Book Review: “The Backyard Homestead” by Carleen Madigan

The Backyard Homestead Bk Review picGood morning, everyone. I thought it was time to offer you another review on a book I keep for reference here on the homestead. Considering I’ve been doing this for only four years – and on an suburban homestead at that – I need good resources to turn to when I have questions. My Garden Wilson gave me this book my first year here in this house, and it was immensely helpful in many ways. I still turn to it when I have a question.

This book was published in 2009 by Storey Publishing and is part of a series of Backyard Homesteading Books. This is an overall, introductory guide book on homesteading. (The other books are Building Projects, Farm Animals, and Kitchen Know-How.)

Carleen Madigan starts the book with a great introduction. After discussing how to think about what you want to do with your backyard, “making nice” with your neighbors, and local zoning laws, she shares diagrams on how much food you can produce on 1/10th acre, 1/4 acre, and 1/2 acre lots. She gives a detailed example of the possibilities of raising over 2,000 pounds (ONE TON) of fruit, vegetables, grains, and nuts on a 1/4 acre lot! You might think that’s a crazy number, but a quarter acre is over 10,000 square feet. My garden pales in comparison at about 800 square feet (all total), and I harvested over 500 pounds of produce in 2014. That’s 1/4 ton of food from my little garden. So, the author’s figures are not exaggerated.

In Chapter 1, The Home Vegetable Garden, there are plans for what you should grow, how much to grow, and how to plant it (for spacing). The chapter includes information on succession planting, crop rotation advice, building raised beds, cool and warm season crops, row covers, planting dates, setting up a grow room (for seed starts), building trellises, harvesting, and seed saving. She even discusses some vegetables in detail, including how to store them, dehydrate them, and can them.

Chapter 2, Backyard Fruits and Nuts, discusses planting and growing strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, blueberries, and grapes, as well as how to harvest and store them. Next in line are fruit trees and how to create your own orchard – which trees are best to grow, how to prune them, and when to harvest. There’s also a recipe for applesauce. (There are recipes strewn throughout the book.) The author gives a chart of fruit trees which includes yield and where they should be planted to not only grow the best, but also look the best in your landscaping. Towards the end of the chapter, there is information on how to dry fruits, and make wine, cider, and vinegar. She ends the chapter with a discussion on the best nut trees to plant and how to grow them.

Chapter 3, Easy Fragrant Herbs, is a wonderful chapter on growing culinary and medicinal herbs. With plan ideas for garden layout, instructions on drying and freezing herbs, and how to make oils and butters, this chapter is a must-read for every gardener – even those who live in condos or apartments. (You can grow herbs in pots!) The chapter also includes a bit of detailed information on 32 essential herbs and how to make herbal vinegars and herbal teas. There are charts for growing herbs for tea and cooking with herbs, too.

Chapter 4, Homegrown Grains, will have you seriously considering growing your own grains in your backyard. After discussing the basic grains with a planting chart, Madigan goes into detail on growing, harvesting, and storing corn and wheat. She includes sections on cooking with grains, sprouting grains, the basics of breadmaking, and making your own pasta. And there’s a section for the man on the homestead: growing grains for beer making with tips on barley malting and recipes for different types of beer.

Chapter 5, Poultry for Eggs and Meat, is a chapter that helped me decide that I want to raise chickens for eggs. This chapter discusses getting started, how to build a chicken coop (with a sample plan), what breed(s) to choose (for eggs, meat, or both), and how to collect and store and preserve eggs. It also discusses butchering chickens and how to cut up the meat. But chickens aren’t the only fowl you can raise. There is information on raising turkeys, butchering them, and roasting them (including the proper way to carve them). She gives similar information on raising ducks and geese.

Chapter 6, Meat and Dairy, is something I won’t be able to use much on my little plot of suburban land; but if you live in a more rural area, this chapter will be especially helpful to you. It begins with why you should keep goats, how to buy them (including breed information) and raise them, how to milk a goat, and how to pasteurize (if you don’t want it raw) and store the milk. There is a section on how to choose breeds of sheep and how to raise them for milk and meat, including a bit on culling and butchering. (I’m surprised she made no mention of sheering the sheep for wool yarn, but that’s probably in a different book.) Next up is cattle for milk and meat, choosing the right breed (depending on your goal), and how to butcher them. There’s similar information on raising pigs and rabbits for meat. At the end of the chapter, she discusses processing and preserving meat, making sausage (with recipes), smoking meat, and making jerky. She also includes a section on how to make cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice cream. (I plan to try my hand at making butter next year!)

Chapter 7, Food from the Wild, starts with instructions on bee keeping. From building and maintaining a hive to harvesting the honey, there are basic instructions to get you started. The next section is on foraging – whether in your own yard (you’d be surprised what you can eat that your neighbors call weeds) or out in the fields or forests. She includes recipes for various greens you might find, too. She ends the chapter with instructions on making maple syrup. (That’s not something I can do here in the South, but back home the sap flows in late winter for great maple syrup.)

At the end of the book is a section filled with additional resources for further reading and instruction, as well as a detailed index of everything in the book.

I’ve taken this book off the shelf numerous times over the course of the last four years, and I believe it is a great introductory guide on homesteading and gardening. You can get your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble for less than $15. If you’d like to begin producing on your urban or suburban plot – or you just want to see how you can produce more – this book is a great place to start. I believe it belongs on every homesteader’s bookshelf.

Let me know if this book is on your shelf (or on its way to your house), and how you liked it. I give it five stars!

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