Books on becoming more resilient and self-sufficient have been popular for years. Some are memoirs from those who’ve done it, such as two of my favorites, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle and Joan Dye Gussow’s This Organic Life. Others tend toward the practical, from the 1940s classic, The Have-More Plan, to more recent books on permaculture and self-sufficiency. The updated and recently re-released The Backyard Homesteader (Gibbs Smith, 2021) falls squarely in the practical category.
Author Alison Candlin gardens in England, but she takes care in the book to ensure none of the information is too regionally specific. Her advice could be applied in New London, MN, as well as it can be in London, England. The goal of Backyard Homesteader is to help people approach self-sufficiency “gently and gradually.”
The book starts in the garden, including offering plans for properties as small as a suburban backyard or as large as several acres. She covers the basics from garden planning to compost and soil testing to season-extension strategies such as the use of cloches and a greenhouse. Seed starting, planting and the specifics of raising a variety of crops, including a fruit orchard, are all covered briskly. I really appreciated the section on what to do in the garden when, giving readers a map of the year in an intensive garden.
About half the book is devoted to gardening, with the last half focusing on other elements of a self-sufficient lifestyle. She discusses livestock, such as chickens, pigs, bees and goats. (Remember, these aren’t pets, she warns.) The book also covers foraging, fishing and hunting—elements of self-sufficiency many Minnesotans are familiar with. It deals with nuts-and-bolts issues like water management, energy conservation and food preservation.
If you are a potential backyard homesteader, it’s a good book to start with to give you an overview of what backyard homesteading can be. If your focus is more on the garden alone, other books to consider would be Homegrown Pantry, Groundbreaking Food Gardens, or any of the books on permaculture.