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The Essential Guide to Back Garden Self-Sufficiency - Carleen Madigan

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Genre: House / Garden / Author: Carleen Madigan / Paperback / 368 Pages / Book is published 2010-02-01 by Timber Press

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      02.04.2012 14:37
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      A useful book but do not be seduced into thinking your back garden will make you self sufficient!

      Living in a 2 bed semi in suburbia I can only dream about being totally self-sufficient in a Good Life kind of way. One day we'll live somewhere more rural with more land and grow all our own fruit and veg and keep chickens, hopefully pigs and maybe some goats, but until that day comes I'm stuck with growing as much fruit and veg as I can fit in our garden. Whilst we're blessed with quite a big garden for the area we live in, it's not especially practical for growing as the previous owners were definitely the "low maintenance" kind and have paved over 3/4 of it with very hard landscaping - to the extent that there was not a single plant or flower or tree in our 100 metre square garden, not one!. A peek under some slabs let us know that there is approximately 8 inches of cement under all three patios (who needs 2 let alone 3 patios??!) so the task of digging them up to extend our growing space is a non-starter, especially considering we don't want to stay where we are for that long a time.

      So, for now, I'm stuck with about 15 square metres for a vegetable patch and whatever I can grow in pots on the plentiful patios! As this book was entitled "Back Garden Self Sufficiency" I bought it in the hopes that it would give me more ideas than I was already incorporating and so be able to grow more and get more produce per square foot than I was already achieving. For anyone with similar aspirations it is currently available from the trusty Amazon site for £9.74.

      The book itself is a paperback measuring around 9 by 7 inches and about an inch thick. The cover illustration is very bright and eyecatching with an almost child-like drawing of the perfect house surrounded by white picket fence and a nice square garden, neatly divided up into sections for growing fruit and veg, keeping bees, chickens and possibly even some cows if you're lucky enough to own the field behind the perfect house too!

      On the back cover we are given much more information. It tells us that from a quarter of an acre you can harvest 1400 eggs, 50lbs of wheat, 60 lbs of fruit, 2000lbs of veg, 280 lbs of pork and 75lbs of nuts. It also gives some background info on the author (who lives on an organic farm so has the right credentials for writing such a book) and outlines the practical skills you can learn for self-sufficiency (how to milk a goat, prune a tree, dry herbs, make your own booze, bake bread, make cheese, mill flour etc). Whilst I have no plans of doing even half of this now or in the future it all sounded quite interesting to me and there were lots of things I thought I might be able to adapt to fit into our own situation.

      Inside, the book is divided into the 7 main sections covering The Vegetable Patch, Fruit and Nuts, Herbs, Home Grown Grains, Poultry for Eggs and Meat, Meat and Dairy and Food From the Wild with other smaller sections including a welcome, a bit about being self sufficient, additional resources and an index.

      Each section is filled with useful tips and hints and all you need to know about that particular aspect of self-sufficiency. Examples in the Vegetable section are: it sets out clearly which vegetables you should grown (ones you like, ones which aren't as available in the supermarkets, ones suitable for your climate etc), how to space them out, how to make raised beds, how to stagger planting for longer growing periods, growing vertically (especially useful for me as we have about 90 feet of fencing!), how to design a veg patch for a smaller space, and how to harvest and preserve your bounty. The sections are all similarly laid out with easy to work through sections making it a great book to just dip in and out of when you have a few minutes to spare.

      Whilst the book lacks actual photographs which, to me, always make subjects like this more interesting and "real" being able to see them and the results you can expect, there are many little hand drawn pictures to keep interest and variety as well as lots of charts and tables and inserts with little hints and facts like a recipe for a blueberry pie, a glossary of brewing terms, making vinegar etc. So in value for money terms this book really is chockablock full of ideas, tips and advice.

      The downfall for me, though, is the fact that it's claims to self-sufficiency on quarter of an acre are pretty much a day dream. Yes, maybe if you had a garden measuring a quarter of an acre that also happened to be a perfectly formed and fertile field and you had unlimited time, money and equipment then you could make a very decent attempt at self-sufficiency. For the average person living in a town who has a big back garden, however, this book is completely unrealistic in it's aims and so makes the title very misleading to my mind.

      Whilst I never bought this book expecting to become self-sufficient I did think it would be more practical for use with a back garden as the title suggests. This is very far from the case however and I feel some of the sections are superfluous. Who, for example, is going to grow their own grains when they only have a back garden? And, whilst I realise that lots of smallholders (lucky people!) out there do have goats, sheep, cows and pigs etc, how many people can hope to have them in a suburban back garden? At a push we could keep chickens, but certainly none of the others.

      Overall then, whilst I enjoyed this book and did find some parts of it relevant and useful, I have been quite disappointed. If you do have a smallholding or a VERY large garden (as in an acre or two) and are looking for ideas on how to maximise the use of the space you have then I would very definitely recommend this book as the variety and information in it would be particularly useful (and I'll be hanging onto it in case my dream of that cottage in the country with a couple of acres ever does come true!). It's easy to dip in and out of, it's laid out well so you can find the bits that are of particular interest to you and there really is lots of useful information regarding expected yields, further uses for produce etc.

      However, if like me you're seduced by the title and have visions of being able to keep bees, grow your own grains to brew your own beer and having a cow nosing at your kitchen window then I fear you'll be disappointed too. Maybe if you have an extremely well-laid out garden, have limitless time, money and energy then you will be able to make candles from you own beeswax, cultivate nut as well as fruit trees, make your own vinegar and have milk and cheese from the goats bleating beautifully in the corner of your plot but in reality who has the time and funds to make all that a reality? Not me that's for sure.

      I'll be giving this book a 3 star rating. Whilst it is helpful if you have more land, it's cover claims are very very misleading and most of the information I found useful in it could have come out of any number of vegetable growing books.

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