Books: Self-sufficiency

by kath_red on February 23, 2011

in Books, Green Crafting

Lately and not so lately, my husband and I have been thinking very seriously about living a more sustainable life. Many ideas that we read about are not so practical for a working family living in the suburbs. But many are and so we try to be more mindful of what we eat, where we shop, what we buy and wear, etc. While some of our choices mean more work – it is pleasurable meaningful work – that we know benefits our family and hopefully by making some small changes in how we do things we contribute to a larger movement and community of people who are also making these changes.

What sorts of things am I talking about you may ask? Well most of the things are achievable and a bit experimental and fun, they nurture family time as well as putting us in touch more with our community. For example we have chooks in our backyard. We love our chooks, they are easy to look after, they eat all our table scraps, they produce the most amazing eggs and they are fascinating creatures to watch.

We also have a vegetable patch and a herb garden. We do find that looking after our veggie garden properly – keeping the weeds down and keeping the water up – is difficult and so it is not as productive as we each season hope for. So we recently built a more accessible veggie garden box right off our back deck, and in here we planted lots of things we will eat, are space efficient and quick to grow – for example lettuces and asian greens.

I have a more productive herb garden that I constantly nurture and that provides a lot of satisfaction for everyone. The kids love wandering through the herbs smelling, tasting, and adding to their herb water concoction drinks. The wonderful thing about growing herbs is that they tend to come back each year. I usually leave a few plants to turn to seed each year and then sprinkle the seeds around, and many of the plants may die off in winter but come back again in the spring. I always have a big supply of flat leaf parsley which I use in almost everything. I have different varieties of thyme growing in between rocks, and pavers and filling in spaces here and there. I have a few different lavender and rosemary bushes as well as a bay tree in a pot. I have lots of different sorts of mint popping up as well and fennel does very well in my garden too. Basil and coriander are a bit more fickle and I am trying them again this year in pots by my back door. Oregano, sage and tarragon are also mainstays in the herb patch. If you don’t have herbs growing you really should – they do wonders for your cooking and your spirit.

We are lucky enough to live super close to a very good farmers market – and can get most of what we need there – we buy meat direct from eco friendly farmers, and fruit and veg, in season from local producers. We get our coffee, milk, butter and cheese there too as well as wonderful artisan bread and butter and jam. It feels great to be able to not only support our local producers but to be feeding our bodies with good wholesome food.

We also buy most of our clothes from the second hand store and I make some pieces too. I also spend weekends baking, I bake cakes and bread for school lunches during the week, and experiment with making yoghurts and ricotta cheeses occasionally. I know we have a long way to go – we could grow more, we could make more of our clothes, we could drive less and use our bikes more, and I want to do more food preserving and maybe even keep bees and ducks and have a root cellar of some sort. Its exciting and experimental and feels like a worthwhile journey and way to live our lives.

Some books I am reading on this journey include a few books on home preserving foods. I do freeze a lot of stuff – like pesto and tomato sauces and chicken stock – but have not delved into canning and pickling so much yet. Put ‘em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton (Storey Publishing (2010). is an incredible resource – with heaps of recipes for everything from jams, chilli sauces to relishes and pickles, organised into chapters by vegetable/fruit. It also has important information about various techniques and what sort of things to look out for – a very good primer for anyone wanting to get into preserving foods. The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar. Jennifer Megyesi. (Skyhorse Publishing 2010) has a lifetime of knowledge on preserving the harvest. Not just vegetables and fruit, but milk and meat and eggs too. With extra tips on what to do with ‘bad’ veg, and which are best varieties of veg to preserve, how to save seeds, what to do with your frozen foods if you lose electricity – just for starters. As well as chapters on canning, drying and storing food in a cellar – this book is much more than recipes and techniques – it is a lifetime of knowledge!

I also like to read up on herb gardening as I am always looking to add more herbs to my garden. The Organic Herb Gardener. By Graham Clarke. (Guild of Master Craftsman 2010) is a nice addition to my herb book shelf – with chapters from propagating and pest control to preserving as well as an excellent directory of herbs and even a seasonal work calendar – this is a great resource. I also like The Beginner’s Guide to Edible Herbs. Charles W. G. Smith. (Storey Publishing 2010) because it concentrates on just 26 of the most useful kitchen herbs – it probably has more recipes and less info on growing than I need – but nevertheless there are some good ideas and useful information for caring for your herbs and using them in various ways in your kitchen.

Cost-Effective Self-Sufficiency. By Eve McLaughlin, Terence McLaughlin and Diane Millis. (David & Charles 2010) is an updated rerelease of a book that was first published in the 60′s. A book well ahead of its time – this book is all about not spending money – using what you have, recycling, reusing, being efficient with time and money and other resources. With information on seed propagation, garden design, soil types, greenhouses, harvesting and preserving – this book is a wealth of information. And it is beautifully presented too – well organised and with lovely illustrations. It is also written in a very user friendly way – everything is explained so nicely for gumby newbie gardeners like me – I love this book!

So if you are just beginning on this journey or a little way in like me – or if you have been a self sufficiency champion for many years – I hope that you will share some of your stories here too.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kate February 23, 2011 at 5:11 am

We live on and work an organic farm. We grow fruit, veg and eggs and sell to shops, restaurants and at farmers markets. This season though has been horrendous for us. Our market gardens have been under water three times, we have mildew in the fruit trees and now we have barely had the sunshine and warmth to ripen the veg we have in the ground. So, I have become a bit obsessed with self sufficiency and ways we can live an even simpler life. There are a few books there that are new to me and I look forward to checking them out. Thanks.
Good luck on your journey.

2 Valerie February 23, 2011 at 8:57 am

Thanks for the book recommendations! We bought a house last winter, and have started to (slooooowly) plan garden(s). Last year we added rosemary and basil to the peppermint that was already there. We also tried some less-than-successful lettuce, tomatoes and broccoli. The already-established rhubarb and the walking onions were FANTASTIC, though. Peas and beans this year!

3 kath_red February 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm

we always have great success with broccoli – the kind that keeps going all year – but our tomatoes are a bit sad. I wish we could grow rhubarb but I am the only one in the family who will eat it!

4 Seanna Lea February 23, 2011 at 10:23 am

My gardens for the past two years have been truly sad affairs. We have a very shady yard and I would prefer to grow vegetables and herbs, but most of them need full sun. Do you need to work around shady spots or do you have a sunny yard?

5 Celeste February 23, 2011 at 11:48 am

We took out our lawn, put in raised vegetable beds and planted fruit trees. For the vegetable beds, we try to follow the guidelines in “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew. We also have some vegetables and trees in pots on the patio. Our best producing vegetables are tomatoes; what we don’t use during the summer, I cut and freeze for winter stews, etc. We also plant chilis, spinach, eggplant, peas, carrots, onions, squash and potatoes. Most of the fruit from the trees are eaten fresh but we’ve also made jam – we did try canning, but it’s a lot more difficult.

6 kath_red February 23, 2011 at 4:30 pm

we are lucky to have a big sunny patch on our western side, the rest of the yard is shaded, but maybe you could consider some raised boxes in areas with sun?

7 Delica February 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I live in Brooklyn, NY where sustainability can be a challenge but worth the effort. On one hand, the city makes it easy: we have mass transit (or walk everywhere!), we recycle plastic, glass and paper, and we have amazing farmer’s markets. There are events to recycle electronics, textiles and to collect compost. The sustainability community exists, even in the Big Apple. (And “Yeah!” to Whip-up for pointing the way towards crafty recycling and reusing.) My biggest challenge is the lack of a little plot of ground to grow a garden. While there are neighborhood gardens, realistically I know I will be successful with something closer to home. In the past, I’ve grown herbs in pots (basil, thyme, oregano, chives, etc.). I’m determined to make more of an effort this year and do container gardening on my fire escape. I’ve been inspired by Gayla Trail’s book, “Grow Great Grub:Organic Food from Small Spaces.” Another book I’d recommend is Barbara Kingsolver’s, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.”

8 kath_red February 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm

I don’t have Gayla’s book, but do love her website – and yes I have read ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ – very inspiring!

9 Valerie February 23, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I love ‘Put ‘em Up!’ but don’t like that its jam/jelly recipes are written for only one type of pectin (Pomona’s). It’s difficult to know which parts of the recipe can be altered (e.g., reducing sugar) and if/how another pectin can be substituted. I did procure some Pomona’s to try — I like that it allows the fruit to shine and doesn’t require sugar to gel. That said, the section on drying in ‘Put ‘em Up!’ is my favorite, particularly for fruit leathers, jerky, and peppers. I container garden with a variety of bell and chilie peppers and am always looking for ways to carry their flavor through the winter months.

One of my favorite books on canning is “Small Batch Preserving” — you don’t need super large quantities of fruits/vegetables, and you wind up with quite a variety of preserved foods which is good for my household of two. We large-batch favorites (particularly in the jam and syrup department) but it’s nice to be able to try new flavors without lining the shelves with them. Especially if we find the flavor isn’t quite to our liking!

10 kath_red February 23, 2011 at 4:34 pm

thanks for the canning book recommendation – I am pretty sure pectin is pectin – does the brand you buy matter?

11 Kristin February 23, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Most of the time it doesn’t matter too much, but Pamona’s is a different type of pectin. You can use it with no sugar I believe. Here is a link: http://www.pomonapectin.com/

12 kath_red February 23, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I have never used this sort of pectin before but looks interesting. thanks for the link.

13 Kristin February 23, 2011 at 4:43 pm

This is the way that I was raised, so it comes very naturally to me. Not to say that I don’t have a long way to go, especially when it comes to gardening. We have a very small yard, but still, it’s not an apartment! Every year I feel like my garden is a failure. I’m hoping for better things this year. I know I can’t grow everything we eat, so I’m trying to learn to concentrate on growing the most expensive to buy, easy to grow things (like blueberries). I sure enjoy the challange of doing things ourselves!

14 se7en February 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Wow I love all the book recommendations… Last year we made a small keyhole garden in an attempt to grow our own vegetables and discover where our food really comes from!!! Simply amazing, we ate out of this little garden for months and we are just about to reap the benefits of this years corn planting – great excitement!!! Here is where we posted about setting up our garden: http://www.se7en.org.za/kitchen-keyhole-garden

15 Carrie @ Oh Baby O February 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Loved reading this post! Thanks for sharing!
I showed my husband your chooks and we’re both enchanted… I think I see some in our future! :)

16 Wendy February 24, 2011 at 12:33 am

The Backyard Homestead is an excellent book as well as Carrots Love Tomatoes to help you. We garden every year – huge garden & are getting ready to venture into raising our own cattle & pigs. We want to be more self sufficient and have less hormones and cancer causing things in our foods.
I enjoy your blog!
Wendy

17 Maggie February 24, 2011 at 3:46 am

Loved reading this post :) I have hopes and plans for similar in the future. We’re about to get our first pair of chooks.

18 Becky February 24, 2011 at 9:27 am

I have long been picky about the food we eat, which combined with my love of digging in the dirt has served us well over the years. I can a good bit, as well as freeze our produce. We have some fruit trees and bushes and some of them are really starting to produce. As for the rest of sustainable living, both of us work non-profit, my husband specifically in the environmental field, so living sustainable has been a way of life for us since the beginning. It’s fantastic to see so many others catch on to what we’ve been doing for years.

19 Pam February 24, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Since arriving in Australia I’ve been looking for canning supplies but can seem to only find old or dangerously outdated jars and pots. I need Ball or Mason jars with rings and lids and a 22quart pressure canner, and the latest Ball Blue Book. I really miss canning my garden produce since coming here. I don’t understand why home canning isn’t done here.

20 kath_red February 25, 2011 at 12:53 am

I know – Ball and Mason jars are hard to find – but you can get them from here:
http://redbacktrading.com.au/

21 Melanie February 25, 2011 at 3:40 pm

I live in the suburbs of New Jersey so I know how hard it is to be eco-conscious but after researching a lot and just talking to people, I’ve found that there are so many small changes you can make that make a big difference. As a mom, I’m really impressed with the availability of online kids stores that offer eco-friendly bedding, clothing and more. I recently bought an eco-friendly Amy Michelle diaper bag from AnnaBean and I was impressed by a lot of their totes and bags which had environment conscious materials.

It’s difficult as a consumer to get a lot of information on what you’re buying and I think this detracts a lot of interest in the eco-friendly movement. But it’s possible and as someone who continues to try to lead a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, it has a lot of value for me.

22 STL Mom March 1, 2011 at 10:37 am

Years ago I remember watching a British TV series about a couple that tried self-sufficiency in their little suburban yard, to the confusion and sometimes horror of their next-door neighbors.
http://www.amazon.com/Good-Neighbors-Complete-Richard-Briers/dp/B000784WKO/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1298989520&sr=1-1
If your library has the DVDs, you might find them entertaining. Probably not useful, but fun!

23 kath_red March 1, 2011 at 5:14 pm

oh yes I loved that show – it was called ‘the good life’
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Good_Life_(1975_TV_series)

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