Magazines (and websites) about homesteading and self-sufficiency

When I was a boy, my father used to buy Mother Earth News from the grocery store. The magazine was filled with stories about self-sufficient country living, the sort of thing my dad aspired to. I'd read the magazine after he was finished, but never really understood the appeal of building your own greenhouse or raising goats. Now, as an adult, it makes a little more sense.

Kris and I are not radically self-sufficient, but we do enjoy growing our own food. (And she recently agreed that we could get chickens!) The content at GRS reflects my interest in the DIY lifestyle. Besides frequent articles on gardening, in the past I've shared stories like these:

Though our own adventures in self-sufficiency are limited, they're edifying, and I admire those who do even more. I'm a strong advocate of the DIY ethic. I believe there's real value in traditional skills, such as gardening and sewing, canning and carpentry. As a bonus, most of these practices save money.

After spending last Saturday planting peas and pruning fruit trees — and contemplating where to put a chicken coop — I took some time to research the current state of homesteading magazines. Turns out there are half a dozen that seem interesting. Most of them have a companion website with excellent information:

Mother Earth News

Mother Earth News is “the original guide to living wisely”. Its content leans left, and includes articles on subjects such as renewable energy, green homes, organic gardening, green transportation, and sustainable farming.

The Mother Earth News website is polished and filled with content, with stories on:

BackHome

BackHome is “your hands-on guide to sustainable living”. It covers topics like owner-built homes, backyard livestock, rural heritage, green building, and country skills.

The BackHome website isn't very useful, but it does offer a taste of the magazine. You can see the table of contents from the most recent issue, and view PDF versions of articles like:

Backwoods Home

Backwoods Home, is like the first two publications in this list — but with guns. Backwoods Home leans right (or libertarian), and offers “practical ideas for self-reliant living”. Like BackHome, it offers how-to articles on owner-built housing, independent energy, self-employment, and country living. And there's a regular column on gun ownership.

The Backwoods Home website is fantastic, packed with great stuff, including articles on:

I am not a libertarian, and I'm ambivalent about guns, but after looking at the website, I think I'm going to subscribe to Backwoods Home. This magazine looks awesome.

Small Farm Today

Small Farm Today is “the original how-to magazine of alternative and traditional crops and livestock”. According to Amazon, this publication discusses “alternative and traditional crops, livestock, and direct marketing, designed to help make small and family farmers profitable and sustainable”.

The Small Farm Today website doesn't provide much useful content, and offers no glimpse of what a typical issue features. It does provide farm links, an events calendar, and online classified ads, but I'd rather see some past articles so that I could know if I'd find it useful.

Hobby Farms

Hobby Farms is a magazine about “rural living for pleasure and profit”. Its marketing copy says that it “embraces the growing segment of population that is returning to farm life in search of a more meaningful existence”.

The Hobby Farms website includes plenty of useful stuff, including:

Countryside

Countryside & Small Stock Journal is “the magazine of modern homesteading”. It features articles on constructing a homestead, the homestead as a business, the country kitchen, and self-reliance and survival.

The Countryside website includes two blogs, only one of which is actually updated. It also offers many past articles from the magazine, including:

Here's a long list of past Countryside articles for future reading.

Looking at the contents of these magazines makes me dream of things I can build and grow. I don't subscribe to any of them right now, but may have to begin picking up a few. Or maybe I'll just start checking out their websites regularly. Do you read any of the these? Do you know of other magazines for people who want to practice self-sufficiency? What about books? I'd love to build a small library devoted to the subject.

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plonkee
plonkee
11 years ago

I’m not libertarian, have decidedly British views on guns, and I’m a confirmed city dweller, but I have really liked the Backwoods Home website for ages, even if I’m never going to actually pursue self-sufficiency in a meaningful way it’s great to read about.

Beth @ Smart Family Tips
Beth @ Smart Family Tips
11 years ago

Just in the last few months I began subscribing to Mother Earth News and I’m really enjoying it. There are plenty of practical tips for people who are not likely to raise livestock (like us right now) and for people who are. I also get email updates from the Mother Earth News website and while there is some overlap with the print magazine, there’s is plenty more useful information in the updates as well. We are trying our own square food garden this year and always try to do as much around our house as possible, ourselves. There are lots… Read more »

Happiness Is Better
Happiness Is Better
11 years ago

I want to say that we do not grow our own food, but we do like the idea of being self reliant and doing things ourselves. I probably wouldn’t mind growing our own food. It sounds like a lot of fun and definitely outside of my current “know how.” As far as DIY, we usually do have a project or two going around the house. As someone who doesn’t know a whole lot about growing your own food, etc, I appreciate the resources and will be sure to take a look at all of the magazines to see which one… Read more »

mcara
mcara
11 years ago

JD
Chickens are nice, until you have to lop their heads off. I can remember a man who raised chickens in the next town to me. He had chickens and Grandma Muller had a veggie garden that was her back yard. Had this neat waist high wood and wire fence, with a gate. Kept the deer out. All neatly tucked into suburbia. My question is what do you do with chicken poop so that it doesn’t hurt the enviorment; make you and your wife sick, or the neighbors ready to lop your head off?

Betsy
Betsy
9 years ago
Reply to  mcara

Chicken poop makes a great fertilizer – spread on the garden or put it on compost.

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago
Reply to  mcara

We have found that having a small chicken tractor and keeping the chickens in it for a week or 2 in one spot prepares this spot to grow wonderful vegetables. In testing this we found the spots that we did this the vegetable were MUCH larger, produced more and for longer period of time.
They remove bugs, till and fertilize so all you need to do is move the chicken tractor and plant your seeds or plants

Jason
Jason
11 years ago

Home Power is also a pretty good read:

http://www.homepower.com/home/

It satisfies the geek side and the self-sufficient side.

AD
AD
11 years ago

I AM a libertarian, and I like Mother Earth News okay, but it sounds like I’d really like Backwoods Home. My gripes with Mother Earth News aren’t really political, though. More about the constant references to issues from years ago.

We are building a strawbale home on four acres. I want our home to be as self-sufficient as possible, so we’re planning for a garden, wood-burning stove, rainwater collection, etc.

Please blog about the chickens if you decide to raise some! I’m interested, but still a little iffy on it…

Great post, J.D.!

Erin @ Unclutterer
Erin @ Unclutterer
11 years ago

JD, This is a great list!

lilacorchid
lilacorchid
11 years ago

Thank you for posting this! My husband and I bought ourselves a quartre and we’re trying to find help on how to make the transition.

Massey
Massey
11 years ago

Although not thoroughly informed on the ways of chicken poop, I do know two things: 1)Chicken poop smells TERRIBLE, far worse than cow manure. AND 2) Chicken poop can be safely composted for gardening/farming.

This resource may be of help to GRS readers considering pairing chickens and gardening http://chickengarden.com/.

Additionally, a large part of sustainable and self-reliant gardening relies on closing the plant/animal nutrient cycle to avoid the need for artificial fertilizers.

Thanks for keeping it interesting J.D!

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

A note on chickens: I wrote this post about ten days ago, on the weekend that Kris and I did all of our yard work. (Which you guys don’t really know about yet, because the garden update doesn’t post until this Saturday — complicated, isn’t it?) In the interim, Kris has decided that she’d rather have ducks than chickens. “But we don’t have a pond,” I keep telling her. “It doesn’t matter,” she says. “You can get ducks who don’t need a body of water.” Apparently you can get ducks that don’t quack, either. Yesterday she told me she wants… Read more »

Becca
Becca
11 years ago

I borrowed John Seymour’s Guide to the Self Sufficient Life from the library and then ultimately bought it from Overstock. Old school compared to the magazines, but good solid skills to learn!

Neal Frankle
Neal Frankle
11 years ago

Thanks! I never knew these magazines even existed. I’ve asked myself how I would get info like this….now I know.

Thanks again.

The Personal Finance Playbook
The Personal Finance Playbook
11 years ago

That’s a great list of resources, and they’re all new to me. Another corner of the web that I haven’t explored yet. I’m looking forward to delving in. The Mother Earth News website looks awesome (I haven’t clicked on any of the others yet). Great post.

Diatryma
Diatryma
11 years ago

Back at the beginning of the semester, I had a bit of homework with the question, “Does sustainability have a political or philosophical bent?” or something like that. After some thought, I decided ‘not moderate’. You have the folks on the left who are being sustainable because it is responsible, because other people, including future generations, have the same rights, because you take care of the planet… and you have folks on the right who are being sustainable because nonsustainability requires infrastructure that might (or should) be taken away, and sustainability can lead to more independent living. I know a… Read more »

Mel
Mel
11 years ago

We are growing our own vegetables, raising egg laying chickens and have begun the adventure of raising our own meats. Inspired by genetic engineering of crops and cloning of meats, we set out to produce as much of our own food as possible. There is a lot of trial and error, but intuition is a guiding light. We’ve been living on our farm for about a year and a half, and I am surprised at how much of our own food we are producing — with little prior experience or knowledge on the subject. If you are interested in what… Read more »

Lady J
Lady J
11 years ago

Love this post! I’ve seen Mother Earth News but not the others. Am definitely going to check out the websites. Like others mentioned, Backwoods Home does sound like a particularly good one. My goals for the future include buying land (several acres) and building an off-grid, self-sustainable home (check out earthships).

katherine stemple
katherine stemple
11 years ago

Countryside is by far the best. I have subscribed for many years!

Courtney
Courtney
11 years ago

Handy Farm Devices And How to Make Them When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes SAS Urban Survival Handbook Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning Building Green Cordwood Building: The State of the Art (Natural Building Series) Green from the Ground Up The Home Water Supply: How to Find, Filter, Store, and Conserve It A Field Guide to Wildflowers : Northeastern and North-Central North America (Peterson Field Guides) Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guide Series) How to Implement… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Wow, Courtney! I seem to have hit upon a topic you’ve been reading about for some time. 🙂

Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
11 years ago

Thanks for sharing these reviews, J.D. I’m also interested in Backwoods Home. I think of myself as sort of a DIY, self-sufficient wannabe in that I live very much “on the grid,” but long to.unplug. Look forward to hearing about the chickens!

Susan Young
Susan Young
11 years ago

Hi J.D.
I a new to the net and this topic. Am delighted to find your site and your wealth of knowledge on the subject. It looks like you have definitely done your homework.

Brigid
Brigid
11 years ago

My boyfriend used to live in rural South Carolina. He had a garden, fruit trees, raised geese, hunted and fished. Although not entirely self-sufficient, he did a pretty good job. A few things he said about raising barn animals…

1) Forget about taking a vacation unless you know someone who knows how to take care of whatever you decide to get. It’s not like dropping your cats off at a kitty hotel.
2) Geese make better watch-dogs than dogs.

I like the idea personally, but I envision myself doing it later, after I’ve seen more of the world:-)

Cheers!

Andrea
Andrea
11 years ago

And ducks can serve as protection- re:guard duck in Pearls Before Swine.

Theodore Scott
Theodore Scott
11 years ago

I have purchased archive CDs of both Backwoods Home and Mother Earth News. During my last Navy deployment, I read through decades of back issues of Backwoods Home on my laptop. I can’t think of any magazine that is a better resource on this topic. However, Mother Earth News is good too. I have a current subscription and am working on the archive CDs. Mother Earth News seems a little more polished than Backwoods Home. That can influence which magazine you connect with. Two nice urban self-sufficiency books: The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen Food Not Lawns… Read more »

stephanie
stephanie
11 years ago

we subscribe to backwoods home and love it!

-s

Chiot's Run
Chiot's Run
11 years ago

I don’t subscribe to any but I do check the website and get them from the local library.

I really want some ducks as well, but that will have to wait until next year. Muscovy ducks would be a good choice for you guys, they’re quiet and good layers if you want eggs.

This year I’m getting some bees, that will be my new pet addition to Chiot’s Run.

Steve Lundy
Steve Lundy
11 years ago

Best of luck with your chickens. I’ve dreamt of having chickens, but unfortunately there are bylaws against that in Toronto.

Kevin
Kevin
11 years ago

Great stuff, I can’t wait to read up on this topic. We’re struggling with this right now in anticipation of moving this summer – do we want to move out of town and try to find some land and apply some of these ideas or stay in town (closer to our jobs)? The problem in my area is land is kinda expensive.

L
L
11 years ago

I don’t subscribe to any magazines but I do enjoy SallyGardens Smallholding blog (http://sallygardens.typepad.com/)
They are based in Ireland and have been working on their small holding for a few years- they have a forum and list of recommended book titles as well as some of their own e-books- I can’t speak to these as I only read the blog.

Kim Cornman
Kim Cornman
11 years ago

JD, I also aspire to more self sufficient living. I peruse the Hobby Farm website and enjoy it, and also aspire to keeping chickens someday (not feasible in the desert southwest!)

You and your readers might also want to check out Sunset magazine’s “One Block diet” blog, where they have been doing this (including great articles on the pride and perils of the chicken coop!)

check out the links for Team Garden, beekeeping, olives, wine and cheesemaking, etc.

http://oneblockdiet.sunset.com/

Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo
Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo
1 year ago
Reply to  Kim Cornman

It is quite possible to raise chickens in the Desert Southwest. We raised massive numbers of chicken in the high deserts of Northern Nevada and Southern Wyoming with temperature variations from -20 in the winter to 115 or so in the summer … Fahrenheit of course. Keeping them indoors was of course imperative, and air circulation is important. For this we used a series of 12 volt DC fans wired in to our solar and wind powered battery bank. In the winter, massive volumes of straw and blocking the wind out were the best means to keep them happy and… Read more »

Cindy
Cindy
11 years ago

Great List! I currently subscribe to M.E.News but have been disappointed with the lack of depth in a lot of the articles; their website is pretty good. On the other hand I’ve been an avid reader of Backwoods Home for the last couple of years (not yet a subscriber but I really should) and although I too am fairly left leaning and gun ambivalent have found it really useful. Their website is fantastic, I visit at least once a week. My DH actually reads BWH too, at first because of the gun articles (I guess Ayoob is very respected and… Read more »

Kim
Kim
11 years ago

I would recommend the Today’s Homestead series by Dona Grant. It’s still being written, but the first 2 books are out. I like them because they are recent. Book 2 is my favorite because it’s all about produce, but I’ve actually been to the Grant homestead and can’t wait to see the rest. They raise their own meat, honey, produce, etc. I even had some of the homemade bacon and it was delicious. They only have 10 acres or so and have managed all that. True, we’re still in an apartment, but I have a baby garden…

Deb
Deb
11 years ago

I just began subscribing to Mother Earth News a few months ago and really like it! I’ve never heard of the others and will definitely have to check them out. Thanks for the great resources, JD! We recently bought 4 acres with a tiny, energy efficient house on it. Now we’re laying plans for a large garden & laying chickens. This involves deer fencing, rainwater collection, and studying organic gardening and food preservation & storage. Wow Courtney, what a read list! Thank you! If anyone lives in the Pacific NW, I would add: 1. Steve Solomon’s ‘Growing Vegetables West of… Read more »

Randy
Randy
11 years ago

It seems there needs to be an investigation into the personality linkage of frugality and self sufficiency. I have been visting the Backwoods Home website and others for about a year now. ATTRA is a good website to get information on raising gardens and livestock in a sustainable way. Organic gardening is the “in” way to garden now. I grew up on a farm, but we were far from organic. But the one poster who said that forget vacations if you raise farm animals is correct to a degree. Sheep, goats, and cattle can take care of themselves if you… Read more »

Linda in Chicago
Linda in Chicago
11 years ago

J.D., stick with chickens instead of ducks if you’re raising them for the eggs. Yes, there are some duck breeds that were bred primarly for egg-laying, but they just can’t compare to the top egg-laying breeds of chickens. And ducks do quack all the time, with the exception of the Muscovy. You can do some research about duck and chicken breeds by looking at back issues of Backyard Poultry magazine, too. I live in Chicago and have 4 laying hens and a rooster. The rooster is not necessary and was an unplanned addition to my flock (baby chicks can be… Read more »

Diarmaid
Diarmaid
11 years ago

Check out Steve Solomon’s Soil & Health Library at http://www.soilandhealth.org/ The site provides a large number of free e-books available for immediate download. The books are mainly about holistic agriculture, holistic health and self-sufficient homestead living. Steve Solomon is the founder of Territorial Seed Co, Oregon. If you want a very good how-to book on veggie gardening, check out his “Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times?”: http://books.google.com/books?id=lbohaJCxFnAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=steve+solomon This will get you from novice to not-so-novice in a short period of time if you suddenly find yourself in need of a veggie garden due to current economic conditions.… Read more »

Broke Wall Streeter
Broke Wall Streeter
11 years ago

Don’t forget this free library of related books and manuscripts. Rabbits are better than yard birds, but since they are so lean, you’ll need to add some fat through dairy or nuts.

http://www.soilandhealth.org/

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
11 years ago

I don’t really see the draw of “self-sufficiency” when you really can’t reasonably expect to be self-sufficient without a *huge* change in your standard of living. You can’t be self-sufficient and use electricity, or metal, or glass or plastic. You can’t be self-sufficient and drive a car or watch television or have air-conditioning. All of these things are built on top of exceptionally complex industries that require far more than a single person to operate. You can buy solar panels, and provide yourself with electricity from them, but you’re really not self-sufficient — you’re dependent on a huge industrial complex… Read more »

E
E
11 years ago

Thanks so much for posting these, JD – I will definitely check them out! I have a dream of self-sufficiency and homesteading, but for me it’s just a pipe dream – I’m not even home enough hours to maintain a vegetable garden! Maybe someday…
🙂

Mikey
Mikey
11 years ago

Please may I bring my Border Collie over to herd the ducks? Thx

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Tyler (#38) I don’t think anyone’s talking about being self-sufficient in the sense that they’re totally detached from the grid. (Well, some people are, but they aren’t here.) What we’re praising and advocating is increased self-sufficiency. Most modern first-world residents are completely non-self-sufficient. They don’t do anything themselves. When I think of my youngest brother and his family, everything the get and do is made by somebody else, even the entertainment. (And that’s fine. I’m not judging him; I’m just using him as an example.) Building and growing things yourself is a step toward self-sufficiency, which is edifying, productive, and… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

I thought Mikey (#40) was joking, but apparently not. Here’s a YouTube video of a border collie herding a duck. (Yes, one duck.)

Okay. Enough chit-chat. If you folks want an “Ask the Readers” for tomorrow, I need to get to work. 🙂

Debt Free Adventure
Debt Free Adventure
11 years ago

I have a subscription to both Mother Earth News and Backwoods Home.

Isn’t is interesting how frugality leads us all down similar paths…

bethh
bethh
11 years ago

JD, I hope you write another post at some point explaining what you’re both looking for in fowl, and why ducks are currently in the lead! I have friends in roughly your area (they’re in unincorporated Clackamas County) who have chickens and a coop and do all sorts of composting and some gardening. I’m pretty sure they’d welcome a friend-of-a-friend field trip if you want to check out their setup (and the mr. there works at home too). They had one hen named Buffy, who turned out to be a rooster. They joked that they had to slay the slayer… Read more »

secret asian man
secret asian man
11 years ago

It’s not self-sufficiency at all, and anyone who is thinks this they are becoming self-sufficient is deluding themselves. You are highly unlikely to be able to replace anything as commonplace as a cough drop or a cell phone, let alone important things like a medevac chopper, by yourself. You’re merely “sufficient” until your next illness or the next time you need information (internet). Further, your lifestyle is sustained by a massive law enforcement system that keeps people from robbing you at night. Even Les Stroud had to come out of the wilderness more than once in his year living in… Read more »

Mrs Money
Mrs Money
11 years ago

Wow, JD! This is an awesome post. I long to live in the mountains somewhere in a cob house, growing my own food and living happily ever after. The only thing I would miss would be running water and internet!! 🙂

Christine
Christine
11 years ago

Hey, bethh, I’m in unincorporated Clackamas County, too. Unfortunately some insanely smart racoon got all of my chickens once I got rid of the meanest rooster in the universe. Racoon picked them off, one by one, ultimately even learning how to get inside the coop to take out the last one.

It was an experiment that I actually don’t intend to repeat, since they were very smelly, and I can get free range eggs all over the place.

Roger
Roger
11 years ago

Wow, that’s an impressive list of sites and articles, J.D. And Courtney’s list is incredible; I would never have guessed there were so many resources out there to help people become self-sufficient (which strikes me as just a little bit ironic 😉 )

Being a born and raised city-slicker (or at least, suburban-slicker) I’m not sure how much of these articles will apply to me, but the articles quoted seem helpful and interesting.

Kris at GRS
Kris at GRS
11 years ago

On the topic of chickens vs. ducks: My main goal in keeping poultry is to control the slug population by allowing some foraging by the ducks. Apparently, chickens won’t eat slugs, while ducks and geese will? Ducks are also more tolerant of our cold temperatures and wet weather. It IS the Muscovy I’m looking at. I’ve read they can be mean-tempered if not fully tamed. Does anyone have any advice on this breed? Any eggs we get are a bonus. We’re not huge egg-eaters. Plus, we have plenty of friends with chickens, so us adding something more exotic to the… Read more »

Battra92
Battra92
11 years ago

Good luck with the chickens. You will regret it when you have to smell them on a sweltering hot day. 😉

I’d rather have cows over chickens actually. More crap but surprisingly less smell.

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