Saturday, January 21, 2012

Book Review: The Resilient Gardener

The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times by Carol Deppe

I'm on a roll, so I thought I'd do a few more book reviews. This is another book that was written in 2010, and another that I knew would be great even before I read it, because so many people recommended it. 

The main theme of the book is how to produce your own food, even during "hard times". By hard times, she means times when you really need your garden - when poor health, family crises, or any of the other problems of life take the majority of your time, but you still need your garden to produce for you. She focuses on five food staples: Potatoes, Corn, Beans, Squash, and Eggs (she is allergic to wheat and dairy, so doesn't eat (and so doesn't discuss) these foods). I particularly liked this quote: "Trying to live and be healthy on an agribusiness diet itself is a kind of hard times, even for those who don't have special dietary needs." Well said!

The first half of the book is "a synthesis of practical gardening with newly emerging information in many fields - resilience science, climatology, climate change, ecology, anthropology, paleontology, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, health, and medicine." Obviously, judging from this list, I don't agree with everything she says, but as with most books, you can still glean useful information even if you have differing opinions from the author (and it's also a good exercise to read ideas from people who don't agree with you - sometimes seeing things from another perspective can fine-tune your own thinking).

The second half "illustrates and extends the ideas and principles with detailed hands-on information about growing and using five kinds of yard and garden crops - potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs." This is the meat-and-potatoes part of the book (where, indeed, she discusses both meat (briefly) and potatoes (a whole chapter!)

She is insistent on the idea that you should seek out gardening information specific to your local region - what works in one locale won't necessarily apply in the same way to where you live. Most publications are geared to a national audience; while these might give good general gardening tips, they won't be as useful as something specifically written for your area. Different varieties of vegetables, for example, will grow well in some areas and not others. Difficult climates, such as the arid southwest, will require much different approaches than wetter regions like Oregon. She suggests looking at what is grown commercially in your area - wheat? apples? tomatoes? - and why. This can give you a clue into what grows well near you, and help you plan your garden accordingly.

Naturally, after you've found varieties that do well in your particular area, the obvious plan would be to save seeds from those particular plants and raise your own stock, uniquely suited to your particular situation. Deppe goes into detail about plant breeding and seed saving (she has also written a book called Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, and has several lines of beans, peas, and squash that she has selected and sells to companies such as Peace Seeds and Nichols Garden Nursery)
Obviously, having special dietary needs herself, nutrition is very important to Deppe, and she has an entire chapter on this subject, and another subject on exercise (focusing on what she calls "purposeful exercise" - specifically walking and gardening.) She writes about different styles of gardening that are more or less labor intensive, labor-saving tools and equipment, and knowing when to vary the kind of labor you're doing or stop altogether.

The last five chapters each cover, in-depth, one of the specific crops she mentions in the title: Potatoes, Poultry, Squash, Beans, and Corn. She covers varieties (with a focus on what grows best in her Oregon climate), best growing conditions for each (fertility, irrigation, etc.) storage, recipes (this is where I found the base for my Even Better Pumpkin Pie Bars), breeding, and more. This book would be worth buying just for these five chapters alone!

This book is one of those information-dense resources that give you more insights each time you read. I will definitely be implementing many of Deppe's gardening ideas this coming year, and am obviously already using some of her recipes regularly!
Note: I was not payed to review this book, I just really love it! But if you click on the link above and buy the book at, I will receive a small commission from the sale. Thank you for your support!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Favorite Books of 2011 #3 - Folks, This Ain't Normal

#3 - Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World by Joel Salatin

What can I say? I'm a HUGE Joel Salatin fan. I've read all of his books - Pastured Poultry Profit$, $alad Bar Beef, You Can Farm, Family Friendly Farming (my favorite), Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer (I love that title!), and now his latest: Folks, This Ain't Normal (published just two days before my birthday - happy birthday to me!)

This book looks from many different angles on what is messed up with our food today. As the pictoral hyperbole on the cover suggests, pushing food production in ways that are not natural or sustainable "ain't normal" - historically or biologically - or good for us. With chapter titles like "A Cat Is a Cow Is a Chicken Is My Aunt", "Disodium Ethylenediaminetetraacetate - Yum!", "Dino-the-Dinosaur-Shaped Nuggets Don't Grow on Chickens", "Sterile Poop and Other Unsavory Cultural Objectives" and "I'm from the Government, and I'm Here to Help You - Right" he looks at issues as diverse as cultural ignorance about food production, GMOs, government regulations biased against small farms, balancing your gut flora, and even raising happy and productive children. Each 10-20 page chapter looks into a different facet of the problems farmers (and eaters) face today, and ends with three to ten practical ideas for solving that problem.

Salatin is not afraid to go against the mainstream and speak his mind. Quite the contrary! For example, he suggests: "Don't demand government stamps of approval for anything." "Patronize plain packaging. Pay for the product, not the packaging." "Complain to your farmer that he isn't charging enough." "Before saying anyone can't afford good food, make sure their house contains no alcohol, coffee, tobacco, soda, frozen dinners, flat-screen TVs, iPods, tattoos, or unsingable music." "Quit feeding herbivores grain. Period." "Quit landfilling any biomass. If it will decompose, it should not go in a landfill. It should rot where it can be returned to the soil." and, my personal favorite: "Replace the parakeets with two chickens. They won't make as much noise, and they'll lay eggs."

If you're not familiar with Joel Salatin's ideas, this book is a good summary of his philosophy. As a small farmer, he has a unique perspective on food production in America today, and his unique and innovative ideas make him one of the most popular and influential voices in the Real Food movement.
Note: I was not payed to review this book, I just really love it! But if you click on the link above and buy the book at, I will receive a small commission from the sale. Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Favorite Books of 2011 #2 - The Small-Scale Poultry Flock

#2 - The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An all-natural approach to raising chickens and other fowl for home and market growers by Harvey Ussery

I actually pre-ordered this book, because I knew it would be good! Harvey Ussery is a member of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, and always had helpful insights on their Yahoo forum. So not only did I know he'd be approaching the subject from a pastured-poultry point of view (which most chicken books, to my great frustration, don't), but I knew he had a wealth of knowledge about the things I was most interested in - in particular, formulating your own chicken feed, breeding your own stock, building movable shelters, using chickens to improve your garden, and even some tips on small-scale marketing for your eggs or meat.

I really love books like this, books that not only give you the basics of How To Raise A Chicken, but encourage you to explore how you can do it in the best way possible - for the best health of your birds, the best benefit to your garden, and the best use of the resources you have available to you. It not only covered "how-to" (although it did a good job at covering the basics, too) but also "Try-this!" and "Think about this . . . " Definitely my kind of book!

It starts out with a Forward by Joel Salatin - quite an auspicious beginning! - and jumps right into the point: "Why Bother?" is the title of the first chapter. It talks about what's wrong with the industrial food system, and why raising your own is worth the effort. If you've studied the philosophy of Joel Salatin and the like, this will be familiar territory, but if you haven't, it's worth the read.

Next comes a primer on the basics: nomenclature, anatomy, breeds, etc. Fairly basic, but I still learned a few things.

Part two focuses on basic care, from a pastured poultry perspective. I was particularly excited to find detailed plans for "The Chicken Hilton" - the poultry house he built himself for his birds. I definitely will be looking to these pages for inspiration when I build my new coop (hopefully this summer!) This section also includes plans for several different types of pasture shelters as well as information on using electronet for giving your birds greater range. (Basically an updated version of what you can find in Salatin's Pastured Poultry Profit$ or Andy Lee's Day Range Poultry)

Ussery goes into great detail in this section describing the Deep Litter Management of poultry manure. This is very good information if, like me, you prefer collecting eggs and cooking with them to cleaning out the chicken coop! It's very important, however, to note that this system only works if you can give your birds plenty of room (he suggests 3-5 square feet per bird). I tried this last year with an overstocked coop, and it failed miserably. I would love to try it again, though, when I have more room.

Part three looked at one of the best things about raising chickens (at least it makes this Agrarian Cheerful) - how great they can be for your garden. It covers both the tilling work chickens can do as well as how helpful they can be in breaking up composting materials. They're also helpful for bug and slug control - although this requires more careful management, since letting chickens loose in your garden often results in the birds eating your vegetables instead of protecting them!

It was part four, though, that really sparked my interest: Feeding the Small-Scale Flock. This sentence in particular summed it up for me: "The more we find ways to give the flock maximum access to live, natural foods, the more we will think of purchased, highly artificial feeds - or even concentrated feeds we make ourselves - as supplemental, provided as needed to the extent not enough natural feeds are available." I have found this particularly true in the last few months, as I both a) switched to organic feed and b) am feeding more kitchen scraps (thanks to my neighbor - a mother of nine - who brings a considerable amount of her scraps over for my chickens as well). I was concerned at first because we were going through about 1/4 of the feed that we had been using (cheap stuff from the local Farm & Fleet store), but the hens kept on laying - better than expected, in fact (my ameraucanas, who are generally not great layers, have been averaging over 85% the last few weeks - and this in the middle of winter, when laying is supposed to be slow! I do have supplemental lighting, but still that's much better than my hens have done in past winters on conventional feed). Apparently I was paying for a lot of fillers - so even though the organic feed costs more per pound, I'm getting a lot more eggs per feed dollar, even so.

Chapters 17 and 18 were the most interesting part of the book for me: Making Our Own Feeds and Feeding the Flock from Home Resources. Ussery goes into not only ingredients and ratios, but also equipment and storage requirements. He has several recipes, and even a spreadsheet you can plug into your Excel program at home to calculate protein percentages.

From there, he progresses to raising your own live protein for your birds - namely, worms ("Vermicomposting in the Greenhouse") and/or soldier flies ("Protein from Thin Air"). It's amazing all of the options available for feeding your chickens from your home resources!

Part six is all about raising a breeding flock - something I'm hoping to try next year. He has a whole chapter on working with broody hens (which I intend to try, since my attempts with an incubator have all failed and I'm getting frustrated with the poor health of mail-order chicks).

And, last but not by any means least, Part Seven: Poultry for the Table. Here he covers egg storage, butchering, and cooking, including recipes. This section also includes a chapter on selling your eggs or meat to small local markets. He discusses the all-important regulations and pricing issues, which can be so confusing when you're just starting out. For those of us primarily raising our birds for our own use, this is still a good chapter to look over, since it will perhaps give you a new perspective on other small-scale farms and what they go through trying to sell their quality food to you.

So as much as I was anticipating from this book (did I mention I ordered it for myself for my birthday?) it did not disappoint. I learned so much from it, most of which I intend to implement this coming year!
Note: I was not payed to review this book, I just really love it! But if you click on the link above and buy the book at, I will receive a small commission from the sale. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nutty Whole Wheat Sourdough Pumpkin Pancakes (Or Waffles)

I know I said I'd be posting about books, but I just had to throw in this recipe. We made these this morning, and they were so yummy!

Pumpkin Sourdough Pancakes (or Waffles)
Overnight Sponge:
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp maple syrup or honey
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup sourdough starter
Mix all together, cover loosely, and let rest at room temperature overnight.

The next morning, add:
1/4 cup melted butter or lard
1 cup pureed pumpkin
2 eggs
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup ground walnuts or pecans (optional)

Fry like pancakes, or you can also prepare these in a waffle iron.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Favorite Books of 2011 #1 - Making It

Since my garden is currently hidden under a lovely layer of snow, I've been spending a lot of time curled up on the couch, planning what to plant next year and reading up on new ideas and techniques to improve our homestead. In the spirit of the New Year, reflecting on the year that's passed, I decided to do a series of posts on my top ten (well, three) new homesteading books from 2011.

#1 - Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen

(Ok, technically, this book was published in 2010, but I didn't discover it until last year, and it's still new enough that I thought I could include it.)

I have to admit, I'm pretty cheap. I rarely buy books; generally, I check them out of the library and glean from them as much as I can. Some books, however, are so chock-full of useful information that I decide it's worth the cash to save myself the trouble of copying out the entire book and just buy it. This was definitely one of them.

Honestly, this book had me from Hello. The first sentence on the back cover reads: "If you have ever wondered how to grow vegetables in an apartment, build a chicken coop, homebrew beer, or make your own soap from scratch - this book is for you." Yes, yes, yes, and yes! This book IS for me!

Making It, in my opinion, is basically a recipe book for how to cut the Walmart umbilical and live a more self-sufficient life. The first section focuses on things you'll use every day, such as "Thinking around the Toothbrush" "Minimalist Mouthwash" "Giving Up the Bottle: Four Natural Shampoo Alternatives" "Homegrown Medicine" and many other directions for making your own personal care products.

The second section moves to the kitchen, covering basic stock making, cooking beans, cooking whole grains, baking "Serious Bread", homemade condiments, and (my favorite, because it was the most new to me) Old Fashioned Vinegar-Based Drinks (I LOVE Oxymel!)

Next, we move on to Making Your Own Cleaning Products, Laundry Day, and Basic Mending. Most of this ideas I already use, so I didn't glean too much from this section (although it's all very good information).

Section Three included instructions for making sauerkraut and other fermented foods, growing microgreens and sweet potatoes indoors (for the edible greens, not the roots), and more on herbal medicine (including drying, infusing, and tincturing herbs, making salves, medicinal honey, deodorants, bug repellents, and even homemade peppermints).

Then comes Section Four. Easily my favorite part, it starts out with "Making Soap the Easy Way". It actually shows you how to make real, old-fashioned soap in small batches, using only three ingredients (coconut or olive oil, lye, and water). I have made both castille (olive oil) and coconut oil soap twice now, and I love how simple it is. It makes soapmaking easy and approachable (and doesn't assume that everyone wants super-scented colored fancy soap - although you can certainly add scents and colors if you want to; I just prefer mine plain and simple). It even has recipes (if you really want to go all-out) for how to make your own lye out of wood ashes (although the author states that it's a pain in the neck, and hard to be sure of the exact strength of the lye you end up with).

The next part was mostly things I already knew: How to Slaughter a Chicken, Starting Seeds and Planting a Garden, How to Prepare a Bed for Planting, Saving Seed, etc. followed by The Magic of Fermentation: Making Vinegar, Mead, and Home Brew.

The final section was on infrastructure: drip irrigation, seedling flats, compost bins, worm farming, solar cookers, and even a chicken coop. And to finish it off (and make me smile, since I want to try this myself this summer) "Backward Beekeeping", ending with instructions on how to Make a Native Pollinator Habitat.

It almost felt as if this book was written with me in mind! Of course I realize it's not, which in turn makes me smile, realizing that there are others like me out there, eager to try new things and learn to make things for ourselves. Here's to modern homesteaders!
Note: I was not payed to review this book, I just really love it! But if you click on the link above and buy the book at, I will receive a small commission from the sale. Thank you for your support!