The Homesteader’s Library

In the past few years, there has been an explosion of homesteading books on the market. Books on how to start your dream farm in the country, books on how to turn your suburban yard into a working farm, and even books how to be self sufficient in the city.  With so many different books available, how do you know which one is right for you? I recommend the try before you buy method of checking it out from the library first. As for what I keep in my own personal library, there is a trio of books I wouldn’t be caught without.

Perhaps the bible of the self sufficiency movement is Storey Books’ Country Wisdom & Know-How: Everything You Need to Know to Live Off the Land. It’s a large format guide printed on newsprint with step-by-step drawings that accompany well-written straightforward instructions and articles. The range of skills covered in this tome is immense – Animals, Cooking, Crafts, Gardening, Health & Wellbeing and Home. Within each of these broad areas is a wealth of information. Some of the articles that I’ve relied on and enjoyed the most are Bird Food Recipes, Basic Bread Baking, Making Homemade Wine, Holiday Gifts From Nature, 25 Aromatherapy Blends for De-Stressing, and Braiding Rugs. A great resource for the beginner, this book focuses on learning skills and doing tasks with as much do it yourself ingenuity as you can muster – instructions don’t start out with “go out buy a pre-fab kit to ferment your fruit juice”, but shows you how to build or assemble the components yourself. Whenever I have a question about a technique, a tool, or an old-time recipe, I usually consult Country Wisdom  first.

Another fabulous book in my collection is John Seymour’s Concise Guide to Self-Sufficiency.  It covers basically the same breadth of topics that Country Wisdom does, but the real draw for me with this book and in fact, all of Seymour’s books) are the incredible color drawings and step-by-step illustrations. In the dead of winter, I love to curl up on the couch and gaze at the beautiful garden plan illustrations – all of the rows of vegetables in their raised beds, orderly and drawn lovingly perfectly to scale. But it’s more than just a pretty picture book – its chock full of information. The sections on beer and wine making are especially informative to a beginning brewer, and of course, accompanied by great how-to illustrations.

The third book in my must-have homesteader library is geared to the urban/suburban homesteader – The Backyard Homestead by Storey Books. It’s got a lot of the same content as Country Wisdom, but it’s reformatted into a pretty snazzy guide for those working in smaller spaces. Unlike the other two books, it also focuses mostly on the food aspect of homesteading. An incredibly valuable section is How Much Food Can You Produce?, which outlines exactly what you can grow or raise in three sizes of homestead. Other sections I particularly enjoy are Grapes, outlining how to start a small vineyard, Fruit Trees, Cidermaking, Making Sausage, Foraging and the entire chapter Homegrown Grains.

With the right information, the right tools and a do it yourself spirit, you can set up exactly the kind of homestead you’ve always wanted, no matter where or how you live. Growing as much of your own food as you can, making your own candles or bath salts, baking your own breads, knowing how to butcher basic cuts of meats – homesteading is defined by doing it yourself and being as self sufficient as you can be. And remember – don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it if you’re living in a one bedroom apartment without outdoor space – if I can do it, so can you. Just plan to scale, don’t get discouraged and give it your best shot!

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6 thoughts on “The Homesteader’s Library

  1. Thanks so much for posting this!!! I haven’t tried them out yet; we live in Maryland and at present are under about 30-40 inches of snow, which might not be that much for mid-westerners, but for Marylanders, it is full out blizzard!

    Did you choose to describe John Seymore’s book and Country Wisdom with such emphasis on the wine-making/sausage-making chapters because that is what is interesting to you or because those are heavily emphasized by the authors? I ask because we are don’t drink (not even wine) and aren’t big meat eaters, so books that focus heavily on those areas wouldn’t be all that useful to me. I would be interested in the subjects of foraging, cider-making and fruit trees (particularly if they can give more insight into using the method of growing the trees in limited spaces by training them to grow flat on walls. I think that method is called pellier?)
    Since I can’t even get to the library for another few days, I might as well begin my research by gleaning a few extra details from this review 😉

    Thanks for the clarification!
    Sumiyeh, from the Blizzard of 2010

    • Hi Sumiyeh – don’t worry, these books have a HUGE range of topics; I only mentioned a few that were of interest to me. They have lots of info on gardening, animal care, handicrafts, cooking, etc. I believe all three touch of espallier (growing against a wall or trellis) as well as foraging and cider making.

  2. I also meant to note that this Country Wisdom book seems very much like the old FoxFire editions that were so popular back in the late 70s, early 80s. Some of the info in those were ruled out as unhealthy or outright dangerous by my incredibly resourceful father, who had actually grown-up on a ‘hill-billy’, bare-bones farm and could recognize that some of those old remedies were not to be trusted! Such as steeping pinecones in boiling water to make a tea for whatever…. uh terpentine is extracted from pine in much the same method and most people don’t consider it fit for consumption! But maybe that’s just me!

  3. I love my copy of Backyard Homestead! We live in an urban setting, so I have also picked up the first two issues of Urban Farm, which seems to be hitting the right spot with those of us who want to homestead within city limits.

    • Yeah, I LOVE Urban Farm too. I wish they would publish it monthly instead of quarterly. They’re supposed to be getting their own website set up this spring and I can’t wait for that to be up too.

  4. Pingback: QuirkyKnitGirl » Blog Archiv » Wednesday Wanderings: Let them eat cake!

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