Self Sufficiency
Interview With John Harrison
the Allotment king

Self Sufficiency can be a big step for many but taking that all important first step towards it might not be has difficult as you might think.

So for those of you who want like to be more self-sufficient and grow your own vegetables then John Harrison is the guy you want to listen to.

Self sufficiency could be part of your frugal living lifestyle if gardening is something you enjoy.

John lives in England and is the proud owner of two allotments in the UK where he grows all manner of vegetables which his wife Val produces good home cooked meals with.

Johns website www.allotment-garden.org is the most popular allotment vegetable growing website in the UK. It has everything you could possibly want to know about growing your own vegetables as well as a recipe section and advice about keeping backyard Chickens and self sufficiency.

John is also the author of a book entitled "vegetable growing Month by Month" and is planning another book about self sufficiently in the near future.

Whether you live in the UK and want to know more about allotments or live elsewhere and just want some honest to goodness advice about growing your own produce, then John Harrison is the man with the answers.

We thought you would like to know more about John and self sefficiency, so we asked him a few questions.

1. Hi John and thank you for giving us some of your time, I'm sure many people who are interested in a frugal living will enjoy your information. John I would like to begin by letting you tell us about yourself and how you fist began to get interested in allotments and vegetable growing?

I suppose I started by helping my Grandfather in his garden as a young boy. Later in life I started growing vegetables in the back garden, which I found immensely satisfying and helpful when times were tough for keeping the food budget low.

When we moved to our present house, about 6 years ago, the back garden was like a postage stamp but there was an allotment site around the corner and I was able to get a plot. After a year another plot became vacant and since there was no waiting list then, I took that on as well.

Growing on allotments is different to back garden growing, far more social and there's always someone to give you advice when things go wrong. We often say that 3 gardeners will give you 4 opinions on any problem!

2. I see you have written a book called "Vegetable Growing Month by Month", what made you decide to write the book and can you tell our readers a little about it?

I noticed there were a lot of people starting to grow vegetables who hadn't much know how and yet the gardening books available were either 'coffee table' books full of pretty pictures or more technical books aimed at the more knowledgeable grower.

I was really fortunate to have a fantastic editor who knew nothing about gardening. When I sent her the first draft, she came back with 15 pages of questions, which was great. We wanted it to be understandable to the novice and by the 3rd draft it was.

It covers what to do each month, of course, but it also has basic information on preparing the ground, weeds, tools, raised beds, greenhouses and pests and problems. It also has a good section on container growing, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a decent plot of land or an allotment.

I'm told it's readable as well - to me you have to be entertaining to get a message over. It doesn't have coloured photographs, although there are line drawings. I figured most people would know what a carrot looked like and we wanted it to be affordable to all. Those with the least money really should 'grow their own'. That way they can eat well for very little cost.

3. If someone was just starting out with their first plot of landand taking their first steps towards self sufficiency, what advice would you give them to get them started?

First of all, take some time to roughly plan what you are going to do. Decide where the compost heaps and so forth are going as well as permanent beds for fruit, asparagus etc.
You obviously want to clear it as quickly as possible, but don't overdo things. I'm not as young as I was so I found two hours of hard digging a day quite enough. If you break it up into patches and tackle a patch a day it's a lot easier than wondering if you'll ever get to the end.

And after planning, be prepared to change your plans. I realised one end of my plot was really waterlogged so it went to raised beds after all the plants drowned in the terrible wet summer of 2007. Growing is about change, anyway.

4. You say on your website that you often get asked about garden maintenance and what people should be doing on their land at particular times of the year. Do you think people worry too much about having a set time to do things in the garden or is there a real benefit to having a schedule?

That's a great question! I think you do need a time structure but you have to be flexible. A late frost can devastate your runner beans, as I've found out a few times. So starting some off early and some a couple of weeks later as spares is a good idea.

You can't say 'in March do this' to everyone; the climate in north Scotland is totally different from that of the south of England. My March can be your February or April.

Some crops you can be really late with and still succeed but others, like onions, you need to be on time. Onions are sensitive to day length and when the year turns after midsummer, they start to mature regardless of size, for example.

5. I notice that you also keep chickens. Many people wouldn't think of keeping chickens themselves for fear of noise and mess. Would you say it was very time consuming and is there any particular problems associated with keeping them? I'm thinking about noise, space and even neighbour issues.

Chickens are the greatest fun and your own eggs are the best you'll ever eat. They really don't take a lot of looking after, each morning you collect the eggs and let them out, feed them in the day and make sure they're locked up safely at night. You do need to clean them out, which isn't the most pleasant job, but it's great stuff to get your compost heap going.

A few hens at home aren't noisy, you don't need a cockerel to get eggs. Cockerels, the male birds, are the noisy ones I don't think it's fair to subject the neighbours to a 4am wake up call in the suburbs.

They don't take a lot of space; an ark with a run for 3 hens can be just 4 square yards in size. Move it around the garden and they'll get rid of a lot of pests for you. Hens love slugs, the gardener's worst enemy.

You do need to watch out for foxes and next-door's dog. Foxes are quite a problem even in towns nowadays. The other thing is to keep the chicken feed secure and not to over-feed, leaving grain about as this can attract vermin such as rats and mice.

6. Self sufficiency is becoming more and more appealing to many people, especially as prices go up and up. I understand that you are planning to write a book about self sufficiency in the future, could you give us a few of your thoughts as to what self sufficiency means to you.

Like a lot of people, we would have loved to have 5 acres of land in the countryside and live the good life, but it wasn't to be. Land is ridiculously expensive in the UK. However, we grow our own food, preserve and store it as well as making our own cheese, butter and sausages.

Normally we give things like home made jam and chutney or perhaps something like a bottle of chilli peppers in oil as Christmas gifts. One year we had some money and thought we'd best give proper store-bought gifts. Do you know, everyone was disappointed. They didn't say so, but we could tell.

There are an awful lot of areas where you can be self-sufficient and green without being a millionaire. I think it's freedom to us, we're not just consumer cogs in the machine depending on the super store.

I'm hoping the new book, Self Sufficient at Home due to be published in May 2009, will help others discover what we have learned over the last 30 years and to make more from less in their life.

7. Finally John, if you were asked which vegetables were the easiest to grow (apart from tomatoes) by someone who only had a few containers or a very small patch of land what would you suggest?

You'd be amazed how much you can grow in containers, in fact there is little if anything you cannot grow in containers. I'd always start with cut and come again salads, they're fantastic value for space.

Early carrots, like Nantes or Amsterdam forcing will do well in just 8" of soil. Sow them and as they grow, harvest the thinnings. Dwarf French beans are good value and new potatoes grown in a plastic bag even on a balcony can be good. Climbing beans make use of vertical space, so you get masses from just a few square feet. Try a cabbage called Minicole or Pixie. They do really well in a small space.

I would like to thank John for taking the time to speak with us at Frugal Living Tips about self sufficiency. I hope he has opened your ideas to vegetable growing, self sufficiency and perhaps even keeping some chickens.

Don't forget if you have any questions of your own about self sufficiency and vegetable growing I'm sure you will find many of the answers on Johns own website at www.allotment-garden.org

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