A few years ago, I had to remind myself that a key part of the word homestead was “home”. My homestead had started to look like a factory farm instead of a place I actually wanted to live. So, I spent a few days walking around my homestead figuring how I could make it more beautiful while remaining focused on self-sufficiency.
What I realized during those meanderings was that self-sufficiency, and all the related processes, are inherently beautiful. But like a good photograph, they need a little artful staging to highlight that potential.
In today’s post, I want to share some of the simple projects I’ve done (or plan to do) around my homestead to bring its beauty into focus. Like you, I have more ideas than time to complete them. But the items that follow require only a few hours of pre-planning and less than a day’s worth of actual labor.
I hope these ideas will inspire you to plan your own projects. But remember, a homestead is a deeply personal space. Let your landscape and the things you love guide the decisions you make for your project list.
Potager Your Production Garden
For a while, my main vegetable garden was just a giant rectangular area with straight rows of identical vegetables. It looked great three times a year just before my mature crops were ready to harvest. But then I’d pull out those crops all at once and be left with bare soil until new seedlings grew large enough to fill the space.
You may have to garden this way if you are a market gardener selling products to others. But as a homesteader, you can easily mix your production crops with your come and cut crops. Plus, you can add in herbs, spices, and flowers for more interest.
You can check out my general post on growing a potager garden. But here are some of the specific projects I did to make my production garden look and operate more like a potager.
1-Day Project 1: Add Edible Landscaping
I reclaimed some of my bedding spaces to create an edible landscape area around my vegetable beds. I planted dwarf apples, medlars, and Mirabelle (French) plums first. Then, I filled in the areas in between with comfrey, asparagus, multiple varieties of mint, perennial garlic, horseradish, Aronia berries, blackberry, grapevines, strawberries, and some self-seeding flowers.
This sounds like a lot to do in a day. However, because my soil was already in good shape, all I had to do was plant and mulch. Also, even though I stole that area from my vegetable beds, I actually get more food and variety this way.
Perennials take a few years to become productive. Yet, once they do, they can produce more food per square foot than labor-intensive annuals.
1-Day Project 2: Make a Hugelkultur
A hügelkultur is a mounded garden bed made using a layer of large tree sections, followed by branches, then topped with fast-decomposing organic matter and topsoil. It’s not the most attractive thing in the world initially. But once you sprinkle it a handful of seeds and water it for a few weeks, it can be gorgeous.
Plus, once the interior begins decomposing it doesn’t need watering, fertilizing, or even annual additions of compost. Then, it can grow significantly more plants per square foot than other garden bed because of its high-fertility interior.
I made one in my garden right over an area that had been unproductive due to poor drainage. I now use it to grow my spice seed crops like mustard, coriander, poppy, Nigella sativa, cumin, and more.
1-Day Project 3: Create a Bistro Seating Area
Those edible landscape areas and the hugelkultur made my garden a whole lot more attractive year-round. In fact, it was so lovely, I realized I wanted to spend more time there. So, my next big project was to add a bistro seating area.
I live on a pretty tight budget. So, most of my projects involve thinking about what I want. Then I try to make that happen using what I already have or can get free.
So, I used a table and chairs I already had, a few bags of pea gravel, some repurposed pavers, and free plant divisions. Then, I spent a few hours digging out my seating area to make it feel “built-in” and private.
Now that nearly free renovation feels like a little slice of French countryside right in my own North Carolina backyard.
You can see the full details of the process in my post on it – How to Design and Create a Cozy Bistro Dining Area in your Garden.
1-Day Project 4: Faux Raised Beds
I’m not a fan of raised bed gardening. For me, they require so much watering and more plant health management than gardening directly in the ground. Yet, I absolutely love the look of raised beds.
They are so much tidier in appearance. Also, in the dead of winter when the only things growing are spinach, corn mache, and mustard, raised beds give a garden structure. So, I compromised.
I made a few of my in-ground beds look like raised beds by surrounding them with a border. I made a wattle, using fruit tree prunings, around one section of bed. Then, I installed some cinder blocks topped with granite blocks around a section of my edible landscape area.
The wattle was free. But I did buy the cinder blocks. Luckily, I already had the granite blocks from another project years ago.
Invite Wildlife to Thrive
The other happy benefit to those changes I made to my vegetable garden is that I suddenly had so much more wildlife. I couldn’t sit down at my new seating area without having a hummingbird come flutter in my ear or a beautiful indigo bunting sing me a song.
That made me realize I wanted that kind of wildlife all over my property, not just in my garden. That way songbirds, singing crickets, peeping frogs, buzzing bees, and more would provide the soundtrack to my homestead life.
So, I set about transforming my homestead open spaces into wildlife sanctuaries.
1-Day Project 5: Plant Pollinator Plots
Planting a pollinator plot is actually quite easy to do. I even wrote a post about it already – 5 Reasons to Start a Pollinator Garden (and 6 Tips to Help You Do It)
Now, though, whenever I get a bulk delivery of mulch or compost, I add an extra yard to make a new pollinator plot. Then, I use seeds collected from mature plants in other plots and plant divisions to keep expanding my pollinator areas.
Plot by plot I am turning my entire landscape into a lush, green wildlife sanctuary.
1-Day Project 6: Install a Frog Pond
Like my pollinator plots, I’ve also started adding frog ponds wherever I can. Some of them are formal designs with rocks and water plants. Others are kiddie pools surrounded by fast-growing pollinator-friendly plants and herbs.
They can take a day to dig and install. Or an hour to set up, fill, and camouflage with rocks, mulch, and plant divisions from other parts of my yard.
Frog ponds invite pest eating frogs to live near your gardens and edible landscapes. But they also create microclimates to keep nearby plants cooler in the summer.
Improve What You Have
Many of my recent projects relate to making the things I already have more beautiful or aesthetically pleasing to me.
1-Day Project 7: Mulch Everything
One of the best things you can do to protect your soil is to apply mulch. It preserves moisture, prevents erosion, moderates soil temperature, and ultimately breaks down into plant nutrients. Plus, to me, nothing makes a landscape look more pretty and polished than fresh mulch.
If you’re fairly fit and have a good wheelbarrow, you can probably move 5 or more yards of mulch in a day. And that’s even if you have lots of breaks in between.
So, this year, I took a chunk of that COVID-19 stimulus check and deposited it into my soil bank in the form of mulch. It makes everything so beautiful right now. Plus, it also helps assure my food security in the future by protecting and improving my soil.
I like to use hardwood mulch on paths and under perennials. But in vegetable beds, leaf compost is my go-to mulch these days.
1-Day Project 8: Greening the Greenhouse
I have a lovely greenhouse that used to look like a sparsely filled plant nursery. I really only used it part of the year. Even then, it was mostly to start seedlings in ugly plastic containers.
I finally realized that my greenhouse is a garden and began using that way. I prepped the soil in there just as I would for an outdoor garden.
Then, I filled up lots of containers to expand the growing area. So, I garden in containers and in beds in the greenhouse. Finally, I ordered plants that were suitable for greenhouse growing.
The preparations took less than a half-day of work. Then, as the plants arrived by mail, I just planted them in those already prepared beds and containers. Now my greenhouse is a jungle where I practically live all winter long.
1-Day Project 9: Pretty-up with Paint
Most of the perennial plants I grow lose their leaves in winter. I do have a few plants like mock orange, yucca, red osier dogwood, and elderberry which provide winter interest. I also have some evergreens all around my landscape. Plus, I leave all my native flower seed heads as bird food for the wildlife.
Yet, they still aren’t enough to make the winter landscape interesting. So, I started painting gates and doors around my landscape in pretty, happy colors. The colors look lovely in spring with all the lush greenery. But they really stand out in winter against a stark landscape.
I love the result so much that now I check the paint returns section at the hardware store constantly. When I come across a color I like, I buy that discounted paint to pretty up woodwork projects like birdhouses, compost bins, duck houses, and more.
Whenever I’ve got three hours to spare, I decide what needs color, then use my stock of paint to pretty things up. My significant other teases me that our homestead is starting to look like a Crayola box. But we both love it that way.
1-Day Project 10: Create a Courtyard
I used to have a lovely courtyard area in my old suburban home. We now live in a mobile home and the idea of a courtyard seemed a little ostentatious in this setting. But the truth is, I missed that private little pace to sit and sip tea and read books.
So, even though we don’t really have the architectural backdrop for a formal courtyard, I made one anyway. I just had to scale everything down a bit to fit a small space. But it still has all the basic elements that I love about courtyard-style.
I wrote a detailed post about that one too – Create a Cozy Small Courtyard in Your Backyard Using a Few Cheap Tricks.
Future 1-Day Projects
One of the most important things I’ve learned in doing all these projects is that you can transform your landscape quickly by doing it one project at a time.
Now I keep a running project list. I buy the materials for the projects, or gather them, and keep them ready in advance. Then, when I have the time, I get to work.
Next up on my project list is to transform the outlet on our spring-fed pond into a small waterfall and create a Japanese like garden type seating area around it. It will probably take one day to make the fountain. Then, another to install plants and hardscape a seating area.
I’ll do the planning and material gathering as I have time over the next few weeks. Then, one perfect day, I’ll start the actual work.
Pleasurable 1-Day Projects
By working in these small increments, not stressing about deadlines, and getting to see the results of my efforts at the end of the day, impossible tasks have become pleasurable projects.
If you are where I was a few years ago, homesteading in a less than beautiful place, don’t despair. Just get to work, one simple project at a time.