Storey Publishing is widely recognized for its selection of excellent books on gardening, cheesemaking, animal husbandry, nature study, etc., all designed to make readers less reliant on consumerism and more confident in their own abilities. One often-repeated idea in these books is that you don't need to live in the middle of nowhere to implement these practices—and that is the whole point of Carleen Madigan'sThe Backyard Homestead.
Basically a primer to the rest of the Storey catalog, this fascinating book covers everything from planning your "homestead" (be it urban, suburban, or rural), to growing grain and raising poultry, to tapping sugar maples, to cooking perfect pasta. Filled with illustrations, lists, diagrams, charts, plans for constructing small structures, and much more, even the most reluctant "back to earth" enthusiast will likely be caught in the fervor after an hour or two thumbing these pages.
It seems like there's nothing Madigan has left out. Near the beginning of the book, for instance, she includes drawings of three possible homesteads based on 1/10th, 1/4 acre, and 1/2 acre plots. According to her rough estimates, you should be able to produce about 50 lbs. of wheat, 280 lbs. of pork, 120 cartons of eggs, 100 lbs. of honey, 25-75 lbs. of nuts, 600 lbs. of fruit, and 2000+ lbs. of vegetables on 1/2 acre in one year.
These kind of results, of course, will take a lot more work and dedication than most people have or would care to expend. For instance, a milk cow must be fed twice a day every day and milked twice a day for 10 months. Getting the most out of your veggie garden will require lots of planting, harvesting, and replanting throughout the year. And on and on. Madigan isn't trying to scare anyone off, but she is helping newcomers count the cost and consider what they're willing to pay.
Again, this is a primer, not an exhaustive handbook. There's plenty of information to help you get started, and for some of the ideas there's enough information period (making certain cheeses, for instance), but if you plan on buying a cow or goats you'll probably want to go deeper than this book will take you. However, if you just want to garden, there's definitely enough here to help at least with your first couple of years.
If you see no value in pursuing self-sufficiency, you should look at this book. Madigan not only points out the benefits, but the joys and pleasures of growing, raising, and preparing one's own food. Does it take work? Of course, but that's partly the point, especially in our age of relying on everyone else to do what we're completely capable of doing. And for those already convinced that self-sufficiency is a good idea,The Backyard Homestead is a great resource to help you get started.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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