These six books are revered in many homesteading circles, serving as inspiration and (oftentimes, dog-eared) reference for the experienced, and as guidance for the novice.
“Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long”
Eliot Coleman, (Chelsea Green Publishing, $25.95)
Considered by many as a classic, this guide brings readers’ mindsets back to a time when, as humans, our only choice was to consume what was local and in season. Coleman, a decades-long organic farmer of vegetables, cattle, sheep and poultry, explains and instructs with wit, which makes the book enjoyable as well as informative, and keeps economics and practicality at the fore: He’s a proponent of growing what we can year-round without costly accouterments like greenhouses. They’re not needed, he contends, if we let the seasons guide what we plant. Along the way, we learn that, yes, we can even grow some salad greens, like mâche, outdoors in February under a simple insulated cold frame. Coleman does it, and he farms in Maine’s Zone 5, so we know we’re in good hands.
The book offers more than a dozen handy reference tables for guidance with succession planting, rotating crops, timing planting, and he delves into dates for cold framing, harvesting the winter garden and instruction for growing green manures. An appendix, called “The Cast of Characters” provides growing, rotating and storage information for crops from artichokes to watercress.
“The Small-Scale Poultry Flock"
Harvey Ussery (Chelsea Green Publishing, $39.95)
If you have any intent whatsoever about raising fowl for meat or eggs, it’s imperative to learn as much about them and their requirements as possible before beginning. They are, of course, live animals, and taking responsibility for them means just that. This reader-friendly guide will go a long way toward helping you prepare and will guide you along once you’ve started.
Accompanied by charts, anatomical diagrams and instructional photos, Ussery, a longtime poultry farmer, details topics such as housing, feeding, maintaining the health of and slaughtering birds, in addition to the practicalities of accounting for costs and broiler and egg profitability. The author also offers henhouse options and instructs on basic coop care, as well as ways to stop predators and the hazards of electric fencing.
Read the book straight through, and keep it around for reference as you put poultry to work in your garden.
“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”
Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver and Steven L. Hopp (Harper Perennial, $15.99)
This family-penned account of a family’s departure from their home in Arizona to an Appalachian farm in Virginia chronicles their experience, during which they aimed to live entirely off the land, eat only locally and what’s in season, and avoid the use of anything that depends on fossil fuel for a full year. This meant surviving on crops and animals they had raised themselves, and, as you might imagine, it sometimes proved difficult. The family takes us along as they discovered challenges and learned from them so that we, too, cringe, laugh, cry and grow as we read.
Barbara, a novelist and author of 14 books including “The Poisonwood Bible,” penned the book; her biologist-husband, Steven, wrote sidebars covering economics, law and science; and their nutritionist-daughter Camille contributed recipes to ensure there is something here for everyone, maybe even a new outlook.
“The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control"
Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis and Deborah L. Martin (Rodale Organic Gardening Books, $24.99)
Entries for the 200 plants featured in this reference-style book include information and identifying photos helpful in diagnosing pests and diseases that can plague them, plus organic remedies to treat and prevent further outbreaks. The book espouses chemical-free measures and provides information for organic controls that won’t target beneficial insects, as well as information about composting, cover crops, healthy soil maintenance and other measures to encourage a healthy garden.
“The Encyclopedia of Country Living, 40th Anniversary Edition"
Carla Emery (Sasquatch Books, $32.50).
Whether you have a small, urban backyard garden, a full-scale homesteading operation — or intentions for neither — you might enjoy this book, which provides something for everyone. There are the author’s personable and pensive reflections, recipes, detailed instructions for preserving food, gardening information, and even trivia. The late author wrote the first edition while living as a farm wife and home-schooling mother of seven in Idaho during the 1970s. While she watched her book gain national attention on TV talk shows (and left the farm to tour and promote it), readers from coast to coast learned how to make bread, milk goats and churn butter. The updated version, published in 2012, continues to provide inspiration for crafts and instructions for milling flour and delivering babies, and also includes guidance for keeping bees, lowering your carbon footprint and living a DIY life.
“Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century”
Dick and James Strawbridge (DK,$22.95)
This father-son duo from across the pond co-hosted the BBC television show, “It’s Not Easy Being Green” from 2006 to 2010, during which they documented their family’s attempt to live a modern lifestyle on their farm in Cornwall, England, while being self-sufficient in energy and food. Here, they bring their low-impact, environmentally friendly message to readers, instructing on how to green their modern lifestyle. Accompanied by gorgeous photography and charts, diagrams and illustrations, the authors provide detailed how-to for making intriguing things like biodiesel fuel, a solar dryer, cheese and hard cider, as well as providing valuable instructions aimed at beginners who wish to raise pigs and a garden.