Book Reviews

Learn to Earn: Ten Books Every Homesteader Should Read

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The rise in popularity of the homesteading lifestyle is a good thing but it has caused the market to become flooded with homesteading books and how-to guides, making it difficult to sift through the thousands of books to find a few that truly offer the information and inspiration homesteaders – both beginners and experts – need.  The following is a list of ten homesteading books that do just that.  When compiling this short list from a long list of go-to guides, I chose to focus on books that did more than one thing.  While each book has its own specialty, the uniting factor in all of these books is that they teach you how to be self-sufficient.

Joel Salatin has fourteen books under his belt and all of them are worth reading.  Joel owns and operates Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. His farm provides food for 6,000 families and 50 restaurants in their region.  Joel is adamant about humanely raised livestock and holistic farm practices in which each aspect works synergistically with every other aspect.  I have included two of his books on this list. The first, You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise is an excellent book for those in the beginning stages of their homesteading journey, as it shows you how to “assess its assets and liabilities; its fantasies and realities.”  While recommended to those starting out, it is also an excellent resource for those who have been homesteading for a while but find themselves stumped on a project or who want to incorporate a more holistic farming practice.

The second Joel Salatin book on this list is Polyface Micro: Success With Livestock on a Homestead Scale Many homesteaders find themselves waiting to incorporate livestock until they can afford a large tract of land.  This book explains why that is not necessary.  Salatin adapts many of his Polyface practices for the small-scale homesteader, showing how to increase production and keep your animals healthy.  A bonus – this book walks you through how to keep your small-scale livestock system odor-free.

Ben Haitman is the author of the third book on our list: The Lean Micro Farm: How to Get Small, Embrace Local, Live Better, and Work Less.  In a time where everyone seems to be clamoring for more, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking bigger is better.  Haitman explains not only the reasons for scaling down your farm but also provides detailed, step-by-step instructions on how you can turn a tiny piece of land into a prolific producer and turn a healthy profit.

Fourth on our list of books every homesteader should read is The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer: How to Produce High-Quality Herbs on a Market Scale by Jeff and Melanie Carpenter.  This is one of the more niche books on this list and I included it because herbs can be grown on some scale by anyone, anywhere.  The advice in this book – and there is a lot of it! – can be scaled down to fit your particular needs.  The Carpenters provide information on how to grow and maintain medicinal herbs, including how to deal with weeds, pests, and diseases in ways that do not contaminate the plant.  They offer growing profiles for 50 herbs and show how to harvest, process, and create value-added products from them.  This book is also a business book, offering advice for profit maximization.  Chapter Five, “Thinking Like a Business Manager” offers solid advice for how to run your herb farm as a legitimate business.  It is my favorite chapter because any homestead venture could benefit from this practical business advice.

Ben Falk, author of The Resilient Farm & Homestead, Revised and Expanded Edition: 20 Years of Permaculture & Whole Systems Designs is packed with information on greenhouses, creating microclimates, homesteading with children, permaculture beekeeping, and designing resilient energy systems.  Some books that focus on whole system designs are overly technical for the average person to get much benefit from, but Falk’s writing is concise and easy to understand. Falk adds even more value to this book with appendixes such as “ A Resilient Home Curriculum Outline,” “Crucial Skill List for Emergencies,” and “Homestead Vulnerability Checklist and Strategy Summary to Reduce Vulnerability in Acute Events.”

Another niche book, Raising Resilient Bees: Heritage Techniques to Mitigate Mites, Preserve Locally Adapted Genetics, and Grow Your Apiary by Eric and Joy McEwen, is sixth on our list of learn to earn homesteading books.  The McEwens walk readers through topics like how we can naturally rear queens and select for resilient genetic lines, how to establish a profitable apicentric beekeeping business, and how to rear bees with characteristics suitable to their specific locale.  Chapter Two, “The Tenets of Natural Nest Beekeeping” provides a lot of inspiration backed by information on the importance of changing the way we approach beekeeping.

Seventh on our list is John Jeavons’ How to Grow More Vegetables, Ninth Edition (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land With Less Water Than You Ever Could Imagine is another book that proves you don’t need a lot of land to produce more than enough food to feed your family and make a living.  Jeavons offers practical advice on how to work with nature’s cycles, increase the productivity of your soil, increase plant productivity, and minimize water usage.  With careful planning and attention to detail, it is amazing how much food a small piece of land will support.

The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Revolutionary Permaculture-Based System Using Greenhouses, Ponds, Compost Piles, Aquaponics, Chickens, and More by Shawn and Stephanie Jadricek is the eighth book on our list.  This book is fascinating and will save you a ton of time and energy in the long run by sticking to the permaculture rule that every aspect of the homestead must perform at least three functions and each of the functions must support the others.  The Jadriceks outline projects such as water storage ponds, greenhouses, compost heat extraction, pastured chicken systems, and innovative rainwater-harvesting systems.  An example of permaculture at its best, their greenhouse not only extends the growing season but also collects rainwater and is used as an aquaponic system and a heat generator.

If you are interested in both the meaning of self-sufficiency and brass tacks self-sufficiency skills, John Seymour and Alice Water’s book, The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It: The Classic Back-to-Basics Guide to Going Off the Grid is a classic that has been the best friend to hundreds of thousands of people wanting a more self-sufficient lifestyle. There is not a lot this book doesn’t cover and I am sure you will find something in this book you have not yet tried on your homestead.  In addition to full-size homesteads, they also cater to small homesteaders with sections on community gardens, self-sufficiency in city settings, and the one-acre farm.

Finally, number ten on the list is a book you are probably familiar with. Carla Emery in The Encyclopedia of Country Living offers us over 1000 pages of traditional skills that typify country living at its best.  And you don’t even need to live in the country to do most of them.  This book provides readers with an excellent idea of the things every homesteader should know.  You don’t have to do every project in the book, but you will want to!

Ten books are a lot to read on a busy homestead but each of these will help you become more efficient, more confident, and more profitable.

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