Self-sufficiency is a conversation and a lifestyle that is rapidly gaining traction across the US (and the globe), and I’m BEYOND excited to see it happen! One of your first questions is how much land do you need to homestead, which is what I’m going to cover today.
If you’re getting started with cultivating a garden or raising animals, you’re probably overestimating how much room you really need. Swipe out of the Zillow app; you may already have enough land! Most people are genuinely surprised when they see just how productive they can be, whether they have access to an apartment balcony, a postage-stamp backyard, or even a handful of unproductive (for now) acres.
In this post, I’ll share how much space you need for a garden– based on each plant, your family size, and how much you plan to eat. I’ll also show you how to calculate these on your own. Then, we’ll dive into the space needed for livestock– from tiny quail to cattle, mules, horses, and oxen.
How Much Land Do You Need to Homestead?
You really don’t need to own any land to start homesteading. If you are creative and dedicated to the endeavor of becoming more self-reliant and self-sufficient, you can be quite successful, even if you don’t own any land.
You can start growing plants in containers in your apartment, hunt, fish, and forage on public land, or join your local community garden.
You can also pick up tons of wildly beneficial homesteading skills while being indoors– remember that a lot of homesteaders (myself included!) have long winters and deep snow where they spend a lot of time indoors for the season. Pick up some of those “stuck inside” homesteading tasks– there is so much to learn and do; it’s exciting when you think about it!
And if you have the privilege of a small “post stamp” yard, then you absolutely have the space to grow food– and probably a lot more than you expected.
How Much Land Do You Need To Garden?
Technically you can container garden on the windowsills of your home or out on your apartment patio or balcony, but you’re probably asking about a “traditional” in-ground or raised bed garden.
The general consensus is that you need around 200 square feet of garden space per member of your family. This varies greatly depending on your USDA Plant Hardiness zone, soil conditions, which foods you choose to grow, if you use determinate vs. indeterminate plants, and your style of planting (in a neat row, or chaotically scattered and filled raised beds). This is also affected by your eating habits– do you want to eat fresh from the garden or preserve your harvest to last you all year?
How To Calculate How Much Space You Need to Garden on Your Homestead
If you want to figure out how much land you need to homestead for you and your family, you can do that by making a list of the plants you want to grow, looking at each plant’s individual space needs, estimating how often you typically eat that food, and then multiplying that by the number of members in your family, to calculate your garden size.
It is a bit much, but I’m going to show you most of that information below for your convenience. I’m leaving the fourth and fifth columns empty, they are yours to fill out. While many other homestead sites tell you how much to plant per person, only you know your eating habits, so it’s best if you calculate this on your own.
If I miss any plants that you want to grow, it’s not too difficult for you to calculate this information on your own. Search for the “yield of ___.” Make sure you check at least 3 sources, you’ll be surprised by how much it varies. Go with the middle estimate (or the lowest estimate if you’re willing to preserve extra harvests). If you already have your seed packets, use those because they will be the most accurate.
You’ll probably be given the number of pounds per 10-foot row when you look this up, let’s say 5 pounds for this example. You’ll divide that by how much space each plant needs. So a plant that needs 6 inches of space will fit 20 plants in a row. Divide the yield by the number, which is 20 in this case. So 5 pounds / 20 plants is ¼ pound per plant.
|Crop||Food Produced Per Plant||Space Needed Per Plant||How Many To Grow Per Person||# of People in Your Family (Multiply It)|
|Arugula (example)||⅕ pound||6 inches (full-size) 2 inch (baby)||2 lbs eaten a year, so 10 per person||4 people = 40 plants = Two 10-foot rows = 20 sq. feet|
|Arugula||⅕ pound||6 inches (full-size) 2 inches (baby)|
|Asparagus||⅛ pound||3 inches|
|Bean (Bush/Determinate)||½ pound||3-6 inches|
|Bean (Pole/Indeterminate)||1 pound||6 inches|
|Beet||⅓ pound||3 inches|
|Broccoli||2 pounds (1 head)||24 inches|
|Brussel Sprouts||⅚ pound||20 inches|
|Cabbage||2 pounds (1 head)||30 inches|
|Carrot||1 carrot (varies a lot– about ⅕ pound)||2 to 3 inches|
|Cauliflower||2 pounds (1 head)||24 inches|
|Celery||1 pound (7 stalks)||6 inches|
|Collard Greens||1 pound||16 inches|
|Corn (grain)||1 pound (2 ears)||8 inches|
|Corn (popping)||½ to 1 pound (1 to 2 ears)||8 inches|
|Corn (sweet)||½ pound (1 ear)||8 inches|
|Cucumber||20 to 25 pounds||24 inches|
|Eggplant (Italian)||5-8 pounds (5 to 8 eggplants)||18 inches|
|Eggplant (Asian)||2.2 to 3.3 pounds (10 to 15 eggplants)||24 inches|
|Garlic||1 bulb (40 grams)||6 inches|
|Kale||⅖ to ⅘ pound||12 inches|
|Leek||9 ounces (1 leek)||6 inches|
|Lettuce||2 ounces to 1 pound||4 inches (looseleaf) 12 inches (others)|
|Melon||4 to 8 pounds (2 to 3 melons)||3 to 4 feet|
|Okra||1 pound||12 inches|
|Onion (bulb)||4 to 12 ounces||6 to 12 inches|
|Onion (scallion)||1 ounce||1 to 5 inches|
|Onion (shallot)||0.5 to 1.3 ounces||6 inches|
|Pea (shelling)||1/10 pound||3 inches|
|Pea (snap/snow)||¼ pound||2 inches|
|Pea (sweet)||¼ pound||4 inches|
|Pepper||3 pounds||6 to 8 inches|
|Potato||4 pounds||12 inches|
|Radish||1 pound||2 to 6 inches|
|Rhubarb||1 to 5 pounds||3 to 6 feet|
|Spinach||3.2 to 5.6 ounces||6 inches|
|Squash (summer or winter)||10 to 20 pounds||3 to 5 feet|
|Sweet potato||1 pound||12 inches|
|Tomatillo||1 to 2 pounds||10 inches|
|Tomato (cherry)||⅔ pound||36 inches|
|Tomato (slicing, canning, juicing)||8 to 20 pounds||42 inches|
|Turnip||12.8 to 19.2 ounces||5 to 8 inches|
|Zucchini||6 pounds||18 inches|
How to Reduce The Space You Need as a Homesteader
If you have a long enough growing season, you can succession sow your plants so that when one vegetable or plant becomes unproductive or harvested, you can replace it with another. This means you can grow double, triple, or even quadruple the plants you originally assumed you could with your space.
You can do this with the same vegetable species, like broccoli, but stagger when you plant them. For plants that tolerate disruption, you can start them indoors and then transfer them outside when their predecessor is harvested. For plants that don’t handle change well, you can use a completely biodegradable pot, or soil block, or just start seeds in the previous plants’ spots when the time is right. You can also start the new seeds in between the previous plants. By the time the younger plants start to need more space, you’ll be pulling up the older plants.
The perk of succession planting is that it staggers harvests so you have access to garden-fresh food for longer, and you won’t be as overwhelmed when it comes time to process and preserve your harvest. Instead of one big harvest, you can have several more manageable ones.
You can also succession plant with different crops. For instance, you can start your spring off with radishes, peas, broccoli, spinach, or carrots. Then switch to snap beans, peppers, cucumbers, okra, summer squash, or fast-growing tomatoes. When the summer harvest finishes, you can roll into cool-weather crops (similar to what you grew in the spring). Over the winter, you may be able to grow kale, lettuce, spinach, scallions, rye, wheat, or barley.
On that note, look into varieties of plants that were developed for speedy production. We now have access to crops that only take about two months to mature.
Cover crops are perfect for the winter season because they replenish nutrients in the soil, keep the soil covered (no surprise there), and can yield good-quality food for you or your animals.
Intercrop and Companion Plant Your Garden
Intercropping or companion planting is a fantastic way to maximize the productivity of your space while providing real benefits to the plants you’re raising. This practice involves sowing fast-maturing plants in between slow-maturing plants.
The three sisters method comes to mind first. This indigenous tradition plants beans, corn, and squash together– not in neat rows, but in a cluster. The corn grows tall, giving the beans something to climb. The beans put vital nitrogen into the soil for the corn. Meanwhile, the squash stays close to the ground and starves out “weeds” that would otherwise steal water and nutrients from the corn and beans.
Companion planting works well for crops that mature at different speeds, like radishes (fast) and carrots (slow). By the time the carrots are ready to start taking up more space, the radishes have already been pulled from the garden.
Switch to Space-Efficient or Dual-Purpose Plants and Animals
There are so many wonderful varieties of plants on the market that take up so much less space than the standard varieties that our parents and grandparents used to plant.
Look into bush varieties of melons, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, eggplants, potatoes, and beans. You can still stake them, and they are more compact than the determinate varieties. Many are even suitable for container gardening on your patio, porch, or balcony.
We’ll talk about space-saving and dual-purpose animals in more depth in a below section. But try to aim for animals that take up less space or can even be raised in your home, like quail or rabbits. And look for animals that can tick off several boxes at once, like goat breeds that are suitable for dairy, meat, and mohair (cashmere) purposes. Or rabbits who can provide you with meat, leather, and pelts.
Stack Whenever Possible
Herbs, lettuce, spinach, arugula, strawberries, cauliflowers, peppers, and many annual flowers are ideal candidates for stacking in tower planters.
If it does well in hydroponic settings, it probably does well in a tower.
Consider getting a tower like this one or building your own version of it. This particular model allows you to grow about fifty plants AND produce some compost in about four square feet of space. Considering that most standard balconies are about 4 feet deep and 9 or 10 feet wide, you could likely fit 5 of these on your balcony– giving you an impressive 250 plants at a time.
If you’re limited on space, the odds are decent that you’re renting your home. A big perk of tower or container gardening is that it’s movable, so if you have to relocate, your happy little garden goes with you.
Small but mighty microgreens are another good option. These can grow in trays on shelves, and many are ready to eat in a week or two. They aren’t big, but they really add up, and they pack the biggest flavor punch, even more so than most of their fully matured counterparts.
Grow Indeterminate, Climbing Plant Varieties
If you have enough vertical space, consider indeterminate vegetables that will climb upwards, leaving you more precious horizontal space for other plants.
Indeterminate tomatoes usually take two feet of horizontal space but shoot up ten to twelve feet vertically. The tallest tomato plant ever recorded was a SunGold variety; it grew to be 65 feet tall.
Raise Smaller Animals
While you may not have the space for a pair of Jersey gals for milk, you may have room for a pair of Nigerian Dwarf goats.
If you don’t have the space for a big flock of chickens, you may be able to raise quail instead (they can even stay in your house with you). Once you start looking for smaller alternatives, you’ll find that there is an abundance of opportunities for you to do so much from your small plot of land.
Barter Foods and Other Goods
So you’ve got a thriving backyard garden and an abundance of eggs. You would love to have beef, but you don’t have the space for cattle. One option is to trade your excess eggs, honey, sourdough starter, baked goods, or finished vegetables with your local farmer or rancher for some of their beef.
Or you may not have the room for a big garden, but you do have the time and space to start a ton of vegetables from seed to trade or sell as starter plants for other homesteaders.
You’d be surprised how many homesteaders with larger plots of land are willing to trade their larger products for your smaller ones. Smaller animals and farm products are sometimes tedious to care for properly, and they may not have the time for it. You could really help each other out in this situation.
How Much Land Do You Need for Livestock on Your Homestead?
How Much Space Do Quail Need?
Quail take up the smallest amount of space on our list. Mississippi State University reports that the Bobwhite Quail only needs one square foot of space per bird at 12 weeks old (the age when you can harvest them for their meat). If you intend on raising quail or keeping them for their eggs, they need two square feet per bird.
Just hatched Bobwhite quail only need a square foot of space for every ten chicks for the first two weeks of life. If you’re raising quail with the intention of selling day-old chicks, they won’t take up much space at all and can easily be raised in your home.
If you live in an HOA or an apartment complex, this is a great way for you to raise your own meat and eggs without breaking any rules for your area.
Keep in mind that quail need eight inches of headspace or eight feet– there is no in-between. These cute little goobers like to jump vertically, especially if they are startled, so you need to keep it tight enough that they can’t jump up and break their necks or provide enough space that they can’t bonk their heads on the ceiling of their enclosure (or your ceiling).
How Much Space Do Chickens Need?
Smaller chickens, like bantams, just need two square feet per adult bird. I don’t necessarily recommend keeping chickens inside your home, but that is an option if you’re up for a challenge.
Standard chickens need four square feet of coop (indoor) space, and at least ten square feet of run (outdoor) space. There are conflicting opinions and information on chicken space size, though, because PennState Extension only recommends a minimum of two square feet of coop space and ten square feet of run space for larger breeds.
Use your best discretion when choosing a size. My personal preference is to crowd the coop with docile breeds that get along very well– but then make the run as large as possible (or free-range). I like to keep coops a little more crowded because I’m in a cooler area (northwestern Montana) where the winters are harsher, so more body heat seems to do better for my chickens overall.
How Much Space Do Turkeys Need?
Most turkeys need at least six square feet of coop (indoor) space and at least twenty square feet of run (outdoor) space.
How Much Space Do Guinea Fowl Need?
While Guineas can technically be confined to two to three square feet per bird, these fellows really should be allowed to free-range. Their mental-wellbeing will really suffer if they are confined; even beginner-keepers can spot this mental decline.
Guineas can fly four or five hundred feet at a time, and they really value their independence and freedom. They will quickly pick at each other, especially chickens, if they are forced to be in close quarters.
How Much Space Do Ducks Need?
Ducks need at least five square feet of coop space and at least twenty square feet of run space.
Keep in mind, too, that ducks need access to a clean, thawed pool or pond all year.
How Much Space Do Rabbits Need?
Rabbits are another controversial animal when it comes to space requirements.
In the United States, it is generally accepted that rabbits are okay with one and a half to five square feet of space.
However, in many other countries, eight square feet of space per rabbit is ideal, with access to another twenty-four square feet of exercise space. Many other countries also strongly recommend that you keep rabbits together in pairs, so the pair should have a minimum space of 60 square feet.
There is quite a discrepancy between these two ideals.
I have opted to keep a pair in a twenty-four square foot hutch, with the grow-out kits in a larger space than that, but this is a personal preference that is up to your own discrepancy.
How Much Space Do Hogs Need?
Growing piglets need at least eight square feet each, or eighty square feet per adult, if kept in a pen or in a barn. Pigs are significantly happier if they are kept with at least one other pig. While you can raise one, two or more is far better for their emotional well-being.
If you intend on pasture-raising your pigs, you’ll need about a quarter of an acre for every three pigs. Remember that pigs are destructive creatures with shovels for noses– they will root up the ground, your plants, trees, and fences. They will kill all vegetation, trees included if you keep them on the same parcel of land for too long. Rotationally grazing pigs on pasture or in the forest will still result in some damage, even if you are responsible and quick to move them around.
Outdoor pigs need to stay at least 165 feet away from springs and wells and at least 35 feet away from other water sources like creeks, ponds, rivers, and lakes.
How Much Space Do Goats Need?
Goats need at least sixteen square feet of space per animal, and like many other farm animals, they do better in groups and should not be kept alone.
Goats need indoor and outdoor space. The indoor space should be at least six square feet if kept in individual stalls or fifteen square feet for each animal if kept in an indoor group pen or barn.
Each goat should have at least twenty-five square feet of outdoor space.
How Much Space Do Cattle Need?
If you plan on drylotting your cattle, they need at least five hundred to eight hundred square feet per pair. A dry lot is an area that does not have grass, so you provide hay or other forage every day to replace the pasture. Smaller cattle, like Irish Dexters or Scottish Highlanders, need less space than larger cattle, like Chianina, South Devons, or German Angus.
For drylot finishing (finishing = feeding cattle grain and forage intensively before harvesting the meat, usually about a three-month period) beef cattle, Pennsylvania State University recommends at least thirty-five square feet per animal.
If you want to raise your cattle on pasture so you don’t need to supplement with forage or grains (at least during the summer), your needs will vary from region to region. In most eastern, midwestern, and southeastern states, one acre is suitable for every animal. For western and southwestern states, you’ll need more land to combat the lower rainfall and less productive soil. Montana State University recommends at least ten acres for every cow/calf pair.
Mow Much Space Do Horses Need?
Each horse will need, at minimum, a tenth of an acre, or 4,500 square feet, for exercise purposes.
If you want to feed your horse with this pasture, this will also vary from region to region. In the eastern states, two acres are likely suitable. For the midwest, southeast, or irrigated pastures (anywhere), two to ten acres should suffice. For the non-irrigated west, you’ll need thirty to forty acres per horse.
How Much Space Do Donkeys and Mules Need?
Donkeys and mules follow similar minimums as horses when it comes to their space needs. For exercise purposes, mules and donkeys need at least half an acre per pair.
In the eastern states, two acres are likely suitable. For the midwest, southeast, or irrigated pastures (anywhere), two to ten acres should suffice. For the non-irrigated west, you’ll need thirty to forty acres per donkey or mule.
How To Start Homesteading When You Don’t Have Land
- Community Gardens
- Balcony Gardens
- Windowsill Garden
- Preserve Foods You Didn’t Grow
- Learn to Bake
- Exercise More
- Kick Unhealthy Habits
- Brainstorm Different Streams of Income for Your Future Homestead
- Start Small with Solar
- Learn about Herbal Teas, Tinctures, and Remedies
- Start a worm farm
- Read Homesteading Books, Magazines, and Blogs
- Learn How to Cook and Bake
- Start Some Sourdough
- Learn How to Distill– good for water and essential oils
- Homestead Sit for Someone Local
- Start Finding Your Homestead Community
- Build Your Homestead Binder
- Learn How to Barter
- Collect and Stockpile Seeds
- Learn How to Do Needlepoint, Sew, Spin, Crochet, or Knit
- Learn how to felt wool
- Tan Leather
- Make Soap
- Make Cheese
- Make Candles
- Make Baskets
- Make Rope
- Start Fermenting Foods
- Start Living a Lifestyle Similar to Your Ideal Homestead Lifestyle
- Buy Bulk Meat
- Join a CSA
- Visit Your Local Extension Agent
- Learn how to shop secondhand– from thrift stores, to flea markets, to Facebook Marketplace, to eBay, and Craigslist.
- Learn the “Going Rate” for commodities like farm equipment, hay, livestock, meat, eggs, milk, etc.
- Learn more about historical homesteads and farms, and how they operated
- Research livestock you’re interested in
- Research potential predators you’ll face as a homesteader
- Research potential gardening issues you’ll run into
- Start Learning the Names and Purposes of Trees in Your Areas
- Look into Homeschooling Requirements and Find Groups
- Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
- Reduce Your Electricity Consumption
- Learn How Motors Work, Then Practice Repairs When Possible
- Develop Woodworking Skills
- Develop Metalworking Skills
- Start a Toolbox
- Begin Gathering Useful Homestead Appliances and Equipment
- Find Homestead-Friendly Hobbies
- Learn How to Meal Plan and Grocery Shop Less
- Start Slow-Growing Tree Seedlings in Your Home
- Preserve Flowers