The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Introduction to permaculture homesteading books

The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It Ben emailed to ask if I could recommend some books about "starting up...going from the "normal" way of life...and ESCAPING and getting into a permaculture lifestyle."  Here are my top picks:

There are a lot of good homesteading overview books, but my favorite is John Seymour's The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It.  (Well, also my Weekend Homesteader series, of course.)  This type of book will grab your attention about a lot of different projects, but you'll need to look in other directions once you choose a certain area you're interested in.

Teaming With Microbes In my opinion, vegetable gardening is at the heart of homesteading, so you might start your more in depth reading there.  Lee Reich's Weedless Gardening and Steve Solomon's Gardening When it Counts are two of the best books for helping you start in a permaculture fashion.  A lot of beginners prefer Mel Bartholemew's Square Foot Gardening, but I find the technique expensive and not as focused on soil health.  Speaking of which, Teaming With Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels is a beautiful and easy to read primer on what's going on in your dirt.

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock Chickens should also be considered low-hanging fruit in the homesteading world.  By far the best book on incorporating chickens into a permaculture homestead is Harvey Ussery's The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.  I'm still in the middle of that book since it came out not long ago, so no lunchtime series on it yet.  (Speaking of which, most of the links in this post point you toward my summaries of the top points in each book, although a few just send you to Amazon if I haven't written a post about that book yet.)

In terms of general permaculture information, a lot of people love Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden.  For some reason, I didn't get into the book when I flipped through it, but I Permaculture: A Designer's Manualsuspect that's because I'd already read a lot of more advanced permaculture books and knew the basics.  As I look at the table of contents on Amazon, I think I should give it another shot, and I would recommend you check it out.  Another introductory permaculture book is Bill Mollison's Permaculture: A Designer's Manual.

Edible mushrooms are easy and fun and are one of the hidden sides of the permaculture garden.  I recommend reading Paul Stamets' Mycelium Running for inspiration, but starting with something simple like oyster mushrooms in logs.  (I don't have a more basic edible mushroom book to recommend, but there are lots of resources on the internet.)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle There are also a range of inspirational, memoir-type books you might be interested in.  The most well known is The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing.  Possum Living by Dolly Freed is a fun book written by an 18 year old about "how to live well without a job and with (almost) no money."  More recently, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle covers one family's experience eating locally and in season.

If you're interested in the traditional cultures that spawned many modern permaculture techniques, you might want to check out Farmers of Forty Centuries by FH King.

And, finally, I have to plug our own book, Microbusiness Independence, which helps you fund your homesteading adventure.

So, what am I missing?  What are the best introductory books for off-grid living, sustainable building, aquaculture and other homesteading topics I'm not as up to date on?  I hope you'll comment with your own beginners' reading list.

Our chicken waterer makes the backyard flock fun, clean, and easy.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Any suggestions for rabbits?
Comment by Heath Sun Dec 11 09:50:43 2011
I'd love to hear other people's rabbit suggestions --- I've yet to see a book that covers rabbits in a permaculture way (ie on pasture, not in cages, etc.) There is an intern blog that goes with Joel Salatin's farm that has some very useful information --- Maybe someone out there needs to do some experimenting and then write one?
Comment by anna Sun Dec 11 10:59:30 2011

Start with a frugal lifestyle:

  • Save, then buy.
  • Invest in good quality stuff instead of buying the cheapest.
  • Never borrow money for consumer goods like cars etc.
  • Preferably, don't borrow money at all.
  • Cancel all your credit cards but one (for buying on the web).
  • Pay your creditcard balance every month, preferably automatically so you can't forget.
Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Dec 11 11:11:56 2011
You've got a good point that the deepest roots of permaculture homesteading are understanding simplicity. I'd add a book about that to my recommended reading list, but I'm not so sure you can grok something like that from a book.
Comment by anna Sun Dec 11 11:16:41 2011

This is a journey that one must make. I agree you cannot learn it from a book, but books, websites and blogs can point you in the right direction.

It is a journey that requires self reflection and experience. It is realizing that more stuff doesn't make you happier, it just encumbers you.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Dec 11 16:06:26 2011
Anna, thanks for the link. There is some excellent reading there.
Comment by Heath Sun Dec 11 17:04:51 2011

Roland --- I think simplicity is a bit like religion --- something that's best not preached because you really have to get there on your own.

Heath --- If you experiment with rabbits, I hope you'll come back and tell us all about it! (Take some photos and write a guest post??)

Comment by anna Sun Dec 11 19:00:08 2011

Folks with a decent internet connection can find a lot of permaculture resources through videos. Some well known permaculturists have videos around the web, like Bill Mollison's Global Gardener series: ""

I like Brad Lancaster's "Water Harvesting" book, which focuses mostly on dryland irrigation techniques(where land is often cheaper, so some aspiring homesteaders/permaculturists seem to end up there), but also discusses harvesting and landscape control to get the most out of water while minimizing erosion/flood risk.

You're right about Gaia's Garden. I think Hemenway held back a lot of his more radical ideas to make that book, which is kind of a mainstream (maybe slightly edgy) gardener's intro to permaculture. He says it himself. Some of his best work is on the topic of "invisible structures" or social building. He's got some nice articles at the website: A good book on invisible infrastructure is EF Schumacher's book "Small is Beautiful," which introduces a few great examples and ideas about ethical economics. There's a rough, unfinished quality to this book, but there are definitely a few good pieces of wisdom. And it spawned the Schumacher Society, which every permaculturist should be familiar with as a model, or at least inspiration for a new economy.

Comment by Sara Sun Dec 11 20:56:09 2011

Simplicity is more like rationality or the lack of religion.

Simplicity's virtues are self-evident, while religion is a fairy tale at best and self delusion and destructiveness at worst. As opposed to simple living, countless people have been murdered in the name of religion.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Dec 12 02:25:30 2011

Sara --- I'm not an auditory learner, so I vastly prefer books to videos. But it's true that folks who learn with a different style can get huge amounts of information off youtube.

I'm going to have to buckle down and read Small is Beautiful. Maybe that, plus Your Money or Your Life, are the books that would introduce folks to voluntary simplicity?

Roland --- I'm not saying that voluntary simplicity itself is like religion, just that it's a personal journey that no one can really expedite for you. Maybe you'd be happier if I replaced "religion" with "philosophy"? :-)

Comment by anna Mon Dec 12 09:23:11 2011

I was given a copy of "Back to Basics" by a couple who live near me who have been homesteading for more than a decade. It's quite useful in many areas.

I also love Helen and Scott Nearing's book "Living the Good Life."

Comment by Debbi Mon Dec 12 14:35:54 2011
I felt like Living the Good Life repeated an awful lot of The Good Life, which is why I didn't add it to the list. I'll have to check out Back to Basics and see how it stacks up next to John Seymour's intro.
Comment by anna Mon Dec 12 17:28:50 2011

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