Note: new book reviews will be added to the top of this page, in order to save repeat visitors from having to scroll down an increasingly longer page each time. Enjoy!

Building Green
by Clarke Snell and Tim Callahan

tags: building things, the Dream

I’ve recently become interested in learning more about sustainable building techniques. I picked a random selection of books on the subject from the library one week and came across Clarke Snell’s previous book The Good House Book. At that time I put in a request for this book, Building Green, not realizing at the time that Clarke Snell was a co-author. I very much enjoyed the Good House Book but since pretty much all of it is covered in Building Green I’m going to skip a review of the former.

This book is in two parts. The first is a wonderful education in what a building IS and what its structural elements are. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a house being built and whatever lay between the walls, in the roof, or under the floor was basically a mystery to me. This book is a fantastically simple and yet wholly interesting account of what a house is made of (foundation, walls, and roof) and what the jobs are of these parts. Using photos from all over the world, the authors also explain how peoples in various times and cultures have addressed these requirements. This section also discussed the issue of wanting to bring outside elements in (fresh air, solar energy) while keeping other outside elements out (water, insects), and various ways that building designs address these seemingly contradictory functions. Not only was it wonderfully interesting, but when I was done reading I felt far less intimidated about designing a house for ourselves some day. (The Good House Book is basically the same read as this first section)

The second half of the book is like candy for home building enthusiasts. The authors built a 12×12 cottage with four walls that were each of a different material (cob, strawbale, cordwood, and stick frame) and that had a living roof. They documented every step of the way with detailed photographs and clear explanations. They discuss all the decisions they had to made and how they made them (there is a fantastic section on how to create a solar map of your building site AND a terrain map, which I am just itching to do myself!). Both authors are immensely practical while being committed to sustainable building techniques. They are not “religious” about any one technique, not rigid in their convictions, and as a result they give a balanced and informative discussion of the pros and cons of each technique. They strongly encourage everybody to make decisions based on their own unique situation. I could not put this book down and went back and re-read many chapters. Anybody who is considering building a house (or cottage, or insulated shed for that matter) and wishes to use sustainable building techniques as well as earth-friendly techniques such as passive solar heating or earth plasters should read this book. You’ll want to have it around during all parts of the planning process, from conception to site selecting to building. Personally, I’m going to order myself a copy when I have some extra funds around. We’re a ways from building but there is already much I can do, and that is exciting!

Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades
by Steve Solomon


I bought this book over a year ago and the first time I read it I was so overwhelmed I put it down and didn’t pick it up again until a month ago. Back then I’d just spent a summer using the Square Foot Gardening method, which is so easy anybody can do it. Solomon’s book, in contrast, seemed like so much work and so far out of my league that it intimidated me. What? My compost is no good? I need fertilizer? No thanks…However, for some reason I can’t really explain, the second time around it was a much easier read and I found myself unable to put it down. Maybe the difference is my situation: back then I wanted to just experiment with growing some food, but now we have a homestead and I want to establish a permanent garden with a view to the long-term. I’d like to use my own soil and nourish it over the years to create something that truly gives back to the land. This book was my answer for a number of reasons, not the least of which is our unique climate here on the southwest coast of Canada. I had been getting rather confused by the various gardening techniques I’d been reading about (Ruth Stout mulching, John Jeavons intensive growing, how to feed and nourish the soil, etc) but Solomon’s 30+ years’ experience in our region weeded out those techniques that simply don’t work here and narrowed it down to a level I could grasp. This book has now become my Gardening Bible, with the dirty, dog-eared pages to prove it. I’ve already got my first batch of his complete organic fertilizer made up (it’s just oilseed meal, lime, kelp meal, and bone meal; nothing scary). With detailed advice on how to raise any vegetable you can grow here, as well as calendars and helpful instructions on how to do everything he suggests, I feel much more confident that I will be able to create a thriving year-round garden myself even though I’m a total novice. If you live in southwestern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, or even northern California, this book is an invaluable resource for growing vegetables.

Micro Eco-Farming
by Barbara Berst Adams

tags:working the land, gardening

I enjoyed reading this book, mostly because the author hails from my part of the world and it was interesting to read about various small farms in my region. It wasn’t a very practical book as I’m not all that interested in turning my farm into a thriving business. And even if I were this book was more inspiration than how-to. I’ve already bought into the small farm movement, so it was somewhat preaching to the choir. Still, I shared her enthusiasm for life on the small farm and how the daily work nourishes the soul. It’s just not a book I would need to read more than once.

Backyard Livestock
by Steven Thomas and George P. Looby


This book was a birthday present from a friend, which I received days before we put an offer in on our land. Not only was it timely but it has turned out to be extremely useful. Reading it was fun if only from the standpoint of dreaming about livestock, but when we actually signed up for two piglets we had to use the information and that was the true test. So far we only have pigs, but the Pig chapter is very well-worn now and it told us everything we needed to know to bring our pigs home and give them a good start in life. An easy read, easy to follow, and a practical guide for anyone planning to own small herds or flocks.

the Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It
by John Seymour

tags: working the land, critters, gardening

I really enjoyed this book, especially the way he laid out plans for homesteads of various sizes. I’m one of those people who could sit all day with rulers and pencils designing a farm, and so I very much enjoyed looking at the plans. The book is also chock-full of useful information about everything from building fences to raising pigs. I borrowed this book from the library, as I have borrowed many books on the topic of homesteading. This is the one I plan to actually buy as it is the best I’ve read so far in terms of practical information that I would refer to often.

Trees in Canada
by John Laird Farrar

tags: working the land

One of the first things we did when we moved to our property was to take stock of what was growing there. Being that we live in a forested region this book was very helpful for us. I love how it is organized; it teaches you a lot about how to identify trees while you are in the process of trying to do so. Obviously this book will only apply if you live in Canada, but I encourage anyone who is new to a property, or perhaps has areas of their property growing wild that they wish to learn more about, to get themselves a book like this for their region. It’s not only been informative, it’s been a great deal of fun. And I feel closer to the land being able to walk through it and identify what is growing there.


One response to this post.

  1. That’s funny, I’m planning to talk about Solomon’s book in my next post. I got some great information from it too, but found the first 2/3 of the book frustrating (and somewhat infuriating) to read. I’m glad I got through it though, because my garden’s doing really well this year!


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