Thursday, August 7, 2014

BOOKSHELF: The Backyard Homestead

Click to view book on
THE BACKYARD HOMESTEAD: Produce All the Food You Need on Just a Quarter Acre

Edited By Carleen Madigan

*Eat from the garden year-round with fresh veggies and homemade preserves.
*Make omelets from eggs laid by your own chickens.
*Pick fruits and berries from your back door.

The Backyard Homestead is a good resource for beginner and intermediate level homesteaders, or those contemplating a move to the country and starting a simpler lifestyle. Within it's 367 pages is basic information concerning growing vegetables, herbs, and fruits, as well as caring for your own livestock for meat, milk, and eggs. Everything you'd need to know to eat your own homegrown food year-round!

The book opens with "The Home Vegetable Garden". Starting from planning your garden, to starting seeds, to DIY plant supports, to harvesting, and finally seed-saving and preserving, the entire life cycle of the plants are touched upon. A good basic foundation is presented, including a "Vegetables A to Z" section giving specifics for various common vegetables. The information presented is more than enough to get a new gardener headed down the right path to success.

As far as preserving, hot bath canning is touched upon briefly, with no mention of dehydration. If you're looking for books specifically concerning food preservation, I'd recommend The Dehydrator Bible: Includes over 400 Recipes for dehydration information, and Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving concerning pressure canning.

The second section, "Backyard Fruits and Nuts", gives basic information about several different types of fruits including strawberries and which to choose for your climate, choosing and caring for various berry bushes, choosing and raising grapes for wine and preserves making, and suggestions for deciding what varieties of fruit and nut trees will work best for your orchard. Proper pruning of all bushes, vines and trees is covered. There are even wine and cider making directions!

The "Easy Fragrant Herbs" section covers very basic cultivation of 32 common culinary and medicinal herbs, and although includes some tea and vinegar recipes, doesn't touch much on the medicinal applications of those herbs. I've found The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs and The New Healing Herbs: The Essential Guide to More Than 125 of Nature's Most Potent Herbal Remedies to be valuable reference guides if you're looking for in-depth information about specific plants, both cultivated and wild. Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use provides an excellent introduction and overview to beginner herbalists on how to administer various forms of treatments, as well as information on 24 common herbs. It includes 124 medicinal recipes, too!

"Homegrown Grains" was of particular interest to us. We are currently purchasing corn and hay for our animal feed. It would be nice to supplement some of that with homegrown product! We've never attempted to grow grains ourselves, other than a few stalks of corn (with little success). There is a planting chart, which will certainly come in handy. The chapter focuses on corn and wheat, and covers properly drying corn, threshing wheat, using a grinder and bread and pasta making. Many of the questions I've had regarding wheat growing were answered. Growing hops and barley for home brewed beer was a welcome surprise at the end of the chapter!

After the plants presentations came "Poultry for Meat and Eggs". It's important to select breeds suited to your purpose. Meat breeds are larger, and often produce less eggs than laying breeds. This section does a fairly good job at covering the common chicken breeds in the US, although there is no mention of climate hardiness. Raising turkeys, ducks and geese are also referenced here. Collecting and preserving eggs is thoroughly discussed, but home butchery of meat birds is left out. Collection of feathers for down is touched upon, though. There are plans included for building a small portable suburban-type chicken coop that will house 2 or 3 birds, but would recommend doing a thorough web-search before settling on a design.

"Meat and Dairy" section is what you'd expect- Goats, Sheep, Cows, Rabbits and Hogs. Interestingly enough, there were no plans presented for building a basic shelter or fencing for the animals. Breed selection for meat or milk is covered, as well as proper milking technique and safe milk handling etiquette. Making various cheeses and butter is touched upon.  If you're interested in specific cheese making recipes, Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses is a great guide.

Again, home butchery is vastly under-represented, simply covering how to cut the meat and package it for freezing or for smoking after you pick it up from the slaughter house. There are plans for a simple smoke house, and recipes for sausage and jerky.  If you're looking for an in-depth guide to livestock, I'd look elsewhere. There are many very specific books available out there for the type of animal you're interested in raising. For the stouthearted, there is the Home Butchering Handbook: A Living Free Guide (Living Free Guides).

The final chapter, "Food from the Wild" lightly touches on beekeeping, foraging for wild edibles, and gathering maple syrup. Very basic information is presented. Again, I'd look for specific reference guides for these particular subjects. Especially concerning wild edibles. A good reference guide with color photos that is tailored to your specific area is the best choice. There are indeed plants out there than can make you very sick if you make an identification mistake!

In the appendix, there are several web resources given, as well as further reading suggestions (some of which I have already mentioned!) on various specific subjects. As of writing, I have not reviewed them all yet!

Over-all, I would HIGHLY recommend this book to BEGINNERS, and to intermediate gardeners looking to expand from a simple vegetable or herb garden to a larger scale, self-sufficient homestead. It's a good starting point. People who've been homesteading for a while will probably already be familiar with much of the information presented here. However, it'd be a great book to have on hand to lend should a visitor become interesting in what you're doing, too!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Comment below!