Becoming more self-reliant

by frankbeswick

Depending on shops for all our needs is not desirable. We need to become self reliant by growing and making more of our own goods.

People have become over-dependent on goods produced by others and purchased in shops. True we need shops, but there is another path, the path of self-reliance, where individuals recover their skills as producers and growers. This is becoming more important in the modern world, as climate change and growing population extert pressure on resources. Individuals need both the confidence to recognize that they can be self-reliant and the determination to acquire the skills to be so

The basics

For me self-reliance has been a long term project that began to a limited extent when I was younger and steadily grew. It was a supplement for my earnings at one time, but as I age and become ever less employable in the market that favours the young, it has become an integral part of my life strategy.To be truthful. it always was the dream.  Firstly, we must distinguish between the dream of self-sufficiency and the practice of self-reliance. Self-sufficiency is doing it all by yourself: having land, hunting. fishing, growing, making your own stuff, in blissful independence. This dream dies the first time you need surgery or have to call on the police [self reliance is not to be equated with doomsday prepping]. Self-reliance is doing as much as you can with the resources available to you, but knowing that you have to rely on outside food sources for some items.

Self-reliance is a mentality. To cultivate it you have to change your attitudes to wealth. Many people see wealth as money, but that's just a means of exchange. The carrots that I grow on my plot are wealth. The homemade wine that I make is wealth, as is the community orchard that we have on the allotment. Wealth is not always individually mine, but often it is ours. The bonds that I make with my neighbours by sharing some allotment produce with them are wealth; and they are not taxable. If you are mad on money, you will not be self-reliant. You will always need money, but you need to balance out your need for it with your interest in a self-reliant lifestyle.You also need to realize that the pursuit of a career is antithetical to self-reliance. Careers absorb so much time that you have little left for self-reliance.

You also must realize that you will need to rely on the opportunities in your area. I live inland, so sea fishing for food is not a viable technique for me. I do it but occasionally. While in the USA there are areas where people can hunt, Britain is crowded,and land is all owned by people with shooting rights. Forget it. Foraging is common in Britain, on lanes and on seashores, but in the urban area where I live it is limited to canal and river banks and roadsides. I certainly do some, but it does not provide a major part of my diet. In my case I have an allotment, a plot of land rented from the council, on which I grow vegetables and fruit, and I grow mushrooms at home. Home-made bread, wine and yoghurt are also part of my strategy.

Self sufficiency


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The author's allotment

a self-reliant plot
a self-reliant plot

An integrated approach

Growing, cooking and preserving

It is not enough to produce your own food if you do not know what to do with it. Currently I have a glut of certain fruit and vegetables. This year the apple crop from my three trees has been great, and there are far too many to eat. I gave some to the allotment committee, it pays to keep friends with people at the top, and the rest will be mainly used in my cider press. The pressed juice is for cider and the remains are returned as compost.The pears and damsons have been disastrous, but that was probably the late frost that came in Britain's long cold spring this year that caused the dearth.

But I have also a glut of marrows and some very large pumpkins, along with a mass of climbing beans. My wife, Maureen, has bought a soup maker, which can turn allotment produce into vegetable soup. She won't allow me to use it, it's her toy and she's playing with it, but she does produce  a regular supply of lovely soup. This is a tool that every self-reliant home should have, as it makes for great economies in food use. I am also purchasing a food dehydrator to dry certain fruit and vegetables.

Preserving is quite a skill, and several of my colleagues on the allotment make jam. We don't in our house, but you can always do a deal with someone, some of your produce for their jam. Trade is part of a self-reliant lifestyle. Pickling is also a useful skill, and you can add chuckneys to use up some produce


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Confidence in skills

One of the problems of our education system is that it was geared to training many people to sit behind desks and give orders to people who worked with their hands. Too many young people were led to believe that they could not use their hands, that manual work was a skill that they did not have and in any case was beneath them. Some parents discouraged practical skills in their offspring so that they could be guided to a suitable office job with all the supposed status that such jobs enjoy.

You will not achieve a measure of self-reliance if you have not the confidence to develop new skills. Yes, some skills take much learning, but they are not the self-reliant ones: I am never going to need to develop the skills of neurosurgery, and at 63 I am unlikely to need military skills [and the military don't need me!] but there are daily skills that can be learned. I recently learned to sew so that I could mend clothes. Okay, they are not the clothes that I would wear to meet the Queen or the prime minister [I have never met either of them] but sewing extends the life of some of my gear. Self-reliant people should not be afraid to wear mended clothes [I am wearing some now]. They need to tackle some construction projects. I have erected polytunnels, but soon I am putting up a new greenhouse for the first time. Getting the glazing right will be a challenge. To build up my allotment I have had to use carpentry skills to make frames and a fruit cage.


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Getting the balance right

Blending work and self-reliance

A year or so ago someone lived a year without money  [and has written a book about it], but most of us cannot do this. So if we want to cultivate self-reliance we need a create balance between economic work and self-reliant work. I reckon that for writers a measure of self-reliance is a useful augmentation of their lives. They can find the time for writing and for self-reliant activities and creatively blend the two. I run a small, part time tuition business that I operate in the evenings, which augments my small pension and even smaller writing earnings. Adding to your work in the winter time, when crop growth has ceased, is also a good strategy for those blending economic work and self-reliance.

What I have found is that the people who have most difficulties running ther allotments are the professionals, particularly those who do it alone without the aid of family members. Modern professions take up so much time that there is little left for anything else.I have no interest in any career advancement, so I have more time for my genuine interests-self-reliance and writing.]

There will always be ways in which we can be more self-reliant. Some of us dream of having a smallholding [what the Americans call a homestead] where we can farm more fully, having the animals that we cannot keep in urban environments, but self-reliance does not need to wait for that dream to be realized. With many of us it never is. But we can be self-reliant in smaller ways in our urban live, using the resources available in our own areas as an alternative to the monetary economic system.

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Updated: 09/24/2013, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 11/28/2013

This guy that you mention seems to be a natural downshifter. It is nearly what I do. I have a small private tuition business, which is my main income; I mark examination papers twice a year; and I write, which earns a pittance. But I very occasonally do employed work, mainly invigilating public exams, but this is only two sessions a year. I am seeking ways to boost the self-reliant side of my activities. I would like some space suitable for mushroom growing, far more than there is under my stairs as at present.

I do feel that some day I will finish up in North Wales, where my married daughter lives, when she has children and my wife wants to do the grandmother act. So if and when this happens, I will need a bit of land and I will boost my self-reliant activities even more, maybe with some fishing as well.

NateB11 on 11/27/2013

I agree a person should try to not depend on the money system as much as possible, and become more self-reliant. The money system takes a lot of time and energy, leaving not much for anything else. I like these skills and methods you've laid out here for living in a more self-reliant way. I have considered doing something like this for some time. I know some people who do it and do something close to it. I know one guy who has not had a job in years, lives entirely through his self-employment. Definitely a better route than being totally dependent on a job.

frankbeswick on 10/30/2013

Thanks. Now it is late October I am doing some necessary work, replenishing soil and digging out perennial weeds. Unfortunately the weather in Britain is not good at the moment, we took the edge of the big storm of a few days ago. [We in the north took no damage, but it was wet and windy] and there is more bad weather coming at weekend.

Fortunately my son has moved back north permanently and so he can help me on the plot. As I am in my sixties, the help of a man in his thirties is for some jobs very useful.

DerdriuMarriner on 10/29/2013

frankbeswick, Congratulations on your self-sufficiency via gardening and other endeavors, such as mending! Your plot looks lush, green, healthy, and abundant in variety. For me it's important not to lose touch with the land, which affirms a balanced view via life's natural cycles.
Thank you for sharing your admirable self-sufficiency endeavors.

frankbeswick on 10/12/2013

One thing strongly struck me was that self-reliance is not necessarily solitary. Today I was helped by my son, and we got the work done in alf the time. As I have raised beds that I was filling with compost, he could help me lift the laden wheelbarrow to empty it, which is not easy on one's own. Compost is heavy. We need to encourage self-reliant families.

frankbeswick on 10/10/2013

Building can be daunting, but you can do it. Last week I acquired a second hand greenhouse [another part of self-reliance is getting stuff second hand.] It came unpacked and with no instructions. Challenging. Slowly I am getting to grips with it, seeing which bit of the mass of parts fits where.

As my allotment site can be described as a wind tunnel I am going to have to put up wind breaks to prevent damage. The reason that it is a wind tunnel is that we are thirty miles from the Irish Sea and the wind comes across the flat landscape of South Lancashire without impediment, then it channels between two sets of houses across our allotment. Another part of self reliance is therefore adjusting to your local conditions. .

RubyHelenRose on 10/10/2013

Excellent article. I don't know much about gardening or building, time to learn, I believe. Self reliance is very important, I agree.

kimbesa on 10/09/2013

Enjoyable to read about your allotment gardening experiences! I agree, building skills in self-reliance is very useful, and it's surprising where they lead.

frankbeswick on 10/09/2013

I agree. Self-reliance is an ever widening circle of new skills, of which cooking skills are a key part.

I think that the knowledge comes with practice, though I did study Royal Horticultural Society certificates to advanced level, and this study helped greatly.

Raintree on 10/02/2013

I love your realistic approach to becoming more self reliant. We don't have an allotment but we do have a garden and are turning part of it over to growing veg next year. I had a fairly successful crop from veg in pots and planters so thinking to expand a bit. I would also love to learn some more practical skills. I really enjoyed reading your article Thank you.

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