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Eight signs you’ve been bitten by the self-sufficiency bug

1. You dress funny

Your normal mode of dress is wellies, an old shirt, and trousers that stand up on their own. Wearing designer clothes in the garden is a recipe for disaster, but we’ve all done it: a quick foray to let the chickens out in the morning turns into a quick fence repair job, a quick inspection of the tomato plants, and a quick slug hunt/weeding spectacular. Your fancy outfit can be cleaned but it will never be quite the same again, and gradually your whole wardrobe shuffles down to ‘gardening clothes’ status. Eventually you dare not rest on a park bench in case complete strangers begin to put money into your hat.

andy mckee as a tramp, image

It's a slippery slope, believe me

2. You eat worryingly well

Your kids are so full of home-grown vegetables that they squeak slightly when prodded. Disagree? Maybe you aren’t prodding hard enough.

3. You have dirty hands

Between May and November your hands don’t come clean, even when scrubbed. People who eat a lot of shrink-wrapped food are often under the impression that all you need to clean your hands is a bit of soap and water. Not so. If you’re self-sufficient, the first broad beans spell the end of lily-white skin for another year. By the time the tomatoes arrive to finish the job the only way to bring your nails up clean is by dipping them in battery acid.

4. You don’t watch TV much (if at all)

…and certainly not in the autumn. Just as the cooler evenings send your friends scurrying for the remote control, you’ll be up to all hours making jam, blanching and freezing, slicing and drying, and wondering how you’re going to slip another kilo of french beans through your neighbours’ letterboxes. When you do watch TV it’s gardening programmes, but they put your blood pressure up because they give you an uncontrollable urge to punch the smug gardening presenters in the face.

5. You’re always on the lookout for foraging opportunities

Foraging means never walking past something edible without helping yourself. So, on the rare occasions you actually leave your plot, you always have an old plastic bag in your pocket. Apples, rosehips, mushrooms, chestnuts, the occasional chicken… and it’s not just limited to wild food. Other people throw all sorts of perfectly good stuff away – like fence posts, end-of-roll water pipe, cardboard and best of all, wood. This means that your home gradually becomes filled with things that you know could be useful, if only you could find the time to deal with the bloody stuff.

6. The contents of your pockets give you away

Instead of credit cards and car keys, your pockets contain a folding knife, broken seed markers, short lengths of recycled string and, of course, soil. Actually finding your credit cards requires ten minutes’ notice and two carrier bags to put all the crap in.

7. You arrange your holidays around the pea harvest

For the self-sufficient, taking a break is no joke. The place can’t be left without a minder, but as each year goes by it gets harder to find someone who will agree to do it. Maybe this is because when a friend offers to take care of your home for a few days, the list of instructions runs to twelve close-typed pages of paper and needs a glossary.

8. Your house smells like a brewery

From cider made from scrumped apples to elder and blackberry wine, if you haven’t started making your own booze yet then you’re not really getting into the spirit of things (unless you don’t drink, in which case you may be taking life too seriously). Homesteading is often a series of daring experiments, some of them inadvisable, and nowhere is this more evident than when you making your own alcohol. Oh, how we laughed on the way to Accident and Emergency! If visitors to your home complain that they can’t sleep at night because of the plopping noise of dozens of homebrew airlocks, I suggest applying this simple house rule: if you’re bothered by the noise of the airlocks, then you haven’t had enough to drink.


If you have any more signs of being bitten by the self-sufficiency bug, we’d love to hear them!

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11 Responses to “Eight signs you’ve been bitten by the self-sufficiency bug”

  1. Catherine says:

    Known to be seen sneeking looks into neighbours gardens:
    You see a plant you like and just want to liberate a cutting,or seedheads just drooping with seeds. You are not stealing ,you are Liberating!

    • Mark Gatter says:

      Er…if it was my plant, I’d call it ‘nicking a cutting’. Sorry!

      • Andy McKee says:

        Pah. Ignore the formerly-bearded one, he’s not getting into the spirit of things. I used to live in Shropshire, where there was a tradition that freely given cuttings wouldn’t root. For a strong plant, they had to be stolen!

        • Mark Gatter says:

          Nah, actually you should ingore the comments of He Who Would Lead You Into BAD Ways. Freely given cuttings are great – my garden contains many and all are doing jus’ fine. As a Buddhist monk, I could endlessly point out the nasty karmic results of pilfering the gardens of others (a distinct lack of veg growing facilities in future lives, for one) so think yourselves lucky that I’m far too busy to do so. Plus, using only HONEST cuttings, I sleep better. Much better than some I could mention…

          • Andy McKee says:

            Oh no, not the buddhist monk card again! What I failed to mention is that gardeners in Shifnal village (where I used to live) used to invite you to steal a cutting of a plant that you admired. Odd but true!

          • Mark Gatter says:

            Clearly, when permission has been granted, it’s not stealing. Odd but true. And you shouldn’t use words like ‘Shifnal’ on a public site – for shame!

          • Jakimococo says:

            I am from Shropshire and we use the phrase “Do you mind if I pinch ….?” as a way of asking for things. That’s just how polite we are here!

  2. paul says:

    you watch river cottage for pointers and are gutted when your efforts never seem to turn like hugh’s.

    • Andy McKee says:

      See point 4! Although if you watch River Cottage you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Hugh has ‘people’ to do all sorts of things for him. You’ve just got You!

  3. Sue Howarth says:

    I have a trained neighbour. She brings her recycle bin round so I get first pickings

    • Andy McKee says:

      We’re trying to run down my ‘potentially useful materials’ collection at the moment, so I’m no longer allowed to go within 30 feet of rubbish skips. I think I should clear the backlog in a few decades.

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