Homesteading Basics — Backyard Homesteading by David Toht
A Beginner's Guide to Self-Sustaining Living
I grew up in an urban part of northern New Jersey where homesteading basics weren’t something that most people were concerned about. Aside from the beautiful gardens that my grandmother grew in her backyard just outside of Newark, homesteading basics were for the “country folk” that lived hours away from us. It never occurred to me that as an adult, my husband and I would be living “in the middle of nowhere” (as my family and friends from downstate refer to our little part of the Adirondack mountains) and find ourselves creating a sweet little homestead.
Part of what attracted us to this property and this land was the potential for learning and implementing homesteading basics. Situated on a few acres, conveniently located 20 miles from the nearest grocery store, and with plenty of space for outdoor gardens and a chicken coop. We also discovered that by leaving an acre of land growing wild in the “backyard,” we created a place where we could grow and sustainably harvest herbs growing outdoors. Not long after we moved in, my husband purchased some small apple trees (we jokingly referred to them as “apple twigs”) and planted them along the property border between us and our neighbor’s place down the hill. We thought of them originally as a privacy screen, but after a few years, we found that we enjoyed growing and harvesting apples from these trees every summer and fall.
Through our journey to learning and practicing homestead basics, we certainly could have used a book like Backyard Homesteading: A Back-to-Basics Guide to Self-Sufficiency by David Toht. This is a big book, full of everything you need to know to learn homesteading basics, beginning with the earliest stages of planning for your homestead, all the way through acquiring and caring for small livestock and harvesting, canning, and preserving all kinds of fruits and vegetables.
Growing Vegetables and Herbs
Backyard Homesteading will provide you with a handy reference book for getting started growing vegetables and herbs. Starting from the ground up (pun intended), we learn about how to evaluate our soil, how to improve soil health before we start planting, how to make basic compost, saving and planting seeds, how to figure out what planting zone we’re in, and treating and preventing weeds, pests, and plant diseases.
Once you have the basics of growing veggies and herbs down, Backyard Homesteading provides us with a great list of commonly grown backyard vegetables. This list provides everything you need to know about when to plant, where to plant, how close together to plant, and when and how to harvest. Even though my husband and I have been gardening at our little homestead for over 13 years, we still found this to be an excellent quick reference guide when planning out our new gardens.
Growing Fruits, Berries, and Nuts
We didn’t plan on growing blackberries in our yard, but we were delighted to discover that they grew wild around our garage, chicken coop, and at the edge of the woods near the back of the property. We spent hours every day during the peak days of summer picking and freezing the plentiful crop of blackberries that our bushes produced. When we decided that we wanted even more berries, we used some of the tips and techniques in Backyard Homesteading to propagate our wild berry bushes.
When we first moved into our home, we planted a row of apple trees along the property line to provide a privacy screen. Our little “apple twigs” as we affectionately referred to them, quickly grew into big, beautiful trees. Later on, my husband added half a dozen cherry trees to our little homestead layout as a birthday gift to me. And while my husband has plenty of knowledge and experience of other types of trees, he found the pruning information in Backyard Homesteading to be very helpful when we were working on creating our own little orchards.
Last but not least, since my husband loves to make his own wine, we obtained 24 cold-hardy grapevines from a supplier that specializes in breeding grapes for the harsh northern climates. Our knowledge of growing and caring for trees didn’t get us too far with these grapevines, but we found everything we needed to know to keep them alive in the pages of Backyard Homesteading. Once we had enough grapes to make a few bottles of our own wine every year, we were also thrilled to discover that our healthy grape leaves could be used for fermenting other foods, too!
Chickens, Goats, and Bees
Of course, our little homestead wouldn’t be complete without the beehives that we brought with us from northern New Jersey. With much more space to spread out, we started our own little apiary to supply us with honey. Drawing on our experience with beekeeping, we learned some new tricks and ideas — we even built a top-bar beehive from the instructions in Backyard Homesteading.
We’ve also been raising our own chickens on our little homestead since 2007, and we were happy to read more about how to raise chickens for eggs in Backyard Homesteading. If we had known then what we do know now about raising chickens, things might have gone a little smoother. Getting started with backyard chickens doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it can be a great learning experience for anyone, especially if you live in a more suburban or urban area. If you’re unsure about where to begin, Backyard Homesteading lays it all out for you, including information about how to find out whether or not chickens are allowed in your town, ideas for housing them, choosing a breed (and a purpose) for your flock, and the basics of caring for a happy, healthy flock of chickens.
Next up for our micro-homestead? Goats. After reading through the section about choosing, acquiring, and caring for goats, we’re ready to add another species to our backyard homestead this year! The information in Backyard Homesteading is a wonderful reference for getting started raising goats, with everything I wanted to know about caring for goats once we find a reputable breeder in our area.
For anyone who is interested in simple homesteading with a little time, a little land, and a lot of interest, Backyard Homesteading by David Toht should be the first book you get. We’ve made it an essential addition to our collection of DIY homesteading reference guides.