The Backyard Homestead
By Barb Biggs, BCPL branch manager
About a year ago, my husband and I made a decision. It was something that my younger self (the one that dreamed of brownstones in Brooklyn) would never have imagined. We moved to a farm. Granted, it is a small farm, but we moved to a farm where there are cows in the backyard and wild turkeys in the woods and a family of foxes that lounge in the old barn.
We made this decision for a lot of reasons: we wanted our two small boys to have a large backyard to run and play in, we wanted to start a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, we wanted to eat food that we grew. My only experience with growing vegetables was my very, very small garden in the very, very small backyard of our old home. I had maybe five tomato plants, a few peppers, some eggplants, and some herbs, and mint that grew and spread, and grew and spread.
I knew that if we were going to be even remotely successful, we would have to do some serious studying. We read many books, but the one that we find ourselves referring to over and over is The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. It is such a helpful guide to beginning a self-sustaining homestead that I have found myself buying it for curious friends and recommending it to people who don’t have a lot of space but want to get into the local food scene. It is published by Storey, and so I was confident from the beginning that the information was reliable and useful.
One of the first things the book asks you to do is think about what you eat, meal by meal, so you can really maximize your planting strategy. For example, if you eat a lot of zucchini, it would be beneficial to grow, because it’s an easy plant and it produces abundantly. If you eat a lot of pasta, grow plenty of tomatoes and make homemade sauce to preserve (it’s tastier, cheaper, and you know where it came from!).
Another really great thing about The Backyard Homestead is that it also gives information about preserving the foods you produce. You can freeze, can, or utilize a root cellar. Even if you don’t have the amazing bounty you envisioned, you can still use these tips to preserve food from local farms. There is also information about keeping livestock, including some general advice about making sure you’re following the local and state laws regarding keeping animals, as well as choosing the breeds that are right for you goals, be it meat or eggs or milk. There are helpful garden and yard lay-out illustrations to help you maximize your space, and guides for when to plant, depth of planting, crop rotation, and spacing.
The Backyard Homestead might not be the most useful guide for seasoned farmers or gardeners, but it is a great jumping-off point for those new to the dirt world. My copy has been well-used, and even has made the trek out to my garden a number of times for quick reference.
The Backyard Homestead can be found at all three branches of BCPL in Non-fiction 641 MADIG.
Check it out!