A Homesteader's Sampler of U.S. Government Publications

Surprisingly homesteaders can find a wealth of information available on the techniques of rural self-sufficiency through U.S. government publications.
By Jim Engiles
May/June 1975
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The past decade has seen the beginnings of a new exodus: a move back to the land and to a simpler, saner life lived in consonance with nature.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF


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The past decade has seen the beginnings of a new exodus: a move back to the land and to a simpler, saner life lived in consonance with nature. This has created a growing demand for information on the techniques of rural self-sufficiency . . . and one of the best sources has turned out to be none other than government publications from the U.S. Government. Publications like the Whole Earth Catalog and MOTHER EARTH NEWS have done much to make their readers aware of the enormous amount of useful information which is available to the public at low cost. So far though, only tire tip of the iceberg has been revealed.

For example: Much information of value to the homesteader is distributed — surprisingly enough — by the Department of Defense. In Part I of the following bibliography, I've listed a sampling of the relevant titles from this source. All the booklets so identified are currently available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

You'll notice, as you read through Part I of the bibliography, that my listings do not include prices. This is international since the cost of most government documents is skyrocketing at present and any quotations I might give would soon be outdated. In addition, the GPO has revised several of its procedures recently and no longer issues price lists for such items . . . thus making the public's job much harder. A postcard to the Superintendent of Documents citing full particulars of a specific publication, however, should bring you the current charge for the booklet.

Please note that the titles of government publications I've selected are only a sample and are drawn from just one government department. A wealth of other material — on a surprising range of topics is stored in Washington for the public's use. Your local library can help you determine what publications on a given subject are currently available from the Government Printing Office.

And that brings up another point: When you seek assistance from the library, don't neglect its files of older government publications. Much of the information which may be most valuable to you is out of print and can't be ordered from the Superintendent of Documents. This is especially true of the "outdated", often priceless Farmer's Bulletins such as those I've listed in Part 11 of the following bibliography. The fanning methods employed at the turn of the century — and subsequently abandoned in favor of increasing mechanization and sophistication — now have a new importance as non-polluting, energy-conserving alternatives . . . and many of the pre-agribusiness government documents in this field are too good to be lost.

To repeat: The Department of Agriculture bulletins listed in Part II of the bibliography are out of print and no longer for sale in Washington. These and many other excellent publications can, however, often be found in the files of local libraries and may possibly also be borrowed from county extension agents. By all means, check your nearby sources of information, and remember that the few titles mentioned here are only a sample of the wealth of materials that can be found with a little effort.

PART I: PUBLICATIONS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE (PRICE INFORMATION AVAILABLE FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT OF DOCUMENTS, U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, D.C. 20402)

CONCRETE AND MASONRY. U.S. Department of the Army. Training Manual 5-742. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1970. On the modern farmstead, a working knowledge of concrete and masonry is practically indispensable. This manual discusses the physical characteristics and properties of concrete materials, the selection of proportions for concrete mixtures, the design and building of forms, and the detailed procedures for construction. Part II is devoted to masonry, or building with bricks.

ELEMENTS OF SURVEYING. U.S. Department of the Army. Training Manual 5-232. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1964. Training Manual 5-232 is a neophyte's introduction to the basics of surveying principles and equipment, and to the mathematics required for the necessary computations.

ENGINEER FIELD DATA. U.S. Department of the Army. Field Manual 5-34. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1969. This invaluable handbook contains a wealth of reference data intended for use by the Army combat engineer, but is equally applicable to many farm tasks. The formulas for bridge demolition, for instance, can also be used to calculate explosive charges for the removal of stumps. The manual's contents range from the everyday (metric-English conversion tables) to the exotic (expedient paint recipes).

INTERIOR WIRING. U.S. Department of the Army. Training Manual 5-760. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1968. Practical information on the design, layout, installation, and maintenance of interior electric wiring. With this manual's help, anyone familiar with tools should be able to wire a modern single-occupancy building and keep the system in good working order.

PLUMBING AND PIPEFITTING. U.S. Department of the Army. Training Manual 5-551 K. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971. The author of Plumbing and Pipefitting assumes that the reader is familiar with the tools used by the construction and utilities worker, and provides reference data and basic guidance for the technical phases of small plumbing operations. The contents include information on utilities drawings, bills of materials, plumbing supplies and procedures, sewerage, water supply, heating installations, in insulation materials, and pumps.

RIGGING. U.S. Department of the Army. Training Manual 5-725. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1968. Rigging is concerned with the application of fiber rope, wire rope, and chains used in various combinations to raise or move heavy loads. It offers basic instruction in knots, hitches, splices, lashing, and tackle systems and lists the safety precautions and requirements for the various operations (including rules of thumb for rapid calculations of safe loads).

SANITARY LANDFILL. U.S. Department of the Army. Training Manual 5-814-5. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1973. Solid waste disposal can be a serious problem to a farmer whose isolated holding is beyond the reach of municipal systems. This manual discusses the selection of a landfill site, the effect of climate on such a facility, and the health considerations to be remembered in its management.

PART II: PUBLICATIONS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (OUT OF PRINT . . . CHECK YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY OR COUNTY EXTENSION OFFICE)

BEE KEEPING by Frank Benton. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 59. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897. This bulletin for the novice beekeeper seeks to introduce the small farmer to a secondary means of increasing his income at very low initial cost. The contents include locations suited to bee culture, management of of the hive, extraction of honey, diseases of bees, and information on assorted topics (such as the all-important "how to avoid stings").

BUTTER MAKING ON THE FARM by C.P. Goodrich. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 57. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897. The average modern city-dweller has come to think of home buttermaking as a magical folk art, and prefers to leave the whole business corporate enterprise. Not so long ago, however, the larger part of the butter produced in this country was homemade. This brief but thorough bulletin was written "for the farmer whose ignorance of correct methods . . . [and] careless and slovenly habits" result in a poor-quality spread. The author painstakingly describes the preferred technique and attacks a pressing problem of the day: "Shall butter be worked once or twice?"

CANNED FRUITS, PRESERVES AND JELLIES by Maria Parloa. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 203. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1905 This turn-of-the-century work is surprisingly up to date (especially in its warnings against excessive use of sugar … most appropriate now that the refined sweetening has come under suspicion of serious damage to health). The bulletin includes a discussion of molds and bacteria, a list of utensils needed for home canning, a collection of recipes, and a short section on retail sale of preserves.

CHEESE AND ITS ECONOMICAL USES IN THE DIET by C.F Langworthy and Caroline L. Hunt. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 487. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1912. While this publication may contain outmoded information — which I'm not qualified judge — on the nutritive value of cheese, it also offers brief explanations of the making of this food in the home, along with a wealth of recipes for its use.

CLEARING NEW LAND by Franklin Williams, Jr. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 150. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902. The author discusses what land should be cleared, examines the various types of plant growth and foliage, and tells the small farmer of modest means how to deal with them by low-cost methods (including pasturing, the use of oxen and horses, and blasting with dynamite).

DRYING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES IN THE HOME. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 841. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917. Home drying is almost a lost art today, and apparently was so even in 1917 when this most useful and interesting bulletin was printed. Food preservation by this method, says the author, "may seem strange to the present generation but was no novelty to our grandmothers". The contents include reasons for drying vegetables, principles and methods of dehydration, apparatus needed, and recipes and directions.

DUCKS AND GEESE by George E. Howard. US Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 64. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897. This bulletin should provide all the information you'll need to get started in the production of ducks and geese. The standard breeds of the period are illustrated with good drawings and their advantages and disadvantages are discussed. A lengthy treatment of care and management covers every aspect of domesticated waterfowl production, including plans for shelters and instructions on killing and dressing.

FARM RESERVOIRS by Samuel Fortier. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No, 828. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917. The main purpose of the reservoirs described in this bulletin is the storage of water for the irrigation of gardens, orchards, etc., but the impoundments may also be used for watering livestock, fish farming, or recreational purposes. While not every farmer (or small group of farmers) needs such a setup, those that do may find essential information here.

FARM SHEEP RAISING FOR BEGINNERS by F.R. Marshall and R.B. Millin. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 840. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917. This introductory overview for novices deals with the care and management of sheep from birth to marketing, but doesn't address the more complicated techniques such as shearing or butchering.

HOME STORAGE OF VEGETABLES by James H. Beattie, U.S, Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 879. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917. When considerable quantities of vegetables are grown, storage for the winter months becomes a problem. Bulletin No. 879 shows how to modify existing structures for this purpose, or build new ones of any type from the crude to the palatial. Numerous illustrations give construction details, floor plans, and other information.

IMPORTANT INSECTICIDES by C.L. Marlatt. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 19, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1894. Long before modern chemistry gave us the deadly inorganic poisons that have caused so much damage to our environment, farmers were combating insect pests with relatively innocuous substances such as kerosene and sour milk. Many recipes of yesteryear are given in Important Insecticides, and offer alternatives for the homesteader who hopes to live in harmony with the ecosystem.

KILLING HOGS AND CURING PORK by F.G. Ashbrook and G.A. Anthony. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer Bulletin No. 913. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917. This pamphlet covers everything to do with the butchering and curing of hogs and includes a list of tools, recipes for sausage and scrapple, and smoking instructions (with a bill of materials and construction diagrams for smokehouse).

MODERN CONVENIENCES FOR THE FARM HOME by Elmina T. Wilson. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer' Bulletin No. 270. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906. Low-energy means of providing such conveniences as running water, plumbing, heating, and waste disposal are offered in this profusely illustrated publication. The text, by a civil engineer, manages to be detailed enough to use as a practical guide, yet is not too technical for the layman. Anyone who wants low-cost plans for homemade showers, earth closets, sewage disposal systems, or the like will find No. 270 a good source.

POULTRY HOUSE CONSTRUCTION by Alfred R. Lee. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 574 Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1914. Essential principles of poultry housing are included, along with plans, specifications, and numerous pictures and diagrams showing types of construction suitable for various parts of the U. S.

POULTRY MANAGEMENT by A.G. Bell. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 287. Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office, 1907. The emphasis here is on scientific management of poultry as practiced at the turn of the century, before modern "innovations" such as force feeding of artificial rations laced with antibiotics — made today's chicken semi-poisonous. Unexpected bonuses include information on preserving and marketing eggs.

PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR FARM BUILDINGS by George C. Hill. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 126. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1903. The passage of years has made this a fascinating bulletin: The $600 and $1,000 houses for which plans and bills of materials are given would easily cost $25,000 today. Nevertheless, No. 126 is a useful guide to the construction of the farm home, barn, outbuildings, etc. Form follows function in all the designs, and the discussion of chimney and foundation building is quite detailed.

THE SANITARY PRIVY by C.W. Stiles. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 463. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1911. At the turn of the century, typhoid and dysentery were prevalent in rural America . . . largely because of the improper disposal of human wastes. Hence this publication, and especially its last chapter: "Civic Responsibility in Respect to Privies". The bulletin describes a splendid variety of outhouses — L.R.S. privy, dry system, and wet system — all of which can be built easily with the help of many excellent illustrations.

SWINE MANAGEMENT by George M. Rommel and F.G. Ashbrook. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmer's Bulletin No. 874. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1917. Hogs are particularly valuable to the family farm, both for home use and for sale. This bulletin deals with their small-scale feeding, breeding, and management. A special section is devoted to swine parasites.


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