Subtitled “Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City,” this volume in the Process Self-Reliance Series bills itself as “a project and resource book, complete with step-by-step illustrations and instructions to get you started homesteading right now.” It really delivers, both to absolute beginners and to folks who have already ventured into the world of urban homesteading.
The authors start with growing food. Chapter One offers guidance on the four general strategies for growing food in an urban setting, followed by directions for making seed balls. This chapter gives basic yet useful information about permaculture, then goes into helpful detail about the seven guiding principles of successful urban farming.
Chapter Two gives step-by-step instructions for five projects the authors deem essential for growing food, including starting a compost pile, composting with worms, mulching, building a raised bed, and building self-watering containers. The second half of the chapter includes guidelines for a variety of undertakings, including staring seeds, transplanting, making fertilizer tea, container gardening, installing drip irrigation, controlling insect and animal pests, and rotating crops. The directions are comprehensive; it is not assumed that the reader already has a lot of gardening knowledge and experience, which is beneficial to both novices and folks needing a refresher course.
Urban foraging is the topic of chapter three, and everything from eating acorns to dumpster diving is covered. Six things to know about eating wild are explained in the feral edibles section, along with a list of “some of the most liked, most widespread edible weeds in the continental U.S.” There are also sections on invasive edibles, fruit foraging, and reviving day-old bread.
Chapter Four focuses on keeping livestock in the city. It includes ample advice about chickens, including where to get them, what to feed them, and how to house them. Other livestock considered include ducks, rabbits, pigeons, quail, and bees.
“Revolutionary Home Economics” is an extensive chapter dealing with the “indoor arts.” The first part of the chapter is about food. There are instructions about preserving food through canning, pickling, and drying, as well as by other means. There are also directions for making yogurt, ricotta cheese, and butter. The second half of the chapter is all about cleaning and includes formulas for making DIY cleaning supplies using baking soda, distilled white vinegar, and liquid castile soap. There’s also a short section on dealing with household pests. The chapter ends with valuable tips on what to look for and what choices to make if choosing a new urban homestead.
Chapter Six is about water and power for the homestead and includes information about conserving and harvesting rainwater. There are several projects pertaining to greywater, including running a greywater source directly outside and making a greywater wetland. Topics in the energy section include using insulation and solar heat to increase energy efficiency, alternatives to gas-heated showers, solar cookers, and wind and solar power.
The last chapter, “Transportation,” is rather short. It touches on walking but basically emphasizes cycling. The book ends with a comprehensive resource list, including websites, books, and magazines. Disappointingly, there is no index.
The Urban Homestead is a fantastic introduction to living off the land, even when there’s not much land available. It’s not meant to be read once, cover to cover. It’s meant to be kept on hand as a resource, a book to refer to again and again in the garden, in the kitchen, in the workroom. There’s a lifetime of information packed in to these 308 pages, and the time to start using that information is now.