Backwoods Home Magazine Review

I recently stumbled upon the website for Backwoods Home Magazine and liked what I saw.  I considered subscribing, but was a bit hesitant, until my enthusiasm for the magazine was reinforced by a post just yesterday from J.D. at Get Rich Slowly. He posted an excellent review of self-sufficiency magazines and websites, and it seemed like this one intrigued him the most as well.

A DIY “Wannabe”

That’s me; a DIY, self-sufficiency wannabe.  I say that because while I have always been interested in living off the grid, I am fully plugged in at the moment and it is not likely that I will be able to “unplug” any time soon.  However, I still enjoy reading about others who have done it, and applying those lessons to my current situation.

Photo courtesy of Grzegorz Lobinski

Just because you live in a neighborhood, rather than a 5-acre ranch, it doesn’t mean the same rules of self-sufficiency do not apply.  There are a number of things you can do to make your small homestead more efficient, like building a square foot garden for vegetables, installing a clothesline to lessen the energy demand from your dryer, and reducing your waste by starting a compost pile (also great for gardening!).

The problem is, if you are like me and were raised in the city, these skills were not acquired during your upbringing.  Fortunately, there are a number of books and magazines, such as Backwoods Home, that share tips and advice for living a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Here’s a small sampling of my favorite articles from past issues:

Canning 101.  Every summer we visit a local strawberry farm and pick a ton of fresh strawberries. We eat enough to make us sick, have strawberry shortcake for several nights in a row, and freeze a few with sugar and water to enjoy fresh strawberry shortcake later in the summer.  But I have always wanted to learn how to can them for homemade strawberry jellies and jams. I’d like to put up some of our tomatoes from the square foot garden and make some homemade salsa. Fortunately, Backwood Homes frequently runs articles explaining the canning process.

How Do You Live Without Electricity? Good advice, even if you are still on the grid. We lose power a couple times a year from thunderstorms in the area, and even have the occasional hurricane or tropical storm blow far enough inland to affect us. In 2004 we lost power for several days after a hurricane blew ashore and held together long enough to reach us as strong tropical storm. Could have used these tips back then!

Garden Spaces For Small Places. Anyone who has read Frugal Dad long enough knows that I am an amateur gardener, of sorts. I built a square foot garden box last year as a project to share with my kids, and it really took off. This year we plan to expand our raised bed layout, and try our hand at growing a few tomato plants in containers. I’m looking forward to reading more about gardening in Backwoods Home.

The magazine ties in well with my desire to live more frugally, and even if we never make it off the grid, I look forward to applying these lessons in our residential world. With spring just around the corner we are looking forward to starting our garden again, drying clothes outside, and turning off the heat and air for a few weeks (the power bill is such a dreaded drain on our wallet!).

What spring projects do you have in the works?


  1. I don’t know if anyone saw this, and it isn’t exactly living off the grid, but New Jersey has started a program where they will lend you the money to have solar panels installed on your home, then allow you to pay them back in the energy you put back on the grid. I saw it over at if you’re interested.

    I like the idea of living off the grid as well. My wife hates the waste/clutter of print magazines, but I’m going to start lurking on some of the websites of the publications mentioned. I checked out several of them after reading JD’s article and it looks like there’s some excellent stuff out there.

  2. Why don’t you ask your local library to carry it? Most will. And then you can read it for free!

  3. The magazine looks very intriguing, I am off to read the article about gardening now thank you, I may have subscribe to this as well! I have been a gardener now for 20 years, but the garden we have now is probably the smallest one we have ever had. I have thought about doing a square foot garden there to increase our harvest I think I will do a bit of reading about it. Thanks!!

  4. When I was really young we had a bad snowstorm that knocked out power for a week (more ice than snow). My entire family basically moved in to the den where we kept a fire going.

    With two boyscouts in the family, we had plenty of camping gear. We cooked all our meals over a fire. It was tough going back then, but I think of our week “off the grid” quite fondly now.

    My favorite memory was daring my brother to go upstairs to see how long he could last in the cold.

  5. @kristine: I thought of that, and I do read a few magazines there. But, this looks like the type that I’d like to keep on hand for referencing again for certain topics.

    @the weakonomist: These boyscout skills seem to be lost on so many of us these days. I’d like to see a return to self-sufficiency, starting in my own family.

    @DivorcedDadFrugalDad: All quality publications! One of the things J.D. mentioned in his post is the political leanings found in a few of these publications. Frankly, I think the topic of self-sufficiency is apolitical, but if I had to chose sides I prefer the more libertarian/conservative slant found in Backwoods Home. Others may enjoy more ideas from the “left” presented in Mother Earth. It’s all about personal preference.

  6. I like these kinds of tips too. I agree, we have forgotten a number of tips our parents and grandparents knew – how to stretch a meal, how to sew, how to shine shoes, how to repair just about anything. I have a girlfriend who offered to teach me to can this summer. I can’t wait! Oh – and I have my 4’x 4′ box in my basement right now. I am going to give it a coat of paint on the outside so it is all ready to go in the spring. It will be my first square foot garden!

  7. I love this magazine.

    We used to live in the country. I grew our own food and canned it; we homeschooled; we composted our food scraps etc. We used a lot of the articles to help us on our quest to become self sufficient.

    Due to health issues with our children, we moved into a community where there was better access to services and health care.

    I miss living in the country. I still have chickens though…the neighbors think I am crazy.:)

  8. I have been a watching the Green channel a lot and have really had the desire to make some changes around the house.

    I definitely want to start a compost heap and I would love to be able to afford solar panels (I have a day dream where I laugh hysterically as the meter runs backwards!)

    At least I can set up the compost heap, and I’ll clear some room for a garden too!

  9. Some of us are just old hippies… 🙂 If one can still find copies of the old FoxFire series books, (I have about 6 in the series) there’s some great self-sufficiency information in them also. My Mother Earth News mags. stretch back a long long ways. And I enjoy the Backwoods Home website also. There are about 3 dozen basic survival and self-sufficiency books in my personal library, as well as cooking, harvesting, drying, and preserving the harvest/game. It’s a legacy I leave for my grandchildren – how to Do-it-yourself 🙂

    Whatever you can do for yourself is just money in your pocket that gets to stay in your pocket! While I am intrigued by solar panels, at a maximum electric bill of $40-$45/month, I just don’t see the payback. The cool thing about learning to be more self-sufficient is that you can implement a lot of cost-saving methods now and reap the benefits of them, even if you aren’t off the grid.

    Electricity is not constant out here – and going 3-4 days or once up to 8 days is common here. So far, the freezer has made it thru it all ok.(duct taped and blankets over it) And with the woodstove for heat, cooking, and some light, I don’t really want for comfort!

    And while I am now, in my older age, living on a 55×105 city lot in coastal NW Oregon, it still feeds me well all year long – some things have grown all thru the winter freezes and snows – so nice to have fresh greens at the doorstep!

    @Frugal Dad – in your area you can garden all year round! My sis’s family in Old Town sure does – and that climate should be similar to yours!

  10. A good part of my childhood was without electricity. We lived on a remote ranch. Gardening is second nature to me, so is canning, and stocking food seems normal and I thought everyone did that. During bad winters it could very well be months before we could get to town for groceries. I know its hard for city folk to even imagine what that would be like. I live in town now on an acre. You can take the girl out of the country but you cant take the country out of the girl. I really like Mother Earth news as well.

    Being self sufficient is a rare thing to find in folks these days, sometimes I wonder if the gov’t. promotes dumbing down, cus afterall if we are self sufficient we rely less on the gov’t and others thus reducing their control of us in a sense. Kinda wordy but I think you get my drift.

  11. Val really has a great point. Maybe “they” don’t want us to be self sufficient! Certainly a point to ponder.
    One of my favorite memories is when Hurrican Hugo pounded through Charlotte NC in 1989. We were without power for 10 days. Our was the only house that had hot water because we had a gas water heater. So folks would come by and bring us food to use the shower! Most everyone left the neighborhood, but for us, it was a fun challenge to just make it from day to day. I distinctly remember heating hot water for my morning cup of tea over an actual tea light candle!
    Boyfriend and I have been steadily clearing our garden space for spring. Last year, my first attempt at gardening, I had green beans, butter peas, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and all manner of greens. Everything was so wonderful! I love “picking” my food!
    Spring is when we can stop using the dastardly oil heat, eat from the garden, and line dry clothes. AHHHHHH come on SPRING!

  12. To me, backwoods living is approximately as interesting as watching paint dry, observing the grass grow, or maybe a rail journey through western Europe.

    I have been to places such as rural Papua New Guinea, and rural Kenya, and the local guys all carry bush knives which are manufactured in CHINA. I have traveled extensively throughout Latin America, and on every street corner there are 5 shoe shiners, a couple of tailors, and a watch repair guy – businesses which don’t exist any more in America (work which even illegal immigrants refuse to do) because everybody would rather Do It Themselves. In countries like CHINA, Home Depot is a failure because people would rather just pay somebody to do the work than do it themselves. In places like India or Southeast Asia there are twenty food stands on every street corner because it makes much more sense to buy a prepared meal than cook it yourself (let alone grow/raise it yourself).

    How in America the ideal became locking yourself away in your air conditioned dreamhome far away from the universe is very mysterious to me. Never go to the movie theater because you have your own home theater in your very own supersized castle. Don’t go to the gym because you own your very own fitness center right in the extra bedroom. No need to go out to eat because you have Calphalon in your dream island kitchen with the granite counter tops. In other countries, there are public squares where people congregate, for they cannot stay in their small houses; you can go the most underdeveloped countries in Africa and yet their life will totally center around the community. Yet the American ideal is to lock yourself away, live off the grid, and toil away all by yourself …..

    I blame Jefferson. And probably Thoreau, and maybe Emerson.

  13. @frugal bachelor: Then maybe you haven’t been to small town rural America – where life does totally center around the community, and where, while we do “do it ourselves”, we share the fruits of these labors unselfishly with our neighbors and community. The free giving exchanges are a wonderful thing in small town rural America – at least in this neck of the woods 🙂

  14. Backwoods Home sounds great but does anyone know of any good self-sufficient lifestyle books? Finding topics would be much easier to locate.

  15. Books in my home library:
    The Foxfire Book, Foxfire 2, and on thru 6 (these are from the 70’s).
    Live off the Land in the City and Country by Ragnar Benson.
    Five Acres and Independence by MG Gains reprint 1951 from 1935 book.
    Living on a Few Acres by US Dept of AG 1978.
    The Self-Sufficient Life and how to Live it by John Seymour 2004.
    I am not including here the various books I have on gardening, edible landscaping, and preserving food, nor my collection of Mother Earth News.

    I would suggest a library search under self-sufficiency, borrow the books from the library, and then if you want the book permanently, find one on-line.

  16. Good article. I check in at Backwoods Home every so often and have just discovered Mother Earth News as well. I am hooked!

    Just like the author here, I too am an off-the-grid wannabe, presently as plugged in and dependent on the grid as any city slicker (to my total disgust.)

    I want to try my hand at vegetable gardening this year and came upon this:

    I am very intrigued by their claims of large yields in a small space combined with very low maintenance, and am considering buying the book. Has anyone here had any experience with this particular system?

  17. You hit this right on the head jmcaul “claims of large yields in a small space”. Sound to good to be true? It is! You will not find much real info. He is preying on people who know little about gardening. Those that believe find out after the first year its NO magic bullet. He has a lot of people very mad at him. ALL the reviews were removed from for a BIG reason. A better solution is to seek out someone teaching REAL organics. Once you know a little about what you are doing you can purchase what you need locally and be far BETTER off.