Book Review: Country Wisdom and Know-How

country wisdomCountry Wisdom and Know-How: A Practical Guide to Living Off the Land
by M. John Storey
Nonfiction / Homesteading
1055 pages
Published 2004

This is a heck of an encyclopedia on homesteading topics. It gathers up a bunch of bulletins previously published by the Storey company, collating them into one very large book. It’s divided into six main categories: Animals, Cooking, Crafts, Gardening, Health and Well-Being, and Home. Each of those categories is divided into 2-5 subcategories, then individual columns under those. For example “Home” is divided into “Inside the House” and “Fences, Orchards, Outbuildings and More.” Under the latter category we have topics ranging from “Making Maple Syrup” and “Cold Storage for Fruits & Vegetables” to “Building Stone Walls” and “Build a Pole Woodshed.”

There’s an entire line of these encyclopedias; this seems to be the most broad of them, as others have slightly narrowed focus, like Garden Wisdom & Know-How or Woodworking Wisdom & Know-How. They are absolutely not books you’d read cover to cover, but are also books I want on my shelf and in my Survival Library. I only have this one from the library currently, but I definitely want to own it, and the entire line.

Country Wisdom & Know-How is well put together, with LOTS of diagrams and instructions. It’s often hard to visualize how something goes together if you’ve never done it before, and the book solves that with the diagrams, very clearly. It’s a gigantic book, but it’s PACKED with information on a huge number of topics – 144 individual topics plus 8 appendices!

From the cover of Country Wisdom & Know-How:

(This is actually the description from Goodreads, as the back cover just has a list of topics)

Reminiscent in both spirit and design of the beloved Whole Earth Catalog, Country Wisdom & Know-How is an unprecedented collection of information on nearly 200 individual topics of country and self-sustained living. Compiled from the information in Storey Publishing’s landmark series of “Country Wisdom Bulletins,” this book is the most thorough and reliable volume of its kind. Organized by general topic including animals, cooking, crafts, gardening, health and well-being, and home, it is further broken down to cover dozens of specifics from “Building Chicken Coops” to “Making Cheese, Butter, and Yogurt” to “Improving Your Soil” to “Restoring Hardwood Floors.” Nearly 1,000 black-and-white illustrations and photographs run throughout and fascinating projects and trusted advice crowd every page.

Book Review: The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds

complete guide to saving seedsThe Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Flowers, Fruits, Trees, and Shrubs
by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough
310 pages
Published 2011

This is an amazing reference book. It begins with some general chapters on why you should save seeds, the anatomy of seeds, and some basic techniques for harvesting seeds, hand-pollinating, basic general principles of seed storage and the like. Then it dives into the real meat of the book, the chapters on the specific plants. They’re divided into the six broad categories listed in the subtitle: vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees, and shrubs. Within those chapters, each species is listed separately, with notes on the scientific name, the species family, the plant type (annual, biennial, perennial), seed viability, how many plants to save seed from, spacing for seed saving, and then a few paragraphs on flowering and pollination, any isolation requirements, and specifics on how to harvest, clean, and store the seeds for that species. It also has germination and transplanting notes for each species.

This would be an invaluable reference manual if you intend to save seeds from your plants and become self-sufficient, but it’s still useful if not, for its notes on the pollination of each species. The isolation requirements are especially interesting; there are some plants that will cross-pollinate with plants 10 miles away! The sidebar on pumpkins and squash was also fascinating – I didn’t know so many squash were technically the same species as pumpkins, just different cultivars. And that means they’ll cross-breed if you’re not careful! Even more fascinating, giant pumpkins aren’t the same species as jack o’lantern pumpkins, so they won’t cross breed.

I will absolutely be adding this book to my collection as a reference manual.

From the cover of The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds:

Improve the health and productivity of your garden season after season by saving seeds from your best plants. When you harvest seeds from your own garden, you will:

-Take another step toward food independence
-Save the money you’re spending on plants and seeds
-Enjoy a healthy garden filled with plants uniquely adapted to your own backyard
-Be able to swap seeds with other seed savers
-Preserve genetic diversity and regional favorites
-Ensure a safe and varied seed selection for future generations.

To begin saving seeds, choose healthy plants with desirable traits. Is pest resistance important to you? What about tomatoes that ripen early or spinach that’s slow to bolt? Do you have pink sweet peas whose color you want to replicate next year? Select for these traits and build your best garden ever. Plant-by-plant instructions guide you through all the seed-saving techniques specific to 322 plants.

Book Review: The Food Forest Handbook

the food forest handbookThe Food Forest Handbook: Design and Manage a Home-Scale Perennial Polyculture Garden
by Darrell Frey & Michelle Czolba
229 pages
Published 2017

Another book in my permaculture research, this in-depth guide is definitely going on my To-Buy list. (I always check these out from the library before spending money on personal copies.)

There is SO MUCH information in this book. Unlike some of the other books, there’s no big spreads of full-color, glossy photos (which can be useful, I’m not digging on those); The Food Forest Handbook is mostly text with a few black-and-white photos tucked in. There are spreadsheets and diagrams and lists, sidebars of useful information, how-to walkthroughs and case studies of specific plants. I’m not sure how they packed so much into a little over 200 pages, but this book is a treasure trove of permaculture strategies.

The book starts with a chapter on why permaculture is important; they explore past examples of permaculture, some present food forests, and why it could be useful to us going forward. The second chapter gets into designing a food forest to fit your needs – scoping out your site, determining what resources you have, all of the planning aspects. Then we have a short chapter on putting all that knowledge together and going “from concept sketch to detailed designs” – how to refine your research and plans into something you can work off of. Chapter 4 is about selecting the specific plants; going from “okay here I want a fruit tree and a nitrogen fixer” to “a peach and comfrey.” Plant varietals are discussed here, as well as the different needs of tree guilds.

The rest of the book gets into maintenance, harvesting, and propagating the food forest, and the last chapter is on a tour of established food forests in various climates, to see what’s possible.

This is definitely a book I want on my resource shelf; it can get a little dry at points, but there is so much knowledge here. One thing I really liked was the diagram of tree shapes – if one tree says it has a conical shape when full grown, and one has a pyramid shape, there’s a diagram that shows what exactly the difference is.

Overall an excellent, information-packed book, if a little difficult to read straight through.

From the cover of The Food Forest Handbook:

A Food Forest is a productive landscape developed around a mix of trees and perennials, helping increase biodiversity, protect valuable habitat for beneficial insects, and promote food security and resilience, all while providing an abundant annual harvest.

Rooted in permaculture principles, this integrated approach to gardening incorporates a variety of plants such as fruit and nut trees, shrubs, vines, and perennial herbs and vegetables. Authors Michelle Czolba and Darrell Frey bring years of experience building and maintaining food forests to provide this practical and accessible guide to creating your own food forest landscape, whether you’re urban, suburban, or rural. 

Book Review: Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist

edible landscapingEdible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist: How to have your yard and eat it too
by Michael Judd
143 pages
Published 2013

I’ve been making a habit of checking out gardening books from the library before buying them, so I know what I actually want to have around as a permanent resource. This book has definitely made that list. Other books talk about some of these same principles – swales, herb spirals, rain gardens, tree guilds – but this book actually goes into detail with step-by-step instructions and pictures on how to MAKE many of those things. I also appreciate that the author lives in Maryland, about an hour west of me. So our climate is the same.

I really enjoyed his chapter on uncommon fruits – I’d been reading that pawpaws are one of the fruits that do well with black walnuts, and his description of pawpaw fruit REALLY makes me want to grow one! They’re an uncommon fruit largely because they’re too delicate to ship, but they apparently taste delicious! And they’re native, which is always a plus. I’d love to stick with native plants as much as possible.

His chapter on mushroom growing was also interesting and VERY detailed. (I quite enjoyed that he included “a good beer” in his list of supplies at one point.)

It’s a short book, and it only covers a few topics, but it is EXCELLENT for those few topics he touches on. Definitely want a copy of this in my personal library!

From the cover of Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist:

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist is a fun-filled how-to manual for the budding gardener and experienced green thumb alike. Full of creative and easy-to-follow designs that guide you to having your yard and eating it too!

The ABC’s of Creating an Edible Landscape
– Herb Spirals
– Food Forests
– Raised Bed Gardens
– Earthen Ovens
– Uncommon Fruits
– Outdoor Mushrooms and much more . . . 

Book Review: The Suburban Micro-Farm

suburban micro farmThe Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People
by Amy Stross
Nonfiction/Gardening/ Homesteading
347 pages
Published 2018

I’m going to buy my own copy of this book. It is stuffed full of useful information! It focuses on growing food in your yard when you don’t have much time to spend on the yard, so there’s a lot of permaculture techniques and gardens that are largely hands-off once you get them set up, which is exactly what I want. With the chronic fatigue, I often don’t have the energy to get outside and work on a garden, and Maryland summers exhaust me simply by stepping outside. I really want to garden and grow food, but I need easy ways to do that.

The Suburban Micro-Farm delved into planting hedgerows, which is something we’ve been thinking of, rain gardens (which we probably should do, we have a couple places in the yard that do not drain well), and tree guilds, which are plantings that go under trees to work together in little micro-environments. One of the tree guilds Stross specifically talks about is a Black Walnut tree guild, which I was excited to see because we have a huge, beautiful mature Black Walnut that I’ve been trying to figure out how to plant around. Black Walnuts produce juglone, a chemical that kills a lot of plants, so you have to be very mindful of what you plant near them.

This is an excellent reference book for suburban gardens, and she has lots of extra resources on her site, The Tenth Acre Farm. I will be exploring those as well, but I’m definitely going to buy my own copy of this book!

From the cover of The Suburban Micro-Farm:

Yield abundant harvests from your own yard with only 15 minutes a day!

Do you long to find the secrets of gardening with the time you have?
Are you ready to feel more connected to your home?
Would you like the satisfaction of growing healthy food for your table?

Author Amy Stross talks straight about why the suburbs might be the ideal place for a homesteading lifestyle. If you’re ready to create a beautiful, edible yard, this book is for you.

In these pages you’ll learn how to:
-Stop letting your garden overwhelm you
-Develop and nurture healthy soil
-Use easy permaculture techniques for stress-free, abundant harvests

Library Loot Wednesday

So this is kind of a sad post – I just picked up the last two books from my hold list at my old library. I still have several books out from my old library, that I’ve been told I can turn in at my new county library and they will make their way back to the proper system, but I don’t think I have any further need to go back to a physical branch. I have to get to know an entirely new set of librarians now!


So my last two books from this library are The Priory of the Orange Tree, which is a feminist political fantasy with dragon riders (and a BEAST of a book, at over 800 pages!) and The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People. I’ve always been interested in homesteading, and I’ve reviewed a few gardening books in the past. (And I have several more on my shelves!) Most of them are about home farming on a tenth of an acre, or a quarter acre – and here I’m suddenly sitting on just under HALF an acre! I’m held back by the chronic fatigue from my chronic illness, but I’m working on addressing that with my doctor and my diet. I’d like to start small with just a couple of pots this year, and maybe grow slowly. I also have a very large black walnut tree towering over much of the property, and there are a lot of plants that won’t grow near those. So I have to do some research.