The Urban Homestead: your guide to self-sufficient living in the heart of the city
by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen
$11.53 from Amazon
I can’t recall where I first saw mention of this book, but the subtitle convinced me to check it out. Then I saw that they included a chapter on stealth backyard chickens, so how could I not buy it?
I hadn’t had a chance to read it until yesterday, which was spent chauffeuring to yet more doctor appointments and the associated waiting in various rooms for medical personnel to do their thing. I also carried a C J Sansom novel in case this one was too dry or uninteresting, but I needn’t have bothered.
This book, while not an in-depth “how to” guide to everything, is lively and very funny in places. Skimming through the three-page section on composting toilets, I came across this little sidebar:
If you have the space, stash away an old five-gallon bucket with a lid, filled with sawdust or peat moss, just for this sort of event [failure of the sewage disposal system]. It might be difficult to find a sawdust source while simultaneously fighting off zombie hordes.
To paraphrase some movie or other: You had me at “zombie hordes.”
Then I read the chapter on backyard chickens. I live in a small municipality that prohibits most kinds of livestock except dogs, cats, pet birds, fish — the usual suburban family pets. I would love to have four or five chickens in my backyard to lay eggs and to eat the ticks that are thick as blackberries back there. But not only am I fighting City Hall, I have a very anti-animal husband to contend with. The dogs are okay because he is attached to them, but NO ANIMALS, he says. How to overcome this prejudice?
The chapter was fun to read and gave good information on the most important step to keeping chickens (or ducks) in your urban back yard — win over the neighbors. Don’t keep a rooster. Hens make little cooing noises and only a few breeds cackle when they lay, so they tend to be relatively quiet and unobtrusive. If you tell the neighbors and allay their fears of noise, smells, filth, and negative impact to their property values, you are very likely to be able to glide under the official animal control radar. Bribing the neighbors with fresh eggs doesn’t hurt, either.
Unfortunately, it didn’t address the problem of the uncooperative spouse, and it specifically warned against keeping chickens in the same space as dogs, which tend to look upon them as play toys and/or prey. For the time being, then, chickens on my urban homestead are a no-go.
There’s a lovely bit on very small houses that would appeal to biscuit and to Anne, I think. Chapters on food preserving and cheesemaking are also good introductions to those subjects.
In general, the book is full of terrific ideas but does not always go into great detail on how to accomplish a particular goal. You’ll need more in-depth guides to gardening and energy conservation; they touch on these topics but there is much that was omitted. Some topics, such as water conservation and graywater harvesting, are covered in more depth, but even here there’s a sort of magical Jedi hand-wave that tells you to hook up a pipe to divert the washing machine water to your garden without telling you how to do it.
Pros: Excellent list of sources in the back of the book. Upbeat, optimistic tone while at the same time acknowledging the imminence of peak oil and the realities of the current unsustainability of American consumer culture. Solid suggestions on What We Can Do to help the situation and how to prepare for the future.
Cons: There is no index. The extensive table of contents is helpful, but an index would have been more so.
Many of the boxed sidebars and additional information pages are reverse printed using white text on a particularly vivid acid green background and are quite difficult to read. Black on light gray would have set off the text as well and been much easier on old-hippie eyes.
All in all, this is a fun introduction to the topic of urban homesteading, and a useful addition to your TEOTWAWKI library.