Here are my 15 most favorite books about community, homesteading, gardening, and permaculture.
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Most of these books have spent years on my shelf, nightstand, piled on the floor next to the bed, or stacked on the desk. These are the books I lean on every day to help bridge the gap between me and the forgotten generations of homesteaders.
It took years to really digest them, very few are meant for front-to-back reading. They are better suited as life long partners and reference materials with dog-eared pages (don’t tell the authors!), highlights, sticky notes peeking out from all edges, and more than one coffee stain!
Without the knowledge in these pages, I would still be stuck in the halls of hobby gardening!
Written for the urban/suburban homesteader, this book is a visual delight. I think I was more drawn to the eye-pleasing layout and graphics than I was to the content itself.
Don’t get me wrong, this 368-page book is chock-full of useful ideas about every aspect of managing a productive edible landscape, from the vegetable garden, fruits and nuts, poultry, meat and dairy, to homegrown grains, herbs, and beekeeping, this book is more like an encyclopedia.
The “How Much Food Can You Produce?" section is a good one, in which she describes homesteads as small as one-tenth of an acre, to as large as half an acre.
Interestingly, she seems to think that I could fit 8 vegetable beds, 6 chickens, rabbits and beehives, in addition to fruits and nuts onto my property. Obviously she's describing an ideal piece of land that is flat, has full sun, and no driveway. Which doesn’t describe our tenth-of-an-acre at all 🙂
Editor Carleen Madigan has a good section about storing seeds and how long different seeds stay viable.
Another section describes how to plant a dwarf fruit orchard with edible landscaping suggestions.
I enjoyed the sections on winemaking, vinegar-making, and herbal teas. The sections on keeping chickens, ducks, goats, and cattle were helpful and in-depth as well. Be sure to check out the section on cheesemaking, too.
All in all, there is a lot of information crammed into this book. I would have liked to have seen fewer sections with more in-depth instructions, but there is enough here to make the book worth the purchase.
If you’ve ever considered running a market garden, this book is a must-read. Darrell Frey describes in detail how to build your own bioshelter, which can be an integral, income-generating component of a market garden.
What is a bioshelter, you ask? Darrell defines it as “...a solar greenhouse managed as an indoor ecosystem." Indeed, the bioshelter has permanent raised beds, water catchment, compost systems, and in the winter, chickens.
The whole setup is a great example of permaculture design and efficient use of resources.
All of these components push the edges of seasonal gardening, providing more year-round income for the market gardener.
Heck, I would love a bioshelter for my own personal use!
This book will get you dreaming and will explain how to implement each of the components of this indoor ecosystem. Darrell even shares some of his business wisdom on how to make this a financially viable system.
This book is a classic. It has informed a lot of my garden planning combinations. Riotte writes mainly about winning plant combinations that deter pests as well as herbal preparations to use as a pest repellant.
I wonder if some of the combinations are based on old wives’ tales rather than science, but if it doesn’t take any extra space to grow basil by the tomatoes, then why not give it a try?
In addition to plant combinations, Riotte shares small-space garden designs, such as the weekend garden, and themed garden designs, such as a child’s garden.
If you’ve ever wanted to start an orchard, there is loads of information in here for you, too.
An all-around joy of a book.
This is one of my most often used resources. In my professional work, I can’t imagine designing permaculture landscapes without it.
“An edible forest garden is a perennial polyculture of multipurpose plants."
“Taking nature as our model, we can grow different useful plants together in mutually beneficial groupings that are largely self-sustaining. Plants with edible, medicinal, and other useful qualities can combine to supply our daily needs…"
This 2-volume set is as high-quality as its price suggests. Focused on temperate climate permaculture, volume 1 is about the ‘ecological vision and theory’ and is most certainly a textbook if I’ve ever seen one.
Volume 2, focused on the ‘ecological design and practice for temperate climate permaculture’, is the most useful for practical design. I probably use the ‘plant species matrix’ and subsequent ‘species-by-use tables’ almost every day.
Permaculturists will absolutely find use from the books, even if their locale isn’t a temperate climate.
Food Not Lawns is a brilliant book. I bought it precisely because I felt frustrated about being surrounded by lawns. I wanted a book that was going to make me feel better about wanting gardens instead.
While this book did that for me, it did even more than I could have imagined. Author Heather Flores inspired me to get out into my community.
She insists that “our human communities [should] not only provide for their own needs but also contribute to and improve the natural environment".
And then she proceeded to give a ton of examples of how we can engage with our community so that we feel more connected - rather than segregated.
The example that stuck out to me was the idea of a demonstration community garden, so I went out and created one. Here is an article I wrote for Permaculture Activist magazine about our community garden.
As as permaculturist, Flores gives you lots of practical “how-to" advice for turning your lawn into a garden and how to be a good steward of rainwater. She also has some really simple charts for interpreting permaculture information and how to figure out which “permaculture" plants you might want.
All of her design recommendations focus on utilizing our city spaces more efficiently to provide for our own needs. She even has some great ideas for working with children.
One of the most inspiring books I’ve read, though she will challenge all of your pre-conceived ideas.
There are so many good permaculture books to choose from out there, but Gaia’s Garden is the one I so frequently recommend. That’s because Toby Hemenway really hones in on the “home-scale" permaculture, making it accessible to anyone with a little piece of yard.
Hemenway shows you how to create a “backyard ecosystem" by “building and maintaining soil fertility, catching and conserving water, providing habitat for beneficial insects" and animals, and growing a productive and edible landscape.
My favorite chapters are ‘Bringing the Soil to Life’ and ‘Catching, Conserving, and Using Water’.
The tables for dynamic nutrient accumulators, nitrogen fixers, plants for beneficial insects, plants for poultry forage, and guild plant functions are some of my most-referenced pages.
This is John Jeavons’ primary work, written in the 1970s and frequently revised and updated, implores us to take care of the soil, for it is the backbone of nutrient-dense food.
Jeavons’ Grow Biointensive gardening philosophy is a set of practices meant to increase productivity in small spaces while at the same time increase soil health.
Practices include proper soil preparation, use of compost, proper plant spacing, crop combinations, carbon-producing crops for building compost, high calorie-providing crops, using open-pollinated seeds for genetic diversity and seed saving, and the proper use of all of these components so as to build soil.
He outlines all of these practices in great detail. I found the 6-month garden planning worksheets, and crop rotation and companion planting ideas to be of great use.
Personally, I don’t find myself using his double-digging garden bed preparation method long term because it is quite a bit of work.
Overall, it’s a really important book that has helped me manage our garden more efficiently and increase our food productivity.
When I read this book, I breathed a sigh of relief: I’m not alone in my desire to reclaim domesticity! Hayes boldly claims that it is a political and ecological act to seek empowerment through relearning productive skills.
A productive home is no longer the “mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude" that it had become in the years leading up to the women’s rights movement of the 1960s.
Thanks to this movement, domination and oppression are no longer the reasons why male and female domestics are reclaiming their right to focus on their home, family, community, and perhaps even cultural change.
In fact, Hayes reminds us that “hus-band" is a term that comes from feudal Europe, meaning “house-bound", bonded to houses rather than to lords.
“Housewives and husbands were free people who owned their own homes and lived off their land."
If you’re curious why anyone would step away from the opportunity to create an identity for themselves in the modern workplace, and you’re curious how they make it work financially, this book is for you.
This has to be one of my all-time favorite books. Not only does Mark Shepard outline the best example to date of a perennial agricultural system, he describes why we desperately need it.
A must-read for large-scale farmers, permaculturists and conservationists. He demonstrates how we can use perennial crops to produce staple food crops with the largest amount of calories per acre while improving the quality of the environment at the same time.
As a consumer, this book makes me want to seek out more farms like Shepard’s from which to purchase my food.
As a homesteader and small-space gardener, this book makes me want to choose from Shepard’s list of plants native to my biome to produce an efficient, perennial landscape.
This book was one of the first books to get me excited about extending the growing season and growing more produce for long-term storage and winter eating.
I really liked how this book was divided into 5 sections. It’s so easy for me to find pages that I frequently reference.
Learn which varieties of vegetables and fruit are best for long-term storage. Learn how to harvest and prepare the produce for storage.
Find out other additional food items that do well in cold storage if properly prepared.
You’ll find diagrams of all kinds of actual root cellars, both really old ones and newly-constructed ones. Don’t have a root cellar? No worries, there’s an entire section dedicated to describing all kinds of alternative cold storage techniques.
I refer to this one often.
You might wonder what this book has to do with homesteading, since most of us are hyper-focused on building as much self-reliance on our own land as we possibly can.
Being a suburbanite myself, I learned a lot about the history of suburbs and what the current state of the suburbs is. I thought I already knew enough about the topic, but this book showed me otherwise.
For example, did you know that one of the first suburbs ever developed in the U.S. was called Levittown? It was built in the late 1940s - early 1950s.
“Each home came with one willow tree and three fruit trees in addition to 28-30 flowers and shrubs". I wish my home had come with 3 fruit trees!
Superbia! is progressive in nature, focusing on creating resilience at a community level. However, I believe we can improve our communities at the same time as working on personal resiliency. It would certainly help in times of emergency to have better relations with our neighbors.
Potlucks, newsletters, babysitting co-ops, community gardens, yard waste composting, and Community Supported Agriculture programs are some of the 31 ideas expanded on in the book.
Personally, this book helped me feel more confident in starting our community garden. Now we have a demonstration permaculture food forest and outdoor classroom space in our community, and residents can see an example of how to use permaculture design in their own yards.
True to the ‘do-it-ourselves’ spirit in the title, this book is a collection, a ‘toolbox’ of self-reliance skills. It is divided into five sections: food, water, waste, energy, and bioremediation.
This book is fairly left-leaning in nature, but regardless of whether that matches your world view or not, the clear and concise directions for this collection of skills are worth a read from everyone.
The food section tackles projects that are less well-known, in order to fill in the gaps of what we may already have learned elsewhere, such as growing mushrooms, aquaculture, aquaponics, and breeding insects as a protein source for backyard chickens.
The water section discusses alternative rainwater catchment and filtration.
The waste section covers wastewater recycling and uncommon composting methods.
The energy section walks through biofuels creation, and making your own windmill, solar oven or rocket stove.
I found the section on bioremediation to be especially interesting. Most of the soil in urban and suburban areas is at least a little questionable. This chapter walks through various ways to use organic materials “to speed the degradation of or assist in the removal of contaminants". Hint: feeding and increasing the numbers of soil microorganisms is the trick.
All in all, a very interesting ‘toolbox’ with lots of doable tools.
The focus of this book is personal and community resilience. Resilience means having more than one way to meet a need, i.e. diversity.
We practice this concept as when we build emergency preps. We know to have more than one way to filter water and more than one source of light.
This book reviews the Transition Towns movement, which seeks to empower communities to “grow more of their own food, generate their own power, and build their own houses using local materials".
The Transition Handbook gives us some clear examples of projects we can work on locally. For example, cities are always installing ornamental trees. What if we planted productive trees instead? How would that affect food production and security in cities?
The book is heavily focused on peak oil and climate change as motivators for creating more resilient local communities. Although author Rob Hopkins was, in my opinion, too heavily focused on those topics, it’s true that having more participatory communities - that take responsibility for their own needs - would be beneficial to all of us.
In the end, I felt very hopeful about many of the suggested personal and group efforts we can make to create safe, participatory, skilled communities.
This was the first book I bought when I decided to be a homesteader for real. It has over 100 homestead projects to try, ranging from beginner to advanced.
I especially liked the design of this book and how clear and succinct each project is described.
They describe 5 essential homestead projects and then go on to detail gardening projects, raising livestock, kitchen projects, resource-saving and resource-generating projects for managing rainwater, household water, and energy use.
Since I read this book in 2008, I have been quite starry-eyed about the authors of this book, Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, who blog and podcast at Root Simple.
Imagine my surprise when Erik requested to interview us on their show! Read all about our meeting with them and subsequent interview here.
This book has been a great reference to us over the years, but I feel it is even more special now that I’ve had the chance to get to know these pioneers of the modern homesteading movement.
If you’re interested in creating a financially-viable market garden, this is another must-read.
Coleman shows you how he uses unheated and minimally-heated movable plastic greenhouses to run his Four Seasons Farm in Maine. His primary growing season is October-May.
There is plenty of information here for the home gardener as well. Learn which varieties of vegetables thrive in a winter greenhouse.
Learn Coleman’s schedule for when to plant, how to support the plants, and when to harvest.
His in-depth greenhouse designs will get you excited to build something. He’ll even share some marketing tips.
I especially enjoy this book for ideas on how to extend the harvest season by using these same techniques in my own small cold frame.