growing space. Use things like hanging baskets or planter boxes attached to the fence, the house, or garage. Research and learn the laws in your area, and stay informed on new laws and innovations that come out for homesteading.

Apartment homesteading brings all sorts of new challenges, but like homesteading in a home, with some research and detailed planning, you can grow a lot of produce with your limited space. Like a home, the first thing you will want to find out is your limitations by the laws and apartment complex’s rules.

Prepping and finding a balance between the city life and urban homesteading is one of the greatest challenges you will face. So whether you are in an apartment, house, duplex, or any dwelling in the city for that matter; you have options when it comes to homesteading.

Finding like-minded individuals to help establish a co-op(A lot of subdivisions are doing this as well) will give you peace of mind. Knowing that there are people out there with the same concerns and are taking actions to be prepared will keep you grounded and centered in your preparations.

Not only that, the wealth of knowledge, manpower, and ingenuity that others bring to a group are priceless in a SHTF scenario. Having others there watching your back, will allow you to focus on what matters most; family, friends, urban homesteading, and prepping.

urban homesteading pin

last update 05/06/2021 by Rebekah Pierce

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