Recommended Reference Books for Small-Scale Farming

The following reviews are books from my own personal library that I’ve collected over the years in a quest to Prepare for Abundance. This article covers the best reference books for the small farm that I have read yet. Some perfect for gifting to a homesteader, but too overwhelming to help persuade a reluctant spouse. Books are listed in order of preference, with the first book being my favorite of the grouping and so on. This is just my opinion to serve my particular purpose, so I give enough honest feedback about the book that you might find that my last listed book is just exactly what you have been looking for.

Sample Illustration from The Permaculture Handbook.

The Permaculture Handbook
One of the foundation books you need in your library to get motivated and inspired to begin your small farm adventure. This fantastic 400-page work comes recommended by Mother Earth News and is attractive enough to give as a gift and well-edited enough to keep the most easily distracted of us engaged for page after page. The two columns that explain the value of pigeons are a perfect example of why you want to own this book. In just two columns I am inspired, informed and encouraged that their are other ways to have modern conveniences without the modern price tag.

Although filled with drawings and photographs, this is no picture book. The cover photo is the only staged and picturesque photo you will find. That is no problem if you are already excited or curious about building a small farm. I mention this to warn you away from letting a hesitant spouse thumb through the book. The ideas contained inside can quickly overwhelm the uninitiated. The photos would be very discouraging to my city-dweller spouse who doesn’t want to live in a constant construction zone. Great book that I highly recommend, but I also recommend you hide it from anyone who might discourage you from your dream.

The idea of ‘Garden Farming’ is referenced and explored again and again even though the actual book title touts ‘Permaculture’. Garden Farming is a an idea we can easily get behind because it’s accessible to most anyone with a yard or access to someone else’s yard. It’s attraction is highlighted when we read that this hobby farm idea saved the Russian people from starvation when the Soviet Union collapsed. Now those little hobby farms provide, “50% of the countries vegetables, fruits and dairy on 7% of the land.” (pg.3) Now that shows the great potential of a concept that is incredibly easy to start.

Permaculture embraces most every concept I agree with. The only permaculture concept I don’t embrace is a heavy reliance on trees and shrubs. A reliance on trees and shrubs can quickly become a discouragement for the beginner because there is such a time lag between planting and fruit that the ‘delayed gratification’ can cause beginners to give up on the entire concept. The second issue with relying heavily on trees and shrubs is related: recovering from any sort of setback can take several years. Say an ice storm destroys your entire orchard or a disease kills not only your whole stand of fruit trees, but contaminates the ground so that you can’t plant the same type of fruit back again. My childhood failures with grapes, pears, apples and peaches may be clouding my vision on this one issue though. As long as their isn’t a purist insistence on trees and shrubs as an essential element of farm design, Permaculture is a fantastic concept. It can become an obsession just like homesteading, but understanding the concepts as you design out your own little farm or backyard garden can make expanding your project so much easier down the line because you will know as you design where to leave blank space for the big innovation you have planned for 5-10 years down the line.

Sample illustration inside Encyclopedia of Country Living

Encyclopedia of Country Living
Now going on 50 years in print, this book is a classic. Much like the encyclopedias of our childhoods, it provides good insights into a wide range of concepts. With over 900 pages of entries, this can be seen as a ‘box of chocolates’ where you sit down and zip through an endless parade of ideas and concepts. It is a primer that can get your thought process going if you are still trying to decide what interests you in the realm of making your own abundance. As proof of the far-ranging concepts; inside you will find how to sharpen an axe and how to deliver a baby. How to build a barn and how to grow your own coffee.

Sample Illustration inside Country Wisdom and Know-How

Country Wisdom & Know-How: Everything You Need to Know to Live Off the Land
The danger with these encyclopedias is that they can quickly become ‘Jack of All Trades, Master of None’. With that said, my 2004 edition is an ambitious work that embraces many of the recreational aspects of Country Living like feeding birds and making candy along with some advice that would seem at home in a preppers book. The font is small, maybe 10 or 9 and three columns are spread across 13.5″ x 10.5″ pages that feel a little bit like a small newspaper. These aspects make it a very impressive gift item though. Just the sort of thing you share with someone who has begun gardening or chicken-keeping. The kind of book you really shouldn’t read before bed because you will be unable to sleep…you will be too excited about the possibilities.

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