The Woodland Homestead, by Brett McLeod (2015)

The Woodland HomsteadGot a hankering to pack everything up, score a sweet little acreage in the mountains and go live off the land? Well, bring this gem with you – it’ll save you time, energy, and money, and provide hours of fascinating reading as well. As with most nonfiction titles, the subtitle of my advance reading copy reveals what it’s really about: “How to Make Your Land More Productive and Live More Self-sufficiently in the Woods.” There are lots of books to help you develop your farm, but this book starts from the premise that your lot is wooded and you want to make the most of it without fully clearing the land. McLeod knows his stuff. A lumberjack who uses draft horses on his own upstate New York homestead, he also serves as an associate professor in forestry for a private college. The book is organized into seven chapters: taking stock of your wooded lot and its potential; tools and techniques; livestock and the wooded lot; coppice forestry for both animals and harvest; living fences and living barns; orchard harvests and preservation; and making use of the forest floor. McLeod draws on traditional methods to illustrate how you can make the most of your land. For examples, he spends a lot of time talking about stumps. First, if you are cutting a tree, make the cut as low as you can – the wood at the bottom is clear of knots and the grain is straight and true. When you need to remove stumps, use pigs to pull them up, but leave a few around the cabin as handy campfire seating. In your orchard, leave some to develop coppice harvests – the tradition of letting branches grow from stumps that just won’t die. And nail an old tire to the top of a knee-high stump to create a sweet little chopping block that keeps your firewood neatly contained. These instructions and tips are scattered throughout the book, delivered in an accessible and occasionally humourous style that kept me absorbed. He offers advice on when to go old school, when to invest in more efficient modern methods, and what to consider as you make your own decision. I enjoyed the ink drawings that included women behind the work, as well as detailed drawings on everything from the parts of a chainsaw to how to grow mushrooms on logs. He provides tables of recommendations, from a template for assessing your woodlot potential to a list of the best chicken breeds for a woodlot (calling chickens the “gateway animals” to livestock). He refers readers to sidebar pieces and instructions, though the advance copy I received with thanks from NetGalley lacked pagination, so I couldn’t easily follow the references. Appendices include a woodland calendar, two pages of resources, and up to 12 blank pages for an index yet to be developed. Recommended for anyone with interest in learning how your grandparents used to do things, even if you have no intention of leaving your comfy abode for a patch of woods.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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