Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Backyard Homesteading": the ultimate DIY?

“A lot of the time, when people are beginning with their homestead, it’s difficult to know which direction to go in. One thing that’s usually pretty helpful is if you can get one good book that covers a variety of subjects in enough depth for you to give it an experimental try. The Backyard Homestead, edited by Carleen Madigan, is one of those books.  But not only is it a book, but it is also a guide that helps you plan actionable steps.”—Rural Living Today

“Bottom line is, even if you’re not ready for complete self-sufficiency, in today’s economic climate, it just makes sense to try to produce some of your own food. And this book is a great way to get your feet wet.”—

In The Backyard Homestead (subtitled "Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre"), Carleen Madigan offers you to opportunity to homestead a little or a lot, according to your predilections, abilities, and situation.The diagrams below show what can be done with 1/10 of an acre; the author also offers prospective plans for 1/4 and 1/2 acre.
Populations of honeybees, vital to plant pollination, are dwindling drastically, so it makes sense to make every effort to propagate them. Just 2 beehives will give you 100 pounds of honey.
I gravitated toward the instructions for starting a small vegetable garden because I"m a neophyte and because I would love to have some organic vegetables that I don't have to pay a premium for. Among Madigan's hints are the following:
  • Find out from neighbors or experts what grows well in your area
  • Keep it simple and start small (green beans are "no fail"; other relatively easy veggies to grow include yellow squash, zucchini, leaf lettuce, snap peas, Swiss chard, kale, and tomatoes.
  • Start composting
  • Mulch to control weeds and retain moisture (organically, of course)
  • Pull weeds often
  • Take notes on weather, when you planted, what pests were troublesome, and how much you harvested
If you don't happen to live on even 1/4 of an acre, or don't like messing around in dirt, don't despair. As long as you have light, you too can grown your own food in a container. Among Madigan's list of foods that actually grow better in containers are basil, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, chard, eggplant, lettuces, onions, and tomatoes. You can grow as many as 15 pounds of tomatoes from just one self-watering container on your patio! Not too shabby!
Below, illustrations from the book of raised beds and a sample bed 5 feet wide.
Will I actually cultivate any vegetables or just fantasize about doing it? (Not to mention the home brewing and cheese, jam, and pickle making!) Only time will tell! How about you? If you're adventurous or hard-core, you can learn about building chicken coops, types of breeds, layers vs. lazy hens, butchering chickens, telling good eggs from bad, and all kinds of other groovy stuff—including the lowdown on keeping ducks, geese, and turkeys. Power to the people!

If you're interested in various aspects of choosing, growing, or preserving healthy, delicious food—and who isn't?—then have a look at the latest Daedalus Books Forum, called "The Simple Life: Ideas to Nourish and Sustain." We've curated books that highlight cooking with fresh ingredients, that inspire going local, that talk about protecting the environment, and that celebrate growing, making, and preserving your own victuals. Have a favorite farmers market? Send us an email with your picks.


  1. As an urban homesteader, we work with about half the space shown with that diagram and ours is laid out pretty similar.

    We have four 4x8 beds, one primarily for veggies, one for medicinal herbs, and two others that rotate depending on the season, then we have a long bed around the back for tomatoes, with some smaller beds/containers all around for melons, legumes, etc.

    Our bees are actually kept closest to the house (I think we did this to keep them away from the compost, since certain food scraps can attract bee predators).

    We're also not a big fan of "lawns" so we've used the space in front of the house to grow a variety of lettuces, and a three sisters plot off to the side.

    Some years we do a lot better than others in terms of yields, but there's nothing like knowing you're using space that could be just grass to actually make something useful. Plus we've got a thousand gallon cistern & 4-5 other rain barrels to avoid having to use water from the tap.

  2. That sounds so fantastic! ... and commendable! Good point about the rain barrels. And yes, lawns are a huge perpetration ... a waste of water and a source of chemicals introduced into the ecosystem. Golf courses are particular culprits.