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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book Review of "The Backyard Homestead"

The Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan is a 366 page guide to growing and raising food in small spaces.

Storey publishing produces books geared toward a country lifestyle. Madigan used her experiances with Storey in order to create a beautiful manual toward those who wish to grow some of their own food.

The Backyard Homestead is based around a 1/4 acre backyard. While this is extremely large for some yards, for those in the country or on a homestead 1/4 acre is quite small. However, many of the ideas elaborated in The Backyard Homestead can easily be scaled up if necessary.

The book is divided into chapters that make sense for someone looking at raising food.

The first chapter of the book is on the Vegetable Garden. This section gives ideas on the yields of different plants, as well as information on how deep to plant, and the spacing that individual garden plants need. Madigan gives sample garden plans and example crop rotations. information on container gardening, and the manufacture of hot beds, cold frames and trellises is also provided.

After the general information about the garden, she focuses individual vegetables giving information on the varieities and how to use individual vegetable types.

The next chapter focuses on fruits and nuts. Madigan looks at fruit ranging from small fruit to full size fruit trees. She gives recommended varieties for various climate zones. She also provides pruning advice and storage times for various fruits.

In this section Madigan also gives instructions for wines, ciders, and vinegars. This gives ideas for broadening the types of food and flavors that someone can get from their small homestead.

Nuts is the second half of this section. While the section is not anywhere as large or indepth as the fruit section, Madigan does give a few ideas for different kinds of nuts that can be grown in a small space.

The next chapter of the book focuses on herbs. Herbs are extremely important to someone growing their own food as plants which take up a very small space can make a huge impact when added to the food. Madigan gives ideas on preserving herbs, and provides a list of "32 essential herbs". These herbs are both culinary and medicinal, and there are ideas for their uses both inside and outside the kitchen.

Chapter 4 is on homegrown grains. Grains are one of the last things that someone would probably think of growin in their backyard. However, Madigan provides the amount to plant and the expected harvest for 1000 sq. ft and for the acre. She provides ideas on varities to plant, as well as ideas on using your homegrown grains. Bread and Beer making are also covered in this section.

After the grains, Madigan begins to investigate the animals that can be raised on a micro-homestead. The first chapter on animals is on poultry. Madigan looks at both meat and egg breeds of chickens, as well as turkeys, ducks and geese. Madigan gives information on butchering and preparing poultry.

Chapter 6 is on Meat and Dairy. In this chapter Madigan looks at Goats, Sheep, Cattle and Sheep. She gives information on finding good milkers, and on varieties of animal and their main uses. Madigan also covers the raising of rabbits for meat. Between Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, almost any animal that can be raised on a full sized farm can be raised on a backyard homestead and Madigan shows you how.

In this Chapter Madigan gives information on butchering, sausagemaking, and smoking the meat. She also gives information on making cheese, butter, yogurt and icecream from the dairy products provided.

The last chapter of the book focuses on food from the wild. This section begins with beekeeping, and goes through edible wild plants, and even how to make your own maple syrup.

Madigan gives a list of resources broken down by chapter, making it easy to find tools and more information. In this section she also gives information on climate zones and even on laws regarding raising chickens within the limits of various U.S. cities.

Overall the book is great for anyone looking at growing some of their own food. The book is however, a very general overview in any particular section, and while this book is great as a general guide, it does not provide information that is in depth enough for someone who is really dedicated to any one aspect of the book.

Two of the main benefits of the book are its beautiful illustrations which show everything from garden designs through poultry breeds. The other great part of the book is the small side panels which give more information, or give tips that may be useful for the reader.

This is definately a book for anyone looking to grow some of their own food.

Live a hands on life,

The book can be found at

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review of Landscaping with Fruit by Lee Reich

Who wouldn't want to have a beautiful landscape that was as productive as it was pretty. This is what Landscaping with Fruit is all about.

At 192 pages, Reich provides a substantial amount of information at the fingertips of the reader about choosing varieties to plant, both for aesthetic reasons, and for the fruit that they provide.

The first part of the book provides garden plans, with ideas on how an edible landscape can be laid out. These garden plans provide practical advice on how small shrubs and bushes can be used as hedges, while larger trees can be used as speciman trees in a landscape.

Reich also provides list of trees and bushes with their planting zones, parts used, yield, and best features for an edible landscape. This is great for those who are designing an edible landscape as it provides easy to access information in a list form, and quickly rules out species not adaptable to the particular area being landscaped.

The second part of the book focuses on individual plant types. This is the in depth version of the lists provided previously. Reich looks at each plant type individually and makes notes on how and where best to grow it, how to prune it, what the yields and uses may be, and generally makes a small chapter devoted to each plant.

On the whole, the book is well illustrated, with some splendid photographs. Reich investigaes both common and rare fruit varieities and does so in a way that anyone can understand and take advantage of the edible landscaping ideas.

The book can be found at

Live a hands on life

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Acorn Flour

Have you ever seen the mess that the squirrels leave and wondered if people could eat acorns too?

Well acorns have been used as food for thousands of years. However, like a lot of foods, they require a bit of processing before you can really enjoy them. Acorns are most often used to produce a type of flour, which can then be used to make breads, cakes, and pastries.

The first thing that you should be aware of if you are going out to harvest acorns is to harvest acorns from white oaks, and not from red oaks. White oaks have rounded leaves, while red oaks have points on their leaves. The reason you want acorns from white oaks is because they have much much less tannin in them and will be easier to process.

What is tannin? Tannin is a substance that makes your mouth pucker and is extremely bitter. If you eat large amounts of it, it can cause an upset stomach. Think of when you let your tea sit too long and it becomes puckering, that is tannin.

So we have already claimed that white oak has less tannin, but most white oak acorns still have enough tannin to make them unpleasent to eat. So what can you do. Well, you can leach the tannin out.

First you want to get a large supply of white oak acorns. Most people do not use acorns, and some find them annoying and messy, so all you usually have to do is ask if you can pick up some acorns. You want fresh acorns, although not green ones. You also want to be on the look out for holes. There is a grub that loves to eat acorns, and acorns with holes in them are likely to be completely eaten inside.

Then you want to take your supply of acorns and place them in an low temperature oven for a few minutes to an hour. You don't want to actually cook the acorns, what you are doing is allowing them to dry out a little bit to make them easier to handle. If you want you can leave them in a dry place for a week or so and you should get the same effect.

Next you want to get at the meat of the acorn. Alot of sites recommend cutting the acorns open. This is an effective way of getting at the meat because the shells are not very thick. However, being round, the acorns tend to roll one way or the other and you can cut yourself. So I recommend a hammer and lightly tapping the acorns. It won't take a lot of force to break the acorn, and if you cannot get the meat out, you can cut with a flat surface to help.

The acorns of white oak should be white, with a brown skin that easily comes off or even may stay in the shell. There is a good chance that you will find some acorns with grubs, you can easily throw these away. The grubs trails are dark and are easily visible against the white acorn.

Now that you have your white acorns ready, it is time to leach out the tannin. You can chop the acorns into small pieces or use a food processor to pulverize them into a rough flour. The reason is that the more surface area there is, the more quickly the tannin will be removed.

There are two main ways to remove the tannin, one is be boiling, the other is by drip leaching.

If you choose boiling, you set two pots of water on the stove and bring both to a boil, add the acorns to pot one and when the water turns brown, remove the acorns and switch them to the second pot. Empty the water from the first pot, refill and bring to a boil again. Keep repeating this process until you have clear water at which point all the tannins have been removed. Do not rinse with cold water or put the acorns in cold water and then bring to a boil, the cold will bind the tannins to the acorns making it very difficult or impossible to remove them.

Drip leaching is a bit less involved. Take a container and make a few holes in the bottom. Place the acorn pieces in the container. Cover with water, and slowly turn on a faucet to just keep the acorn pieces covered. Continue until the water running out runs clear, usually a couple hours, but it could be overnight.

At the end of either of these processes, place the pieces on in a pan, and return to the oven on low for an hour or so. This will dry out the pieces enough to make a good fine flour out of them. I find that acorn flour tastes like a mix of pumpkin and sunflower seeds with a little bit of sweetness. The flour can be used in place of part of the flour used in baking breads, muffins, cakes, etc.

A recipe from an article by Barbara Sykes in "The Forager" follows

Acorn Bread

Mix 1 cup of ground acorn meal with 3 teaspoons baking powder, a tsp of salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar or honey, and a cup of flour. Sepearetly to a beaten egg and a cup of milk add 3 tablespoons of oil. Stir this gently into the dry mix then pour into a well greased pan. Bake at 400 F for 30 minutes.

For more on acorns and their use as food check out



Live a hands on life,