The Woodland Homestead: A Book Review

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When you imagine your ideal homestead, what do you picture? A suburban home with a 1 acre yard? Old farmland with flat pastures? Rolling, grassy hills and barns? But did you know an increasing number of modern homesteaders are following the lead of old time homesteaders and settling into the forest? Yes, even my own family will soon trade suburban life in for a little house in the big woods. In part, because we love the forest - and in part because forested land is much less expensive than pastures and grassy hills. (In my neck of the woods - pun intended - there are even tax breaks for those who keep a certain amount of their land forested.) Indeed, choosing wooded land can make your homesteading dreams affordable and practical.

But, you may ask, how can you homestead in the woods? Won't the trees get in the way?

It is true you have to clear some of the trees to make way for a house. And it's true you have to clear away a few more for a productive garden and orchard. But the rest? It can stay there! And that's what Brett McLeod's The Woodland Homestead is all about.

McLeod has impressive credentials. Not only does he homestead on 25 acres of wooded land, but he's an associate professor of forestry and natural resources, and spent years as a forester and lumberjack. Even if you think you already know a lot about homesteading in the forest, I'm betting you'll learn a few things from McLeod's book.

To begin with, did you know that livestock don't need pastureland? That's right; even cows can thrive in thinned woods. And some livestock, including pigs, goats, sheep, and poultry not only benefit from the food the forest provides, but help keep the woods in good health. This is a win-win for the homesteader because it cuts down feed costs, results in healthier meat or eggs - not to mention woods, and the critters do a lot of work that would otherwise fall to the humans.

Yet, as the author points out, there are so many other benefits to homesteading in the woods. He not only goes into depth about understanding your forest (this is where his forestry experience becomes awesomely apparent), but he explains how to use specific types of trees for different homestead needs and how to maintain your woods through forest succession - that is, keeping the right balance between old and young trees. Have you never cut your own firewood? You'll learn how in The Woodland Homestead. Never built with cordwood? You'll learn the basics here. Want a portable sawmill? McLeod gives great advice. He even talks about using draft animals in lieu of heavy equipment.

McLeod also covers topics like living fences, building with stumps, orchards in the forest (including resurrecting old orchards and planting new ones), bees in the woods, making cider, gathering sap for syrup (Hint: you don't have to have sugar maple trees), hugelkulture (using decomposing stumps and limbs as the basis for a garden bed), and other forest edibles, like berry vines, strawberries, nuts, mushrooms, and more.

In fact, this book is packed with so much information, I had to read it twice to soak even most of it in. My only complaint is that much of the information in the book is based on the author's experience in the Eastern part of the United States. Therefore, he talks a lot about the trees that grow there, and not so much about the trees that grow elsewhere in the nation. Too, as someone who lives where frosts aren't heavy, I didn't find the answer to my long-time question: "Can I collect sap for syrup even if it doesn't get very cold on my homestead?"

Still, if you're considering a wooded homestead, The Woodland Homestead is a must read.

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