This is no thaw, this is SPRING! – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Or I dunno maybe it is just a thaw. Weather in the PNW is doin a confuse, and nobody can make any plans w/r/t putting plants into the ground.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t dream! Property prices are insane where I live (lol where are they not) and yards are scarce so I’m doing like those IKEA showrooms for 450sq foot houses but like for gardens. Plant vertically! Everything is touching! Leave no corner inedible!
It isn’t just the current doomsday climate, either. I’ve always found something deeply satisfying about the sort of self-sufficient Little-House-On-The-Prairie-ness of growing your own food. Even just reading books about farming and about people canning their tomato crop makes me feel safe in a way I cannot define.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver
Oh lerd, combine my love of homesteader narratives with my love of this thing I did for a year memoirs and stir in some progressive education. This is where I learned about the actual benefits of buying local or why there are so few types of tomato in the grocery store (mid-20s-Raych ain’t know things).
Kingsolver moved her family to a smallish Appalachian farm and spent a year living off only things they could grow themselves or buy from their neighbors. The narrative is satisfying af because of the PLANNING – like, How Many Onions Will I Need In One Year Very Good I Shall Plant That Many – and also the writing is accessible and wry in a way I find deeply enjoyable.
I need to preface this by saying that I am very slightly DONE with the quirky, hare-brained wife and her stolid, long-suffering husband trope (for this I blame having read both of Jenny Lawson’s books back to back, which is no one’s fault but mine). This IS, however, exactly my jam: a mix of memoir, year-in-a-life, and how-to.
The project is definitely less well-planned that Kingsolver’s (Warren starts in June, which hello you need to have like half your plants in already – see above re: hare-brained scheming) and a quarter acre is still well more than I ever hope to have, but she goes all in with her backyard gardening and I deeply empathize with her inability to prune things due to excessive sentimentality. There’s a bit where she can’t stand to thin her peaches as aggressively as she should and the branch grows too heavy and snaps, and she loses them all, and I am like, Girl.
The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers – Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Former drag queen, now writer and ad-exec, Josh comes across a For Sale mansion and farm in upstate New York while on a vacation with his partner and they BUY IT and what follows is a wild frolic in attempts to wrangle their farm into submission slash productivity, and defend themselves against the house’s horde of zombie flies, while maintaining their lives in the city.
Hijinks ensue. Baby’s first home canning experience! Suddenly there are goats! Martha Stewart is involved in some ways! I had a genuine moment of tension near the end where I thought they were going to lose the farm and also break up.
There’s definitely some able-bodied white dude jokes in here so, you know. Caveat emptor. Overall it is a romp.
How much you enjoy this one depends on your tolerance for a woman referring to herself as ‘mommy’ and writing in second person in reference to her chickens. The parts where she breaks from that are SO GREAT and so much of her insight is satisfying and serene but I can barely handle when I myself talk like this in reference to my own children.
Super want to get myself some chickens now tho.
I will be this cat.
Molly on the Range – Molly Yeh
Molly of My Name is Yeh, former New Yorker albeit reluctantly, left New York to follow her new husband back to his ancestral sugar beet farm. This book is less about farming on the farm and more about cooking on the farm but I’m including it because I want to make every. fucking. thing in it. Molly’s Chinese and Jewish ancestry mean there’re a lot of like scallion pancakes and latkes, and her New Yorkiness comes out in like bagel-wrapped hot dogs.
Also, she’s super fucking adorable. ‘Remember in 2013 when Hanukkah and Thanksgiving aligned and the Internet nearly shat itself with mash-up recipes’ YES MOLLY YOU WONDROUS CREATURE we do remember that.
How to plant things in your front yard so that it looks nice and your neighborhood association isn’t giving you side-eye. There were a ton of plants in here I had never considered, and she does urge you to expand your definition of ‘edible.’ She sometimes prioritieses form over function, so if your goal with gardening is to be ruthlessly efficient and not to end up with like eleven kinds of ornamental sage, maybe take this as gentle guidance.
Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on ¼ Acre – Brett L Markham
This gets pretty technical in parts but has some good intel for densely packing your garden for maximum yield in minimum space. I aint’ really about crop rotation due to laziness but I could be seduced by phrases like ‘nitrogen replenishment’ into figuring out what cover crops are.
The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency – Anna Hess
Brb, building myself a worm bin.
This book is chock full of gardening advice and household projects and canning tutorials and also is the only gardening book I have ever read to acknowledge the presence of another hemisphere (i.e. ‘Here’s stuff to do in September, except do it in March if you’re down under.’)
It’s organized by month, with projects like ‘plant your summer garden’ and ‘learn about nutrition’ in May, or ‘learn to bake bread’ or ‘take a look at your media consumption’ in the chill month of January.
The Urban Homestead – Kelly Coyne, Erik Knutzen
This is the one I’m buying for myself. Solid gardening advice for the beginner and old hand alike, it is mildly sweary and mildly feral and mildly dumpster-divey (‘[Dumpster diving] combines the thrill of poaching with the heady satisfaction of finding a really great sale.’) and covers everything from worm composting to fermenting to planting a polyculture garden.
I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. Any good homesteady book recs? What other classic books about farming and homesteading did I miss?