I love all the resources available on the internet (hello! This site is one), but sometimes you just really want a physical, hold-it-in-your-hands book. 

Whether it’s a textbook full of DIYs and How-to’s or an inspirational novel that really motivates you, there are times when you just want a solid book.

I’ve read a lot of the books out there.  Some are just repeats of old information.  Others are revolutionizing.  I’m sharing with you the revolutionizing ones.  

So, without further ado, the best books on off-grid living to get your homestead library started.

1. Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

The subtitle of this is “A guide to home-scale permaculture” and as a testament to its importance, it has been not only a national best-seller but a world best-seller for 6 years running. 

I had the pleasure of working with Toby while he was teaching at the Permaculture Skills Center.  His ideas were always thought provoking.  He was able to see situations through a completely different lens than most other people.

That, I believe, is what made this book so magical.  He was able to take the dense work put together by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the Permaculture Designers Manual and make it accessible to everyone.

The foundation of this book is all about working with nature to grow a thriving garden using common sense, and permaculture design.

Some of my favorite sections include:

  •  “rewilding” areas that attract helpful insects and pollinators
  • starting a forest with fruit trees, nut-bearing trees, and more
  • how to encourage and maintain fertile soil throughout your property

The information provided is spot-on for those living off-grid, even those with very small gardens (if you’re in an urban setting) can benefit from learning how to grow a wide variety of foods and keeping your land healthy, at the same time.

2. How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible by John Jeavons

I first came across this book in my 20s, during a time when I was deep into learning all about permaculture, growing food, and building out of natural materials.

I always wondered how to possibly grow enough food to feed myself.  After years of trying, it seemed kind of far fetched, until I came across this book.

The full title of the book is: “How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible With Less Water On Less Land Than You Can Imagine.” 

Yes, it’s a wordy title, but it gives a pretty impressive concept, right?

Jeavons’ approach to agriculture helps farmers (and homesteaders) build fertile soil faster, using significantly less water to produce more food, in small growing areas. 

It’s a methodical, scientific, and mathematical approach to growing ALL of your own food.  

I had the honor of taking a workshop with John at his home in Willits, CA.  He was a wealth of knowledge.  I left his workshop knowing exactly how to grow the food I would need to survive, as well as grow the necessary compost material to keep my soil fertile enough to continue growing more food.

If your goal is to grow as much of your own food as possible, then this book is one you should check out.

3. The Hand Sculpted House by Evans, Smith, and Smiley

This was one of my first books on natural building.  In fact, Ianto Evans was the pioneer of cob building in North America and he shares with us his wisdom and philosophy on building a house made from just 3 simple materials:  Sand, Straw & Clay

Once again, I met Ianto at a Natural Builders Gathering in Oregon in 2005.  I found him to be an amazing soul, with such a rich view of how one should look upon shelter and one’s place in it.

He shares a lot of passion and insight, as well as plenty of How-to within the pages of this book.  I found it to be pretty pivotal in shaping how I viewed shelter and my relationship with it as well as its relationship with its natural surroundings.

If you have ever wanted to build your own home, this is a book you should read.

4. Rebel Farmer by Sepp Holzer

Imagine you have a cold, rocky mountain hillside for a farm and your growing an abundance of citrus, fish, and other livestock, as well as many staple crops.  That’s what Sepp Holzer does on his farm in Austria, even though most people thought he was crazy.

You see, Sepp didn’t see things the way other people did.  When he looked at nature, he recognized how things worked and replicated those things for himself.

He created ponds that grew fish and fertilizers, created microclimates to grow subtropicals in the Alps, and built enough soil on his rocky hillside to turn it into an abundant oasis.  He did this while most people would only believe that all you could grow there were pine trees.

Boy did he prove them wrong!

I took a workshop with Sepp Holzer on his first visit to America in 2008.  There was a lot of knowledge to digest, but the main nugget I left there with was, to observe how things work first, then implement it.  

Watch first, then take action, then learn from any mistakes and fix them.  

Maybe you’ll find a different takeaway?  Read his book, Rebel Farmer, and prepare to be blown away!

5. One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

More of a philosophy book than a how to, the One Straw Revolution will completely change the way you think about what is possible with agriculture.

Fukuoka mastered the art of do nothing farming, which was a bit more than actually doing nothing, but you’re so in sync with the rhythms of nature, that it does not seem as if you’re working much at all.

I really enjoyed the book to hear the philosophy of Fukuoka, a prominent thinker in the world of agriculture.

Funny side note, while working at the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol, I had the honor of meeting Larry Korn, the English translator for One Straw Revolution, while he gave a lecture there.

He spent time with Masanobu Fukuoka in Japan before he passed away.  He was able to experience his growing methods firsthand.  Larry told me that you would be blown away by what Fukuoka was able to accomplish with just a couple of hours in the garden each week.

6. The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins

By far, one of my favorite books.  I read it cover to cover a few times.  This book is what started me in the world of compost toilets over 20 years ago.  It completely demystifies for you the idea of composting your own poop and then using it in the garden.

I enjoy how he backs up his claims with scientific data as well as personal experience with having composted his own poop for over 20 years, well, I guess it’s been 40 years for him now!).

There are designs for making your own toilets as well as how to responsibly use your humanure once it has finished composting.

Unfortunately, i have not met Mr. Jenkins but maybe someday I will.  Without his book, my garden (and my homestead) would be nowhere.

7. The Education Of Little Tree by Asa Earl Carter

This is a great memoir-novel that weaves practical knowledge about foraging, hunting, and agriculture into the storyline of a humorous and loving Cherokee Indian family. 

It will make you laugh, make you cry, and inspire you to live closer to nature.

Although it doesn’t have tables or instruction guides, the novel is easy to read and you will glean snippets of Native American knowledge: planting corn, tracking wildlife, and finding edible herbs, while also getting an important (but tragic) American history lesson.

I really loved this book when I read it.  I’m sure your kids would love it too!  This a great book to read with your kids, especially if you want to expose them to what it’s like to live in a manner close to nature.

8. Harvesting Rainwater For The Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster

When most of us think of harvesting rainwater, we mainly think of water tanks.  This book gets you looking at water harvesting in a whole different way.

The soil is like a sponge, so where a water tank can store 10k gallons of water, the soil can store hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.

By directing rainwater into swales, basins, and other water harvesting features, you can slow erosion and store that water to be used on-site as opposed to it being washed away.

I hosted Brad Lancaster once for a workshop in Santa Monica back in 2010, he was an amazing guy.  He command such presence and was not only creative with his presentations, but witty as well.

He had a model of a home with a rain tank, and the roof of that model was able to catch the water that fell on it and direct it into the little model water tank.  The only thing was, that rain tank filled up really quickly and then overflowed onto the wooden base and then onto the floor.

Then he placed two sponges on the wooden base where the yard would be around the house.  Once again he poured water onto the roof of the model home, which then filled the model rain tank which then overflowed onto the wooden base, only this time, it did not spill onto the ground.

The sponges soaked up all of the water, just like healthy soil does.

Learn more about all of this in his book, Harvesting Rainwater In The Drylands and Beyond.

9. Permaculture: A Designers Manual by Bill Mollison

Written by an impassioned professor of permaculture, this is the textbook manual for the 72-hr Permaculture design certificate course. If you’re like me, and you want education without paying for the certificate, then go ahead and order this book. 

It teaches effective, sustainable permaculture design in literally any climate; so you can grow your own food, without negative effects – short or long-term – on the surrounding environment.

It is a textbook, so it is a dense read, but as someone who has read it a few times cover to cover, it is filled with a lot of solid information.  In fact, it is the source that all other permaculture books reference.

I found it to be better than a Permaculture Design Course, just like a book is better than a movie.  It’s just so much easier to get information out in words than it is in video format.  Most PDCs skip a lot of the solid info that can be found by reading the book.

10. Create An Oasis With Greywater

To round out this list, and your homestead is the original guide to Greywater, written by none other than the Greywater godfather himself, Art Ludwig.

If you don’t know what Greywater is, greywater is the water that comes from your shower, bathroom sinks, and laundry.  What this book does is show you how you can easily reuse it to water your plants, eliminating the need for septic tanks as well as unneeded irrigation.

If you’re designing an off-grid homestead, then you’ll need to design your own greywater system.  This book will get you there.

Believe it or not, I took a workshop with Art Ludwig and the folks from Greywater Guerillas where I learned all about installing what they called Laundry to Landscape and Showers to Flowers greywater systems.

Let me assure you, Art knew what he was talking about.

I used to own every single copy I’ve mentioned in this post, but sadly, I parted with my books a few years ago to another young permaculturalist.  They were stored at my father-in-law’s until he passed.  After that, I had no place to keep them, 🙁.

Luckily I have years of hands-on experience that have allowed me to feel better about passing them on to another just learning about all of this.  But if you can pick up a copy of one of these books, I know you won’t be disappointed.