Self-sufficiency in a kitchen garden: Part 1


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Back when I was a young single bloke with a head full of dreams and a few dollars in my pocket I purchased John Seymour’s book ‘The complete book of Self-Sufficiency’; life was never the same thereafter.

Looking back over the intervening forty years, I must admit that I was charmed by the drawings and the idealized lifestyle portrayed. It took me decades to realize that self-sufficiency was only for the rich, much like the formula for becoming a millionaire: “Start with $10 million and work your way down from there”

P1010950‘The complete book of Self-Sufficiency’ was written by an Englishman in England. If I needed to drain a field, jug a hare, pluck a pheasant or choose between a horse or a tractor to plough a five-acre plot in the English countryside this book would have been perfect. For a backyard gardener in the fiery climate on the Adelaide Plains in South Australia I had to start from scratch. So

Tip #1: Start soon, because it takes decades to understand your patch of soil and your local climate.

Of course, five acres in the city – where I needed a job to support a growing family –  was never going to happen, even for a dreamer like me. So

Tip #2: Buy your house for the land, not the house upon it.

I did that, and spent another thirty years fixing up the house so that the cook could suffer to live in the place. P1010916But houses can be renovated; if you don’t win some garden soil from the real-estate agent the small self-sufficiency of growing ones own fruit, herbs, eggs and vegetables will be a dream still-born.

Earning a living, studying, raising children, staying married, staying in touch with extended family and friends – these are all things that eat into a gardener’s gardening time. So

Tip #3: If you want to live off a garden, you have to live in it.

P1010876This may well be why so many folks only get gardening when they retire. If you put it off until then, you’ll find yourself surrounded by jobs that require a 35-year-old back, not a 65-year-old one.

But at a more fundamental level, kitchen gardening is a very time-consuming life-style; if watching sport on TV or endless rounds of socializing is what rocks your socks, you’d better stick with the lawn and the white roses.

If you’ve found a patch of garden behind your house that gets full sun and is not invaded by tree roots, then

Tip #4: Buy compost, not stocks and shares

P1010873Enrich and protect your soil: healthy soils produce healthy people. Kitchen gardens will win you small returns in savings at the local shops but big returns in exercise, sunshine, friendships with down-to-earth people (other gardeners), a connection to nature and the satisfaction that only growing your own food can bring.

More next week, I guess…


Wilfried Westermann said...

Hi Andrew,
I bought the same book in the early 80's in Adelaide after our family migrated here from Germany. Our first summer in 1980/81 was quite a shock as we were used to deep, black soil with groundwater at about 4 feet depth and benign summers.
My grandfather was a dairy farmer who used horses until the late 60's and made a living on 15 hectares. Both of my grandparents worked from dawn to dusk,cleared and drained their fields and would have never survived if they hadn't been so frugal.
I find it very hard believe that anyone can make a living on only 5 acres - even in the mild climes of southern England and I've sometimes wondered if John Seymour has actually ever practiced what he preached and worked as a real farmer for an extended period of time.
In spite of that, his 2 books have pride of place on my shelf next to Peter Bennett's book on organic gardening and I blame him for us buying 32 acres of land in 1987 in Kuitpo....

Andrew said...

Good for you, Wilfried
Yes, the generations before us did work from dawn to dusk just to get by - they could never have imagined today's comfortable lifestyles. And somehow I imagine that they would be appalled by our industrial agriculture and long food transport chains.
John Seymour's book reminds me of pre-industrial times. I doubt many modern folk would put in the necessary labour for such little return.
Thanks for your comments

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