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The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre! Paperback – February 11, 2009
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“The Backyard Homestead is a comprehensive and accessible guide to starting a vegetable garden, raising chickens and cows, canning food, making cheese, and a whole lot more. Editor Carleen Madigan…a homesteader in her own right, draws on the dozens of books about country living that Storey has published since its founding in 1983.”
“Because you need to brace yourself for what’s on the horizon: The Backyard Homestead. This fascinating, friendly book is brimming with ideas, illustrations, and enthusiasm. The garden plans are solid, the advice crisp; the diagrams, as on pruning and double digging, are models of decorum. Halfway through, she puts the pedal to the metal, and whoosh! At warp speed, we’re growing our own hops and making our own beer, planting our own wheat fields, keeping chickens (ho hum), ducks, geese, and turkeys (now we’re talking) and milking goats, butchering lamb, raising rabbits, and grinding sausage. Oh, and tapping our maple trees, churning butter, and making our own cheese and yogurt. Peacocks, anyone? Need I say more? Well, yes. Stock up on some knitting books because next winter, you’ll want to grow your own sweaters, too."
From the Back Cover
Your backyard homestead is a success! The vegetables and fruit are abundant and the fresh eggs are delicious, but they're more than your family can eat. Your pig is fattening up quickly; will you know how to fill out the cut sheet when it's time to call the butcher? A backyard bounty can be overwhelming.
Andrea Chesman's indispensable guide to gathering, processing, preserving, and eating the fruits of your backyard homestead ensures that nothing goes to waste. Her experience and clear instructions equip you with the skills to make the most of everything you harvest!
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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.
Everything else in the book is, as has been noted, simply chunks and bits of other Storey-published books stitched together. Now, some topics like home gardens, herb growing, etc. are dealt with competently, but not in depth like a book specific to that topic. Other topics...well, the farther you go in the book, the shallower the coverage.
Example - chicken rearing is covered somewhat well, if not particularly thoroughly (only 17 pages), but it at least gives you an idea of what's involved. Now, how about rabbits? Rabbits, which are easy to raise, easy to butcher, healthy meat, and quiet - all ideal characteristics for someone thinking of rasing meat animals in a suburban area? One of, if not the FIRST animals often recommended for backyards and hobby farmers?
2 pages. A good portion of which is taken up by a chart showing us that rabbit meat is low in fat. The rest is fluff about how awesome rabbits are and a short list of breeds, which is probably outdated by now anyway. Nothing about building hutches. Or breeding. Or feeding. Or butchering.
Why? I don't know - they could have copy&pasted from Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits just like they did for all the other sections of the book. I guess they needed more room for the long lists (of breeds and plants and herbs and grains and and and) they seem to love plumping up the page count with.
Long stor(e)y short - this book is only useful as an INDEX of what you'd want to know about intensive backyard/small space food production. On any particular topic, it simply doesn't offer enough information to be a practical guide. And since you'd need to buy another book on that specific topic to actually be able to do it - what's the point of having this book at all?
I'd really like to read a book all about backyard homesteading. This isn't it.