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Re­view of The Back­yard Homestead

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Contents - By Ryan Lee Price

Re­view of The Back­yard Homestead

The Premise: Since its pub­li­ca­tion in 2009, Madi­gan’s

The Back­yard Homestead has been a sta­ple in the li­brary of any­one with a de­sire to live life un­hin­dered by GMOs, pes­ti­cides, chem­i­cals, and un­nat­u­ral fer­til­iz­ers lac­ing their store-bought food. Long be­fore she col­lected the ma­te­ri­als for this book, Madi­gan had been the man­ag­ing edi­tor of Hor­ti­cul­ture mag­a­zine and has lived, worked, and learned on an or­ganic farm in Mas­sachusetts.

Over­all, The Back­yard Homestead is an ex­cel­lent re­source for home­stead­ers and prep­pers in­ter­ested in sus­tain­abil­ity, from the be­gin­ner to the ad­vanced reader. Be­cause it tries to cram lots of info into one re­source, it hardly has room to delve into schol­arly depths. If you’re a be­gin­ner, you won’t feel over­whelmed about get­ting started.

The 411: The Back­yard Homestead is nicely di­vided into seven sec­tions, from veg­eta­bles, fruits and nuts, herbs, and grains to poul­try, meat and dairy, and wild food. The in­for­ma­tion is pre­sented in a straight­for­ward and wellor­ga­nized man­ner, show­ing read­ers just how easy it is to grow their own food and raise their only lim­ited live­stock.

Il­lus­tra­tions are used lib­er­ally through­out the pages, but a touch of color would’ve been nice if only to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a few of the species whose leaf pat­ters are sim­i­lar (lemon balm and pars­ley, for ex­am­ple). The be­gin­ning, how­ever, in­cludes some handy il­lus­tra­tions show­ing you how much food you can pro­duce on 1/10th of an acre, on ¼ acre, and ½ acre. Each map is de­tailed with where ev­ery­thing should be placed and planted.

Through­out the book you’ll learn how to store your har­vest, how to thresh wheat, in­for­ma­tion on wheat grinders, how to butcher a chicken, what to do with the feath­ers, how to make maple syrup, how to brew beer, and even how to milk a goat.

The Ver­dict: As a whole, if you’re be­gin­ning to trans­form your back­yard or a por­tion of a larger es­tate into a gar­den, this book is for you. Each sec­tion isn’t overly de­tailed, but there’s enough in­for­ma­tion to point you in the right di­rec­tion. In the sec­tion, “The Home Veg­etable Gar­den,” for ex­am­ple, il­lus­tra­tions and graphs abound, such as vi­su­als on var­i­ous gar­den lay­outs, each de­signed for a dif­fer­ent-sized yard.

There’s info on plant­ing dates for each part of the U.S. as well as how much to plant, what grows best where, how to ex­tend the sea­son, how to help your seeds ger­mi­nate, and di­rec­tions for mak­ing your own trel­lises for plants like

toma­toes. This book has it all, but this is where it has trou­ble keep­ing up with it­self.

Madi­gan tried to write a book that’s an ev­ery­thing-forevery­body and un­der­de­liv­ered. A book of that cal­iber would eas­ily be 3,600 pages. The top­ics that are cov­ered (and there are many) are dealt with su­per­fi­cially, with very lit­tle meat left over once the ba­sics are ex­plained. Also, the sub­jects cho­sen were given un­even con­sid­er­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, con­tainer gar­den­ing only spans one-and-a-half pages, whereas choos­ing the right breeds of chick­ens takes up five pages. And there’s only three or four egg-lay­ing breeds to choose from.

That said, there are some stel­lar sec­tions wor­thy of high praise. “Veg­eta­bles A to Z” dis­cusses many types of pop­u­lar veg­eta­bles in great de­tail, from plant­ing to care to har­vest (and more). The same can be said about the sec­tion on milk­ing goats.

At the end of each chap­ter, it would’ve been help­ful to in­clude a sec­tion for trou­bleshoot­ing, espe­cially in the an­i­mal hus­bandry sec­tions. In­stead of a few dozen de­tailed il­lus­tra­tions of var­i­ous live­stock, it would’ve been nice to see a sec­tion of ba­sic an­i­mal first-aid, med­i­cal treat­ments for in­juries or dis­ease, or at least a list of gen­eral shots and vac­cines live­stock need.

Madi­gan as­sumes that 1) a be­gin­ner is ca­pa­ble of do­ing any­thing in her book — such as mak­ing vine­gar, can­ning fruit, or slaugh­ter­ing a heifer (which is cov­ered in only about 200 words); and 2) that a be­gin­ner has all the nec­es­sary equip­ment to per­form the out­lined tasks.

Although a great starter, in­stead of be­ing out­lined like a car-re­pair man­ual that walks you through ev­ery pro­ce­dure, think of it more as a book to make you aware of ba­sic ideas and is­sues you’ll be faced with when be­gin­ning a self-suf­fi­cient homestead. Then, from there, you can de­cide if you want to read more by seek­ing out other re­sources (there are a host of them at the back).


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