Note: Heading into fall and colder months, this time of year is great for assessing your current knowledge and skills and looking over the bookshelf to see what is lacking and what can be refreshed. Read this excellent summary from member Old Hippie, of resources and books for growing, storing and using real food. If there are new books and resources you absolutely love, add them to the comments and share your thoughts on why they should be on the bookshelf.
Under the general topic of growing some (or all) of our own food, we have broken the larger topic down into several knowledge areas. We think you should understand why growing your own food is a good choice to make, and so “Understand It” is our first general topic. Following that, “Grow It,” “Save It,” and “Use It” will help you think about the critical topics of how to get food into the ground, how to get it out, how to keep it from spoiling, and what to do with it once you’ve got it on the shelf, in the freezer, or in the root cellar. Introductory notes in each section will help you choose which books, publications or websites to read first. We’ve included links in the text, so you can click for more information as you read. Some of the material that follows is fairly basic; other material is more advanced.
Don’t let something supposedly “advanced” keep you away. Everyone has to start at the beginning. We all did. Whether you choose to grow food against possible shortages, or as an economic decision or as part of changing your lifestyle in healthy and rewarding ways, we hope you find this annotated bibliography of the books that have helped us will help you as well. We’ve included full citations for each book, to help you locate them.
In this section are books that will help you understand the global and environmental pressures toward sustainable living. These are not textbooks, but are engagingly written explorations into the ways we can support and feed our families and our communities.
The larger question of growing food inevitably crosses into questions about living sustainably, developing strong communities, taking back control over what we eat, staying healthy, and transforming ourselves. Discovering the renewed utility in old ways of providing for ourselves leads us to a richer, fuller way of life – not just a better tomato. The journey never ends.
Barbara Kingsolver’s book is a good place to start the journey. After that, read Michael Pollan. Between the two, you’ll have a deeper understanding of how and why to grow your own food. Once you’ve digested them, read Bill McKibben. What he says about community echoes Chris Martenson in many ways. Once you’re ready to think about the natural world in a new and interesting way, read Paul Stamets. Many of the things agribusinesses have created from toxic chemicals and industrial processes can be supplied or grown naturally by the home gardener. Stamets will expand your awareness of the role of fungi in even the smallest vegetable garden. Once you’re through this section – and browsing other links and publications that you’ve found along the way – you’ll be more than ready to think about putting seeds to soil. If you’re ready to grow, you can move directly to the next section.
Kingsolver, Barbara; Kingsolver, Camille; Hopp, Steven L. (2007). Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi, Auckland: HarperPerennial. ISBN: 978-1-55468-188-4
How does one family begin the journey to a more sustainable future? Barbara Kingsolver and her family detail the triumphs and challenges of their search. The book also features visits with proponents of organic farming and sustainable living such as Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm. Like many of the books in this bibliography, Kingsolver’s book sounds a hopeful note that people committed to living a better life can do so. It’s not a textbook of “how we did it” but a story about living it. Very readable.
Many people looking into the immediate future say that growing healthy, vibrant, supportive communities is as important as growing healthy food. Nicole Foss (writing as Stoneleigh at The Automatic Earth) also emphasizes this point on the blog at http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com.
As the cost of energy for transport of goods rises, Bill McKibben predicts regional shortages and rising prices for products that have to be brought in from elsewhere. That’s no surprise; most people “get it.” McKibben makes the case for developing regional communities again. Food and energy production, even cultural production, should diversify.
McKibben is a strong voice against the central production and energy-intensive distribution of everything from bread to energy to books. Growth, he argues, is not the first thing we should consider as a measure of economic health. The goal is “The Durable Future” – sustainable, smaller, yet convivial. Like Kingsolver and Pollan, McKibben shares stories from his travels. Case studies of a sort, they help the reader to imagine possible solutions.
Pollan’s book can be summed up in his introductory statement: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” Pollan explores the roots of the current American food system and details how government regulation of the food industry has been affected by pressure from agriculture interest groups and corporations. Agencies intended to protect consumers now protect producers. Concentration of the ownership of the food production chain into fewer and fewer hands affects not only what is available to consumers, but enables the wide distribution of food-borne pathogens from central processing plants, which now proceeds without any accountability in sight. This book will give you a good understanding of how things got the way they are in America’s food supply, and suggest some alternatives you can act on immediately to effect change.
Stamets loves fungi. His company, Fungi Perfecti (http://www.fungi.com) is a major driver in the research and development of mushroom-based extracts, supplements and pharmaceuticals. This book will help you understand the place of fungi in a healthy ecosystem – including managed ecosystems such as gardens. Gardeners can now purchase potting soils inoculated with beneficial fungi from several companies, and Stamets’ company also sells soil supplements that will put fungi into your garden where they will benefit the growth of many vegetable crops, working symbiotically with the plants to break down soil nutrients and transport them to the plants’ roots. While the topic and treatment of the book may place it into the intermediate or advanced knowledge categories, even a beginning reader will find useful foundational knowledge to work with. There is much we are only beginning to discover about the “fifth kingdom” – the fungal world – and Stamets’ work is on the leading edge. A permanent mushroom patch on your property can supply you with all the mushrooms you need, every year.
In this section, you’ll find books that help you get food out of your soil. These books address the complete cycle of growing food, from buying and starting the seed to growing and harvesting the crop, to saving seed and stock for the next planting.
You have two choices for starting points: Either Steve Solomon’s Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times or Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. Start with whichever one you can find first, and read them both. You will find yourself returning to each of them over and over. Sara Pitzer’s Homegrown Whole Grains book should be your next step, because she introduces the ease of growing grains at home (you will find Carol Deppe’s insights very helpful here, as well). Deppe and Solomon both emphasize that the most important part of gardening is the soil. Not the seeds, not the organic fertilizer, the work, or the rain or sunshine. You’ll learn how to site your garden and how to prepare the earth for production. All the books in this section contain websites and seed catalogues for finding the best seeds in your area. Don’t buy seeds from the rack in the grocery store or local nursery! As Steve Solomon says, those are “sweepings from the seedroom floor.”
Looking ahead to planting season, Mike and Nancy Bubel’s book on starting seeds, and Suzanne Ashworth’s book on saving seeds should be next. Starting a garden with healthy plants is essential when it counts, and saving seed for next year helps you keep some control of your food security. Saving your own seeds is not as difficult as it might first appear.
Finally, Paul Stamets’ gourmet and medicinal mushroom grower’s guide should be considered advanced reading. You will find that he tackles growing fungi with the same passion and insight the other authors engage with fruit, vegetable and grain growing.
This is the encyclopaedia of food plants for North America. It has information about each type of food plant in alphabetical order, including breeding instructions, growing instructions and harvesting instructions. In addition, there is information at the end of each entry regarding the specifics of growing each plant in different regions of the U.S. Absolutely indispensable. We refer to it many times each season.
Good information about starting the seeds you’ve saved, specific information that other books do not cover. Mike and Nancy Bubel have many years of first-hand experience and the information they provide is readable and practical on a household scale.
Can you grow enough grain in your backyard to make bread for a year? The answer is “yes,” and this is the book to show you how. Read about corn, rye, wheat, quinoa, amaranth, oats, barley, and other grains. Pitzer will teach you how to plant, grow, and harvest grains. She will also teach you how to dry them and store them, and offer some recipes to use them.
If you have a half acre or more to use for growing wheat or rye, you’ll need a foot powered thresher: http://www.backtotheland.com/html/wheat_thrasher.html (Note that the website’s author refers to the process of “threshing” by the archaic name “thrashing.”)
Gluten intolerant or simply love cornbread? Here’s a dry corn sheller: http://www.backtotheland.com/html/grain_mills.html .
We’ve read that perennial grains are on the horizon, but you can’t buy seed just yet. Here’s an article about them: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624144111.htm Stay tuned.
Steve Solomon started Territorial Seed Company in Oregon many years ago and has lived and gardened in other parts of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in Tasmania and knows that difficult times are coming. To that end, he has written this book about producing food in hard times. We have heard him criticized as “idealistic” and “a perfectionist” but this book collects a vast store of information in one spot. Yes, this book is complex, and he makes no apologies for the detailed information in here. He sugar-coats nothing. He gives you the straight goods on the difficulties of growing onions, for example. We’ve read it many times now and get more out of it each time. Each chapter will give you a case of “information overload” and it will take you years to put into practice all of the stuff in here. It’s worth reading and re-reading to soak up all of this knowledge. Even if you only put into practice a tiny bit at a time, you will be miles ahead of anyone else. This book should definitely sit on your shelf next to Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener.
The subtitle of this book is “Including the Five Crops You Need to Survive and Thrive – Potatoes, Corn, Beans, Squash, and Eggs.” Deppe believes passionately that every gardener should also be a plant breeder. In her introductory comments, she points out that during hard times in the past, communities usually had a store of preserved food and the accumulated knowledge of growing more. She writes for a culture where now only two percent of people use that knowledge to survive. No matter the source of the uncertainty in the times, Deppe’s book will teach you how to be a “resilient gardener” who can respond to economic, environmental, physical and social challenges with a varied and nutritious spectrum of produce. For example, Carol makes a strong case for keeping ducks for eggs and meat instead of chickens. She lives and writes in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, but her advice works anywhere. She joins others in noting the importance of social cohesion in the difficult times ahead. As noted above, also read Steve Solomon’s Gardening When It Counts. Carol Deppe and Steve Solomon are friends, but you may note some inconsistencies in their approach to developing new varieties for your area, for example. This is not a problem – take what you need and leave the rest.
Like his other book referenced above, this one is for the more advanced grower. Also like Stamets’ other book, even beginning gardeners will get something out of it. Growing fungi requires a different mindset and more patience than growing many vegetables. While this book may not help develop more patience, it will open up the world of gourmet and medicinal fungi to you. We learned about mushrooms from growing beautiful white oyster mushrooms in a pail half full of espresso grounds. When it seemed to be tapped out, we threw the residue under a Douglas Fir tree. Next spring – more mushrooms!
It’s no good growing enough food to feed your family for a year if you can’t keep it for a year or longer, against tough times. These books will show you how to save the harvest by canning, freezing, drying, pickling, cellaring, or fermenting it.
Mike and Nancy Bubel return in this section with Root Cellaring. It’s very comforting to have a safe spot to store more than just root crops. (Our root cellar holds canning, pickling, the beer and wine, kraut, and sealed buckets of various grains as well as potatoes, onions, carrots and other harvested root crops.) It’s a good book to start with. After reading this, we went out and bought a 20’ shipping container and put it into the mountain behind our house (see some photos on Penny’s blog).
Putting Food By and the Ball Blue Book of Preserving both give you very clear directions for canning, freezing and drying a wide variety of foods. You should plan to diversify your food-storage portfolio just as you would an investment portfolio. Frozen food may taste fresher than canned food, but canned food doesn’t need electricity to stay canned. Another preservation strategy is pickling, and Linda Ziedrich’s book covers it in loving detail. All three of these books would be good after reading about root cellaring. Keep them handy for reference.
“Highly recommended” by Steve Solomon, this book will teach you how to store fruits and vegetables and nuts without using any energy whatsoever. Very easy to understand, lots of pictures of root cellars, and lots of alternatives that can be used by anyone. Build a root cellar. It becomes indispensable immediately. There’s no need to spend a lot of money or dig up your entire backyard to begin an experiment in root cellaring, just to see if you can do it. There are pictures and stories in this book about many different small ways to store food.
This is the third edition of the book. We use this one for intriguing recipes for storing fruits you may not have ever heard of, such as “beach plums.” This one and the Ball Blue Book are our resource books for canning. They are tattered and folded and splattered, but we use them every year. Also includes techniques for brining, freezing and drying.
To see what Carol Deppe calls the best food dehydrator in the world, the Excalibur, go here: http://www.excaliburdehydrator.com/product.php
Ready to grind your grain into flour? Check out the Lehman’s catalogue: http://www.lehmans.com/ and search for grain grinders. We have the Diamant. Also check out their gas refrigerators and wood stoves. Lehman’s also has a very good selection of human-powered tools because the company was originally created to supply the Amish of Ohio.
A favourite go-to for us. It retails for about ten dollars and is worth far more. Because it is frequently revised and updated, it’s wise to check every year to see if there’s a new edition. For example, guidelines for safely canning low-acid foods have changed in recent years. For the price of a new edition, it’s important to have some peace of mind when you’re planning to eat through the winter on what you’ve put by in the fall. A wide variety of recipes are included for preserving meats, fish, vegetables, and fruits by canning, freezing, and drying. Also includes very fancy recipes that can be used as gifts.
Need a pressure canner? Here’s the biggest one you can find; it holds two levels of U.S. quarts and does not require a rubber seal: http://www.allamericancanner.com/allamericanpressurecanner.htm .They make smaller ones, too.
Absolutely the best book on pickling any food that you could ever think of, including recipes from all over the world. Many of our favourites are in here. You will not believe there are so many different recipes for sauerkraut, and for pickling fruits and vegetables that you never guessed could be pickled. We learn more every year we use it. Make sauerkraut, miso pickles, whole brined apples, and even pickles made in the sun, ready in three days! All kinds of pickles and all kinds of ways of pickling. Ziedrich teaches techniques for brining, fermenting and pickling from many cultures. If some in your family insist that they don’t like pickles, there will be something in this book that will change their mind.
Many of the books above contain recipes and ideas for using your harvest. It’s nice to stand back and look at it at the end of harvest season, but the real reason for doing all the work is to gain some security and control over the food your family eats. The books in this section cover points not encountered in the other books.
Two of those points are brewing and cheese-making. Using your own grain to make beer “from the ground up” combines a large number of fairly advanced topics. For that reason, it’s left out of this list, though if you’re interested you’ll be ready for more advanced learning after digesting the books below. There’s yet another way of saving some of your harvest – as long as your harvest includes dairy products – and that’s making your own cheeses. Ricki Carroll gently demystifies the process of turning milk into cheese, whether you have a cow, a milking sheep, or a goat. Although some techniques are advanced, simple cheese is, well, simple.
The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing is a good starting point, with the Home Brewer’s Companion as both a ready reference and some more advanced learning. Good beer and good cheese just seem made for each other.
The original version of this book may have been responsible for the popularity of home brewing in the U.S. in the mid-‘80s. While the older version still has good information, this newer edition adds an index that will help you find quick reference topics. Papazian launched a trend among homebrewers to name their brews in quirky, comedic ways (Toad Spit Stout is one example). While some have decried the use of overly cutesy names, it’s all in good fun. What is more important is that the book gathers a tremendous amount of brewing science into a fun read. Like cheese-making, it’s not a strictly gardening activity, but if you use Sara Pitzer’s book on growing grain, you may find the skills of brewing handy. Even if you just buy beer kits and ferment them, Papazian will give you good tips on how to make better beer.
Even more of a good thing, in a more advanced read. Intended as a companion volume to The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing, this book will give you deeper insight into more advanced brewing concepts. There are many other books and online publications dealing with home brewing, but these two books will give you most of what you need to know. If you choose to go further in other directions, other information is easy to find.
While cheese making isn’t strictly a gardening activity, it is very much part of a comprehensive approach to small agriculture. Whether you want to preserve a sudden surplus of milk, barter for dairy products with a neighbour, prepare yourself with another skill against hard times, or explore artisan cheese this book will give you the inside story, even if you simply march right down to the local mega grocery store and buy the milk to do it. Carroll includes profiles of pioneering home and small-business cheese makers as well as abundant cautions about cleanliness and how to achieve it. If you don’t think you’ll be able to use the entire milk production of a cow (or don’t know how you’d store hay for her for a whole winter) consider a milking sheep or a goat. Carroll tells us that sheep milk tastes much closer to cow’s milk than does milk from goats. Plus sheep are easier to handle and eat a lot less. This shift is on our “to do” list.
In this section are some books that don’t fit in other areas, but which represent some valuable skill-sets. At the very least, they’ll help you answer some of your questions about how you can be more resilient and sustainable. Grinding your own grain, as Tamara Dean discusses, will make you wonder how a loaf of bread could be so cheap in the store when it involves so much energy and time input. At the same time, that loaf of bread is worth any price when you’re hungry. The books below will give you the information you need to take the steps you feel are right for you – and will still have things to teach you when you’ve mastered the basics and are ready to move up.
Flip the switch and nothing happens. What next? In this book you will find a collection of ideas, profiles of builders, and instructions for building your own human-powered machines: small electrical generation to recharge batteries, food processing equipment like blenders and coffee or grain grinders, tools for the home like treadle-powered sewing machines, water pumps, machine tools like grinders, drill presses, and lathes – even pedal-powered lawn mowers and a pedal-powered clothes washer. Many groups and NGOs are providing human-powered machines to people in developing nations. This is a good idea book that will help you find workable solutions.
You’ve grown and harvested the grain, ground it into flour, and it’s time to bake bread. If you can’t use an electric or gas oven, or choose not to use one, Denzer’s book will help you build another option. Building a wood-fired earth oven is not an easy task. It’s best done as a communal project, but is well within the modest skills of most people. Denzer teaches workshops in building ovens, and his focus is on how to build one, not on why not to build one.
At one workshop, he helped a young girl build a small oven just large enough for a small sheet of chocolate-chip cookies. He believes everyone should approach this project on their own terms, which lends a can-do feeling to the book. There are other books about earth or brick ovens, but this one is a good, inexpensive, and comprehensive look at planning, building, and using a wonderful alternative.
Other Useful Publications and Websites
As we troll the Internet and read more books, we come across all kinds of good information. This bibliography is intended to get you started. On your own, you’ll find resources that lead you in new and interesting directions. You’ll learn about techniques that work where you live, and fit your unique situation.
We’ve found, in general, that just about anything published by Storey Publishing will help develop needed skills in a hurry. From building to baking, brewing to gardening to beekeeping and building bat houses, there’s probably an inexpensive and informative Storey pamphlet or book to show you the basics. They have an extensive catalogue online and are always on the hunt for new authors with something to teach. Find them at http://www.storey.com
For over 40 years Mother Earth News has been publishing stories and pictures from, by, and about people who are living sustainably. While the stories have changed over the years, they’re still about people working within the restrictions of the place where they live to achieve a dream. From basic to advanced, “Mother” always has an answer. Each issue has an extensive library of recommended books advertised in the back. Every issue ever published is available on a CD-ROM library, and the magazine’s website has an archival search function that will lead you to the right article to get the skills or information you need. Get in touch with Mother at http://www.motherearthnews.com
If you’re going to garden with maximum sustainability, you need to return nutrients to the soil. Composting and fallowing are two ways, but many people throw perfectly good fertilizer down the drain several times a day. The Humanure Handbook will take you gently through a very successful technique used around the world for capturing this valuable growing material. Collecting and composting human feces may seem strange, but the author has been doing it safely and successfully for over 30 years. You’ll have seen the idea presented by Steve Solomon and Carol Deppe among others, who also use diluted urine as a ready source of nitrogen. This book will teach you what you need to know. From the book’s website (http://humanurehandbook.com), click on the link to “Humanure Contents” and you can download PDF copies of the chapters for free. If you prefer a well-bound book version or an E-book, you may purchase them from the site.
Compost worms can be your best friends, whether you live in Florida or Yukon. They will eat your kitchen waste, garden debris, or even your humanure. Learn about how to make use of their enormous appetites here: http://www.allthingsorganic.com/How_To/01.asp and then make your own bin: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Your-Own-Worm-Compost-System or buy one already assembled: http://www.allthingsorganic.com/Products/ .
At some point you may cross the line between “gardener” and “farmer” – either by accident or intent. A long-standing publication for farmers is Farm Show. The magazine is all about innovation and solving problems on the farm, whether animal, vegetable, or mechanical. All of the solutions are presented by farmers, ranchers, and mechanical tinkerers of all stripes from around the world. Contact information for each source is provided. Farm Show also publishes a CD-ROM archive of all past issues, and provides search and real-human archival advice from its website at http://farmshow.com. Quarterly publications and special editions will give you ideas and show you solutions to a wide variety of problems. Each issue also includes on-farm small-business advice, customer reviews of farm equipment, and no advertising.
Finally, make sure everyone in your house owns a bicycle. At least one of these should be a cargo bike (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freight_bicycle), and all should have super-heavy locks for whenever you leave them to go into a store.
The information in this bibliography is extensive, and you won’t be able to put it all into practice in one year. It will take a long time to fine tune the insights you receive into practical working rules for your unique situation. The most important point, as Chris says, is to do something. Now. Click on one of these links and read. Go buy a book. Stand in the backyard and look at it differently. Could a potato patch go there? Some raspberry bushes here? Where might we put an apple tree? Once you begin, you’ll be rewarded, no matter how small the effort. Your great-great-grandparents would be proud.