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1,178 of 1,201 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2011
Much of this time was spent fantasizing about one day having a 1/10th or 1/4th acre homestead. During that time, the book was eye-opening as to what is possible with that little space. Having soaked up these ideas about raised beds, chickens, dwarf fruit trees, and so on for so long, when I finally got a house recently, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it, which alone is probably worth the price of the book.

But now that I have fruit trees to prune and chicks to raise, I'm not looking to this book for information. For building raised beds, I'm using the instructions from The Urban Homestead (Expanded & Revised Edition): Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City (Process Self-reliance Series), which also details composting with worms, reducing your reliance on the energy grid, and using water more intelligently -things The Backyard Homestead doesn't even mention. Or take pruning. On page 111, "Pruning a Fruit Tree in Four Steps," Step 2 says "First shorten the branch to about a foot, then undercut the branch slightly before sawing it from above. Finally, saw off the stub, leaving a slight collar to promote good healing." These are just the kind of clear-as-mud directions that would greatly benefit from an illustration; unfortunately all that is there is a drawing of a man sawing a branch with a long-handled tool of some kind, nothing to show what exactly a collar is or how much of the remaining foot qualifies as the stub or even why he selected that particular branch. So for pruning, I attended a workshop presented by my local nursery, which was far more informative and has the advantage of pertaining entirely to where I live. Regarding chickens: There are some interesting points, like letting a fresh egg age in the fridge a week before hard-boiling so it won't be difficult to peel or selecting a dual-purpose (egg laying and meat) breed because they are more disease-resistant than specialized breeds, but nothing that will in anyway get you started. For that I'm presently using the book Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Raising Chickens from Hatching to Laying. For rabbits, you'll get two pages most of which just informs you that there are different breeds.

The only section of The Backyard Homestead that I was able to test out in my apartment days was the section on herb gardening. I killed all of them, until getting Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces), which revealed why the rosemary survived but did not grow (too small a pot), why the basil died (unrelenting exposure to wind), how all of them could have benefited from mulch, and how to make simple plant foods. It also explained terms I had seen thrown around in several gardening books, like the warning to not let your plants "bolt" (which at the time I could only imagine involved my herbs running away to a more competent home). All those other books have unhelpful charts describing the exact conditions favored by each plant (type of soil, pH, full sun vs partial shade, etc) until you believe each plant should be grown in its own meticulously placed test tube. And I spent years thinking "partial shade" meant some kind of sparse, broken shade, like under a tree. Turns out the "partial" refers to time; 4-6 hours of direct sun per day compared to 8 hours of direct sun per day for "full sun." And if you've always wanted to grow herbs, but wondered what you might do with them beyond cooking, then absolutely get Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, a brilliant DIY book on everything from making your own shampoo to beer to how to slaughter a chicken (The Backyard Homestead refers you to other books for any slaughtering instructions).

By all means, get The Backyard Homestead. Pour over it for hours in a coffee shop/bathtub/Cracker Barrel/escape-of-your-choice. Gaze lovingly at the beautiful, orderly homestead layouts at the beginning of the book. But think of it more as a course catalogue for college, that thick book (if they still put those out) that lists every class a college offers along with a brief description for each, rather than as the classes themselves. Use it to sketch out which topics you'd like to study, then find other resources (mentors, workshops, youtube demonstrations, books, meetup groups, feed stores, nurseries, magazines like Urban Farm) and go from there.
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584 of 627 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2009
A very well put together book with lots of useful information. However there is one area that it is glaringly lacking in information. The author states there isn't room for a dairy animal and suggests pigs instead, but they completely overlook the Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. Two Nigerian Dwarf dairy does take up less space than the pigs, and even some urban areas area starting to allow them as "pets". A good Nigerian milk doe can give 1/2-3/4 of a gallon of very rich milk daily. Just be sure to buy from someone that breeds them for milking and not someone that just breeds them as pets.

Nigerians also get along well with chickens, and can share the same yard space as long as there is separate sleeping and feeding quarters for the chickens. And keeping 3-4 hens with your goats will keep the fly population down to nearly non-existent levels. So the back portion of your lot could be a single large pen, rather than two small ones, thus saving on the amount of fencing needed. A typical garden shed can be divided up to provide housing and feed storage for both goats and chickens, again saving on the cost (and space) of building separate structures.
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652 of 711 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2010
Like most of the people who buy this book, I'm interested in urban farming and the DIY ethos. So I found this book really exciting for the breadth of topics it covered. How to select a breed of beef cow? Goat? Chicken? Cool! But as I read through some of the sections covering topics I know about I was surprised how out-dated and incomplete they were, which makes me suspicious that the rest of this book is equally poorly researched.

I've been a homebrewer for 5 years, and I grow wine grapes at home. The home-brew beer recipies in this book are from 1989, and are based around buying pre-made beer kits from Coopers or Muntons. Some of the ingredients listed are archane: "Laaglander malt extract" good luck finding it, Laaglander went out of business nearly a decade ago, or "Russian Malt beverage concentrate" whatever that is, you don't need it to make good homebrew.

The wine grapes section is terribly out of date as well. The American hybrid grapes she recommends were the best varieties availible 20 years go (DeChanuc, Baco, Foch) leaving out newer varieties that are much better (Traminette, Marquette, Corot Noir). She refers to Baco, Foch, and Chardonel as European varieties which they aren't. (there's a great book on growing a back-yard vineyard if you search for that phrase)

It may seem like I'm nit-picking, but it leaves me to wonder what careless mistakes are in the sections I don't know anything about? How out-of date are the other varietal recommendations? I get the impression that she culled all of this info from old books and has little experience of her own.

I'm returning my copy.
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89 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2010
I checked this out of the library before buying, and I'm so glad I did.

The premise of this book is exciting. I love the cover illustration, and first few pages have great illustrations of how much you can produce on different sized lots. However, the rest of the book is a simply a rehashed encyclopedia of information that is incredibly frustrating to read. There is no "story" here -- no personal anecdotes, no interviews with people who have done this, no journalistic writing. Since that's not the chosen direction of this book, I can accept that. But without an interesting story, I was hoping for really solid, detailed, concrete information about how to eventually accomplish the goal of turning one's yard into a homestead. I didn't get that either.

The information in this book is almost trivial -- there is a lot of it, and it's well organized, but nothing goes into enough detail to actually be useful. For example, the section on raising chickens provides a vague overview of what is required to keep chickens, then several pages on chicken breeds, but not quite enough information to actually *choose* a breed, then goes into a bunch of detail about how to determine the age of an egg, how to cook an egg, but no information on how to actually care for chickens. There is a section on butchering, which basically tells you to find someone who knows how to butcher a chicken. There is a rough diagram of a fancy chicken coop for 3 chickens, but no discussion of the pros and cons of different kinds of coops, or how to house more than 3 chickens.

Eventually, I realized I can get more information on any subject in this book by doing a Google search. The information in this book feels very rehashed, and I don't get the sense that the author has any personal experience with any of it (even though she might).

What this book is good for: Spend half an hour skimming through it for inspiration. Don't get bogged down on the unhelpful details. Write down any subjects that interest you, and go get a specialized book on that topic.
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119 of 130 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2009
What else could you want? Do you need? Well, after reading Madigan's book, apparently I want to have and do alot more with my life and garden in the city. I've already been trying to turn my 1/16th (?) of an acre city garden over to chickens, veggies, and fruit, but, yikes!, this book has been an absolute dream find for me. It has made me realize that I've barely cracked the surface as far as creating a life that is in happy harmony with the plant and animal world, not to mention how my family's eating experience will become more fun, more fresh, and more delicious! I can't wait to start making my own mozzarella and planting those nut trees! That will be the easy part...getting my husband to agree to those four gorgeous blue Andulusian chickens I've been coveting might be slightly harder.
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117 of 129 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2009
This book was recently introduced to me by a friend who was tired of hearing me just *talk* about my preserving and canning aspirations - she thought, rightly, that having this book as my guide would spur action. What always sounded like a lovely annual ritual to me is now actually - I have been happy to discover, after reading "The Backyard Homestead" and its clearly, engagingly written advice - something I can and do do. But I have discovered so much more that is possible within - as it turns out, having only a balcony, and no actual backyard, is not a deterrent when looking to live more self-sufficiently, and Madigan addresses viable options for all kinds of living circumstances. There really is something for everyone within, and inspiration is inevitable.
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2011
The inside cover states the following:

"Most of the text in this book is excerpted from previously published books by Storey Publishing."

For those of you who own or have read any books from Storey Publishing, pass on this book. There's hardly any new information in it. I was thumbing through it when it arrived and was noticing several familiar illustrations. After checking more thoroughly, I found the aforementioned statement. I'm donating my copy to the local library and wishing I hadn't wasted $10 on information I've already read.
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71 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2009
This book has some wonderful planning diagrams and some really good info. Having said that, and having read many books on the subject at the library, most of it is not original information and has been gleaned from other Storey books. And it's very obvious! However, it's a good place to start for a beginner.

I don't like it because it doesn't go into enough depth (fencing, pest/critter deterrents, buildings) on certain topics and spends WAY too much time on things that don't really need explanation (flavors of ice cream, flowers, certain charts). I don't really care for some of the gardening advice either, but that's more of a personal preference. I prefer Ruth Stout's How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back: A New Method of Mulch Gardening approach.

In general, I prefer The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It for an well explained, well thought out, season by season, no-nonsense treatment of the homesteading subject.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2009
I'm already planning my 2010 garden, with the aim of getting back into gardening after a four year hiatus. Many of my neighbors are planting their first gardens and still others are incorporating small animals like chickens and goats into their yards. And no, I don't live in the country. I live in the suburbs.

So when I saw The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan, I was excited. The premise of this book is that with a quarter of an acre - or less - you can provide your family with lots of great food.

You may wonder if growing your own food is worth the effort. Here's how I look at it: I recall with great fondness working in the vegetable garden with my father. I want my children to experience the same thrill of pulling fresh foods from the ground and eating them with the pride that they helped grow them. Besides, homegrown foods are fresher and therefore more nutritious. And you know exactly what chemicals were used on them, and whether the seed is heirloom or genetically modified. Not so with store-bought foods, even if they are marked organic. Although my family hasn't ventured into raising farm animals, we've considered it. I hate the idea of feeding my family meats pumped full of hormones, or even just salt water. And no store bought egg can ever compare to the taste of fresh eggs, just as store-bought tomatoes don't taste remotely like store-bought.

You'll probably be surprised by how much food you can produce in your suburbia yard. Madigan says with a quarter acre you can produce 1,400 eggs, 50 pounds of wheat, 60 pounds of fruit, 2,000 pounds of vegetables, 280 pounds of pork, and 75 pounds of nuts. (The film HomeGrown says that if you just stick to produce, you'll get 6,000 pounds.) The average lot in the suburbs isn't that big, but you can still produce a lot of food - and at significant savings. (According to the National Gardening Association, the average family with a veggie garden saves $600 a year.)

You might wonder how any one book can thoroughly cover the topics of raising your own vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, grains, herbs, and a variety of farm animals. Well, it can't. But The Backyard Homestead does a great job of providing a basic overview of what's possible.

The section on gardening is the most thorough, and probably the only guide you really need to growing veggies, fruits, and berries. There's information on growing from seed, preparing a bed, growing in containers, choosing crops most appropriate for your space, succession planting (where, when one plant stops producing, you plant another crop), getting a general idea of how much your garden can produce, harvesting (with general info on freezing and canning), basic information on storing seeds for next year's garden, general growing info on popular vegetables, growing berries, growing nut and fruit trees (hint: they don't have to take up a lot of space), and growing and using herbs. There's a short chapter on incorporating edibles into your decorative landscape, too, and a number of recipes for using your home grown produce, including homemade wine, herbal teas, cider, and vinegars.

You may have never considered growing grains, but if you've ever grown corn, you've already dabbled in it. The author provides good basic info on growing corn for grain, as well as wheat, barley, and rye. She wisely advises new grain-growers to start small, and offers general info on how to grow and harvest, as well as use the grains you've grown. This section includes info on making homemade bread from your grains, as well as how to make your own beer.

The section of the book most lacking is the one on livestock. Here, basic information is offered on raising chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, goats, sheep, pigs, and even cows. The author gives some thoughts on why you'd want to raise these animals, how to increase egg or milk production, very general info on butchering, very basic (and sometimes vague) information on how to care for the animals, and similar topics. Oddly, she doesn't really discuss how to incorporate farm animals into a backyard. For example, I'd like to know if there are special concerns if you have children; are there ways to help prevent them from getting E. coli, for example? It also seems strange the author never mentions how to compost or use animal manure to feed your garden, although she does give information on pasteurizing milk and making cheese and yogurt.

The final sections offer super-brief information on harvesting wild plants; essentially, the author advises readers to find a field guide for their area. However, she does offer some information on using rose hips (from the wild or from your ornamental garden), dandelions (ditto!), as well as syrup from maple trees, plus some basics on beekeeping.

Overall, I think this is an excellent guide for the suburbanite or someone who lives in the country but has little or no experience growing their own food. It gave me many ideas I hope to implement next year, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in getting back to the basics by growing some food.

Kristina Seleshanko
Proverbs Thirty One Woman
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
I love "The Backyard Homestead"! It is a user-friendly guide that not only shares the "how to" aspects of food self-sufficiency, but includes lots of wonderful recipes as well. Ms. Madigan's caring and respect for the environment shines throughout each chapter of this delightful book.
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