Book Review :: The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture

The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem
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I love this book! But don’t stop there.

I love this book because not only does it get into the philosophy behind permaculture, it gives you examples of permaculture and the knowledge to design a permaculture system to fit your space and needs. I simply could not put this book down. The author packed this so full of great, useful information that I couldn’t even skim! That’s a big thing to me… I’m a book skimmer. I can get the general message of a book by flipping through or speed reading through the paragraphs, but I found myself actually going back a page and re-reading some of what was written. Not because it was difficult to understand, but because the methods in this book made me think. I love books that make me think! I even had have scratch paper stuffed in the back of the book with notes of crops and ideas I would like to try and especially things that I would like to change about what we are already doing.

The author covers everything I could possibly hope for in this book. How to do everything yourself from compost tea and log beds to trellising and mushroom logs. For the first time, I discovered theories behind building soil up instead of tilling (foreign concept to me) and tree guilds. I had no idea that some of these methods actually produced greater yields than conventional American gardening. I say “American” gardening because, thanks to high school history, I remember that the English would arrange their gardens from shortest shrub to tallest tree. Tree guilds remind me of this, but include so many more components that can give you even more food in the same amount of space without plants competing with each other. Simply enlightening!


The whole idea behind permaculture just amazes me. I didn’t really have the most educated idea of what “permaculture” meant before, but through this book I have become much more familiar with the concept. So if you are struggling with what permaculture is or why everyone is so ga-ga over it, please please read this book. You need it.

The concept of “inputs and outputs” is something I have been very interested in and just didn’t know how to best execute it on our property before. The idea is that you produce no waste. None.
Example: You input water to your garden and the garden produces (output) vegetables and grains. Your chickens eat the grains (input) and produce eggs and manure (output). The chicken manure is input to the garden to help produce more vegetables and grain. And so it continues.
Obviously that is a very simple example, but imagine that your whole garden, all your animals, and you, are able to have a working relationship between each other where the needs of one element are filled by the yields of another element. It’s a full circle folks.


So, obviously, I am enamored by this book… which doesn’t happen often. But if you still aren’t convinced that this book is worth it, just wait until spring and summer when I show off our new permaculture-inspired changes. I have a ton of ideas to try out to make our micro farm much more of a closed system. I would love to go all out one day, but until then I have a list a mile long of aspects of our farm that can improve and how to improve them. Trevor will be rolling his eyes and regretting buying this book for me, but I’m sure you will look forward to seeing what comes of this!

Happy reading!

Put ’em Up!

Yesterday I spent about two hours putting up these beauties…


Two hours might sound like a long time, but we’re talking from ground to processed canning jar. Not too bad for a novice canner I’d say. I have canned food before, but not a whole lot. Last year I “put up” (don’t I sound like a pro with that canning lingo?) a liter of pickled beets and two liters of tomatoes. Needless to say, I’m not terribly experienced when it comes to canning, but I have made a basic pickling brine before so that helps.

I used one of my new books, Put ’em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton for recipes. I used two simple ones this time, Dilly Beans and Dilled Carrots, but there are over a hundred fun and interesting ones in there. This is officially my new canning book. It goes through the basics of canning, using the water bath method, drying, freezing, and infusing to preserve your harvest. The rest of the book is stuffed with yummy recipes like spicy carrots, appled brandy, charred chili barbecue sauce, figs in honey syrup, homemade raisins, and rhubarb chutney with cloves. The recipes alone will brighten up your pantry and get you through the dreary winter.


Out of 16 square feet of my garden, I harvested and canned 5 quart jars worth of Parisene and Danvers Half-Long carrots and 6 quart jars of Contender and Yellow bush beans. That’s not all we’ve harvested though. I’m working on a count for you. Otherwise, I think we have a good start to a food pantry… now if we only had a pantry.


Book Review :: The Backyard Homestead


Book Review :: The Backyard Homestead
Edited by Carleen Madigan, Storey Publishing 2009

As a heavy reader, I bore quite easily if a non-fiction book doesn’t get to the point or is too “fluffed up” with redundant information. This is certainly not the case with The Backyard Homestead. So many relevant subjects are covered for the beginner, the experienced, and the space-challenged alike.

Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about this book. It starts out with visual examples of what you can do with one-tenth, one-quarter, or one-half of an acre. I loved being able to open up the first few pages to show my husband exactly what more we could be fitting in our small space here. The great illustrations and examples of seasonal garden layouts really help you to imagine your own well-manicured lot in bloom. All of the different subjects are delivered clearly and definitely and even include tips, tricks, and troubleshooting.

The Backyard Homestead covers everything I’ve been trying to look up on the Internet in one convenient spot with everything from building different types of cold frames to what should be pressure canned and what can go in the water bath canner. Crop rotation plans and planting guides for common garden fruits and veggies come in handy everywhere throughout the book.

This book also has a wonderful section on growing, harvesting, and cooking your own grains. I would have never known that rye is a grain that is not only easy to grow, but it loves poor soil (something we have in abundance) and it does not have hulls that need to be removed. There isn’t a homesteading book I’ve read yet that has a whole chapter on grain comparisons and growing your own for bread.

I love that it features the less obvious aspects of homesteading. Less popular subjects are given new life for backyard homesteader such as: rabbits (thank you), how to handle your fresh milk, meat cuts, sausage, smokers (I want to try to build one this summer), and the ins and outs of beekeeping. All the things we micro-farmers thought only the big guys could do now seem that much more attainable in small spaces. This book will be a treasured reference on my bookshelf for years to come.

Thumbs up!

Book Review :: The Back to Basics Handbook

The Back to Basics Handbook: A Guide to Buying and Working Land, Raising Livestock, Enjoying Your Harvest, Household Skills and Crafts, and More
by Abigail R. Gehring

After a disappointing “homesteading” book a month or so ago, I really scoured the Internet reading reviews on other books of a similar nature. I was able to find this title at the local bookstore, Mountain Bookshop.

Wow! Just wow. I love the material covered in this book. Albeit, not every subject is covered in great detail, this book will give you the basics in everything from building your homestead and wind systems to livestock and fruit trees. It is crazy how much I have learned from this one book.

While buying or building on land doesn’t apply to me yet, I really appreciate the thought that was given into this chapter. The author goes into how to raise a barn, tap into a water supply, and build various types of fences. Fences apply to everyone.

The chapter on gardening was also especially helpful. It gave detailed descriptions as well as handy little charts on natural pest control. I loved that. Who wants to buy expensive pesticides (not to mention contaminate your food) when you can use simple wood ash to get rid of common pests like aphids? This chapter also got me interested in home fish farming. Something I would have never thought of without this book. When you think of livestock it’s the usual: cows, goats, sheep, horses, pigs. This book brings the underdogs into play: rabbits, fish, bees. Most people can only raise the underdogs and I appreciate that smaller homesteads were taken into consideration.

Butchering and preserving is always needed in a book like this and the author also thought to include maple sugaring and bread baking. I hope to put this whole section into use someday as we have access to a sugar maple tree. The book also covers fiber arts -spinning, dying, weaving- and the basics of making candles, soaps, and handwoven baskets.

Really, what else do you need to know? This book covers everything. I love any book that I can open right up and answer a question I have about this or that. It has also opened my eyes to other aspects of homesteading or self-sufficient living that aren’t as commonly written about. Happy reading!

– Sarah

Book Review :: Modern Homestead

Book Review :: Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create by Renee Wilkinson

This book is more of a compilation of summaries of a few things that can be done to start your homesteading efforts. Unfortunately, none of the chapters go into detail on any one subject.
It also seems a little off balance. The book begins with lots of ideas on homesteading in small rented spaces, but then has a whole section devoted to raising goats. If your focus is renters, why devote so many pages to an animal most renters can only dream of having?

I also found that the first chapter a little irrelevant. It is all about what renters can do in small spaces and how to organize community gardens.
Obviously if you bought this book you are interested in homesteading so you will be trying everything that you possibly can in whatever space you have. I’m not sure most people need to read thirty pages worth of different combinations and capabilities.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book however. I just wouldn’t have spent $30 on it.
I did have a good time seeing the author’s humor in print and the book was very easy to read. I was also inspired to keep goats myself from the chapter on animals. The sections on chickens, ducks, and bees were also very informative and helpful for those starting out with our winged friends. I appreciated listings of common and recommended breeds for goats, chickens, and ducks.

Being that I know little to nothing about canning and preserving, I enjoyed reading the chapter that covered the different methods. It did, however, leave me wanting more on this subject. I think the unnecessary thirty pages on community gardening could have been used for this much more useful purpose.

All in all, it’s a great book for people who don’t know if they are well suited for “homesteading”, but maybe not for someone who has already gotten started. It will still have a place on my bookshelf.

– Sarah