Jul 3, 2015

Maximizing Your Mini Farm - a book review

I've found Brett Markham's book Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre (see my full review here) one of the better homesteading books available today, so when I saw his newest title, Maximizing Your Mini Farm, I was excited. Excited because, like probably all homesteaders, I'm always looking for ways to streamline - to make the most of the land, critters, and garden I have.

But, as it turns out, this book is poorly named. There is very little here about maximizing your homestead. Disappointing? Yes. But if I set aside the expectations the title gives me, I find this book is still useful.

The first chapter mostly recaps what Markham said about soil in Mini Farming. I understand why he included this short chapter; trying to grow food without making your soil awesome is an uphill battle likely to discourage gardeners. The rest of the first three-quarters of the book are chapters on how to raise particular veggies. I think the author's intention was to give readers his best tips for growing these veggies so they will get the most possible from their plants. But really, this section reads just about like any book on growing organic vegetables. He does make sure to cover pests, weeds, diseases, seed saving, and harvesting, and gives at least one recipe at the end of each chapter. Included are chapters on asparagus (including growing it from seed), beans; beets and chard; cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower; carrots and parsnips; corn; cucumbers; greens; herbs (a little info on his favorites); melons; onions; peas; peppers; potatoes; summer and winter squash; tomatoes; and turnips, rutabagas, and radishes.

I found some of these chapters a little frustrating. For example, the author writes that "the glycemic index of a potato is influenced by the variety grown, where it is grown and even how it is prepared." Yet he doesn't give us any information on choosing or growing varieties that are lower on the glycemix index. Another example is in the chapter on onions. The author mentions multiplier onions, which self sow - making them, I'd think, the perfect thing to discuss in book about maximizing your garden space. But instead, the author chooses only to discuss standard onions, like those found in grocery stores. I also found it odd that the author didn't necessarily mention how you could get the most food from certain crops; for example, he didn't mention eating radish seeds or pea greens. Still, his information on planting, care, and so on is spot on.

The rest of the book is a sort of hodge-podge of useful information: How to make your own, simple, seed planting guide; how to plant small seeds easily; how to make a heated water platform for your chicken waterer (so it doesn't freeze in winter); how to make a PVC trellis; thoughts on weed control; a primer on making wine; how to make vinegar; how to make some simple cheeses; and a chapter with tips on how to make cooking from scratch a bit easier if you're busy (mostly through making up multiple batches, instead of one each night, then freezing the extras).

Maximizing Your Mini Farm has some great information, especially for novice or intermediate gardeners. But I recommend reading Mini Farming first and consider Maximizing Your Mini Farm as a kind of (admittedly large) appendix.

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