Book Review / Gardening / Self Sufficiency

{Book Review} The New Self-Sufficient Gardener

About a month ago Penguin sent me John Seymour’s New Self-Sufficient Gardener to review.

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I have to admit I was super-excited to receive this book to review. Whenever I have spoken to almost anyone about the ‘art’ of homesteading, and whether they have a book they’d recommend, have pointed me towards John Seymour’s The Self-Sufficient Gardener.

I started reading the book within a few days of receiving it, and I was not disappointed. It was as detailed and as interesting as everyone said. The downside to this was that it did take me approximately a month to read the entire book, from cover to cover. This wasn’t from a lack of interest, I certainly found the content fascinating, but simply because it was so information dense. The book is approximately 250 A4 pages long, and I would normally be able to get through something like that in a week. It is a tribute to the amount of information that Seymour manages to contain within the book that I was unable to read it as quickly as I would have liked.

It is for this reason that I would suggest buying this book and keeping it as a reference book, to be perused as needed, rather than borrowing it from the library. Despite having read it thoroughly, I know I shall be referring to it again and again as I continue my gardening journey.

I would like to point out some of the things that I found particularly interesting – and occasionally particularly frustrating – in respect of the book.

Firstly, the book is basically set in the UK. At a stretch you might concede it relates to the Northern hemisphere. This means that, on occasion, you are left to wonder whether the instructions are relevant for your (my) climate down here in the Southern hemisphere. When Seymour talks of requiring a North facing wall, does he really mean a North facing wall, or does he mean a South facing wall? And when he comments on growing items such as cucumbers and tomatoes in a greenhouse, for which climate is he recommending this?

I also discovered, as I read, that a number of asterisks appeared, for which I had difficulty finding a reference. Sometimes they would say things like “prefer to page 64” but othertimes they were blank. I did finally discover that there was an index at the end of the book which they referenced, and which contained a list of items which may have changed since the original publication date of 1978 (such as availability of poisons), but I only chanced upon this by luck. In fact, it wasn’t until I was re-reading the introduction prior to writing this post that I discovered the explanation for the asterisks:

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I mention this mainly so that anyone else who reads this does not suffer from the same confusion that I did!

Insofar as the things that I found fascinating about the book, I will note that Seymour manages to make running a relatively self-sufficient ‘homestead in a garden/allotment appear remarkably achievable! As I read through his suggestions I found myself easily able to see how such an item could be implemented.

The book manages to be written with just enough detail to not leave a complete novice floundering, while also providing a bit more depth for the experienced gardener, which is a fair achievement! The New Self-Sufficient Gardener contains items such as a basic background about soil and plants, as well as an explanation as to which ‘categories’ plants fall (such as tomatoes actually being a kind of berry – who knew?).

The book is broken up into eleven separate sections:

  1. General Background/Introduction
  2. Illustrated Index of Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs
  3. Gardening Through The Year (ie, seasonally)
  4. Planning the Food-Producing Garden
  5. Essentials of Good Gardening
  6. Cultivation of Vegetables
  7. Cultivation of Fruits
  8. Cultivation of Herbs
  9. Growing in a Greenhouse (possibly most relevant for those in a Northern climate)
  10. Preserving the Garden Produce
  11. Miscellany

These often fall into subsections, such as the groupings of types of vegetables when discussing their cultivation. These were all separated by their ‘family’, which makes exploring their ideal growing conditions (and pests to watch for!) easier, but can be a bit tricky if you don’t know into which family your plant falls. Luckily there’s always the index to fall back on!

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Seymour is also a great proponent of the ‘deep bed’ method of gardening. The idea behind this is that you prepare a garden bed by deep digging it originally, and then never EVER standing on it or really firming the ground down in any way. The theory is that by doing this, you allow the roots to grow vertically, rather than horizontally, allow for a larger number of plants to be grown in the same space. Personally I’m not sure whether it works, or whether I would have the determination to enforce that rule with a number of young children in the family, but Seymour swears by it.

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The final thing that I will add is that this book is definitely a complete guide. It contains relatively detailed instructions about a number of preserving methods (though I would also suggest reading a book on preserving if that’s where your interest lies – it’s not that detailed!), including some DIY options such as drying.

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It also deals with livestock in the garden, intimating that a garden isn’t complete without chickens and rabbits…and perhaps some bees. It also contains information about how to care for, and incorporate chickens and rabbits into your gardens. In a true self-sufficient manner, it also details how to butcher them.

All-in-all I would definitely recommend buying this book, especially if you are trying to turn a suburban backyard into something a bit more self-sufficient. Copies are available from The Book Depository, Booktopia and Bookworld for around $23-$24.

Have you read The Self-Sufficient Gardener? Are there any other ‘homesteading’ books you’d recommend?

NB: Penguin did send this book to me free of charge for the purposes of reviewing. Nevertheless, my opinions remain my own and no money was exchanged for this review.

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