The best books to inspire the backyard homesteader

Why am I passionate about this?

I started to garden seriously when we had three young kids and little income. We had limited space and had to be ingenious about how and what we grew. A flock of chickens soon joined the effort, adding fresh eggs, compost-fueling manure, and plenty of entertainment. As we moved, we always had a garden, adding structures like sheds, trellises, tomato cages, fencing, and chicken coops. My work writing books and articles about backyard homesteading gave me the chance to meet resourceful people with expertise miles beyond my own. I always came away from those encounters loaded with new ideas to incorporate into next year’s garden.


I wrote...

40 Projects for Building Your Backyard Homestead: A Hands-On, Step-By-Step Sustainable-Living Guide

By David Toht,

Book cover of 40 Projects for Building Your Backyard Homestead: A Hands-On, Step-By-Step Sustainable-Living Guide

What is my book about?

40 Projects for Building Your Backyard Homestead is intended to provide do-able projects that can enhance sustainable living whether you live in an urban, suburban, or country environment. It includes the essentials for backyard farming—chicken coops and related shelters, raised beds, trellises, compost bins, beehives, sheds, fencing—plus background on more exotic things like aquaponics, hydroponics, and backyard-scale renewable power sources. Each project is designed with simplicity, convenience, and budget in mind. Guided by step-by-step instructions—with plenty of photos and illustrations—I hope you’ll find these projects achievable even if you are only moderately handy. In the process, you'll save money and have the satisfaction of doing it yourself—while providing pure and fresh food.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It: The Complete Back-To-Basics Guide

David Toht Why did I love this book?

I first got acquainted with John Seymour through the original version of this book, The Self-Sufficient Gardener. I was charmed by his earthy lore and practical tips – an author who truly knew his stuff. A plus was the beautiful illustrations in the book. Its new permutation, The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It was been expanded to cover everything from micro-urban gardens to 5-acre homesteads. While gardening is the focus, the book includes plenty of information on butchering, brewing, canning—even spinning flax. What the book doesn’t include are plans and step-by-step photos for building structures, though it does include rudimentary information on metalworking and carpentry. Most importantly, Seymour has a lifetime of gardening and farming experience to draw upon. The reader reaps the benefit.

By John Seymour,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Embrace off-grid green living with a new edition of the bestselling classic guide to a more sustainable way of life from the father of self-sufficiency.

For over 40 years, John Seymour has inspired thousands to make more responsible, enriching, and eco-friendly choices with his advice on living sustainably. The Self-Sufficienct Life and How to Live It offers step-by-step instructions on everything from chopping trees to harnessing solar power; from growing fruit and vegetables, and preserving and pickling your harvest, to baking bread, brewing beer, and making cheese. Seymour shows you how to live off the land, running your own smallholding…


Book cover of A True Picture of Emigration

David Toht Why did I love this book?

One November evening in 1831, Rebecca and John Burlend, three children in tow, stepped off a riverboat. Emigrants from England, they had reached Phillip’s Ferry, Illinois, the end of a dangerous journey. But instead of the village they expected, they found only forest. They burst into tears.  

The couple eventually buys land and clears it by “girdling”—stripping bark so trees die and drop their leaves, letting in enough sun for growing crops. Those include “Indian” corn whose stalks support beans. Indoors, a rag strip in a dish of lard burns with enough light to sew by. But farm life is perilous: While harvesting, a pregnant Rebecca rests by a sheaf, from which a startled rattlesnake crawls out. She kills it with her rake. 

I’ve read this book several times. It’s a saga worth relishing. 

By Rebecca Burlend, Edward Burlend,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A True Picture of Emigration as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On a frosty day in November 1831, Rebecca Burlend and her husband, John, and their five children debarked at New Orleans after a long voyage from England. They took a steamboat up the Mississippi to St. Louis and from there went to the wilds of western Illinois. It was a whole new world for a family that had never been more than fifty miles from home in rural Yorkshire.

Rebecca's narrative, written with the help of her son, was first published in 1848 as a pamphlet for people of her own class in England who might be considering migration to…


Book cover of Shopwork on the Farm

David Toht Why did I love this book?

I’m a sucker for any book about vanishing skills. Shopwork is loaded with such lore. For example, the section on harness repair reminds us “thread should be torn instead of cut, in order to give a long tapered end.” Why? The better to thread a needle. The “Ropework” chapter has detailed options for making splices and loop ends—and enough knots to challenge any sailor. How many books offer on steps on knife whetting or how to set the teeth of a crosscut saw?

This book can brighten a winter’s evening with things you can be glad have vanished, like spooning toxic white lead to mix paint or soldering with a gasoline-fueled blowtorch. Overall, it equips you to follow the maxim, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

By Mack M. Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shopwork on the Farm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Very informative


Book cover of Forgotten Crafts: A Practical Guide to Traditional Skills

David Toht Why did I love this book?

Setting up and maintaining a backyard homestead is honest, fulfilling work. For those who prefer productive labor as exercise (rather than heading to a gym), this book is an inspiring look backward at satisfying, useful skills. Take Seymour’s wattle hurdle. Used as a herding panel, the hurdle is woven entirely from hazel sticks. Any supple wood will do. The result is a portable fence panel that cost nothing but a bit of labor.

Many of the projects featured are out of reach (like millstone dressing or coopering or charcoal burning) but all are fascinating and most still relevant today. For example, Seymour demonstrates that engineering a wooden gate that wouldn’t sag was worked out a long time ago—in several variations. Like all of Seymour’s books, this one is exquisitely illustrated.

By John Seymour,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Forgotten Crafts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Precise drawings and sketches and historical photographs enhance a detailed record of traditional crafts of Britain, Europe, and the United States and instructions in the skills involved


Book cover of The Farmer's Age: Agriculture 1815-1860

David Toht Why did I love this book?

Anyone intrigued by the ingenuity involved in farming will be fascinated by this time in American history when farming moved from mere subsistence to offering a marketable surplus. Initially, a farmer's concern was modest: first to “raise sufficient corn for the family and their livestock; next, to be assured of an abundant supply of pork.” But as methods improved, there was soon plenty to take to market. A flatboat traveling from Indiana to New Orleans in 1826 could boast 18 barrels of whiskey, 70 barrels of oats, 8,000 pounds of pork, and 300 barrels of corn. 

Unfortunately, demand could tempt producers to abuse: Milk delivered to New York might be shamefully watered down and colored with chalk. World demand for sugar, tobacco, and cotton production fueled slavery, whose brutal conditions this book does not ignore.

By Paul W. Gates,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Farmer's Age as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part of a series of detailed reference manuals on American economic history, this volume examines the aspects and problems of land policies and the growth in farming during the mid-1800s.


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Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


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