You Tell Me: Urban Homesteading?

Urban homesteaders find ways to grow their own food, despite a lack of space.

I’ve been on a back to the basics kick lately. I’m growing my own vegetables, earning my own income from home, baking my own bread, and soon I’ll be line drying my laundry again (if I can figure out how….my clothesline broke).

I never knew there was a name for this kind of self-sufficiency, until I was reading Oh My Aching Debts last week. Apparently it’s called Urban Homesteading.

Now I’ve known about homesteading for a long time. I used to live in a fairly rural community, and there were a lot of families who lived on their own little farms, homeschooled their kids, and basically provided for themselves, rather than relying on city conveniences. I know some of you readers live this sort of lifestyle, and you have no idea how much I look up to you.

But I’d never heard of homesteading in the city until I read Cindy’s article. Which led me to another article, explaining it further.

The thought of self-sufficiency has always appealed to me, even though I’m somewhat addicted to modern conveniences (like eating out). I never realized how much you could do for yourself, even in the confines of living in a duplex in town. My neighbor even has chickens, though I haven’t dared experiment with that yet.

Now that I know there’s a name for what I aspire to do, bring on the urban homesteading! This summer I want to learn how to can food, and I want to find the U-Pick farms around here for the fruits and vegetables I’m not growing myself. There’s just something I love about eating fresh, locally grown food, rather than eating colorless tomatoes from Winco (probably the taste!).

Here’s the you tell me part. I need all the advice I can get. Where can I learn about canning? How do you put up a clothesline when you rent and can’t put concrete in the ground? What vegetables are you growing this year? Have you heard of urban homesteading before? Does it appeal to you? What other advice or ideas to you have for me? I want to know everything!

Photo by LollyKnit.


By , on May 2, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. jill, Chicago:

    ps – Forgot to tell you about the bees. Everyone should keep bees, especially in the city! Put a hive on your roof, your balcony, or your local community garden. The planet will thank you.

  2. jill, Chicago:

    We are Urban Homesteaders and homeschoolers in Chicago. The absolute best go-to guide for gardening without acreage is, where you will find all the stuff you need at the best prices. Also, sells a number of clothesline options. Our best investment to date is an Energystar-rated freezer for garden produce and sides of beef, hogs, etc. By the way, Chicago is trying to outlaw backyard chickens, too, but we’re gonna fight City Hall. Wish us luck!

  3. TheNormalMiddle:

    This past summer I taught myself how to can…well I had a little help from a friend who had done it before.

    Buy yourself the Ball Blue Book of Canning. It is about $5 and worth it. Follow the directions. Start with something small like making freezer jam and then move up to tomatoes. (nothing like fresh tomatoes canned and then used mid winter for chili or spaghetti!!!!)

  4. Angel:

    Here’s my idea for the clothesline in a rental. Get one of those “umbrella” clotheslines (you know, the ones that are a square of clotheslines on a single pole), one of those large buckets from a hardware store, and some readymix cement stuff. You can fill the bucket with cement, place the pole of the clothesline in it and let it dry. Hope this helps!

  5. Marci:

    Hadn’t heard the phrase Urban Homesteading before, but like it! Not only appeals – I do it! In the city,watch zoning-ours does not allow any livestock including chickens or rabbits.

    Clothesline- Remember tetherball at school? Find two old tires, put cardboard in the bottom, mix concrete in a 5 gal bucket, pour in, set the pole in it and brace til concrete hardens. Tie a couple lines to it. It easily rolls to where you want it.

    Canning – Our Local extension office gives lessons every spring or summer (Tillamook,Oregon) Fun, informative, and you’ll meet other canners. Also library has videos and books. I dry a lot with my dehydrator (garage sale). Any spice, herb, or veggie that is going into winter stews is dried. Storage in less space. I also freeze a lot. Canning jars frequently found at garage sales at give away prices, especially estate sales.

    Gardening – check out square foot gardening and vertical gardening, as well as container gardening. Vertical is the way to go in small spaces – also lessens mildew and rot (Oregon coast is very damp!)

    I live on a small city lot 52×105. I planted dwarf and semi-dwarf apple, pear, cherry trees, all multi variety/multi-season. Edible Landscaping used – hedges of raspberry, gooseberry, currants, grapes, chard, rhubarb, strawberries, chives, blueberries, walking onions, herbs. Those are all in permanent beds and part of the landscaping. My summer veggie garden is mostly vertical up against the posts of the patio. A lot of these you could put in pots and barrels if you are renting.

    Swiss chard is one of my favs – fresh greens all winter long right at the doorstep. I use it instead of spinach as it grows like a weed. In the spring, make sure to head the seeds off so it will continue growing and not go all to seed. Lasts for years.

    Re: Dogs in the garden – If you are not adverse to it, sprinkle cayenne pepper around the plants. Dogs will sneeze but not be hurt. A couple sneezes and they will stay away.

    Good luck with your urban gardening. Would love to hear more!

  6. Jay:

    We put in a rotary clothes line by buying a ‘stake’ made for the purpose. You buy the spear head looking thing and hammer it into the ground. A sledge hammer would probably be best. Getting them out without digging is just about impossible though. The good thing about them is you can just pull out the washing line for storage and you would not even know the hole is there. Sometimes in Spring I have a hard time finding it!

  7. Two Hands and a Roadmap:

    AACK, you already made that embarrassing mistake I tried to warn you about! Ball Blue Book, not Blue Ball Book. ;)

  8. Katie:

    Re: canning, if you want a fun thing to do with a friend, take a free class at Sur La Table. That’s where my friend and I learned about canning and we had a lot of fun canning together one summer. I still have all the stuff, just need to get motivated….

  9. SoOhio:

    I’ve been on that same kick! I had no idea that’s what it’s called. I’ve been thinking of it as a more robust version of “simple living.” Love that it has a name and a movement.

  10. Gypsie:

    Ohhh, I hope you do a series of posts on Urban Homesteading. i would like to try some of it.

    But I need tips on keeping the dogs out of the garden; everything I plant, they eat!

  11. I have a clothesline without any concrete posts. What I did was tie the line to the top of my concrete fence on one side and the pole for the chain link fence of my dog run on the other side. You could even put in a couple of chain link fence type poles without concrete just pound them in pretty deep so they don’t come out.

  12. Bellen:

    Urban homesteading – under whatever name has been going on forever. Think of WWII’s Victory Gardens, or Boston’s ‘Have your own cow’ or chickens during WWII to Back to Nature in the 60s & 70s.

    Whatever means you have, growing your own, preserving, wild harvesting – DO IT! You’ll be amazed at how much you can do for yourself.

    Look for library books on Windowsill Gardening, Living on a Boat, Living Full-Time in an RV – they will give you wonderful ideas for ways to provide for yourself. Books on identifying wild edible plants (may want to have someone actually show you) like purslane, dandelions, fox grapes, mulberries, elderberries, can add significantly to your diet. Most can be found in vacant lots, along city streets, in parks.

    Multiuse plants are great too – think of sunflowers (flowers & seeds), Jerusalum Artichokes (flowers, screening plants and tubers), pole beans (screening, flowers & beans). Sprouts can be grown without any direct sunlight.

    Take a walk thru the neighborhood to see what others grow, read a gardening magazine from your state (for me it’s Florida Gardening)it’s info you can use with local resources to garner you more info.

    Whatever you choose – enjoy all aspects of it, and good luck.

  13. Lisa Reynoso:

    I can tell you how to put up a clothesline when you’re renting–we’re renting and we put up a clothesline. Of course we asked permission, but if they don’t want to leave it, it will be easy to take out.

    What we did was go to a place that makes concrete statuary and collect some chunks of broken concrete from their pile in the back. You could use broken bricks or (if you have them–we don’t) medium sized rocks. After you put the pole in, put a few pieces of concrete around it (the biggest and sturdiest should go on the side toward the other pole) and pack dirt around them. Then put more pieces and pack in more dirt.

    If you’re having problems with the lines caving in toward the middle, you might put a rebar (how is that spelled?) stake on the other side of each pole at an angle, like a tent stake, and tie the poles away from each other to the stake. This should help keep the poles from leaning too much over time.

    Also, please don’t get the kind of clothesline that has two-piece poles–especially with the stretchy nylon “wire”. The nylon will stretch and sag and the poles will bend at the connection.

    Hope this helps!

  14. Lynnae:

    I love Fridays, because I get so many great suggestions from all of you with the You Tell Me posts!

    I will definitely look into The Blue Ball Book of Canning. And there are definitely some older ladies at church I can turn to for help, so I’ll look into that as well.

    As far as the clothesline, we have no basement. I used a retractable line between our fence and our deck last year. It actually had 4 lines, but it was made of plastic, and it broke. There’s only about 4 feet between the fence and the deck, so not a lot of room.

    The rest of our fence is short. We have a front yard, but no backyard. I think I might try some drying racks. I spread my laundry out over the entire week, so if I got a couple of good drying racks and a single line retractable line, that might be enough room.

    Someday I’ll have my own house, and I’ll be able to set it up the way I want to.

    • P Farrell:

      I love the clothesline. Years ago I put my own large (height) poles up by digging a 3 foot hole, the shape of the post. I was exact in my measurement of depth, using a ruler. I pre put the hook and rope at the top of the post along with a bent up sharp can lid nailed into the top to keep the birds away. I have never had a bird on my posts or clotheline. I compacted the dirt, even added extra. This is a sturdy clothes line without cement. You couldn’t get this post to move.
      Just a hint to make sure to put a post up that is tall enough for sheets and bed linen.
      I also cut old bedsheets and tied the lines together inbetween heavy articles. The cloth also helps to clean the clothesline. This is a lot less expensive than purchasing the plactic one.

  15. Two Hands and a Roadmap:

    For canning, I also highly recommend “The Ball Blue Book of Canning.” A new one comes out every year or so. It very clearly lays out the methods of steam & pressure canning, as well as freezing.

    The downside is, if you say the title enough times too quickly, you will eventually slip up and say something embarrassing. Probably to your grandmother. Not that I’d know or anything.

  16. When you go to the church ladies for help, make sure to call it the Ball Blue Book of Canning. I’m not sure if you intended for your comment to be a joke, but I sure thought it was funny!

    I live in an RV right now, and I had no idea there were books on it. I’m just trying to hold on to my sanity. After 9 months, it’s about gone.

  17. Foxie:

    I’m thinking Foxie’s almost ready to get in on all this action, too. :P I’ve seen a couple of people talking about indoor gardens or mini gardens or what not, and now I want to try! I remember when I was younger and picking and eating peas and green beans right off the vines, yummy… My big concern is my lack of a green thumb, I have a nasty habit of being able to kill a lot of plants. :( (I’d love to get some of the berry bushes they have at Lowe’s, too. And a grape vine, yum!)

  18. I learned about canning from people who knew and from my Ball Blue Book which, fortunately, came with pictures. Are there older ladies in your church that you can ask? You might need two types of canners. You can do fruit and tomatoes in a boiling bath, but veggies go in a pressure canner.

    As to the clothes line — my husband put eye hooks on our house and the shed and ran the line between them. We have a cement block to put the pole in.

    I hope that helps. More power to you and your urban homesteading! :)

  19. I grew up in the country surrounded by farms and now live in the suburbs but with plenty of land. We do most tings that we can do ourselves and call it being self-sufficient. :)

    I know you already got answers to most of these but :. Our favorite places to learn to can, though I have a deep freeze and plan to freeze more than I can.

    As for a clothesline I had one that could be hooked anywhere for a long time–it was basically an extra long bungee cord designed for putting in the bathroom. It worked pretty well. I also put a rope between two trees like my mom did but had to stop due to my RA and our allergies.

    What veggies? We are growing lots of lettuce (easy to do and cheaper and healthier than store bought), beans, radishes, carrots, probably peppers, tomatoes.
    Have you heard of urban homesteading before? Does it appeal to you? Yup.

    What other advice or ideas to you have for me? Freezing is easier than canning if you have the freezer space. My mom got 3rd deree burns canning pickles growing up so I am leary of too much canning but freezing is very simple and easier. Do your baking all one day for the week instead of daily. It saves gas/electricity and time. Make your own yogurt and yogurt cheese. It is quick and easy and tastes better since you can flavor to suit.

  20. Mandi:

    As far as canning goes, you can borrow books from the library, but a good source of information is on on the Ask Jackie blog. It’s a wealth of information and inspiration. Also, a cheap way of getting canning jars might be your local Goodwill or other thrift store. My fiance’s aunt works in one and they get so many canning jars that they throw them out. You might want to approach the manager about it. Hey, you’ll never know if you don’t ask! The great thing about canning is that you don’t have to worry about a finite space. You can store jars under your bed or behind your sofa!

  21. For the clothes line consider a retractable line that simply attachea to one side of a fence or similar structure and then anchors to another when uncoiled. We used one with the privacy fence once making a diagonal in the fence corner to attach the line to both sides.

    As you know, we also have a square foot garden where we are growing tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, carrots and a variety of peppers. I’d like to at least double our quantity by either adding another square foot garden box, or by doing some in-ground planting (which is still intimidating to me).

  22. Do you have a basement? At my last house, we put hooks on each side and ran a clothesline across (with a couple loops coming down from the ceiling to support the middle). It worked quite well. It’s not for every basement, ours was only partially finished so we didn’t have carpet or anything useful down there (probably because it flooded a lot).

    A couple of good drying racks can help, but then you have to break down your laundry across several days.

  23. Good for you!

    When we lived in the city I simply put a rope between the two sides of our fence for a clothes line. It wasn’t huge, but good enough for a load.

    The best info for canning is the USDA. Check with your county ag extension office. Here is a site that has a lot too

    The Ball cookbooks are great resources too.

    I plan to talk more about canning at Stop the Ride too as I’ve had a lot of questions about it recently.

    And homesteading appeals to me so much we moved out of the “urban” to the “rural” :)

  24. Urban homesteading — that’s perfect! As a kid, I was really bummed that I had been born too late to be a pioneer. Now’s our chance! Last summer I canned jam, tomatoes, sweet cucumbers, beets, and peaches. It’s pretty easy and actually quite soothing. Just be careful to keep everything really clean and don’t vary at all from the directions.

    Here’s a great website to get you started. I often referred back to it:

    Boiling-water canning on the stove is inexpensive, but takes a lot of time. You also can’t can low-acid vegetables. This summer, I’m planning on freezing strawberries, corn, rhubarb, and peppers instead. Since it’s too early in the season to can yet, I think I’ll go post about the joys of canning right now!

  25. First, thanks for mentioning my post. I’m glad it inspired you to try homesteading. There is SO much that you can do. To find Pick Your Own farms check out They have a listing of farms all over the country. I don’t can a lot so I can’t help you there. I prefer freezing.

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