No matter how large or small a space I live in, it is always overflowing with books! Whether you need reference resources or something to spark your imagination, I hope you find something here that enriches your life. I tried to emphasize a mix of foundational resources with newer works that offer truly novel additions.
Of course this list cannot possibly be complete. Please feel free to leave a comment with some of your favorites below!
Growing Fruit and Vegetables
This book was my primary reference when I set up a year round hoop house in Southeast Alaska. Coleman is a farmer based in Maine, a place known for fierce winters. Coleman shows readers how to have more food for many more months.
The best part is, you will find yourself doing less work and not more if you follow his advice. If you like this book, explore Coleman’s other titles. They are all incredibly informative and highly readable.
This is a thorough guide to safely composting your own waste. It features a range of designs and other options that start with a simple bucket. I know many people who have successfully implemented the bucket strategy and build more elaborate toilets using Jenkins’ methods.
This book begins with site selection and ends with the business of selling your harvest. It provides detailed and clear explanations of all the steps along the way including orchard design, pruning, nutrition, and pest and disease management.
This is one of many excellent titles by Charles Dowding. The guide to various varieties and growing seasons is helpful at all scales, from the home plot to the multi-acre farm.
This is an extremely thorough guide to permaculture practice. It is written specifically with Britain and any other cool climates in mind. Novices and knowledgeable practitioners can all learn a lot from this book.
This is now a classic in permaculture literature. As the title suggests, it focuses on intensive permaculture in small spaces. It is now in its second edition.
Farming as a Business
This is an extremely comprehensive guide to organic farming. It covers a wide range of topics including vegetables, livestock, soil, machinery, and keeping the whole system managed.
Guidance in this book includes how to create a business plan for your small farm. There are also stories from real world farms to provide examples. The writing is clear and straightforward.
Hiring? Payroll? What’s all that about? This book is a good resource for farmers who have never had to deal with these issues before. It provides several tools to track the flow of money through farm operations. There are also sections with advice on increasing production and general farm management.
This book will be hugely helpful for farmers seeking to add flowers to their operation as a cash crop. It has detailed advice for selecting varieties and growing for production. It also has step by step details about successfully getting flowers to market.
Check your cooperative extension for relevant articles and publications. I ran a successful farmers’ market table using a cooperative extension publication as my guide.
The cooperative extension also covers topics for larger scale farmers. For example, the Alabama Cooperative Extension offers a “Quickbooks for Farmers” class for only $25. The Wyoming Cooperative extension publications feature detailed articles on cattle markets and marketing costs.
This list could go on and on. These are a few of my dearest favorites.
This is a relatively new novel based on an old Russian fable. It tells the tale of an older couple trying to make a living off the land after tragedy. A seemingly magical child enters their heretofore grim life. The beautiful yet unyielding Alaska landscape is a strong presence throughout.
This rich story’s protagonist is a young man following in his father’s footsteps. The novel chronicles the lives of Montana farmers and wilderness rangers in the 1930s. The young man loves fishing, riding and the outdoors. Over the course of one summer, he begins grappling with the complexities of adult life.
This is a beautiful collection of interconnected short stories. Extremes of the human experience are set against an imaginary agrarian town. Neighbors work to hold each other together.
If you haven’t read these books since you were a child, enjoy them again! Do you have new readers to share them with?
Some people point out that in “real life,” the Ingalls family did not live continuously on the prairie. They did have to abandon their country life periodically and rely on family.
This does not ruin the books for me, personally. To the contrary, it makes me relate to the family more. Many of us are often caught between our homestead dream and other realities.
Cooking and Preserving
This is certainly not a complete list- we are so lucky to live in a world full of amazing cookbooks.
I spent time on a boat with someone who brought a grain mill aboard with her. I thought she was out of her mind. It turned out that she blew my mind instead. The incredible flavor of the foods she made with her freshly milled flours was like nothing I had ever had. Freshly milled flours from whole grains cannot just be substituted for all purpose wheat-based flours. Each recipe gives results with incredible texture and taste that showcases the grains’ unique flavors.
Every recipe I have ever prepared from this book has been a home run. It is divided into sections by grain, such as corn, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, millet, wheat (including farro), etc. Each section starts with the simplest preparation of each whole grain and storage tips. Recipes include salads, soups, breads, pastries, and desserts. Many recipes are gluten free.
This is a book I constantly reference. Katz gives very clear instruction and diagrams on the “how-to” of fermenting. The book features recipes for fermented foods from around the world. My personal favorites are beet kraut and fruit kim chi. I make the fruit kim chi from wild huckleberries and use it like a salsa. It’s also a great book to turn to if you have an overabundance of a particular crop.
Moosewood Restaurant Cooks for a Crowd: Recipes with a Vegetarian Emphasis for 24 or More by the Moosewood Collective
This book is my go-to to make big batches of food. It has saved my bacon on several occasions! (Figuratively- of course there’s no bacon in the Moosewood cookbook.) The soups are the most exceptional, but everything is great.
My mother taught me the basics are the most important part of cooking. In my opinion, this is still the best collection of how to make the basics. I am also often surprised when I have an ingredient I don’t know what to do with. When I look in the index, more often than not there is a recipe.
This is the tried-and-true guide to how to can everything. Brought to you by the people who make the jars, it should be considered an essential reference. It is fun to track down old editions, even as new ones come out. Instructions, canning safety, and efficiency tips accompany hundreds of recipes. There are lots of hip pickle books out there, and I love trying their recipes. However, this is the book that is here to stay.
I thought I knew a lot about food, but I learned something new on every page of this book. It traces the history of the fruits and vegetables we know today back to their wild ancestors. Along the way, fruits and vegetables have lost a lot of their healthiest compounds.
Robinson discusses the difference in nutritional value between varieties, literally comparing apples to apples. She also describes how to store and prepare produce to maximize its nutritional value. Techniques vary widely between different foods, and even knowledgeable cooks will learn something new.
Nutritionist and activist Marion Nestle explores how the business of food influences public health. She exposes how food lobbyists influence government policies including subsidies and nutrition advice. This book originally came out in 2003. The new edition contains an update on the current state of food politics. Michael Pollan of Omnivore’s Dilemma fame wrote the foreward for the new edition.
Are you frustrated by lambsquarter taking over your beds? I used to be, too, until I tasted it! Take full advantage of your own uninvited guests, and learn to find wild and feral edibles wherever you roam. The book covers nutritional and preparation information in addition to identification
Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Field Guide Edition by Euell Gibbons
When the first edition of this book came out in the 1950s, it was quite revolutionary. The classic book was re-released most recently in 2005. The book includes edible plant identification and recipes. Gibbons also shares quite a bit of his philosophy of living.
As the title implies, this book focuses on the Eastern and Central United States. This guide focuses almost entirely on plant identification. The book identifies poisonous plants in addition to edible plants, which is extremely helpful. There is less emphasis on preparation or lifestyle than in Gibbons’ book above. The two books together make good companions.
One secret to field identification is spending time with your field guides at home. Arora makes it easy to accomplish that.
This book is fun to read, well written, informative, and full of great pictures. Of course it will also help you to identify, harvest, and prepare a wide variety of delicious edible mushrooms.
This beautiful book covers herbs of the northern landscape. The main emphasis on the book is on salves and other medicinal preparations. It also contains a lot of information about plants I can only call “lore.” It features stunning photographs and lovely writing.
Four Legged Livestock
I would make the same recommendation for every four legged animal: start with the Storey’s Guide. For example, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, Storey’s Guide to Raising Rabbits, etc. The authors of each guide are experts in their fields. The writing is readable. Each guide covers breeds, care, and other necessary aspects of raising livestock.
Regularly check local cooperative extension publications and announcements. There are informative articles such as “Which Market Gives Me the Best Price for My Cattle?” (Wyoming) It is also a great place to stay updated on disease outbreaks in your area.
Gail Damerow is one of the nation’s foremost experts on small scale chicken rearing. This guide covers making cheese and other topics in addition to animal care.
Whole Beast Butchery: The Complete Visual Guide to Beef, Lamb, and Pork by Ryan Farr with Brigit Binns
This book is written from a chef’s perspective. It contains hundreds of photos to guide you through the butchering process. It also takes care to describe the different cuts you can create. It covers tools, hygiene and other relevant topics as well.
This is an essential guide to keeping chickens healthy and treating them when they are not. It is extremely comprehensive. It is now in its second edition.
Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow, Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry by Glenn Drowns
These books contain all the basic information to get someone started raising poultry, and in depth advice seasoned farmers will appreciate. They are a great starting point for any question about poultry. They are appropriate for the home or the farm scale. Both are in their 4th edition.
If you have been raising poultry for awhile, this is a fun book for you. There are hundreds of poultry breeds out there. This book details heritage breeds and their quirks.
Science and Nature
Did you know that some frogs freeze solid for the entire winter? Or that chickadees’ social behavior is an essential survival tool in freezing temperatures? This extremely readable book explores animals’ adaptations to cold temperatures. It describes how animals as diverse as turtles, mice, and birds adapt both their behavior and their body chemistry to the cold.
This book talks about how growing mushrooms can make a positive impact on the environment. It also describes the fascinating underground world of mushrooms and mycelia.
Lynn Margulis’ theories were so revolutionary, she had to fight to be taken seriously. When her work on cell evolution became accepted, it became a major stepping stone in human understanding. Margulis had other far reaching hypotheses including the Gaia hypothesis. This book discusses her life and her legacy.
These are released every year, with different editors. The style is similar to the “Best American Short Stories” series. The writing is accessible and interesting for both scientists and non-scientists.
This beautiful book is much lesser known than the historic “Silent Spring.” Carson writes in loving and intimate detail about intertidal life.
Out of the hundreds of books on beekeeping, I selected these three to get you started.
Homegrown Honey Bees: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Beekeeping Your First Year by Alethea Morrison
This book contains a lot of very helpful photos. It also explains topics with beginners as the target audience. It is a great book to get started.
Now in multiple editions, this book is a foundational reference for hobby beekeepers.
This book is the most like a textbook. It weighs in at over 1,000 pages. It is a major step up from an absolute beginner’s guide, but terrific for anyone who wants to continue their education.
This is a must have for anyone considering cordwood building. It covers topics from taking care of the logs to framing and integrating wiring. It contains a multitude of design options and describes decades of research on cordwood techniques.
This book describes the many benefits of building with straw bales. Then it helps you go get to it!
These books predate the current “Tiny House” craze. They explore details of construction that save space, energy, and materials. The results are extremely beautiful. The designs are also highly liveable for the house inhabitants.
Reading this book, I was struck repeatedly by how many wasteful practices I took for granted as necessary. In reality, they are not necessary at all. I just hadn’t thought enough about it. This book questions many fundamental assumptions of contemporary manufacturing and environmentalism.
In their words, “Cradle to Cradle is a design framework for going beyond sustainability and designing for abundance in a Circular Economy.”
Affluenza: How overconsumption is killing us – and how to fight back by John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H Naylor
This book explores how consumer culture is unhealthy to the point of being an illness: “Affluenza.” The writers examine how consumers lands of plenty experience anxiety, inferiority, and insecurity. Campy humor is interspersed with sobering facts and figures. For example, an imaginary news broadcast describes “The Joneses” (of “keeping up with the Joneses) waving a white flag in surrender.
This Pulitzer Prize winning book features rich and in-depth science writing. Kolbert looks at ecosystems in trouble and delivers a sobering look at where the planet may be heading. Although she argues that humans have gravely imperiled many species on earth, she does not rail against humanity. The focus is squarely on scientific research.
This book is extremely famous for helping to ban DDT in the United States. It is also beautifully written and richly infused with deep knowledge of the natural world.
This book is meant for children aged 5-9. It tells the story of Wangari Maathi, a Kenyan environmentalist. Maathi’s work wove women’s empowerment together with environmentalism. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
If you don’t live by bread alone, you might want to make your own beer. This is a very thorough introductory guide to the technique of making beer. There is also a chapter of recipes, but individual recipes are not the main emphasis.
Many brewers I know obtain their recipes from their brewing suppliers, who provide them as a courtesy. The first edition of this book is available as a free PDF. The 4th edition is available for purchase.
Fairy Gardening: Creating Your Own Magical Miniature Garden by Julie Bawden-Davis and Beverly Turner
Let’s face it: there’s a lot of drudge work on the homestead. Fun, beauty, magic and imagination are important too! There are many fairy garden books out there. Some of them are essentially toy catalogues. I like this one because it has a strong focus on miniature plants, and how to grow and care for them.
Publishers to Browse
Hungry for more? Browse the collections of these publishers for more awesome titles:
- Chelsea Green
- Mother Earth News
One Last Plug for Your Cooperative Extension Publications
One older couple I have great respect for has a filing cabinet dedicated to all cooperative extension pamphlets. It contains thirty years of solid advice on a wide range of topics.
Spend some time browsing what your local cooperative extension has to offer. You can find them online or go to their office. Their pamphlets are free. They have advice on forestry, construction, and farm-related business in addition to growing advice.
Cooperative extension agents and authors run the gamut from fully conventional to fully organic farmers. You may not see eye to eye with every one of them on every technique. However, they may still have information that is valuable to you.
Your cooperative extension can also inform you about issues a national publication can not. For example, you might learn a lot about raising horses from Storey’s Guide. Your cooperative extension could tell you if Potomac Horse Fever was diagnosed in your state last summer.
Some cooperative extensions also put out books for sale. These are often extremely useful to your own specific natural environment.
We are so fortunate we can never finish reading all the great books out there. I hope you found something you enjoy. What are your essentials? Please feel free to leave a comment.
Allison Sayer lives in a schoolbus on an off-grid property in the Alaskan Copper Valley. She has been part of many amazing projects. These include cooking at a remote nature center, managing a multi-family hoop house, volunteering at a chicken sanctuary, and WWOOFing on a small farm. Through her deep friendships throughout the Alaskan wilderness, she has helped many friends develop their homes and dreams. Allison is currently building up her property with the goal of starting her own microgreen farm.