Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) by Angela England Published by ALPHA December 4, 2012.
Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) is the book I wished I had 30 years ago, when I first imagined our homesteading dream. It is comprehensive. It is actionable. Not like the first homesteading book I read, which was just a list of recipes from all over the USA, in no particular order, Angela England’s new book offers a thorough, step by step plan to add more self reliance to your life, whether you have a lot in town, a half acre in the suburbs, or a quarter section in rural paradise. My favourite part of this book is its emphasis on getting started right now, where you are at, even in a city apartment.
If you have dreamed of homesteading someday, after you’ve paid off your debts, or after your partner retires, or after you find your dream rural property, you need to get this book and change your mindset. The reality is that the homestead lifestyle, will help you pay off your debt, it will help you get the lifestyle you want, while you are working in town, and it will prepare you to be more self sufficient even in the city. This isn’t one of those antique homestead books that says you have to find a remote location and be off grid to be a successful homesteader. It takes into account the modern realities of backyard chicken ordinances, ordering stock by telephone, and reliance on feedmills. The book even has suggestions for being more self-reliant from the feedmill, something many of the modern livestock books lack.
You don’t have to make a huge life change in order to begin a backyard farm. For most of the people in the United States, it’s possible to begin living more self-sufficiently right where you are. Don’t wait for “the perfect setup” to get started. Start growing your own food now, even if it’s just 10 percent to start. Start doing for yourself. Start lessening your footprint. Start making things for yourself instead of having “buy it from the store” as your default mind-set. (p. 27)
Backyard Farming is organized in the way most people adapt to the homestead lifestyle, beginning with gardening and moving into small livestock, and then bees. The book is divided into 5 parts. Part 1 “Living large on a small scale,” sets out the framework of the sustainable philosophy behind this lifestyle. This section discusses the growing food crisis, and leads the reader through different land choices from rural acreage to a lot in the city, zoning restrictions, water availability, and size restraints, offering several plans to get you off to a good start.
Part 2 looks at gardening from an intensive and organic mindset.
First, assess how much space you have. Include concrete patios and porches in this assessment. Any area that will get around six hours of sunlight or more can be adapted to a productive place. Balconies, window sills, patios, front yards, side borders, and more can be adapted and used to grow fruits and vegetables. Even relatively small backyards can house rabbits, chickens, or bees. (p. 27)
The book offers growing conditions for several vegetables, fruit, perennials, and herbs that the backyard gardener in a temperate zone would consider.
Part 3 explores raising livestock for eggs, milk, fiber, and meat. Butchering is handled in part 4 in only 3 pages, so this isn’t your sole resource for that.
Animals cared for in a well-maintained system will not suffer the diseases of overcrowding, poor eating, stress, and misuse as animals in the typical commercial systems. Learn how to create a system that respects the land and your animals at the same time. Whether you want to raise animals for meat, eggs, milk, fiber, or honey, you’ll find some great options for getting started. (179)
Part 3 lists several animal breeds under each species, that are appropriate for different uses or that are dual purpose. Not every possible option is listed but enough of the main breeds to set you in the right direction. If you are just starting out raising livestock, this book will give you enough information to allow you to search online for more information or to let you visit local breeders to get an idea of your local resources for breeding stock. The book will give you a good idea of the housing and forage needs of different livestock so you can make the best decision for your specific situation.
Part 4 focuses on “Enjoying the Bounty” and offers a guide for eating seasonally, canning, freezing, dehydrating, and making herbal infusions, vinegars, and tinctures. This section includes a few recipes and some instructions, but only scratches the surface of the true bounty available from your backyard farm. From here you’ll be able to find additional cookbooks or more comprehensive how-to guides in the areas that catch your interest, from Amazon, or from my daily “Free Kindle Books for Homesteaders Lists“.
Part 5 was my favourite part of the book — “Crafting from the Backyard Farm.” Here you’ll find instructions for making butter, cheese, and yogourt; spinning yarn, dyeing fiber, weaving, knitting, and even marketing your wool — a total of 11 pages of fiber fun. These wonderful crafts are followed by cider and wine making, soap making, basketry, candling, and other fun crafts that make use of your homestead abundance. While each of these areas could warrant a complete book on its own, Ms. England makes a good effort of tantalizing you with the abundant possibilities inherent in the self-sufficient lifestyle.
There were a few omissions in this section that warrant mentioning. While the book discusses herbed vinegars, the simple steps for making apple cider vinegar are omitted. There are no recipes for jams, jellies, or pectin making. There are no fermented vegetables like Kimchi or sauerkraut, although root cellaring is discussed briefly in part 4. The book is over 400 pages of good homestead help, so these omissions aren’t a handicap, but the book would be better with them included.
While the book is comprehensive, it isn’t perfect. There’s a picture of a woolly sheep bedded down in wood shavings. The mistake will be realized at shearing time, when the fleece is trashed because of contamination. As a spinner and weaver, this kind of bothered me. If you have angora rabbits, woolly sheep, or angora or cashmere goats — never, ever, ever, use wood shavings as bedding. Straw works best if you plan to use the wool for anything but compost.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and loved the perspective that you can start right now, where you live — even in the city apartment — to make a more self-reliant and sustainable life for yourself and your family. Its what I say on my blog. Its what I say on my Facebook page. Start now. Start today. And take another step toward self reliant, sustainable living. Getting this book will help you with that.
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Whether you get the book or not, subscribe to the newsletter at the Backyard Farming site to get more information about the book. There’s other valuable resources there, as well, like plans for chicken coops and rabbit hutches to help you on your journey. Backyard Farming has a Facebook page, too. There’s an online Launch Party coming up on December 18th, with more prizes — check it out here.
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I received a complimentary review copy of the book for the purpose of this review. This review represents my honest opinion of the book.