Rocking the Burbstead: How We Homestead on 0.1 Acres


The chicken tractor is behind the Cozy Coup.

Last weekend, Neil accompanied a friend who was purchasing a hive of bees. The errand took them into the country, where they drove past a 100 acre farm for sale. At $1 million, it’s just a teensy bit out of our price range. But it left me thinking about how our .1 farmable acreage (calculated using this tool) is perfectly sufficient for our needs. For now 100 acres isn’t 1000 times better just because it’s 1000 times bigger. We feel no need to wait for “financial independence” to delve into our interests.

Setting big goals is great, and achieving them is even better. But what about the many years spent working toward those dreams? “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” John Lennon sang. How to live well in the gap between your goals and your reality is an important question. Our Next Life recently addressed a similar theme in their post “Crafting a Life that Keeps the Stoke High“.

At the Pretend to Be Poor household, we’ve shared about enjoying the journey by prioritizing friendship, generosity, and volunteering, but we also have hobbies we find just plain fun. Mostly these center on old-fashioned, outdoorsy endeavors that have led more than one friend to call our place “the homestead.” While we dream of more land, more gardens, more animals, and more trees, we recognize we have the best of both worlds here at the old burbstead.

Liquid gold.

Burbsteading is serving us well. I can’t say we adore our suburb. Rural living sounds idyllic compared to our city’s strip malls, yet we acknowledge the many wonderful resources at our disposal. In addition to a good work situation and social network, our 0.3 acre property hosts many treasures.  Two maple trees provide enough syrup to last our family (and brunch guests) throughout the year.  Our 0.1 acre of “farmable” backyard area currently holds 4 garden plots, the sugar maples, 4 fruit trees, a berry patch, a rain barrel, a large wood pile, 2 compost piles, a bait beehive, and a 12-chicken pen. Plans for expansion are detailed below.

Si & chickens

Kids love burbsteading!

It’s no surprise we’re embracing the burbstead, since we raised vegetables and herbs in pots on our apartment balcony, in a plot rented from a community garden, and in pots in our friends’ backyard when we rented their basement. There’s nothing unique about growing a few tomato plants; our interests don’t go much further than classic frugality or living like grandma. The point is that we can substantially realize certain aspects of our dreams without changing our situation much at all.


From our apple tree.

Maybe you’d never ever want to homestead, burbstead, or come near a tomato plant or a live chicken. Burbsteading represents a larger philosophy of practicing contentment and creativity in our current situation. Of living your dreams in little servings today. This means we can be at peace with being rooted in the ‘burbs for now while exploring our interest in raising our own food and getting outside often. It’s an active peace, making the most of our situation with rewarding, useful pursuits that don’t require major changes to other areas where we’re quite content.

So instead of pining after a better property, we are rocking the burbstead. This year we want to raise and preserve more food. We already feed our family of four (and frequent guests) a protein- and produce-rich diet for $75 per week, in large part by supplementing through our homegrown goodies. We’ve gradually increased our harvest each year. Plans for this year include:

  1. Doubling the number of garden beds.
  2. Doubling the number of chickens we raise by doing 2 rounds. This would provide enough chicken for almost half the year.
  3. Catching a swarm of bees in the bait hive Neil built. (More on this to come.) Honey from our yard could replace store-bought honey, some store-bought sugar, and could make good gifts.
  4. Preserving more produce through canning and freezing.
  5. Continue finding and splitting free firewood to offset heating costs.
  6. Continue cooking with whole chickens and making lots of homemade items such as broth, bread, yogurt, beans, granola bars, and more.

The efforts of the past 5 years here have culminated in the following results:

  1. Our compost piles and rain barrel make our garden organic and inexpensive.
  2. Free wood collection means we no longer pay for any firewood (or gym memberships).
  3. We enjoy at least 3 months of purchasing very little meat or vegetables, and less fruit.
  4. We enjoy canned condiments (salsa, pickles, jalepenos) for about half the year.
  5. We make all our own maple syrup.
  6. We have built-in hobbies, exercise, and activities for the kids & their friends.


Burbsteading also allows us to trial new skills and interests in a fun, safe environment. We’ve burnt syrup, killed vegetable plants, and lost a fruit tree and a chicken or two, all without sweating the loss on a large scale. We’ve also had the freedom to ease into these hobbies slowly. Burbsteading brings a dose of reality to our dreams, and adds a measure of our dreams to reality.

The principle behind burbsteading applies to anyone. What is your dream? Your passion? Your interests? How can you incorporate these in the place you’re planted right now? Life can feel like a waiting game, but we’re not meant to wish away our lives until we bank a big stash. Integrating your interests into your present scenario goes a long way toward maintaining motivation, building skills, and enjoying the journey.

What aspect of your dreams could you integrate into your life today? Does burbsteading interest you?

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49 Responses to “Rocking the Burbstead: How We Homestead on 0.1 Acres”

  1. Holly says :

    I love it! =)
    We don’t have chickens, but we are pretty serious about gardening. I only grow four things, but they are things we eat the heck out of – squash, tomatoes, basil, etc. I love having fresh stuff in the garden for a good portion of the year.

    • Kalie says :

      It makes so much sense to grow a lot of what you eat a lot. And it allows you to become good at growing those few things.

  2. Penny She Picks Up Pennies says :

    I love this! This is exactly how I feel about our backyard. We have about half an acre. Sadly, chickens aren’t permissible in the by-laws. But we have three raised beds. Now, we have a rain barrel and a composter. It’s so exciting to see what you can make/create/grown yourself, isn’t it? I might have to pick your brain about fruit trees. I want fruit trees but I’ve heard they’re difficult to grow organically.

    • Kalie says :

      I’m sad you’re not allowed to have chickens. The neighboring city here doesn’t allow them, either. It seems silly since they’re so low-profile and we only have ours 6-8 weeks per year. But that’s great you’re gardening, collecting water, and composting! It’s so much fun to grow and create. We’ve had success with putting sandwich bags (and zipping them) on our apples as soon as they start turning red. Put a small hole in the bottom of them bag for them to drain. This keeps the birds and bugs away without adding chemicals.

  3. Tonya says :

    Wow you have quite a bit of space in the burbs. I grew up in the burbs so I’m not a huge fan myself, but I’m also not a busy city dweller either. I can’t really tell where I stand. I like to be near big cities in, “areas” that are tree-lined and look like an established neighborhood, but are close to a lot of cultural activities. That’s specific huh? 🙂 I love how much your garden has yielded and those apples look yummy!

    • Kalie says :

      Your ideal living location sounds nice to me! We are also close to a large city (not LA large, though) so we can enjoy the cultural activities there.

  4. DC YAM says :

    Our neighbors got chickens a few weeks ago! I don’t think we are ready to take a step like that, but we would love to grow our own vegetables. It’s something I want to do almost immediately after we get our yard regarded this Summer.

    • Kalie says :

      Vegetables are a great place to start, and you can start small and expand as you gain confidence. And you can learn about chickens from your neighbors’ experience before making a decision about that.

  5. Emily says :

    Josh and I were just talking about this! It’s so easy to get caught up in our future dreams that we miss out on the dream-worthy life right in front of us! We have so much to be thankful for.

    • Kalie says :

      It’s so important to both dream about the future, and practice gratitude and contentment in the present.

  6. Amanda says :

    Like you, I have dreams of acres of land to raise food and animals. I realize I have the opportunity to do many of the things I love on a small scale, but I appreciate the reminder to be grateful for what I have right now!

    Would love to have chickens – family and neighbors not on board. So, I stick with an ever expanding garden – raised beds, fruit trees and bushes. We can get by for 3 months without buying much produce (maybe bananas) and we supplement with home canned and frozen foods in the winter.

    • Kalie says :

      Our chickens are for meat and therefore are only in our yard for a month or less (in the garage for a couple weeks while small). They’re really not a nuisance at all–they are quiet, not smelly like I thought they might be, and don’t take up much space at all. I wish I could convince your neighbors and family! But that’s great you’re expanding the garden, fruit trees, and berry bushes–and canning! It’s so fun.

  7. Josh says :

    Looks like you have the best of both worlds. We have 2 acres of our own in the country that we acquired through family, otherwise we would still be living in suburbia as well. That’s awesome you can do all that in your backyard, especially the chickens.

    Since we are slowly turning a hayfield into our little estate, we don’t have the luxury of old trees on the property. That will be our task this fall (planting trees), after we finish building our house. So our children will one day be able to enjoy a little bit of everything from the country.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s great that you have a country place. We had 2 mature maples and no fruit trees when we moved here. We purchased a $50 fruit tree which started producing the following year. It’s a big of an investment but definitely worth it if you plan to stay there.

  8. Jordann says :

    This totally appeals to me! My husband and I have big plans for fruit trees and vegetable gardens once we own a home. For now, we get in on the action by container gardening and swapping labour for the chickens that our family members raise on their rural properties.

    • Kalie says :

      Container gardening is great. Maybe there is a community gardening in your area that could help you grow more, if you’re interested. That’s nice you can get in on family chickens!

  9. Abigail says :

    This is awesome! I sometimes wish I had the wherewithal to garden. But out here I’d have to drag plants into the shade after a couple hours under the summer sun. Lest they char. Then again, I probably wouldn’t garden even if we had a place in Seattle. I enjoyed it when I did it — especially when berries grew in my yard! — but I couldn’t manage it regularly. I miss plucking sweet raspberries off the vine, though.

    • Kalie says :

      Gardening definitely requires some energy and attention. Neil is much better at it than I am, but I’ve embraced it and definitely enjoy picking fresh produce for dinner. I imagine Arizona is not a great place for it, though. There is nothing like eating raspberries out of the yard. We had this growing up and that’s what motivated us to get some plants going.

  10. Our Next Life says :

    Thanks for the shout-out! This post completely gets my envy up — I *wish* we could do all the things you guys are able to do at your burbstead! The short growing season at high elevation makes a lot of gardening tough (not impossible — but forget about tomatoes unless we put in a greenhouse), and our work travel schedule makes things like chickens impractical. And you’re so lucky to have mature fruit trees — what a nice bonus! And bigger picture, I love that you’re making the most of the present instead of feeling like you have to move to a 100 acre farm to realize your dreams. It’s just a question of scale. We have never had a more productive garden than the one we had in containers on a balcony at our condo in the city — definitely taught me that you don’t need tons of land, just desire to make it work!

    • Kalie says :

      Living at high elevation has its own perks though–such as the mountains! We purchased and planted all our fruit trees, and only 1 is mature so far–the only 1 we spent more than $10 on. I was also surprised at how much we were able to grow on our balcony.

  11. Jack says :

    We currently only keep an herb garden in our tiny patio garden, although we’ve done tomatoes in the past.

    We also make homemade vinegar from the occasional wine leftovers – so much better than the store bought. Love the idea of making your own maple syrup, though.

    • Kalie says :

      Herbs are a good value–they are so pricey to buy fresh all the time. Homemade vinegar sounds interesting–we are big vinegar fans.

  12. Brian says :

    Wow, great stuff! We always had vegetable gardens growing up. Always great to walk to the back yard and pick fresh veggies. We have a swing set in our back yard I’m going to take down (kids have out grown it) it might be a perfect spot for a garden.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes–garden veggies are the freshest, tastiest, and most convenient! Converting the swing set site into a garden sounds like a great idea. I hope it works!

  13. Prudence Debtfree says :

    I have never heard the term “‘burbsteading” before. (DId you make it up?) Great idea! And I’m so glad this concept doesn’t have to apply to the homesteading ideal : ) It’s true that most of our dreams can be, to at least some extent, integrated into our present reality. You are doing great things with your .1 acre, and I look forward to seeing what you do with more when the day comes.

    • Kalie says :

      I came up with the term during a conversation about what we’re doing with our property, but I googled it and I wasn’t the first one to coin it 🙂 There are certainly dreams that can’t be incorporated without major life changes but often there are good substitutes.

  14. Shannon says :

    I am seriously impressed by what you’re capable of doing with so “little” space. I live in the burbs as well and the most I’m able to accomplish is growing my own herbs. I keep thinking I will expand to vegetables, but I haven’t gotten brave enough to make that leap.

    • Kalie says :

      I’d pick the brains of a local gardener to find out what works well in your area. Even visiting a garden center can yield some fruitful tips.

  15. Femme Frugality says :

    I’ve wanted to do some gardening for some time now. My husband is hesitant because of all the dogs running loose and the rabbits that find their way into our yard. Do you have a fence or some type of wiring set up to keep your veggies and fruit from being messed with?

    • Kalie says :

      Our yard was fenced in when we bought the house, though that doesn’t stop the bunnies. The berries are also outside the fence. You could put some stakes in the corners or your plots and surround it in plastic garden fencing. That’s what I notice people without yard fences doing.

  16. NZ Muse says :

    Interesting term! I probably am doing this. (Although I struggle with the US definition of ‘suburb’ … I suspect I technically wouldn’t be suburban by your standards, probably still city, but we definitely call it the suburbs here).

    Just bought a chicken coop, can’t wait to get all set up! I need to prep my garden for planting my fruit and veg – been putting it off ever since moving in. All I’ve managed so far is to set up the kitchen herb planter box (though in fairness I’ve mostly been focusing on getting the inside furnished with the essentials).

    I was stoked to see that the sellers left behind their big compost bin, which is handy – saved me a bit of hassle. But chickens will cut down on my composting anyway.

    Coming into winter here my fruit trees won’t be doing much but summer will be nice!

    • Kalie says :

      I didn’t realize the definitions varied internationally, but it makes sense. That’s great you can have all this near the city. Congrats on your new burbstead!

  17. Mrs. PIE says :

    Thanks, I really enjoyed reading this.
    I have an idea that I’d love to start a garden once we reach FI. This may be a stretch for me as I have never grown much more than a few shrubs (to my green-thumbed parents horror!), this is great inspiration!
    I joked to Mr. PIE recently that I’d also like to keep bees. Maybe I wasn’t really joking – I’d love to learn more about a bait beehive!

    • Kalie says :

      Neil is really the one with the green thumb, but neither of us knew this until we got married and he started a “salsa garden” on our apartment balcony. So I believe you can do it. Maybe you could start now with a potted tomato plant or an herb.

      Stay tuned for a bee post soon!

  18. Vanessa says :

    Love this post!! Awesome job on doing everything you do!!! I am so jealous. I am just yearning to one day have a homestead like that. We have a small garden now, several berry bushes, drink raw milk, make raw kefir almost daily, bone broth, big batches of beans, brew kombucha, and I even make my own raw cultured butter… But I just won’t feel like a true homesteader until I’m composting and really step up my garden game.. And finally get some chickens!! I want hens so badly!! I want 7-12 egg layers, and I guess I could contemplate raising some meat birds. But I really want the laying hens. Maybe when we move to England this summer we can look for a small farm and start our little homestead with some chickens. I can’t wait!!

    • Kalie says :

      Wow, that is exciting that you will be moving to England and looking for a farm! Sounds like you are already doing a lot of homestead-type stuff. We don’t have layers since my mom gives us farm fresh eggs regularly, but we have friends who love having layers.

  19. Hannah says :

    You are rocking the burbstead! My in-laws are the same (plus they rent a community plot and own a small plot near a lake) and they have managed to preserve enough veggies that they rarely purchase veggies (and only purchase fruits that can’t be grown in Minnesota).

    We grow herbs and tomatoes, but if we get to a more settled down state I would like to grow rhubarb, berries and maybe a few veggies. I also wouldn’t mind living next door to someone who raised chickens and allowed me to purchase fresh eggs from them, but I don’t think I will ever wish to raise animals myself.

    • Kalie says :

      Wow, I’m impressed your in-laws rarely need to purchase vegetables. Our chickens are for meat and only around 6-8 weeks, which makes them pretty low maintenance.

  20. Amy says :

    I love the concept of burbsteading!! And you guys are totally rocking it!

    I agree that it’s really easy to spend so much time looking forward to the next thing, we forget to enjoy the present. Practicing gratitude is reallyhelpful to me with this, and I’ve just resurrected my old gratitude journal, so I can make more of a habit of it.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s awesome you have a gratitude journal. I should bring back mine, too. A nice thing about burbsteading is that it gets us outside a lot, and it’s kind of therapeutic.

  21. Harmony says :

    Perfect! We dream of a future homestead too, but are making the most of our burbstead for now (LOVE the term). I’ve been trying to expand this repertoire and you’ve really inspired me to look into whether we can have chickens at our house and to try maple sugaring next spring.
    I’m also looking forward to reading more about your bee experiment.

    It’s really great to see that you don’t have to put everything on hold, waiting for your future life. The learning curve is in your favor this way.

    Would you be so kind as to remind me when it gets a little closer to maple sugaring time? 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      That’s great you’re expanding your burbsteading efforts. I think putting a name to it helped us embrace it even more. We’ll keep you posted on the bees. I’ll try to mention maple sugaring again next season 🙂

  22. amber tree says :

    Lovely and inspirational post. Last year, we started our garden dividend experiment. The result was about 1 portion of strawberries, a handful of raspberries and salad for a few meals.
    This year, we plan to do way better: we added carrots and potatoes to the mix.
    For this fall, I plan to double or triple the berry production…

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