18 Authors, 30 Books (Great Homesteading and Farming Books)

On day eleven of our “So You Want to Be a Homesteader Series” we are learning from other homesteaders and farmers.  Now, there is nothing like learning first hand; sitting in a kitchen watching a farm wife deftly move from task to task.  Asking a homesteader how much wood you need to get through winter (3 cords ought to do ya if you live somewhere chilly), or working with a lifelong gardener for a summer is priceless.  And as you live this lifestyle you do find yourself gravitating and meeting more like minded folks.  But overall, there isn’t a lot of us per capita.  Trial and error plays a huge part in the learning curve for all of us.  But most of my education has been through books and memoirs.

These are just a hand full of great books I enjoyed.  I gleaned bits and gems of information and ideas from the day to day lives of regular folk trying to make a living as a farmer, trying to simplify life as a homesteader, or getting back to nature and a grounded life living off grid.  I have laughed, I have cried, I have learned.  And for books and the ability to read, I am incredibly grateful.  So, here are 18 authors and 30 books to check out and enjoy over a cup of tea.  Get ready to get inspired!  (An asterisk * denotes my favorite books.  The ones that really stuck with me.)

*1- A great place to start is with Jenna Woginrich.  Her books are some of my favorites.  Made From Scratch; Discovering the Pleasures of a Homemade Life is the first book I read in a long line of homesteading and farming books.  It is the book that made me go from, “Oh, that looks fun!” to “Let’s do this.”  Her series of books takes us from a rental in Idaho to her forever farm in New York with lots of lessons along the way.  Makes you want a hard cider and a fiddle.  

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2- Laura Ingalls Wilder may not have set out to be a teacher of all things homesteading when she wrote her nine books, but through these enchanting memoirs (which are mostly true, just the time lines are slightly different), the reader learns so much.  I gleaned a lot of practical farming and homesteading advice from reading these as an adult.  They are also beautifully written and hopelessly romantic.

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*3- If There’s Squash Bugs in Heaven, I Ain’t Staying is one of the best books I have read.  Stacia Spragg-Braude writes the story of an elder in Corrales, New Mexico.  We find ourselves in her adobe kitchen with preserves covering the counters, out in the fields learning generations of farming tips and hoeing chilies.  Evelyn’s life is beautifully written out in these pages and the lessons and history are sound.  I never had squash bugs before moving to Pueblo, but I now share that sentiment as well!

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4- Goat Song by Brad Kessler taught me the most about goats and cheesemaking.  I was inspired and enchanted as I walked through the woods with his goats, their bells clanging as I turned the pages.

5- Hit By a Farm and Sheepish by Catherine Friend taught me the most about sheep.  I loved my lambs, Olaf and Sven, and I hope to have a few again.  The author holds nothing back as she recounts her life with sheep.

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6- The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball was a good book.  I did enjoy it and learned quite a bit from it about raising cattle, CSA’s, and the adjustment it takes to lead this kind of life.

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7- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the most inspiring book when it comes to local eating and sustainable farming for one’s own family.  It is filled with recipes and great advice.  Solid knowledge to help you walk away from the petroleum dripping banana and pick up a tomato start.

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*8- The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather is not so much about homesteading or farming, but about making do and eating locally.  The story is inspiring, the recipes mouthwatering, and the wisdom will make you want a Dutch oven and a wood stove.

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9- Farm City by Novella Carpenter was recommended to me by one of my old farm interns.  He said I must get it and I will be wanting pigs in the front yard in no time!  I actually still have no desire to raise pigs (I will leave that to Alli and Cindy) but I was intrigued by the vacant lot farm in a rough neighborhood of Oakland and her drive to eat locally.

*10- Kurt Timmermeister’s books are genius in prose and inspiration.  Growing a Farmer gets us started and Growing a Feast inspires us to take up bee keeping, cheese making, and put on a heck of a farm-to-table dinner for friends.

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*11- Off on Our Own by Ted Carns was the most inspiring book when it comes to going off grid.  I loved his laid back tone, the pond in the living room, his views on life.  It made me wish I were handier but it gave me ideas!

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12- Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn was a cute book filled with real life, real decisions, and a quote Doug and I still use to this day about animals having many good days and one bad day on a farm.  Factory farm animals have lots of bad days and a super bad day at the end.  Her personal memoir is lovely and filled with great tips.

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13- Turn Here Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley was a good book.  It was marked with fights for land and other policies, a good tome of reality and life.

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*14- Better Off was one of my favorite books.  It is high time I read it again.  I was upset when I had no more pages to read!  Eric Brende and his wife’s experiment living with the Amish was at once educational and captivating as they figured out wood stoves, pumpkin farming, and the joys of a simple life.

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15- The Bucolic Plague will leave you laughing and wanting to visit upstate New York.  From the Martha Stewart Show to the small (slightly drunk) turkey on the Thanksgiving table, I was mesmerized by the characters and stories that Josh Kilmer-Purcell shares in this entertaining book.

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16- This Organic Life is one I need to read again.  I remember bits and pieces of it.  Her tale of local food and her passion to grow all of her food are the sentiments left with me.

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*17- Wisdom of a Radish is another favorite.  Her experiences directly helped me to be a better farmer and see what it takes to keep up.  Her prose is witty and sharp.  There is a quote in there that I use still regarding f@*k up tomatoes.  Read it!  You’ll love it.

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*18- Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 by Katie Lynn Sanders (What?!  I am one of my favorite authors!)  This comprehensive manual is our first two years blogging and farming with plenty of how-to’s, from cheesemaking to homeschooling to canning corn.

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Some of these books focus on living off grid, simply, and some of them focus on farming or ranching, while others focus on homesteading.  There are a lot of facets to living simply.  There is solar and oil lamps, sewing and crocheting, shearing and milking, chickens and ducks, medicinal herbs and growing food.  There is canning and chopping wood, letter writing, and there are great books to read and tea to be brewed.  There is a never ending learning curve and plenty of experiences to enrich your life.

There are so many books that I can vaguely remember the cover but not the title or author.  So many books I did not include here!  Here are a few more books that I discovered that I will have to get soon!  I have begun work on my own extensive farming memoir.  What are your favorite homesteading and farming books?

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Growing Older Joan Gussow

 

So You Want to Be a Homesteader (27 ways, a new series)

I read a blog post that talked about homesteading.  In it the author states that people in the city can say they are gardeners, can say they are homemakers, but cannot say that they are homesteaders.  I beg to differ.  I have homesteaded in the country, a small town, and in the city.  Our plan is to get back on land, but that does not change our lifestyle.  In fact, I believe we are actually more sustainable in the city.  We are just missing a well and a couple of goats.

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The word homesteading isn’t really a relevant word anymore because the government is not giving us parcels of land to try to live on for five years before we get to keep it.  So, we need to go by the new definition of homesteading and leave it open to everyone.  You can homestead anywhere.  Homesteading starts and ends with high self sufficiency, appreciation for the natural world, sustainability, community, health, and pride in hard work that we do ourselves.

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Homesteading can be done on any level, but as you grow your own food, chop your own wood, eat from your own root cellar, create your own medicines, it does get addictive.  This is a great lifestyle and one that anyone can incorporate into their lives.  The more aspects of it that you pick up, the more money you save, the healthier physiologically and psychologically you become, and things that are really important come to the forefront of life.  Family, food, security, counting blessings, and the good life.

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I have come up with a list of 27 ways to start homesteading.  27 aspects of homesteading that keep a heart humming, the fam fed, and the home fires burning.  Join me over the next month as I cover each one to inspire, teach, and swap ideas with you.  We will talk about searching for land, preserving, growing, animals, home arts, and more!

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27 Ways to Homestead

  1. Organic gardening
  2. Canning
  3. Fermenting
  4. Dehydrating food
  5. Smoking food
  6. Freezing food
  7. Raising chickens
  8. Fishing/Hunting
  9. Supporting local farmers
  10. Bread baking
  11. Cooking three meals a day
  12. Preparing simple, unprocessed food
  13. Sewing/Mending
  14. Crocheting
  15. Purchasing second hand
  16. Cheese making
  17. Generating your own electricity
  18. Generating your own heat
  19. Making your own medicine
  20. Making your own cleaning products
  21. Making your own body products
  22. Making homemade gifts and cards
  23. Free entertainment
  24. Learning to make everything from scratch
  25. Budgeting
  26. Using original homesteading items that last
  27. Learning from other homesteaders

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Go get yourself a cute apron and let’s get to work!  We are embarking on the good life.

How to Become a Homesteader-Part 2-Skills

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We try to learn two new skills each year.  There are some skills that are imperative to the survival of a homesteader.  Actually, not just for homesteaders, anyone who is trying to live as simply and on as few funds as possibly (less work for a paycheck=more freedom to live life how you want).  It is nice to have more than one person living on a homestead (doesn’t have to be a spouse) because generally what one person can’t do, or doesn’t care to do, the other can.  And for the things that neither are very good at, bartering with someone that has that skill set is invaluable.  Here is a rough list of important skills to learn to be a homesteader.

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1. Cooking– I have been cooking since I was quite small and Doug was a bachelor for some time before we got married so we both know how to cook.  That doesn’t mean that restaurants weren’t our worst vice!  We haven’t sworn off restaurants completely and we do go out more than our other homesteading friends.  I do, however, cook the vast majority of our meals.  And if I am too tired to cook in the morning Doug will fry up a delicious hash (fried potatoes, onions, garlic, eggs, and any vegetables or fish we have).

Cooking is not only obviously important to the modest budget required in a homestead, but it is better for you as well.  You need to stay strong while doing farm chores!  It is also much more ecologically friendly.  You can decide how many pesticides to put in your body, how many miles your food travelled, and how many boxes you put in the landfill.

We rarely buy anything in a box.  We use whole ingredients and in bulk if possible.  Grains, fresh vegetables fruits, or the ones we canned or froze, fish, legumes, eggs, milk, and cheese, make up our various meals along with a lot of great spices and flavor.  It is easy to put together meals with so much selection.  And because they weren’t in boxes, but rather larger bags or serve yourself, they were cheaper too.  I can add my own flavorings without all the additives.

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2. Gardening– Being able to grow your own food is a wondrous thing.  The cost of seeds is much less than the cost of groceries with the added benefit of being in the sunshine, knowing where your food came from, having all the nutrients still available, and helping out the bees.

One can successfully garden in a plot, the front yard, in five gallon buckets on the porch, anywhere really!  I combine all of these to get enough space!

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3. Canning– After World War II, women wanted a different life.  Canning, cleaning, country living, many normal ways of life were shunned in favor of city living, jobs, packaged food, cleaning ladies, and the earlier ways of living were thought of as mundane and peasant, if you will.

Canning is a great way to survive on a fixed income.  By putting up all the produce the summer brings (even if that means buying a bushel from a nearby farm) we don’t let all that glorious produce go to waste and come winter we scarcely ever need to go to the grocery store!  Just look in the pantry!

Canning is enjoyable as well.  It is a great sound when those jars click shut.  It is particularly fun with margaritas and other women to help!

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4. Fencing– This was one of the first things Doug had to learn and quick.  Come two squirrely, runaway goat kids, we had to learn to reinforce and put up good fencing on the cheap.  We have found that T-posts and pasture fencing are affordable options and moveable if necessary.  We will easily be able to fence in a large area off of the current goat pen for the goats and new arrivals.

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5. Building and Fixing– I grew up in a home where my mom taught us girls how to do every domestic chore.  I am grateful for that.  I have never pushed a lawn mower or changed my own oil though.  My dad built their house by hand.  He can fix anything, my brother can too, but I was not taught these things.  Doug grew up in a house where if something broke, they called someone in.  So, when we first got together and something would break, I’d say, “Aren’t you going to fix that?” and he would look at me like I was crazy.  We spent a lot of money on hiring people over the years and we needed to learn how to build and fix things.  This is a skill we will work on more this year.  This is one that we barter classes or computer support for.  I traded a class for a fabulous cold frame.  We would like a better milking shed too.  Neither of us even know where to start!  That is where knowing how to barter comes in handy.  But we also need to learn for ourselves.

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6. Animal Care– Animals are an important part of a homestead.  For many they are a source of meat, but for this vegetarian farm, they are a source of food, fiber, and comedy shows.  We love our chickens and their eggs.  We love our goats, their milk, and the dairy products that we make from the milk.  We can sell their kids and milk shares to help cover costs of feed.  We are looking forward to our new sheep and their fleece as well as the new alpaca, Buddy the Cotton-headed-ninny-muggins.

We have needed to learn how to trim their feet, and how to know when they are sick, and what to give them.  How to put an animal out of its misery (still working on that one, we are getting a revolver this year), and how to house and feed them.  In my opinion, animals make the homestead.  Sharing your life with other creatures makes things more complete.

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7. Fire starting– We heat our house with wood and a propane heater.  We got the bill for the propane.  Next month we are putting in another wood stove that our friend found us so no more propane!  We have a lot of wood stacked up and Doug learned to wield an axe.  It keeps him in shape, helps him blow off steam, and keeps us in wood.  But it took us a bit to figure out how to get the fire started easily!  We weren’t scouts and we never needed to do much else but throw one of those ready to burn logs into an outdoor fireplace at a party.  We learned quick!

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8. Sewing– Being able to mend old clothes or turn too old of clothes into quilts and projects saves you from having to purchase it at the store.  Remember, anything we currently purchase at the store we want to learn to do ourselves!  I can make the baby dresses, sew a semi-decent quilt, and mend but I would like to learn this year how to sew more elaborate clothing, like men’s shirts and dresses for myself.

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9. Fiber Arts– Being able to knit a pair of warm socks is high on my list of skills I would like to master this year.  Along with animal shearing, carding, spinning, and dying yarn.

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10. Learning to Entertain Oneself– Being able to not be bored easily.  To be able to rest and entertain oneself is high in importance.  We can’t very well run off to see a stage production downtown anymore or away for a week in New Mexico.  We also don’t have a big cable package or media entertainment.  We read, write, draw, walk, have folks over, visit others, play with the baby, and sit outside in the sun.

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Being a homesteader doesn’t mean that one does less work.  Nay, you might end up doing doubled!  All of these skills take time.  Time is what you will have and it is much nicer to be doing what you would like on your own time and schedule wherever you please.  It is all good, pleasant work.  And learning to rest and play is important as well.  This is a great lifestyle.  I highly recommend it if you are thinking of living this way!  A good skill set makes it all the easier.

5 Steps To Becoming a Homesteader (or just simplifying your life)

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1.Write down your goals. 

Do you want to quit your job?  Move to the country?  Have an urban farm?  Homestead on the weekends?  Live a more peaceful, mindful life? 

We have been on the path to simplicity and homesteading for about seven years now.  It started with reading books like “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” by Barbara Kingsolver and wanting to learn to can and grow all of our own food.  I started canning (badly) and started a sad little garden in the city.  I got better!

Our goals were to leave our corporate world and busy suburban lifestyle.  When Doug had a nervous breakdown our timeline sped up.  Our goals constantly change and morph each year.  We have a pretty extreme list of homesteading goals right now.  I have no way of knowing if they will work, but I have written them down and am working towards them.  Ask and you shall receive!

  • Find a place with a small house that has a wood stove.  Wood cook stove?  Even better.  Said house should be around $850 a month.  Don’t laugh, it could happen.
  • Small house would be on a bit of land.  I need a full acre of garden.  A quarter acre at the moment provides us with 90% of our vegetables during the summer and early fall, and 80% of the medicinal herbs I use.  Another quarter acre could be the remaining herbs I need to grow, and additional fresh eating vegetables, plus a pond.  A green house and hoop houses could inhabit part of the remaining half acre and a large preservation garden (everything I need to can) and a spice garden (Lord, do I spend a lot on spices!) could round out this menagerie of growing Eden.  An orchard would be added as well and then of course we need room to walk about, have our goats, chickens, and ducks, and be able to ride our bikes to town.
  • A composting toilet and gray water systems could be in place.  We will use as little electricity as possible.
  • This will be a haven for our friends, children, grandchildren, and wildlife.

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2. Learn two skills. 

There was a vast amount of information about homesteading lost with our past generations.  We just don’t know how to do many of the basic skills and farmstead chores anymore.  Find a mentor or a class or a great book and make a goal to learn two things.  Two things a month, or two things a year, whatever works for you.   

A few years ago on this homestead I wanted chickens and to preserve almost all of our food for winter.  The next year I wanted goats and alpacas and to learn to spin.  I learned to spin, didn’t like it, didn’t care for the alpacas, gave away the alpacas, fell in love with goats, got more chickens, and canned over 500 items.  Homesteading is constant rearranging of goals.  This year we got bees and ducks and started growing almost all of our medicinal herbs.  We dug up the driveway to make more space to garden.  Last year we dug up the front and side yards.  Last year I learned to make soft cheese, this year hard cheese.  Doug has learned fencing methods and how to milk a goat.

We have learned what we enjoy, what we don’t, what’s a waste of time, what’s imperative to our homesteading journey.  Learning everything at once is not possible and would be overwhelming.  Just pick two skills.  What do you want to learn?

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3. Get Money Savvy    

Rethink your finances.  Get out of debt.  Stay out of debt.  But don’t wait for pristine credit before you make the jump.

Our BIGGEST mistake that will continue to haunt us for years to come was getting into debt.  We had fourteen credit cards, owned our house (or the bank did), had two car payments and had amazing, perfect credit.  Ironic, isn’t it?  We took the Dave Ramsey program at our church six years ago and it changed our lives.  We paid off and cut up all of our credit cards.  We do not have any still.  We paid off a lot of debt.  We then lost our house and one of our cars in the crash and our credit went to crap.  Which didn’t matter at the time because we were content renting for half the price of our house in Parker.  We have everything we need but there is the little matter of $50 grand from the second mortgage that still says it is an open account and $25,000 for the student loans we still owe.  There should be a money back guarantee.  If you don’t use your degree you should get a refund.  I do not see, with the interest rates the way they are, how we would ever in this lifetime pay these off.  If you are in debt, get out.  If you are not, do not venture into that pitfall.

Save a hundred dollars a month.  Pay yourself first.  Put it in a coffee can or the bank.

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4.  Simplify.  REALLY Simplify!

Every hour you work is money spent on something.  How many hours do you have to work to make enough to pay for the car?  Gas?  The house?  Cable?  Cell phones?  Restaurants?  Is it worth it?  What do you need?  How much time would you like?

It goes against every grain of our society to make less.  The mantra is make more, spend more, the more you make the more you can give, the more you can have, the more secure you will be.  Wrong.  I highly recommend you read “Radical Simplicity” by Jim Merkel.  It outlines our footprint on this planet as well as radically simplifying your life.  If you work less, you leave more work for others.  If you consume less, you leave more for others.  If you have less, you have to work less (this does not include the good kind of work on your own time on a farmstead).  The less you consume, the less resources you take from the planet, less pollution, less animal habitat loss, less unfairness.  Do you need a huge house?  Do you need to buy all of that packaged stuff?  Does it really bring happiness?

My goals are to lessen even more.  We are stressing over bills still and have too much stuff.  What is it with the seven sets of (gorgeous) antique dishes in my cupboards?  All the clothes I don’t wear?  The jewelry I don’t wear?  Where is our money going?  I am now writing it all down, the spending for each day.  See where the leaks are.  See what we don’t need.  What we don’t need to buy.  How much is everything really costing us?

And despite the stressing of leaching money, I want to make less.  No, I have not lost my mind.  I want to stay beneath the poverty line.  I have all the food I need, I am looking at lessening my rent, getting rid of my water bill and most of the electric bill, driving less, less gas money and wear and tear.  High taxes?  Don’t have them.  Where is your money going?

I am ready to simplify even more.  Make less money.  Offer medicines on a donation basis so that everyone can afford them.  Does cable television make us happy?  We don’t really watch it, so no.  That glass of wine in the evenings?  Yes, I don’t have to give that up.  By freeing up your money and where you spend it, you have only what you need and love.  And lots of time to watch the sunset and play with baby goats.

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5. Just Do It!

No more five year plan, maybe next year, only if he gets a raise, or when the kids move out.  There are no guarantees you will live long enough to live the life you really want.  Now is the time to act!

What can I say?  I have friends my age in their forties heading on to the Great Beyond and ones in their eighties who are too tired to do any more.  What is the best time to pursue your goals, cut your spending drastically, move to the place of your dreams, and start living self sufficiently?  Now is a real good time.  And if you cannot move yet or don’t want to, if you don’t want to quit your job or change much at all, just learn a few skills.  Cheese making?  Crocheting?  And urban garden?  Simplifying and homesteading can be done on many levels.

 

 

 

Homesteading Freedom

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Everything costs something; either time or money.  Everything will require something as its payment.  We used to have a cleaning lady, nice cars, enjoyed expensive restaurants, took the kids on cruises.  We worked hard for the money and spent it on what we deemed the good life.  But it was a farce.  It was an illusion of freedom.  Behind cubicle walls and by his phone strapped to his belt, Doug was actually a prisoner.  I, too, even though I owned my own business and raised my own children, was stuck in the “gotta make more money” and “need more time” trap that so many moms feel these days.

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I remember clearly a conversation that my friends and I were having at dinner one night when we talked about organic, vegetarian food compared to quick, processed food.  They were arguing with me that theirs was far cheaper.  I said, “A bag of organic beans is less than two dollars!”  “But you have to spend more time making everything.  We don’t have time.  You have to spend more time to save money.”

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Doug and I are working ridiculous amounts of hours right now.  We are putting up money and goods for the winter like little squirrels….exhausted ones!  But we know the trade off.  One always has to work.  What will you work for?  I want to work on preparing and storing my own food, making what clothing I can, selling excess to help pay bills, creating and selling herbal medicines to support us on our own time.  We heal people, we are as self sufficient as we can be at this moment, we work hard, but we fall into bed satisfied each evening.  We are much happier than we ever were when our tax returns said we were living a good life.  We know that we traded money for time.  Time spent doing things we want to do and creating a life that is more satisfying to us than our run-around city life.

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We try to walk softer on the earth.  Not use so many resources.  Pollute less.  Use less electricity.  Buy less stuff.  Stay home more and enjoy each other and our animals.  We have created a life no one expected us to have.  Don’t wait.  Don’t do the five year plan….the “when I retire”….”the when I get land”….the “when I get married”…the “when the kids move out”…just do it.  If you want to live simply.  If you want to take that leap of faith to become a homesteader, do it now. Life goes faster than anyone wants to admit, and the peace of living as a homesteader far outweighs any fears.  Homesteading is freedom.