Why Water the Roots?

Me, building our greenhouse

Me, building our greenhouse

It was Jan, ultimately, who convinced me. You see, I’d resisted for years.

“Hi, I haven’t seen you in ages! What have you been up to?” she asked.

“I’m great. We’ve been really busy with the farm this year…a bumper harvest. I bet your store profits will be down this year with me coming in so much less!”

“That’s cool. I know you said you were going to do that. What have you grown?”

Jan has worked here at our local (if 17 miles away is “local”) natural food market for about five years and we’ve always chatted while she rings up our items.

“Potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, beets, herbs, spinach, basil, cilantro, pork, beans, peas, pheasant…”

Pheasant? Wow!”

“Yes I converted an old dog run into a pheasant aviary…”

“You know, I really need to get started on growing things myself. It sounds like a lot of work?”

“It is…but it’s worth it and the taste of the stuff I grow or rear myself is the best!”

“You know, you should start a blog or something…I really need help getting started.”

And that was it.

People have asked me for years to share our experiment in self-sufficiency in food but I’ve always been too busy doing it to sit down and write about it. And I still am busy with everything, but so many people have asked me over the last couple of years how to get started or asked for advice and tips that…well, Jan was the proverbial last straw.

How This All Began…

A very long time ago. 1925 to be precise. My dad grew up in a small village atop a hill near Manchester, England, in a house that is now The Hare & Hounds pub. My grandmother, a very strict Presbyterian, would turn in her grave if she knew that. My dad – Fred – would love what they’ve done to his childhood home.

My dad’s father died when he was only three years old, and he and his mother weathered winter storms with snow up to the bedroom windows, and made ends meet as best they could. He helped local farmers harvest their crops and at Christmas killed and processed geese for sale at the local butcher or market stalls. Now, I’ve kept geese and the thought of a nine-year old breaking a goose’s neck meant that my dad’s strong hands and arms were developed from a very early age.

Fred always wanted a life in the countryside but fate dealt different cards to him, and when I was born we lived about five minutes from the sea in Blackpool, England, in a fixer-up 950 square foot terraced house with no garden (that’s 88 sq. meters to anyone in Metric Land) and – until I was four – no central heating.

David and Ruth, allotment fall 1970

Me and Ruth at the allotment, c. 1969

But he still hankered after rural life and around 1968 found an allotment a stone’s throw from our home that a local lady rented to him for sixpence a month. (That’s about 30 pence or 50 cents a month in today’s money). The plot was about 100ftx30ft (30×10 meters) and on it he grew a huge variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers which supplied all our vegetable needs for about half the year, and my mum canned or pickled many of these, too.

The allotment kept us fed for about three years and we spent many happy hours playing in the garden. And other than the time I threw a toy pistol through the glass roof of the greenhouse while my dad was in there, I have very happy memories of that time!

Sixpence a month is not a lot, and when a local builder offered to buy the land to build an apartment block, we lost the allotment. With no allotments for miles around, my dad’s dream of growing his own food was kiboshed.

But he never lost the desire to live in the countryside and our Sunday afternoons often involved a drive into the countryside (via a parish cricket match) “To smell the air” or perhaps during the week to visit cattle auctions to savor the atmosphere, or on family holidays to pig farms or canal barges to bask in the complete experience of what living in the countryside was like.

A Seed Sown

I wonder whether my dad knew that while he was yearning to live in the countryside and off the land, and to go back to his roots, what he was really doing fostering in us (me and my siblings, Ruth and Daniel) a passion and a deep desire to continue his love of the countryside.

My dad had sown a seed!

The problem is that sown seeds also need the right kind of care and nurturing to help them to grow, and I had no idea about how to translate my desire to live in and off the countryside into reality. I could dream it…but could I do it?

Many years later and after a successful business which took me to over 20 countries, I am now happily settled in the sixth country I’ve lived in, and my family and I live on a small farm on the edge of the wilderness in Oregon, USA. We don’t live in the middle of nowhere, but right in the middle of somewhere

You’ll Know a Tree by the Fruit it Bears…

My dad was a paradox. A Deacon in the Baptist church who loved a few pints of beer and a hot curry. His service in the Royal Navy in World War II and his subsequent job as a plumber gave him the best command of colorful language. He was a strong softy.

Church on Sunday was always followed by Sunday lunch and a drive into the countryside or a walk on the beach. One idea I remember from going to church for 13 years as a child is that you will know a tree by the fruit it bears.

After I spoke with Jan, my father-in-law asked me what we’d grown this year. What fruit did our tree bear? This was very interesting to reckon-up, as I’ve never sat down and done this before…I was too busy doing it to even think about it.

Our Garden from Space, 2012

Our garden from space, 2012

Google Map’s most recent update in summer 2012 now shows rows of vegetables growing where previously only weeds grew.

Off our land in the last year we’ve harvested or reared:

  • 600lbs pork
  • 50lbs pheasant
  • Fresh eggs
  • 350lbs tomatoes
  • 250lbs potatoes
  • 30lbs green beans
  • 20lbs Swiss Chard
  • 10lbs carrots
  • 15lbs beets
  • 250lbs apples
  • 100lbs zucchini
  • 50lbs pears
  • 10lbs turnips
  • 10lbs radish
  • 5lbs bok choy
  • 10lbs cabbage
  • 5lbs peas
  • 50lbs winter squash
  • 6 months constant supply of cilantro
  • 20lbs blackberries
  • Oregano, Sage, Basil and Parsley

(1lb = 454grams)

That’s a Lot of Tomatoes!

We sold some food and swapped some for some elk and sturgeon. We have the rest stored in peat moss for sale, swap or for our own use. We sauced, canned and sundried the tomatoes and made canned vegetables, sauces or pickles with a lot of the veg.

The past summer I built a winter greenhouse in which we now have lettuce, tatsoi and spinach which will last well into the spring.

Spring last year I also repaired the old well and installed a drip irrigation system using T-tape which saved a lot of water and also helped us to keep the weeds down.

This next bit is where it goes from tinkering hobby to a mid-scale obsession…as if that many tomatoes wasn’t nuts enough already…

I just converted a 13,000 sq ft front lawn into a vegetable garden, currently with a cover crop of peas and wheat, which I will till-in next spring. In 2013 we’ll be farming a ½ acre of our six, total acres.

I planted about 500 garlic bulbs recently in an old flower bed and will soon plant hops for my beer brewing..another passion instilled by my dad.

Amending the soil

Amending our soil with minerals

We use only organic or heirloom seeds or starts and no harmful chemicals. I did a soil analysis and the local agricultural supply place helped suggest minerals to supplement our soil.

We’ll sell a lot of our next year’s crop at a local farmer’s market.

We also gave vegetables and some of my home-brewed beer to some friends who have dairy cows, and they gave us some raw milk milk from which which we make butter or cheese.

Cooking it up…

Both my parents were excellent cooks, and they were always experimenting in the kitchen. As far back as I can remember, although we lived in a very “meat and two veg.” working-class neighborhood we had a very diverse range of cuisines and foods. Indian, British, Scottish, Chinese meals, home-made sausages, pies, fish my dad caught from the sea, plus experiments and adaptations in canning and pickling.

Ruth and I enjoying cake mix, 1967

Ruth and I enjoying cake mix, 1967

We all enjoyed cooking with my parents and as young as two I remember standing on a chair and helping my mum bake cakes. This always involved scraping the cake mix afterward.

Here’s a photo of Ruth and I taken in April, 1967 doing just that. And here’s a video of my own kids this summer when they experimented making a birthday cake for my wife.

My dad also experimented and perfected many beer and wine recipes and struck-up an agreement with local greengrocers who in exchange for any excess fruit (apples, pears, etc.) they received a share of my dad’s cider or wine.

When I left school at 16 I originally wanted to become a chef and I worked in a number of kitchens doing just that, but my path took me into an international career in direct response marketing and running various online businesses.

But I never lost the passion for great food, and for me a major reason for starting down the path of self sufficiency is that the food I rear or grow and prepare myself is among the best I’ve ever tasted. And the fact it’s all organic or heirloom means I am doing my best

Fried Egg with Dilly Beans

Fried Egg with Dilly Beans

That’s why on this blog you’ll find everything from tips on keeping pigs, how to grow veg in the winter, how to brew your own beer along, how to grow organic fruits and vegetables, plus recipes and culinary chat with everything from how to smoke your own fish, how to make jerky, what to do with 350lbs of tomatoes and how to make Elk Bourguignon.

Also simple ideas like how to pep-up a fried egg with these delicious Dilly Beans (thank you for the recipe Carolyn!)

Join Our Journey

We’re now probably at about 50%-60% self sufficient in our food needs. We just kind of arrived at this point but looking back on the journey so far, I remember that four years ago I knew zero about gardening. All I started with was a collection of very fond memories of a happy childhood, a love of food and cooking, and a desire to recreate those early experiences now for my own family.

This blog is the story of how I put a lot of deeply sown ideals and a collection of crazy ideas into action, and how me and my family are now enjoying the fruits (and meat and vegetables) of our discoveries.

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Welcome on our journey together…


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PS: My father-in-law, Gary Scott, is holding a seminar next February, where you can learn more about investing in agriculture. Gary & Merri Scott’s February 1-2-3, 2013 Super Thinking + Investing & Business seminar in Mt. Dora. See details here.