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The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It

May 4, 2011

I’ve picked up this book by John Seymor several times and have never put it down without learning something. I generally forget that I’ve read it and then check it out of the library only to remember what it is later.

This is by far the thickest and most far-reaching self-sufficiency book that I have found. Originally published in 1976, the book has remained largely unchanged through its numerous reprintings. Every page is packed full of illustrations, from hand-pollinating squash, how to for lambing, to the parts of a loom. Just to give you an idea of the breadth, here are the main topics:

* The meaning of self-sufficiency

* Food from the garden

* Food from animals

* Food from the wild

* In the dairy

* In the kitchen

* Brewing and wine-making

* Energy and waste

* Crafts and skills

Seymour’s writing style is one of the great parts of this book. He is funny, energetic and a little odd at times. For example, in the harvesting section he says, “the crown of the year is harvest time, and if you cannot enjoy that, you are unlikely to enjoy anything. You sweat and toil, along with friends and neighbors, to gather in and make secure the fruit of the year’s labors. The work is hard and hot, sometimes boisterous, always fun, and each day of it should be rewarded with several pints of home-brewed beer or chilled homemade wine or hard cider.” The book is full of “country wisdom,” like planting a piece of rhubarb with brassicas to prevent clubroot (I actually don’t know what that is).  Seymour profiles the use of space in the urban garden, the one-acre farm, and the five acre farm with an eye towards maximizing production and fitting in as many elements as possible. Another great thing about the book is Seymour’s explanations of older, non-mechanized or small-scale ways to do things. I have never seen another modern book explain how to hand reap a field or make hay without machinery.

The only drawback to this book is that nothing really gets a full discussion. Are there really only three possible breeds of sheep in the world? This could be said about any book on homesteading though – every issue deserves its own book. Another drawback is that most of the vegetable and grazing sections are geared toward one specific place although that place is never mentioned (England?). Overall though, this book is a great resource and will at least give you a starting point for most endeavors.

“No machine-made artifact can be beautiful. Beauty in artifacts can only be put there by the hands of the craftsman, and no machine will ever be built that can replace these. Machines might one day be made which will appreciate the beauty of articles made by other machines. People can only be truly pleased by articles made by other people.”

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