Grit Blogs > Another Kind of Drew

The Backyard Homestead: How to Make the Pages a Reality

A photo of Drew OdomSeveral months ago my wife, Pan, and I were at the bookstore wasting away a rainy Saturday afternoon. I have to admit it was a little oxymoronic to be sipping my chai tea latte whilst I perused the self-sufficiency and homesteading books. But I digress.

After picking up a few of those titles that have great book jackets and catchy subtitles but little substance I came across a book by Carleen Madigan called The Backyard Homestead. With its etsy-esque cover and obvious homages to the neo-homesteading venture it captured my attention rather quickly.

The Backyard Homstead coverAfter reading just a bit I found that the author, Carleen Madigan, was born into a self-sufficiency oriented family and the had the opportunity to grow up eating homegrown foods. She continues to live this way and now brings a comfortable even keeled passion to the subject matter.

I found myself mesmerized by even just the first chapter with its simple quarter acre plot sketches and landscaping ideas. It is a huge source of information and while it is fairly dense on content it is an easy enough read with a lot of illustrations, charts and graphs. It is most certainly a resource that every homesteader, hobby farmer and aspiring one should have in their personal library. I am proud to say that now – some 3 months later – I have my own copy compliments of Santa Claus.

The main premise of the book is that you can produce all the food you need on 1/4 acre (dependent, of course, on your zone and your personal diet). The back cover boasts that on a 1/4 acre you can yield:

1,400 eggs
50 pounds of wheat
60 pounds of fruit
2,000 pounds of veggies
280 pounds of pork
and 75 pounds of nuts

How encouraging is that? For a homesteader like myself who lives on just over an acre, this is not just food for thought. This is divine agricultural intervention! It gives my brain new possibilities to get lost in.

I am still reading and will likely give a more detailed report when I finish. But with my own gardens to prepare for and two new seed catalogues having just arrived in the mail, I don't think it will be soon. But make no mistake about it. I recommend this book for its simple, straightforward ways as well as it is robust amount of information.

anotherkindofdrew
2/2/2010 11:37:16 AM

@Mountain Woman - It is amazing sometimes just how much a good harvest can give us. I think it is great that you will be donating some of your bounty. What an inspiring idea, to be honest. Thank you for taking a look at this blog and my daily blog. Be sure to visit often!


mountain woman
2/2/2010 9:44:08 AM

Hi Drew, I enjoyed your post. Last year was my first attempt at growing vegetables and my husband, who is the expert gardener, told me just how much could be grown in a small area and it would be way more than our needs. Our farm is organic so I experimented with making my own manure tea. Hard to believe my horse provided my fertilizer. I made mistakes along the way but I had so much fun and like you I only grew what we enjoyed. The joy of eating food I produced cannot be described and I became hooked. This year, I'm expanding our garden and then giving the food to a local food bank. Your post was really helpful and I'm off to find the book. I also visited your main blog today and enjoyed my time there. Mountain Woman of Red Pine Mountain


mountain woman
2/2/2010 9:42:16 AM

Hi Drew, I enjoyed your post. Last year was my first attempt at growing vegetables and my husband, who is the expert gardener, told me just how much could be grown in a small area and it would be way more than our needs. Our farm is organic so I experimented with making my own manure tea. Hard to believe my horse provided my fertilizer. I made mistakes along the way but I had so much fun and like you I only grew what we enjoyed. The joy of eating food I produced cannot be described and I became hooked. This year, I'm expanding our garden and then giving the food to a local food bank. Your post was really helpful and I'm off to find the book. I also visited your main blog today and enjoyed my time there. Mountain Woman of Red Pine Mountain


mountain woman
2/2/2010 9:40:27 AM

Hi Drew, I enjoyed your post. Last year was my first attempt at growing vegetables and my husband, who is the expert gardener, told me just how much could be grown in a small area and it would be way more than our needs. Our farm is organic so I experimented with making my own manure tea. Hard to believe my horse provided my fertilizer. I made mistakes along the way but I had so much fun and like you I only grew what we enjoyed. The joy of eating food I produced cannot be described and I became hooked. This year, I'm expanding our garden and then giving the food to a local food bank. Your post was really helpful and I'm off to find the book. I also visited your main blog today and enjoyed my time there. Mountain Woman of Red Pine Mountain


mountain woman
2/2/2010 9:38:37 AM

Hi Drew, I enjoyed your post. Last year was my first attempt at growing vegetables and my husband, who is the expert gardener, told me just how much could be grown in a small area and it would be way more than our needs. Our farm is organic so I experimented with making my own manure tea. Hard to believe my horse provided my fertilizer. I made mistakes along the way but I had so much fun and like you I only grew what we enjoyed. The joy of eating food I produced cannot be described and I became hooked. This year, I'm expanding our garden and then giving the food to a local food bank. Your post was really helpful and I'm off to find the book. I also visited your main blog today and enjoyed my time there. Mountain Woman of Red Pine Mountain


anotherkindofdrew
1/30/2010 10:53:00 PM

@Lori - the choosing is great, I agree. It is so easy for my wife and I to get carried away and convince ourselves that sacrificing a row here or a row there in exchange for something neither of us have ever tried. But, alas, good sense prevails and we take a more logical path. In fact, this year we are dedicating a 4'x 8' bed to "experiments in gardening." I can only imagine what wonderful plant(s) we end up with in that bed!


lori
1/30/2010 10:49:26 PM

Andrew, It is so much fun when those seed catalogues start coming in! It is very important to go through each one carefully and consider what to plant this year. I usually end up changing things around a bit, and choosing a few different things to try, if room permits. We have raised garden boxes that we plant in. We have considered adding more to the 8, 12 foot long boxes we have now. First we decide on how much room we need for the must haves, then we talk about the maybes! One thing is for sure, no matter what we plant, half of the fun is in the choosing!


anotherkindofdrew
1/30/2010 8:13:07 PM

@Nebraska Dave - actually, I haven't been at it that long. But I have tried multiple projects and multiple methods. However, the one thing I have learned above all else is the one thing you emphasized. I planted only what my wife and I enjoyed growing and eating. Although EVERY book I read said to grow swiss chard I have never liked it and would rather have used the space for other plants...so, I did. So, to echo you I guess I am a hungry, corporately disillusioned, eco-conscious, tried-and-true, redneck who is prone to put any seed in the ground, add some chicken poop, sprinkle it with water and act completely amazed when something green pops up!


nebraska dave
1/30/2010 7:59:58 PM

Drew, all good advice. I can see that you’ve been at this for awhile. I started with just a 4X8 raised bed with 3 tomato and 4 bell pepper plants last year. The tomatoes actually did so well they overshadowed a couple pepper plants. I had so much produce that after people got sick of me trying to give them tomatoes, I bought the needed supplies begged jars from those that didn’t want them any more and canned several quarts and pints. I don’t think that gardening is ever a settled thing, it’s always evolving. I already have things that I will change this Spring to make it produce better with less work. Because of the two new beds, one bed will be all tomatoes with a row of cucumbers on each end trellis supported, one bed will be all potatoes, and the third will be half bell peppers and half salad stuff like lettuce, radish, and of course onions. The next year I hope to add two more beds of I don’t know what yet. The main thing to remember about gardening is to grow what you like to eat or someone that you know likes to eat. It doesn’t do much good to grow a whole bunch of something no one likes to eat. I am not sure how it will all turn out but I consider myself an Urban, Backyard, Bio-intensive, Vertical growth, Experimental, Permaculture, farmer. It’s just a fancy way of saying I plant stuff in my backyard in a pile of rotted compost with a couple long sticks jammed in the ground. Happy gardening all. Only 47 days til Spring.


oz girl
1/29/2010 12:08:18 PM

Hey Andrew, thanks so much for the advice. I'll print this out and add it to my garden notes. Great idea! :) I'm sure others might be a tad jealous of all the space we have, but for two {older} people, it can be a bit much at times! LOL (I see you had the same trouble I did... I accidentally posted twice on someone else's blog because it didn't appear to be posting!)


anotherkindofdrew
1/29/2010 11:49:06 AM

@Oz Girl - Hey there. How are you? Yes, I love folks like you who visit my regular blog (since I post more frequently there and it covers ALL my idiosyncrasies). Too much, huh? I have never heard of such. hahahahaha. Actually, I know just what you are talking about. It seems a lot of those acres are already owned by the horses. So, let's say we are down to half....13 or so acres. Still too much for those who are not raising livestock or considering large-scale farming. Let's look at an acre. No, no....less. One bed. Let's build a raised bed that is about 4' x 12'. In that we can have a lovely salad. I suggest going to the Feed & Seed or the hardware store or something of that nature and purchasing the following: 1 - packet of lettuce seeds (may I recommend a European mix) 1 - Big Beef tomato plant 1 - Roma tomato plant 1 - Green pepper plant 1 - Red pepper plant 10 - white onion sides


anotherkindofdrew
1/29/2010 11:48:41 AM

@Oz Girl - Hey there. How are you? Yes, I love folks like you who visit my regular blog (since I post more frequently there and it covers ALL my idiosyncrasies). Too much, huh? I have never heard of such. hahahahaha. Actually, I know just what you are talking about. It seems a lot of those acres are already owned by the horses. So, let's say we are down to half....13 or so acres. Still too much for those who are not raising livestock or considering large-scale farming. Let's look at an acre. No, no....less. One bed. Let's build a raised bed that is about 4' x 12'. In that we can have a lovely salad. I suggest going to the Feed & Seed or the hardware store or something of that nature and purchasing the following: 1 - packet of lettuce seeds (may I recommend a European mix) 1 - Big Beef tomato plant 1 - Roma tomato plant 1 - Green pepper plant 1 - Red pepper plant 10 - white onion sides All of those can be planted together in a small bed. They will compliment each other, feed one another and with proper water and sun be quite hearty plants that will last almost all summer. Make sure your lettuce is "come again" type lettuce so you can get 3-4 good harvests out of it. The dirt, soil, fertilizer can all be bought at the local box store and will not be too terribly expensive. You may want to try one of those "herbs in a box" type kits too just to get a feel for how complete a small space can actually be and how much you personally can do with a little elbow grease and love.


anotherkindofdrew
1/29/2010 11:45:32 AM

@Oz Girl - Hey there. How are you? Yes, I love folks like you who visit my regular blog (since I post more frequently there and it covers ALL my idiosyncrasies). Too much, huh? I have never heard of such. hahahahaha. Actually, I know just what you are talking about. It seems a lot of those acres are already owned by the horses. So, let's say we are down to half....13 or so acres. Still too much for those who are not raising livestock or considering large-scale farming. Let's look at an acre. No, no....less. One bed. Let's build a raised bed that is about 4' x 12'. In that we can have a lovely salad. I suggest going to the Feed & Seed or the hardware store or something of that nature and purchasing the following:


anotherkindofdrew
1/29/2010 11:45:28 AM

@Oz Girl - Hey there. How are you? Yes, I love folks like you who visit my regular blog (since I post more frequently there and it covers ALL my idiosyncrasies). Too much, huh? I have never heard of such. hahahahaha. Actually, I know just what you are talking about. It seems a lot of those acres are already owned by the horses. So, let's say we are down to half....13 or so acres. Still too much for those who are not raising livestock or considering large-scale farming. Let's look at an acre. No, no....less. One bed. Let's build a raised bed that is about 4' x 12'. In that we can have a lovely salad. I suggest going to the Feed & Seed or the hardware store or something of that nature and purchasing the following: 1 - packet of lettuce seeds (may I recommend a European mix) 1 - Big Beef tomato plant 1 - Roma tomato plant 1 - Green pepper plant 1 - Red pepper plant 10 - white onion sides


anotherkindofdrew
1/29/2010 11:44:41 AM

@Oz Girl - Hey there. How are you? Yes, I love folks like you who visit my regular blog (since I post more frequently there and it covers ALL my idiosyncrasies). Too much, huh? I have never heard of such. hahahahaha. Actually, I know just what you are talking about. It seems a lot of those acres are already owned by the horses. So, let's say we are down to half....13 or so acres. Still too much for those who are not raising livestock or considering large-scale farming. Let's look at an acre. No, no....less. One bed. Let's build a raised bed that is about 4' x 12'. In that we can have a lovely salad. I suggest going to the Feed & Seed or the hardware store or something of that nature and purchasing the following: 1 - packet of lettuce seeds (may I recommend a European mix) 1 - Big Beef tomato plant 1 - Roma tomato plant 1 - Green pepper plant 1 - Red pepper plant 10 - white onion sides All of those can be planted together in a small bed. They will compliment each other, feed one another and with proper water and sun be quite hearty plants that will last almost all summer. Make sure your lettuce is "come again" type lettuce so you can get 3-4 good harvests out of it. The dirt, soil, fertilizer can all be bought at the local box store and will not be too terribly expensive. You may want to try one of those "herbs in a box" type kits too just to get a feel for how complete a small space can actually be and how much you personally can do with a little elbow grease and love.


oz girl
1/29/2010 11:28:45 AM

Hi Andrew ~ I first read of this book on your regular blog... it sounds like an excellent resource, whether one has only a 1/4 acre or 27 acres (like we do). So I find my issue to be one of TOO MUCH. The huge potential of 27 acres is quite overwhelming and daunting, even though much of it is currently pasture for our 3 horses. I told my husband a few days ago that I want to start out small with our garden this spring, and add to it each year. He casually threw out "oh, like a 1/4 acre or so?" I was flabbergasted! I said no, like a small plot close to the house first! Trying to choose what to grow this first season, how to arrange it, whether to have raised beds or not, how to protect everything from our "rabbit city" and the deer.... the list goes on and on! In other words, I need to break it all down and tackle it one small piece at a time. So your suggestion of plotting it all out in Excel is a good one! And a few chickens are on our agenda someday. Heck, we even got the chicken coop aka the cat house. :-)


anotherkindofdrew
1/29/2010 7:44:37 AM

@Shannon - You are absolutely right about codes. Thankfully (or maybe not...depends on who you are) I live in a rural community out in the middle of nowhere. The only code we have is a code of ethics to our neighbors. However, I know from working with friends that some areas simply do not allow for some of the ideas in this book. Hogs/pigs would definitely NOT be allowed in city limits because of disease and such. Unfortunately a lot of livestock animals were lumped in with other airborne diseases during the Industrial Revolution never to be reviewed again. And you may only be able to have limited hens. Don't let that deter you though. You have a few options. 1) Get as many hens as you can and do what you can with them. Say they only give you 2 eggs a day. That is 2 LESS storebought eggs you will have to consider. Perhaps you could consume less eggs or use only storebought for baking, etc. 2) Talk to your neighbor and see if they would "lease" a small portion of their lot to let you raise 2 more there. Maybe your lots butt up against each other and you could share a small space. 3) Find other likeminded people in your area and petition the zoning board. Whatever the case, make the best of your situation. That is all anyone can hope for! Be encouraged!


anotherkindofdrew
1/29/2010 7:23:31 AM

@Nebraska Dave - okay, in the spirit of honesty, I first came upon this book because the cover was attractive. However, it only took me one page to realize what a resource it was. And I, too, am STILL digesting the content. In fact, Pan and I used it last night in graphing this springs gardens (blog post to come, I am sure...we got crazy with Excel). There are some things I find impractical (the layouts in the beginning are a bit idealistic) but then there are some that are fantastic (the trellis illustrations, etc). Your raised beds will - if not already - become your best friends. I promise you. I love mine and they seem to grow much heartier produce. Speaking of urban gardening, I actually got my start gardening when I lived in Brooklyn. I worked from home, needed a hobby to get me outside and came across some folks in Prospect Park that were doing some awesome things with potted food. Apartment dwelling can be a perfect place to learn the basic of growing. And you took the words right out of my wife's mouth when you said, "Those Winter store bought tomatoes might look like a tomato, but all they do is put crunch in the salad and I just quit buying them." She HATES store bought winter tomatoes.


s.m.r. saia
1/29/2010 7:15:07 AM

I have this book. It is great. The only problem I see with the 1/4 acre idea is that we live in a neighborhood with zoning restrictions for some of the animals...While technically we have more than enough space to do this (.72 acres) I doubt we could keep hogs here, and I seem to be limited to 2 chickens....


vickie
1/29/2010 3:19:55 AM

Andrew, It can be amazing how much you can grow in a small space. Like Nebraska Dave I find that there is no greater tasting vegetables then the ones you canned out of your garden. vickie


nebraska dave
1/28/2010 9:07:38 PM

Hey Drew, I too have just bought this book. It took about three days to totally devour it, but I’m still digesting it’s content. I have only a 50 X 100 foot city lot but it’s still captivating to read about how so much can be raised on such a little space. Right now I have three 4X8 raised beds that grow quite a lot for a family of one. The whole concept of Urban backyard growing is really catching on with the city dwellers. I was really shocked to find multiple community gardens right in my own city. One was practically within walking distance. Even apartment dwellers can grow their own vegetables if they want. I ran into a professional landscaper last summer that claims the city backyard garden will be the next big thing in landscaping. She was in the process of trying to figure out ways to dress it up and make it look nice for high end urban housing development areas. Imagine that. A couple days ago I cracked out a jar of stewed tomatoes canned at the end of summer and they were sooooo good. Those Winter store bought tomatoes might look like a tomato, but all they do is put crunch in the salad and I just quit buying them. After sampling a real garden grown tomato there’s no going back to the store bought ones. I’m just feasting on as much information about compact gardening as I can because Spring will soon be here and then it will be time to put it all into practice. Thanks for sharing your life interests.