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The wine grapes section is terribly out of date as well.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 How out-of date are the other varietal recommendations?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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Proverbs Thirty One Woman