Review: Little House in the Suburbs

Little House in the Suburbs: Backyard farming and home skills for self-sufficient living (Betterway Home Books) is one of those books you'd never find written by a UK author.


Little House in the Suburbs, great book for forging community strength.


In the UK we do not have a tradition of self-sufficiency. Though we have dallied with it via the late John Seymour and the burgeoning grow your own movement there is a still a resistance to growing and living within your means. It is as if the very thought of relying on ourselves will ultimately meet with failure. This says more about our outlook as a nation that it does about the self-sufficiency movement which is gathering pace in the UK via such groups as Backyard and Garden farming and Voluntary Simplicity. Though we at Pig Row do not have the land to attain self-sufficiency we do have the skills, and this book Deanna Caswell and Daisy Siskin is chock full of tips and recipes that we have never come across from the tea tree mould killer to a wonderful list of soaps using everything from herbs to lard. Though this book may not bring anything new to the hardened self-sufficient it does show you in wonderful chapters on community how to bring your neighbours, your family and strangers into a new way of thinking. How to create block parties (and this is something we're interested in on Pig Row as we plan a Holiday at Home event for our community next year, as part of Dig For Victory), swap meets and barter networks. At no point does the book mention smallholdings or that you should be doing this in the countryside. It is pointed in its direction, it is targeting suburbia and those people who may hanker for something more simple, or individuals and families who are keen to know where their food comes from. This is book for growing in your garden not on a few acres but it is practical, addressing problems of space, showing how you can maximise crops and how you can go for unconventional crops such as honey. Though poultry rearing has swept the UK in the last few years, our uptake on keeping bees has been slower than it should be. The old fears of swarms and stinging has been played up in suburbia by neighbours more afraid of people stepping outside the norms than these wonderful insects. Caswell and Siskin give you tips on everything from hive construction to how low maintenance bees can be. This chapter alone has shown us the potential of keeping bees in the smallest of areas.

Where the book works best though is in preserving produce. In America, the art of canning and preserving food is second nature. In the UK, it has fallen out of favour for bland supermarkets offering the same old, same old, country wide. This book shows how easy it is from ketchup to butter. It takes you step by step through the making, storing and preserving of dairy, vegetables and fruit. Showing that the filling of a larder is a wonderful thing and a thing we cherish at Pig Row. The last few winters has meant that the tradition of preserving has become important to us. We can't merely rely on our freezers and fridges to get us through when the electric is out. The art of canning may be King in America but surely it should at least be Queen in the UK again? 

Caswell and Siskin don't leave the domestic table so quickly and have recipes and tips for producing everything you will need around the house, and your body. Breaking the terrible image that self-sufficiency equals poverty equals barefoot and stinking. There are great shampoos in this book that we will try. I don't think this book will ever make the individual truly self-sufficient, for that I think you still need to turn to Seymour, but on a suburban scale it will show you just how much you can produce at home and how much money you can save by doing it. This is a great book, not just about growing, making and storing but about the very thing that we have lost in suburbia, community. This is a book about strengthening links with your neighbours, forging bonds and sharing produce. Now, if all communities ran on the Caswell and Siskin model, then all of suburbia would be self-sufficient rather than just an individual.

This book was received by Pig Row for free for review.