Building a Sustainable Homestead


3 credits

Online, Fall semester

(NOTE:  this class was called Backyard Homesteading in the past)

Instructor: Renee Ciulla


DSCN8733Course Overview and Student Objectives: Do you dream of being more self-sufficient, either on your own property or simply acquiring the skills? Have you fantasized about growing your own food, constructing a root cellar, raising animals, foraging for wild edibles and living off-the-grid? This course explores practical home-scale food production techniques, covering kitchen essentials, season extension and food preservation techniques, carpentry skills, tool use and maintenance, as well as activities like sewing, smoking meat, fermentation and making soap and candles. Soil fertility, mini orchards, mushroom foraging, farm energy and water management, greenhouse construction and vegetable growing techniques are included. By the end of this course, students should feel motivated and confident with the knowledge necessary to live a healthy, fulfilling and sustainable lifestyle on their own homestead.

Course Structure: At the beginning of every week students will be provided with a summary list of all the work to be completed during each respective week of class. There will also be Discussion Questions which students will post responses to in the “Discussion forum” section of Blackboard. These responses are due by midnight on the Thursday of that module’s week. To receive full Discussion credit for the week, students are also required to comment on at least on peer’s post by Sunday at midnight. Required Readings are also listed with weekly required Homework questions that are due by Sunday at midnight. The Final Research Project will be created from the vast array of topics covered throughout the semester and determined by the student’s personal interests.



  • Participation/Discussions (includes responding to at least 1 peer’s post each week): 50%
  • Weekly Homework Assignments: 25%
  • Final Research Paper: 25%

No Required Textbook

Due Date policy: If a homework assignment is submitted late, there are 5 points deducted per day late. No credit is awarded for late Discussion posts since the conversations have moved on to the current week.

Outline of Content

Week One 

  • Homesteading 101
    • Tips for being frugal, organized and goal oriented
    • Municipal regulations
    • Woodstove purchasing and use
  • Property Design & Plan
    • Students set measurable goals for their own home food production systems, including an assessment of caloric needs, potential crop yields, budget considerations and designing a garden system that closely meets these needs.
  • Food Production Basics
    • Preparing soil and understanding compost, manure & fertilizer use
    • Weed ID, weeding techniques, natural pest and disease control
    • No-till gardening
    • Companion Planting, Container Gardening & Raised Beds
    • Planning ahead for orchards, vineyards and berries
    • Hydro/aquaponic gardening

Week Two  

  • Kitchen Skills
    • Baking Bread and Capturing Wild Yeast
    • Brick Ovens/Clay Ovens/Outdoor ovens
    • Canning (including waterbath canning)
    • Cast Iron Cooking (and maintaining cast iron pan)
    • Cheese, Butter & Yogurt Making & Raw Milk Products
    • Fermented foods and health benefits
    • Cooking on Woodstove
    • Rendering tallow and lard
    • Dehydrating, Freezing & Sprouting
    • Milling Grains
    • Outdoor Kitchens & Solar Ovens
    • Preserving herbs and vegetables in the kitchen
    • Water Purification

Week Three

  • Natural building materials, costs, efficiency and designs
  • Tiny House construction
  • Root cellar building and basics
  • Woodworking
  • Carpentry
    • Milling Lumber
    • Woodshop Essentials
  • Building a Raised Bed
    • Building a Cold Frame
  • Fencing, Barns & Sheds
    • Building Barns, Chicken Coops, Greenhouses & Outbuildings
    • Fencing Options

Week Four

  • Gardening Basics
    • Hardiness maps
    • Vegetables (review plant families, pest/disease control, production overview)
    • Culinary herbs
    • Flowers
    • The Extended Harvest (growing in cold frames, hoophouses, greenhouses)
  • Food Storage Solutions
    • Crop Storage, Labels & Rotation
    • Root Cellars
    • Spring House

Week Five

  • Seed saving
    • Why save seed?
    • Heirloom varieties
    • Crop-by-crop guide for seed production/saving
    • Hand-pollinating corn and squash
    • Seed storage
  • Greenhouse Construction, Design and Production

Week Six

  • Livestock (feeding, housing, care)
    • Alpaca
    • Dairy Animals
    • Draft Animals
    • Goats
    • Rabbits
    • Raising Poultry
    • Cattle
    • Pigs
  • Blacksmith, Horseshoes and Farrier Work

Week Seven

  • Wild edibles and foraging
    • Medicinal Herbs
    • Mushroom Identification
  • Brewing beer, making wine and apple cider
  • Smoking fish and meat
  • Soap & candle making
  • Fiber arts and sewing basics
    • Crocheting, Knitting, Quilting & Rug weaving
    • Spinning & Weaving

Week Eight

  • Maple Sugaring
    • Tree ID
    • Tapping Guidelines
    • Sap Collection, Boiling, Finishing and Handling
  • Equipment and Supplies
  • Managing a Woodlot and Tree/forest pest ID
  • Starting and managing a mini Christmas tree operation
  • Beekeeping
    • Hive construction
    • Establishing a hive
    • Working with bees
    • Diseases and parasites
    • Honey extraction
    • Winterizing a hive 

Week Nine

  • Water Supply
    • Cistern
    • Irrigation Basics (drip, overhead)
    • Ponds
    • Rain Barrels
    • Wells
  • Sustainable Energy Use
    • House and greenhouse orientations
    • Off the Grid Solutions and Challenges
    • Solar Panel Installation
    • Wind Turbine Installation
    • Wind Mills

Week Ten

  • Farm First Aid & Simple Veterinary Skills
  • Farm Machinery & Safety
    • Tractors (types, uses, safety)
    • ATVs & Bobcats
    • Chainsaws and sharpening
    • Hand tools
    • Snow blowers

Week Eleven

  • Building Community
    • Organizing events and seasonal celebrations
  • How to Market Farm Goods
    • Farmers Markets Sales and Marketing
    • Farmstands and PYOs
    • Beginning a CSA in your Community
    • Selling Wholesale

Week Twelve – Thanksgiving Break!

 Week Thirteen

  • Begin research, interview questions and finalize topic for Final Project (see below)

Week Fourteen

  • Final Research Paper –Due by midnight on the Sunday after last week of classes

Students will write a paper on a topic of choice based on material that was covered over the semester. Length of report should be 8-10 pages, Times New Roman font style, size 12, double-spaced. Please include at least 15 references (at least 5 of them as academic, peer-reviewed articles) included in a Works Cited at the end of the report and properly cited throughout paper. Citations can be either MLA or APA, but please be consistent throughout. Submit a .doc file type named lastname_finalassignment


This class is part of the 15-credit Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program.   If you would like to register for the Certificate program, you may apply here.  For more information, contact Dr. John M. Gerber at;

More Online Classes in Sustainable Food and Farming


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