I was born to be self-sufficient. Of that I am now sure. My parents had a large vegetable garden when I was young, and as a child I spent many, many happy hours planting, weeding, harvesting and preserving. I loved being out there popping the seed potatoes in the trenches my father dug for me. And best of all was waiting while he dug the root up once it ws grown so that I could rummage around in the warm soil, like a lucky dip at a party, for the new potatoes. They would go straight from the soil into the pot and there was nothing to compare with that taste in the early summer.

I had the job of picking the soft fruit and preparing it for the freezer – picking over the fruit to make sure none of it was damaged and weighing it out into bags of “pie-weight” so that in the winter we could have blackcurrant or gooseberry or rhubarb pies.

And when we got hens, it was my job to go out in the evening with their corn and lock them up for the night after they had been free-ranging all afternoon. I would go into the run and call them and scatter the corn for them to pick at – and then collect all the eggs from the nests. That was always a very special task. I think it should be mandatory for all families to have hens – I don’t think there is a child I have met who hasn’t loved the experience of collecting the eggs from the straw. It is such a deeply satisfying thing.

When I was around 8 or 9 my parents obtained a copy of John Seymour’s “The Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency”. It contained a complete basic run-through of how to produce all you needed from your land. There was a lovely section on the garden through-out the year, describing how to rotate the vegetable crops through four different plots. It was laid out like a story, and I would read and re-read and re-read that section. In fact the whole book was like a novel to me. I could pick it up and be totally absorbed. Needless to say, when I was old enough to start collecting my own smallholding books, it was the first one I bought. And it still has pride of place on my shelf to this day.

If you are just setting out or are still at the dreaming stage, I highly recommend this book as a good starting place. It would make a great birthday or Christmas gift too.

john seymour