The Fat of the Land
John Seymour (Little Toller Books, £12)
I always found John seymour’s most famous book, The Complete Book of Self-sufficiency, a little preachy and smug. This, his first book on the subject, newly republished by little Toller, is much more fun because he talks about his mistakes as well as his triumphs.
He must have suffered a severe reaction to his mother, a southern belle used to dining with diplomats and former members of royalty. In the late 1950s, he bought a remote suffolk farmworker’s cottage miles from his nearest neighbour. It had no electricity, the land had been uncultivated for decades and the milkman wouldn’t deliver.
He bought a dark Jersey cow, Brownie, and had to learn to milk her and then deal with an average of two to three gallons a day. He and his potter wife, sally, made cheese and butter and fed milk to the pigs they’d bought, as well as to their hens, geese, dogs and cats. all thrived. as a result, they had a farmyard before they knew it.
They grew all their own vegetables, which had to be preserved because there was no electricity, and gradually refused to buy artificial fertilisers, partly because they objected to the price and partly because they had plenty of manure. They also had a hen called Henrietta and discovered that the secret of keeping fowl was to ‘simply leave them absolutely and entirely alone’.
seymour loved living among ‘peasants’, found his family so healthy they didn’t need the dentist and lived to be more than 90. you may not want to follow his extreme example, but there’s lots of advice for hen keepers, vegetable gardeners and amateur builders.
as well as this, the book is beautifully written, observant, informative and funny—but he never reveals why he calls ants ‘disgusting little fascists’. Leslie Geddes-brown
A detail from The Self-sufficient Gardener by the author’s wife, Sally Seymour, who illustrated the book