Customer Review

1,051 of 1,069 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts after Owning it for a Few Years, June 25, 2011
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This review is from: The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre! (Paperback)
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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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 28 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 17, 2011 11:39:16 AM PDT
All is One says:
Awesome review & rec's for other sources, thanks so much!

Posted on Sep 13, 2011 9:51:54 PM PDT
Tina S, says:
Thanks for the in-depth review. I've checked out some of the other books you recommended, and they look useful. Now all I need to do is figure out how to convince my restricted subdivision to allow me to use some of this great information . . .

Posted on Nov 2, 2011 9:19:24 AM PDT
Very helpful review. Thank you!

Posted on Dec 10, 2011 6:11:23 PM PST
suebee100 says:
One of the most helpful reviews ever! thanks

Posted on Jan 14, 2012 10:24:41 PM PST
THE most useful and comprehensive review I've seen on Amazon! Thank you examples of where the book fails and recommendations to fill in the gaps.

Posted on Jan 25, 2012 8:51:22 AM PST
ltdebolt says:
Ditto on all the previous commenters. This really was very useful information, and I really appreciate the fact that you post other links rather than just commenting on how the book "could have been so much more". Thank you so much!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 28, 2012 9:08:57 PM PST
Auntie Claus says:
Well thanks guys! And, Tina S., you might try handing them a drink and a copy of Little House in the Suburbs: Backyard farming and home skills for self-sufficient living which makes all this stuff look downright idyllic. It's increasingly strange to me the way HOA's are hanging on to old bylaws. We bought our first home this summer and I can't tell you the number of houses we outright rejected because of rules prohibiting chickens, clotheslines, front yard food gardens, etc. Martha Stewart has chickens for crying out loud. Perhaps if an issue of Living comes out devoted to the suburban homestead, the HOA's will finally change their minds.

Posted on Feb 3, 2012 9:56:36 AM PST
Cory Mann says:
Entertainingly written post - and thanks for the specific examples of what works & doesn't from this book.

Posted on Feb 7, 2012 8:55:56 AM PST
Calligen Nox says:
Excellent review, and well done on how much you've obviously learned!

Posted on Mar 7, 2012 8:28:16 AM PST
Naomi says:
Thank you for your detailed review. Instead of wasting money on a book that will help me dream about my future garden I'll invest my money on the obviously useful books you are using. I appreciate your advice and opinion. If you ever blog about your gardening experience I would love to read it. Thank you for the specifics of what was missing. Nuggets of gold my friend! Beautifully written!
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Location: seattle, WA

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