Homesteading is hard! It’s difficult to imagine sometimes that homesteading and backyard farming was simply the reality for many people just a few hundred years ago.
Modern homesteading can feel overwelming and hard to fit into our current lifestyles. The first 2-3 years are especially challenging as you build up your homestead, aquire new tools and skills, and create systems.
In our opinion, the best way to homesteading success is to build strong systems that can help make homesteading easier in the coming years and give you the opportunity to build up to new and bigger things. While you’re entire homestead can be considered a system, it’s helpful to look at the different systems within your homestead and try to build efficient and effective systems.
One example of this would be creating a system for managing weeds. Of couse you can simply weed when you can, but without a system, you will be spending significant time weeding every year. Making a system that makes weeding easier (such as mulching or using a weed cover, gives you more time ti invest in other parts of your homestead.
In this article, we will look at how managing your backyard farming systems can help your homestead and look at some examples of different systems to consider.
What is a Backyard Farming System?
A Backyard Farming system is something that manages or makes easier a task or portion of your homestead. No matter where you are in your homesteading journey, you likely already have some systems in place. Homesteading systems can range from small systems to much larger systems (like homestead wide water management system).
Good types of systems have a positive feedback and continue to improve you homestead and save your time and resources. The best types of systems benefit other systems and work together on your backyard farm.
For example: building berms as part of a water management systems will decrease erosion which ties in with your soil management system and will save you money in bringing in new soil and time in management soil runoff.
It’s important to invest significant time in creating good systems on your homestead to give you more time and resources on your backyard farm.
An Overview of System Thinking on a Homestead
Systems thinking is an approach to problem-solving and understanding that views the world as a complex system composed of interconnected and interdependent parts. It emphasizes the relationships and interactions among these parts rather than focusing solely on individual components. In systems thinking, the emphasis is on understanding the whole system and how its parts work together to achieve a particular function or outcome.
When applied to homesteading, systems thinking can be a valuable perspective for managing and optimizing various aspects of a homestead. Here’s how it might apply:
- Holistic Approach: Systems thinking encourages a holistic view of the homestead, considering it as an integrated and interconnected system. Instead of focusing on individual elements like crops, animals, or structures, homesteaders can consider how these elements interact and influence each other.
- Feedback Loops: Understanding feedback loops is crucial in systems thinking. For homesteading, this could involve recognizing how changes in one aspect of the homestead (e.g., soil health, water usage) can impact other elements. For instance, improving soil health can positively influence crop yield, which, in turn, might impact the well-being of livestock.
- Dynamic Interactions: Systems thinking helps homesteaders recognize that the environment is dynamic and ever-changing. Weather conditions, seasonal variations, and the life cycles of plants and animals all contribute to the complexity of the homestead system. Adapting to these changes and understanding their implications is a key aspect.
- Optimizing Resources: Homesteaders can use systems thinking to optimize the use of resources such as water, energy, and waste. For example, capturing rainwater, practicing composting, and using permaculture techniques are ways to integrate sustainable practices by considering the entire system.
- Resilience Planning: Systems thinking encourages homesteaders to plan for resilience. This involves understanding potential vulnerabilities in the system and designing the homestead to be robust in the face of challenges such as extreme weather events or market fluctuations.
- Community and Social Systems: Homesteading doesn’t exist in isolation, and systems thinking extends to considering the broader community and social systems. This might involve collaborating with neighbors, sharing resources, and contributing to the local community.
By applying systems thinking to homesteading, individuals can make more informed decisions, promote sustainability, and create a resilient and thriving ecosystem on their homesteads. It provides a framework for understanding the complexity of the interactions between elements and adapting to changes in a thoughtful and strategic manner.
Your Homestead as a System
The biggest and most complex system on your homestead is your homestead itself. If you start thinking of every aspect of your homestead as one system, you can start to see how making small improvements in one part of the system start to benefit other parts of the homesteading system.
Good soil management can lead to healthier and stronger plants. As a result, these plants will grow larger, reducing weed pressure and helping to keep pest issues down. This not only provides an increased harvest but provides more time for you to work on other projects. Healthy soil also is better at retaining water and can reducing the need to water.
You can also use the permaculture prospective and look at different zones of your homestead when considering how to put together your homestead system.
Backyard Farming Systems
While the exact systems you decide to implement on your own homestead depends on many different things, below are a few systems to consider – also think how these systems may complement or integrate on the homestead. There are many many more systems you can consider, but this will give you a good starting point.
A water management system is an important element to the sustainable functioning of any homestead, encompassing a range of components and considerations. Identifying and developing reliable water sources, such as wells or rainwater harvesting systems, is the initial step.
Efficient storage solutions, like tanks and cisterns, are then implemented to store water for different purposes. A well-designed distribution system ensures the effective transport of water throughout the homestead, utilizing gravity-fed systems or energy-efficient pumps. Rainwater harvesting and greywater management further contribute to resource efficiency.
Soil moisture management practices, livestock watering systems, and water conservation measures are other important elements. Regular monitoring, measurement, and contingency planning for emergencies enhance the resilience of the water supply.
A well-designed soil management system on a backyard farm involves thoughtful practices to optimize soil health and fertility. Starting with a comprehensive soil test, the system addresses nutrient levels and pH balance, allowing for tailored amendments. Crop rotation and cover cropping are implemented to prevent soil erosion, enhance organic matter, and naturally control pests and diseases. Conservation practices, such as mulching, aid in moisture retention and weed suppression. Creating a composting system and incorporating organic matter contribute to soil structure and microbial activity.
Ultimately you want to to create a soil system that improves the soil health every year.
Time is finite and accomplishing your goals on a backyard farm depends on efficiency. Work flow on a homestead can include the process of work and planning, so when you go out to work on a project you have all the materials on hand.
Another part of the work flow system is the layout of your backyard farm. You want to minimize the time you spend collecting and get your supplies. If you are working in your garden and don’t have your garden tools on hand or need 15 minutes to collect everything, you are limiting your time working in the garden. After years of inefficiency, I now have all my tools in one place and a garden cart. It takes me 5 minutes to gather my supplies and get into the garden. At the end of my task, these tools are returned to the correct places so I know where they are next time I need them.
There are many ways to improve your work flow system to get more time to work on your homestead.
Weed Suppression System
Weed suppression goes hand in hand with several other systems the homestea including the soil system and the watering system. Keeping your weeds under control gives you more time to work on other tasks and less weeds means healthier plants. Overhead watering can lead to more weeds so it’s easy to see how viewing the homestead as a full system helps to create more efficiency.
Using mulch, weed cloth and weeding before it becomes a problem can all help you maintain a good weed management system.
Many of the systems above contribute to a garden system, but it can be helpful to think of your garden as a system. This can include what inputs go into the the garden, what comes out of the garden, and how you manage the garden. Strong garden systems also including crop rotation, companion planting, and good planning and design.
Energy on your homestead can refer specifically to electricity or to energy in general.
Using renewable energy and reducing energy usage are a good place to start on the backyard farm. As much as possible think of energy as a tangible resource on your homestead. This help you make sure that the energy you are using is being a helpful and useful as possible. Several years ago we installed solar panels. No we are very consious of when we use energy and only run certain appliances when the sun is shining to make sure we are getting the most direct use of our own energy.
You can also think more generally about energy and include your physical labor, heat, water, etc.
Food ties into several other systems on the homestead, but is interesting to think about on its own. In general, you should try to close the loop on your food system to limit inputs and outputs to the system. Here is one way to think about this.
If you are putting a small input into your system at the beginning of the growing season of pumpkin seeds, you may have 20 pumpkins at the end of the season. These pumpkins can be used for decoration, foods, animal food or compost material. This input into the system has a big impact and not much leaves the system as it is all invested back into the system (you have more animal food, you have more compost, your enjoyed to fall colors, and you have something to eat).
On the other hand, if you don’t plant pumpkins, in the fall you may have to buy pumpkin or canned pumpkin. There is no problem with doing this, but if you are trying to improve the efficiency of the system, you now have a much larger input into the system, and in the case of the canned pumpkin less benefit to the system as a whole.
The overall design of your homestead has the ability to impact many other systems. Keeping certain elements close together can help with the workflow, and can also help with your overall success. Here are a few small things you can do in terms of design that make your entire system function more smoothly:
- Placing your compost bin closest to your biggest compost producers makes the system more efficient (near the chicken coop, garden and house).
- Putting your herb garde close to your kitchen means you are more likely to use the herbs you need
- Spending time creating an irrigation system that can be run easily makes it more likely your plants will be watered in time.
- Forming a morning routine that accomplishes certain tasks each morning makes sure that they happen
Next Steps for Creating Backyard Farming Systems
I love to think and write about backyard farming planning. You can find lots of other resources on our planning page and or take our free Homestead Planning Challenge mini-course to assess and plan your goals on your own homestead. I love hearing from folks and sharing thoughts on homesteading so drop a comment with your thoughts on improving backyard farming systems.