Have you ever stolen a peek onto someone’s book shelf?

To me, a quick scan of their library feels like a tiny glimpse into their heart and soul, a way to know a bit of who they are without saying a word.

I love seeing their book collection, reading the titles and imagining the significance to the owner. The books on the shelf feel especially meaningful this modern time of digital documents and Kindle books.

25 must read sustainable homestead booksTo the right of my ridiculously giant desk is one of my bookshelves.

While it is not a full representation of all of me, it’s sure a glimpse at what is foremost on my mind – permaculture, homesteading and ecology.

When I look at this shelf I see a chunk of everything I know about permaculture homesteading, or at least, what may have sparked a giant tangent into a specific topic.

Truth is, I love to read – but there are 5 books sitting on my desk that I have been trying to get through for almost a year. Not due to interest or anything like that. Simply, the year was so incredibly busy. 

(Often, I get really excited about a book and add it to my collection, even before I’ve finished the others.)

If you’re interested in some book inspiration, or enjoy perusing other’s bookshelves like I do – here is an open invite to see some of my favorites from my homestead library.

All of these books have inspired me, helped me build our homestead and been a large part of my growth as a permaculture practitioner, farmer, homesteader and more.

Perhaps some of these books will help you on your homestead journey or inspire something new for you as well.


If you get any one book on my list GET THIS ONE.

The Resilient Farm & Homestead  is MY ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOK hands down. It blends so perfectly homesteading, permaculture AND is one of the best permaculture design books I have found.

Country Living is ALL about the old ways of doing tasks around the farm – and I love it for that exact reason.

Use willow to make baskets. Use small trees to build fences. Permaculture looks to use onsite resources and this book teaches you how.

I have fond memories of Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century as it was one of my first books on the topic of sustainability and self sufficiency.

This book is nice because of its large size and high quality photos and diagrams; which really give a great visual picture of these topics for someone just learning.

The more we work on proving food from our land the more we rely as a family on Nourishing Traditions for healthy cooking.

The books focus is traditional homestead cooking such as ferments and fats.

A sustainable homestead includes natural building methods such as straw bale and cob construction.

This book is a complete guide to get you started on the path to using natural building for your next cabin or outbuilding on the farm.

Living Wild is a book I pull out again and again. It is a reference for wild plants and their uses – medicinally and in the kitchen.

While focused on California flora, it would be applicable to many other regions, especially Mediterranean climates.

Farming & Gardening

While the Market Gardener is a book all about profitable market gardening, there are so many exceptional sustainable farming practices in this book that I had to include it.

Even if you are not going to sell your veggies to markets this book will help you plant, grow and manage your small farm or garden.

The Resilient Gardener is a great read for those of us that are interested in self-sufficient gardening and farming.

It is dense on resilient gardening information and would be of interest to anyone who is really wanting to grow as much of their diet as possible.

The 4.5 star review on Amazon doesn’t lie folks. One Straw Revolution blend enlightenment philosophy with natural garden methods.

What more is there to say? Pure permaculture.

This is great introductory book to small scale grains – from growing, processing and into the kitchen with recipes.

I bought this book to learn what I needed to start our first rice paddy on the homestead.

What Small-Scale Grain Raising lacks in information, Homegrown Whole Grains fills in the gaps.

This was also a great introduction to homestead sized grain growing, focusing more on the growing than the cooking of grains.


Gaia’s Garden is one of the best all around permaculture books available. It is great for urban to rural permaculture properties.

Toby was one of my teachers and his knowledge about regenerative land design is extensive – this books has many of his best techniques in it. Lots of well drawn diagrams, photos and easy to read.

With climate conditions changing, rivers drying up and wells going dry, water conservation AND catchment is on many peoples mind.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands & Beyond is the best book I have found to go into the why and HOW of catchment. Brad is on my list of people to take a class from and highly recommend his books.

The second volume compliments the first with even more in-depth information, calculations and diagrams about water harvesting earthworks.

This is the book to get if you already have water catchment concepts down and want detailed how-to information. I love this book!

Oh my – such a great book. Holistic Management, while a more advanced regenerative design book, is really fundamental to understanding permaculture.

It challenges mainstream thoughts on animals role in landscape creation and degradation. A top pick on my list for sure.

I met Katrina at a small workshop in CA, for a class on useful weeds, without even knowing she had written a book! The class was so informative I bought a copy directly from her.

The Wild Wisdom of Weeds teaches about the most universally found and useful weeds – from what they mean to how to cook them!

Water for Every Farm is a classic, yet still very applicable to large properties and farms wanting to catch and store water on a large scale.

Want to know how to build a giant pond to irrigate your crops? This is the book for you.

Yet another favorite on my shelf, Restoration Agriculture is an essential permaculture read for understanding what it mean to create regenerative landscapes.

This is the book for people interested in gaining understanding of ecological systems and how we can interact with them in positive ways as farmers and homesteaders.

Soil is life -without healthy soil we would struggle to grow food. Fungi are a fundamental component of soil health.

We need to understand the connections between soil and the tiny creatures that interact with it to have healthy gardens and high quality food on our homesteads.

Who doesn’t love walking around on a hot day and picking a cool sweet piece of fruit off a tree for a snack?

Michael’s first book, Holistic Orchard, helps us create and manage orchards with permaculture in mind. A great foundational book for people establishing orchards on their homestead or farm.

Tending the Wild is my top recommendation for people wanting to know what permaculture is and where it came from.

This book is a collection of traditional Native American farming and land management practices. Another essential read for understanding where we need to head to create positive impacts on people and the environment.

I was recently given this book and found that it aligned so perfectly with permaculture.

The art of reading the landscape is absolutely necessary to make informed decisions on our homesteads or farms.

While Walden is (mostly) not about agriculture, it is the foundation of what I believe to be the good life.

Permaculture is about the good life and Walden helps us take a step back, relax and learn to just observe, a core permaculture principle. Another top read for sure.

What are YOUR favorite books?

That is my top 25 books at the moment. There are certainly more but maybe I’ll share those another day.

I would love to hear from you – What are your favorite books that are on your shelf?

Leave me a list of books to add to my un-read pile on my desk in the comments below!

About Bret James

Hi, I’m Bret James. My family and I have created a recession-proof, sh*t-storm proof self-sustainable life. We grow a low-work garden, have an abundant food forest, raise animals holistically, have a stocked pantry of home grown-foods, harvest fresh rainwater, and live in an energy-efficient passive solar straw bale home - all in alignment with nature. And it doesn’t take all of your time, in fact, we run a business and even homeschool our son - all while living a life as outside of the system as possible.

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