Wilson’s Book Review: The Backyard Homestead
Carleen Madigan writes on everything from chickens to gardening
Chaya actually read this book first and had always recommended it to customers at various expos that we have been to across our great nation. So on a particularly rainy afternoon I found myself not being able to put this book down as Carleen Madigan covered just about every major topic involved with running a homestead.
Written in 2009, this book is the real deal, a contemporary classic in my opinion. If I may respectfully do so, I would liken it to a modern digest of Carla Emery’s quitessential classic The Encyclopedia of Country Living. Yes, it is that good. When people talk about a homestead they normally are talking about food production—and this book does not disappoint!
Navigating the book is a cinch. You probably will find it largely intuitive as I did, and you will likely be dreaming about your own homestead. You start off in chapter one talking about gardening; naturally when people think about producing food they think gardening. Chapter two is fruits and nuts, then you are onto herbs, grains, then all things poultry, meat & dairy, and capped off with foraging food from the wild. Just about anyone can start here and enjoy a large measure of success; the book is sprinkled with pictures, recipes, shortcuts, advice on pitfalls and plenty of straight common sense.
The book is not technical like Carla Emery’s, you are not going to find half a dozen recipes for duck liver, the best cross cut saw for woodland chores or advice on calving—but what you will find is that in one long afternoon The Backyard Homestead will take you through all the topics you wanted to know about, but did not want to drill through hours of web searches.
Whether you’re starting off with an acre or two or just an apartment with a small patio, there’s something you can do to provide some of your own food (Madigan, 2009).
From chickens to chutney, I am blown away with how much I walked away with and was able to retain from this book. And you do not have to be a large land owner to make use of this book. Page 10 walks you through considerations before you start a homestead, but by page 13 you are already getting plot designs from a professional (utilizing great artwork I might add) on how to set up 1/10 th of an acre for viable food production!
If you’re deep into gardening and self-sufficiency, sooner or later you’ll want to try growing your own wheat, if only to get yourself away from the commercial process that grows a perfectly good grain, scrapes off the bran, peels out the germ, and bleaches the flour, and then sells all those things back to you separately (Madigan, 2009).
Chaya could have made that quote—I love this book. The chapter of the book that deals with grains is both amazingly complete and concise which is actually characteristic of the whole book itself. I highlight the grains part because we deal so much with bread baking in our house and with Pantry Paratus. Taken as a whole I am thoroughly pleased that she starts at the precept of grinding your own flour before she mentions baking bread. Truthfully, whether or not you plan on brewing your own beer (yes, she covers that too) the fact that you can grow the grain that you use to bake your bread is a heroic concept on the order of Jackie Clay.
Since the rest of us likely did not grow up on working farms or with family members close to us to pass along all of this knowledge to us, we find ourselves at an informational disadvantage. If that is you and you dream of a homestead where you grow more than just grass, then you need The Backyard Homestead on your shelf.
Pro Deo et Patria
Madigan, M. (2009). The backyard homestead. (p. 10). North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
Ibid (p. 186)