UPDATE January 2010: Added Popular Mechanics resource, plus a new section: Self-sufficiency websites.
I’ve been wanting to do this list for ages, and will be adding to it regularly. I’ve put a link in the bar below the Thrifty Living header photo, so it will be easy to find.
These resources are free (legally free, I might hasten to add). There are links to a wide range of subjects such as gardening & agriculture; homesteading; health & medicine; heating, energy & fuel; food preservation and personal freedom. I’ve started the list with the first few categories. Some are virtual libraries containing e-books and other materials in PDF and html format, whilst others are websites with extensive information on certain topics.
I suggest making electronic (or paper) copies of the material you are interested in. Websites come and go, and there’s nothing more frustrating than clicking on a bookmark only to find the website obsolete. Also, some websites may start charging for content which is currently free.
Much of the information is in Adobe PDF format. The Adobe PDF Reader can be downloaded here for free, if you don’t already have it.
A very convenient way to save web content that is not already in PDF format is to use CutePDF, which allows you to “print” to PDF (i.e. make a PDF copy) of web pages. The programme is free to download and use.
Another useful tool (also free) is PrintWhatYouLike, which allows you to edit webpages in order to remove ads, sidebars and other nonrelevant content, before printing a copy (either a paper copy, or a PDF copy using CutePDF).
If you want to download the content of an entire website to your computer, HTTrack, another freeware programme, allows you to do so.
Here is an overview of some of the larger resources, which are also listed separately in their appropriate categories below.
Soil and Health Library. Australian-based library run by Steve Solomon which makes available, for free download, e-books on holistic agriculture, holistic health, self-sufficiency, homesteading, as well as personal sovereignty and spiritual freedom. Some books are in the public domain, whilst others are out of print but still protected by copyright. How can this library distribute copies of copyrighted material? Australian law allows libraries to supply, for personal study, electronic copies of copyrighted books, as long as they are out of print. However, as stated on their website, “further reproduction and dissemination of copyrighted materials supplied to patrons of the Library is prohibited by international copyright agreements”. Excerpts from a few in-print books are available as well, with permission of their respective publishers. You don’t have to become a member of the Library in order to access the titles, but lifetime membership is only 10 euros (about £9 or US$15) and helps support the work.
Mother Earth News. This American magazine — “The original guide to living wisely” — has been publishing for almost 40 years. Their website contains a plethora of articles on homesteading, gardening, health, renewable energy, etc, which can be accessed free of charge. You can also buy CDs or DVDs of their article archive. List price for the entire set (1970-2008) is US$69.95, but they regularly have sales and if you’re patient, you should be able to pick up the set for as little as $29.95 plus s&h.
ATTRA: National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. US-based organisation which provides information on sustainable agriculture and organic farming. Free downloadable publications on growing fruits, vegetables, herbs & nuts organically, as well as advice on running a farming business. A wealth of information.
Journey to Forever. Journey to Forever is involved in environment and rural development work in remote and impoverished areas, with a focus on trees, soil and water, sustainable farming, sustainable technology, and family nutrition. They have two free online libraries, the Small Farms Library and the Biofuels Library.
Practical Action. This development charity “works with poor people to develop the skills and technology that will enable them to build a better future”. They provide free downloadable publications in the areas of agriculture; crop & food processing; energy; transport; waste & recycling; water & sanitation; and more.
Instructables. I love the idea of this website, which brings together the innovation of a worldwide web of people. All about “Make, How To and DIY”, accessible at no charge.
Plants for a Future. Huge free database with information on 7000 species of edible and/or “otherwise useful” plants which are suitable for growing outdoors in a temperate climate. Very comprehensive. Search the entire database, or peruse specialised lists which organise plants into dozens of uses.
Popular Mechanics. One hundred years of this practical magazine, with thousands of projects and ideas, are available for free perusal at Google Books. Issues from the first half of the 20th century — a time when innovation and ingenuity ruled — make for particularly interesting reading.
Gardening & agriculture
Soil & Health Holistic Agriculture Library. All titles are free to download and include Bio-dynamic agriculture: an introduction; The living soil; The natural way of farming; and many more.
Soil & Health Homesteading Library. All titles are free to download and include Building soils for better crops; Beyond organics; Gardening without irrigation; Organic gardener’s composting; and many more.
Mother Earth News. A huge database of free information and projects. Examples include low-cost greywater irrigation system; “100-year” hotbed; deluxe four-season cold frame; four herb garden designs; and many more.
ATTRA Publications. Big range of subjects, all available for free download, including growing food crops organically (both general guides and specific advice), growing organic greenhouse crops, organic pest management, etc, etc.
Journey to Forever Small Farms Library. Titles in this free library include Common-sense compost making by the quick return method; Weeds — guardians of the soil; Farming and gardening for health or disease; and more.
Plants for a Future. Includes cultivation, propagation, uses and other data on thousands of useful plants, both edible and otherwise useful. Specialised lists in this free database include top-rated edible plants; alternative fruits; compost plants; shelterbelt plants; herbicide plants; and many more.
California Rare Fruit Growers Fruit Facts. Free information sheets, including cultivation and propagation, on various fruits such as gooseberry, fig, avocado, currants, pawpaw, kiwifruit, and more.
The Rooftop Garden Project. A partnership between Alternatives and Santropol Roulant, this project has “combined hydroponics, permaculture and organic gardening principles to develop soil-less growing techniques that are ecologically sustainable, affordable and light-weight enough to be used on rooftops, balconies, walls and other small urban spaces”. Free PDF download of their publication Guide to setting up your own edible rooftop garden, available in both English and French.
The National Academies Press. Books are available to view online for free. Has a few agriculture titles, including Lost crops of the Incas; Lost crops of Africa: volume I grains, volume II vegetables, volume III fruits.
Project Gutenberg. Here you will find 30,000 free ebooks, converted from books whose copyright has expired. Most books are old, and lack diagrams, making them a bit of a difficult read for gardening-type books. One that looks useful is Culinary herbs: their cultivation, harvesting, curing and uses.
ATTRA Publications. Lots of free advice on the starting and running a farm business. Titles include Start a farm in the city; Market gardening: a start-up guide; New markets for your crops; Oilseed processing for small-scale producers; and many more.
Jenkins Publishing. This publisher has made available for free download, their book The humanure handbook: a guide to composting human manure. Or, as they put it, “255 pages of crap”.
Popular Mechanics. Numerous articles, all free, such as All-winter vegetable storage; How to build a root cellar; Build your own fruit & vegetable dryer; etc. Lots of free plans for building simple (and not-so-simple) furniture, including Space-saving dinette table; 16th century x-chair; Early American storage chest; and many more.
Health & medicine
Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Founded by the late herbalist Michael Moore, this Arizona-based school offers a large range of free materials for the herbalist. Most of the texts have been converted to searchable, bookmarked PDF format. Included are photographs and drawings of medicinal plants; clinical manuals written by Michael Moore; British herbal manuals; texts on herbology & herb growing; and much more. Sample titles: Herbal manual by Harold Ward; Herbal formulas for clinic & home by Michael Moore; Useful wild plants of the United States and Canada.
Hesperian Foundation. A non-profit publisher of books and newsletters for community-based health care. Their Online Library of free downloadable books includes Where there is no doctor and Where there is no dentist.
Heating, energy & fuel
Soil & Health Homesteading Library — Titles are available for free download and include Solargas: How to easily make your own auto and heating fuel for pennies a gallon.
Journey to Forever Biofuels Library. Titles in this free library include Manual for the home and farm production of alcohol fuel; Convert your car to alcohol; and more.
The Green Living Forum. Dedicated to “helping you live a more sustainable life”.
More categories & links to come.