If you are like many of us modern homesteaders, you weren’t raised in this life. You probably come from the city or suburbs and worked a typical 9 to 5 job. As you soon find out, that sort of life doesn’t really prepare you well for living on a homestead. So how do you fill that knowledge gap? Well, you will probably scavenge information from many places. Websites, country neighbors, and good ol’ trial and error are a few ways, but nothing beats a book if you are looking for some specific knowledge or a comprehensive guide on a topic.
So here I give you a list of some of the best homesteading books, in no particular order, that have helped me out the most living an off-grid homestead life.
1. “Keeping Warm With an Ax: A Woodcutter’s Manual” by D. Cook
The first book on the list is a must for anyone who needs to learn how to use wood to heat a home. It covers everything you need to know (and then some). It’s a complete guide that goes over how to choose and take care of your axes and saws, how to fell a tree, how to cut up said tree into firewood, how to best stack and season the wood, and a whole bunch of other useful information on burning wood. Knowing how to heat your home without reliance on an energy grid is a vital skill for all homesteaders, and this book will show you how to do it.
2. “Complete Do-it-yourself Manual” by Reader’s Digest
As a homesteader, you will need to be a jack-of-all-trades. There is always something that needs fixing, and there is always another project that needs doing. This book will help you learn how to do pretty much anything in the realm of DIY projects and handyman jobs. It covers a wide range of topics, from the basics to many more advanced guides, and all of it is easy to understand. It starts with an introduction to all the different tools out there. Then it goes into the many repairs that you will need to know how to do on the homestead from foundations, to siding, to roofing. And of course, it covers how to repair all the systems of your home from plumbing to electrical.
3. Samuel Thayer’s Foraging Books: “Forager’s Harvest,” “Nature’s Garden,” and “Incredible Wild Edibles“
These books are a must-have for any homesteader in the continental United States. As far as I am concerned, they are the best books on foraging and contain so much information. I respect Mr. Thayer for ensuring that he has personally consumed each edible mentioned in the books (the same can’t be said of all foraging authors). Every plant has a detailed written description and an impressive number of photographs. If you have any amount of land, these books will teach you how to get the most out of what grows there naturally.
4. “Four-Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman
To many people there is only one growing season during the year. You plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. However, this is hardly the whole story on gardening. And if you want to get any measure of self-sufficiency from your land, you will need to know how to raise as much food as possible on it. Eliot will show you how to do just that by explaining how to harvest food from your garden year-round. If he can do it in Maine, you can almost certainly do it where you live.
5. “Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables” by Mike and Nancy Bubel
Well what good is growing all this food if you have no way of actually keeping it through the year? And let me tell you, you can’t fit a year’s worth of produce in the freezer or fridge. That is where a root cellar comes into play. A part of every home of the past, a root cellar gives you food storage to keep homegrown vegetables through the whole winter and into the spring.
Problem is, most of us didn’t grow up with one, and our current houses don’t have them. That is where this book comes to the rescue. It tells you how to construct a root cellar and how to use it for food preservation.
6. “Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game” by John J. Mettler Jr.
Most of us who are starting a homestead are going to raise animals like chickens and goats. And let’s face it, the vast majority of us aren’t raising these animals just to look at them. Eventually we are going to eat them. In order to eat them, you have to kill and butcher said animal. Most of us raised in the city or suburbs have never killed an animal let alone cut it up in nice pieces of meat like those found under plastic wrap at the grocery store. This book is a must-read because it helps bridge that gap in your knowledge by explaining all those steps in great detail.
7. “Permaculture” by Bill Mollison
This is the original book on permaculture. Many other authors have borrowed ideas from this book, but this is the OG. Permaculture, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, is a word Mollison coined to basically describe permanent agriculture as opposed to the dominant form of agriculture in this country that relies on planting annuals. Permaculture establishes perennial plants and builds up the soil to help improve the land over time instead of razing it like typical agricultural practices do. Get this book early in your homesteading career as perennials take a good bit of time to grow and begin producing. Once they do, you will have food for years or decades to come.
8. “A Modern Herbal” by M. Grieve
If you are going back to the land, chances are you prefer a more natural way to keep yourself in good health. Many of us eschew the ways of allopathic medicine and go back to what humans used for millennia to provide healing: plants. To do that, you need a good reference book on all the plants that are out there and what potential effects they have on the body. That is exactly what this book is, and as far as I am concerned, it is the best of the best.
9. “The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable” by Juliette de Bairacli Levy
It is pretty easy to get a good book on medicinal plants for yourself (see “A Modern Herbal” above), but what about your animals? Thankfully, Juliette has written an exhaustive book on the topic of treating common ailments in animals naturally. She gives an in-depth description of these diseases and conditions while providing you with the symptoms to watch for.
10. Foxfire Series edited by Eliot Wigginton
This series of books is a veritable treasure trove of knowledge. A teacher, Eliot Wigginton, came up with an assignment for his students: Interview their grandparents about the way of life in Appalachia. Originally meant as a way to connect these students with their past, it blossomed into so much more. It has become a time capsule for a self-sufficient way of life that is pretty much nonexistent in modern times. The series is full of personal anecdotes, while also being an instructional guide on how to do many different things. Equally great as a personal reference library or a way to pass a winter’s evening next to a cozy fire.
11. “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal” by Joel Salatin
This one is less of a how-to style book and more of a heads-up on some of the obstacles that will be placed in your way when on your homestead. The author, Joel Salatin, has had more than his fair share of run-ins with bureaucracy and government overreach making it a great book for those who plan to start their homesteading life.
To put it bluntly, the deck is stacked against you if you want to sell anything produced on your homestead. In this country, Big Ag is favored over all others, and purposely make it difficult for you to compete (even at the small scale that most of us operate).
12. “Building Green” by Clarke Snell and Tim Callahan
This comprehensive book is the documentation for building a house from start to finish. What makes it unique is that they use several different alternative building styles in a single small house. As such, this book is a great primer on getting started with alternative building techniques. It covers step-by-step instructions on building with cordwood, cob, and straw bales. It also talks about making earth plasters and covering everything with a living roof. If you are new to the alternative building scene, I highly recommend this book to get a look at what it takes.
So there you have it – my top 12 books to help get you started with your homesteading lifestyle. Again, they are in no particular order, and all of them deserve a place in your library. Happy reading!