The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess, subtitled A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency, is one of my new favorite books on homesteading. I don't say that lightly. I really enjoyed reading this book, and I'm looking forward to implementing some of her projects and strategies on our own small farm.
What's so great about this book? In a word, organization. Hess gives you one project or task to do every weekend of the year, organized by month. So there's some flexibility built in as well, because you can flip around what you do depending on the weather, resources or other factors. But the monthly organization helps you focus on season-specific tasks - which makes a lot of sense. You wouldn't build hoops over your garden in July, but October would be the perfect time to focus on season extension.
But the best part about the book being organized this way is that it takes a huge endeavor - becoming more self-sufficient - and breaks it into manageable chunks. Work you can get done in one weekend. If you just follow along and tackle one project at a time, in a year you will be well on your way to homesteading. Pretty cool.
Plus, Hess keeps it fun and light. She has just the right attitude about it all. Playful, eager, yet relaxed. Her very last weekend task is "Learn to enjoy what you've got," and it's one I probably need to practice every day. She writes, "When you look out your kitchen window, do you notice a beautiful peach tree in full bloom, or do you fixate on the area that you never got around to weeding and mulching?" Um, yep, that's me. Homesteading and farming are hard, hard work - rewarding, but fun. And it can feel like you never finish your task list - because there is always something more that could be done. Of course it's a metaphor for life, but if you're homesteading or farming, it is life, so figuring out how to be at peace with it is key. And although Hess dedicates just one weekend to this "task," the attitude of enjoying what you've got, even while you work to build more, infuses her book with joy, hopefulness, and fun.
Hess covers a lot of ground here, from having backup lighting for outages to cold storage of vegetables to building a chicken coop, she'll have you learning a diverse set of skills while you put her suggestions into place. There's also hanging laundry out to dry, saving seeds, budgeting, baking bread, and setting homesteading goals. This isn't a comprehensive how-to encyclopedia like Back to Basics. The amount of info given for each weekend is just enough to get you going. For example, one weekend the project is planting a fruit tree. If you want an entire orchard, you're going to need more resources.
I love how Hess weaves simplicity and self-sufficiency into the book. It isn't just about the farming side of homesteading. She devotes time to voluntary simplicity, diversifying your income, and becoming conscious about the media.
Hess' writing style is accessible and easy to read, yet packed with nuggets of information you can really use. If you want a taste before you buy the book, check out her blog at The Walden Effect.
In summary, I can't recommend The Weekend Homesteader highly enough. Most books will overwhelm you with info, or barely scratch the surface and leave you hunting for more. This book gets it just right, and parses work into nicely-sized chunks that are easy and fun to do.