Retro prints and vintage furniture simply aren't enough for those who want to return to simpler times. These days, hip homeowners use their outdoor spaces to house a vegetable garden, chicken coop or even a beehive.

"The concept of homesteading used to mean a family who headed into the wilderness to live off the land," says John Tullock, author of "The New American Homestead" (Howell Book House, 2012). "But these days, it has a whole new definition. It describes a group of people who want to do whatever they can to be more self-sufficient, no matter where they live."

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Its popularity can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the tough economy causing people to want to spend less at the grocery store; a desire to know exactly where food comes from; and a growing trend of doing things the way they were done 100 years ago.

But before you rush out to turn your plot of land into a working farm, Tullock says there are some cautionary steps to take. "Your city or town might have local ordinances saying what you can and can't have in your yard, so you should always make sure you know if you need a permit or not," Tullock says. "And also use common sense! Don't go out and put a smelly chicken coop or buzzing beehive right up against your next-door neighbor's barbecue grill."

Interested in giving homesteading a shot? Here are four ways:

For a Big Yard: Pet Goat

If you feel ready for a more involved project and have a fenced-in area with an indoor shelter, a goat might be the answer. "Goats can supply you with a few quarts of milk a day, enough for drinking and turning into cheese," Tullock says.

"Keep in mind that for a female goat to produce milk, she needs to have an offspring every season," he cautions. That means a goat owner will have to keep a male goat around or use a stud service. Plus, there will be a lot of baby goats running around.

To Save Money: Herbs

"This is a great entry point if you want to start producing your own food," Tullock says. "You can grow basil, cilantro, thyme and more in terra cotta pots. Even someone who lives in an apartment can find room on a windowsill or balcony for them. And you'll know that you're cooking with herbs that were grown without harmful chemicals."

For the low cost of some seeds and pots, you can end up saving a lot of money: Fresh herbs are one of the priciest things in the produce section.

You don't have to stop with herbs. Tullock recommends branching out by also planting expensive specialty lettuces like arugula.

For Small Homes: Chickens

Buy some chickens. "Of all the things you can do to tap into the homesteading movement, chickens are by far the easiest animals to have," says Terry Golson, author of "The Farmstead Egg Cookbook" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). "They're not too hard to take care of, are delightful pets and produce eggs that are so much better tasting than the ones found in grocery stores."

She says that three to five hens will produce enough eggs for an entire family. Another plus: The chicken manure will help fertilize soil.

For Rural Homes: Beehive

Start a beehive. "This is really best if you have a nice, spacious area, since the ideal spot for a beehive is up on a slight hill under a sprawling shade tree," Tullock says. "The most important thing to remember if you want to have bees is that you need to be around plenty of nectar sources, like wildflowers."

While he says the initial investment is around $1,000, the hive will produce more honey than a typical household can use, so the surplus can be sold to others who aren't quite as ambitious as you.

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