The Premise: Since its publication in 2009, Madigan's The Backyard Homestead has been a staple in the library of anyone with a desire to live life unhindered by GMOs, pesticides, chemicals, and unnatural fertilizers lacing their store-bought food. Long before she collected the materials for this book, Madigan had been the managing editor of Horticulture magazine and has lived, worked, and learned on an organic farm in Massachusetts.

Overall, The Backyard Homestead is an excellent resource for homesteaders and preppers interested in sustainability, from the beginner to the advanced reader. Because it tries to cram lots of info into one resource, it hardly has room to delve into scholarly depths. If you're a beginner, you won't feel overwhelmed about getting started.

The 411: The Backyard Homestead is nicely divided into seven sections, from vegetables, fruits and nuts, herbs, and grains to poultry, meat and dairy, and wild food. The information is presented in a straightforward and well-organized manner, showing readers just how easy it is to grow their own food and raise their only limited livestock.

Illustrations are used liberally throughout the pages, but a touch of color would've been nice if only to tell the difference between a few of the species whose leaf patters are similar (lemon balm and parsley, for example). The beginning, however, includes some handy illustrations showing you how much food you can produce on 1/10th of an acre, on 1/4 acre, and 1/2 acre. Each map is detailed with where everything should be placed and planted.

Throughout the book you'll learn how to store your harvest, how to thresh wheat, information on wheat grinders, how to butcher a chicken, what to do with the feathers, how to make maple syrup, how to brew beer, and even how to milk a goat.


The Verdict: As a whole, if you're beginning to transform your backyard or a portion of a larger estate into a garden, this book is for you. Each section isn't overly detailed, but there's enough information to point you in the right direction. In the section, “The Home Vegetable Garden,” for example, illustrations and graphs abound, such as visuals on various garden layouts, each designed for a different-sized yard.

There's info on planting dates for each part of the U.S. as well as how much to plant, what grows best where, how to extend the season, how to help your seeds germinate, and directions for making your own trellises for plants like tomatoes. This book has it all, but this is where it has trouble keeping up with itself.

Madigan tried to write a book that's an everything-for-everybody and underdelivered. A book of that caliber would easily be 3,600 pages. The topics that are covered (and there are many) are dealt with superficially, with very little meat left over once the basics are explained. Also, the subjects chosen were given uneven consideration. For example, container gardening only spans one-and-a-half pages, whereas choosing the right breeds of chickens takes up five pages. And there's only three or four egg-laying breeds to choose from.

That said, there are some stellar sections worthy of high praise. “Vegetables A to Z” discusses many types of popular vegetables in great detail, from planting to care to harvest (and more). The same can be said about the section on milking goats.

At the end of each chapter, it would've been helpful to include a section for troubleshooting, especially in the animal husbandry sections. Instead of a few dozen detailed illustrations of various livestock, it would've been nice to see a section of basic animal first-aid, medical treatments for injuries or disease, or at least a list of general shots and vaccines livestock need.

Madigan assumes that 1) a beginner is capable of doing anything in her book—such as making vinegar, canning fruit, or slaughtering a heifer (which is covered in only about 200 words); and 2) that a beginner has all the necessary equipment to perform the outlined tasks.

Although a great starter, instead of being outlined like a car-repair manual that walks you through every procedure, think of it more as a book to make you aware of basic ideas and issues you'll be faced with when beginning a self-sufficient homestead. Then, from there, you can decide if you want to read more by seeking out other resources (there are a host of them at the back).

BookThe Backyard Homestead
AuthorCarleen Madigan
PublisherStorey Publishing, North Adams, Mass.
Pages368 pages

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