Should one strive for self-sufficiency?


The strive to become more self-sufficient is often viewed in some quarters as inherently selfish –closing oneself off from the world and producing only enough food for your own needs (and to hell with the rest of you).  In reality, I’ve found that ‘self-sufficiency’ is in many ways a misnomer – as I’ve strived to become more self-sufficient, I’ve felt more connected and more part of a community than ever before.

As an organisation, GIY, while being primarily about helping people to grow their own food, is also about bringing people together.  The network of GIY groups (over 100 at the time of writing) is about GIYers coming together in a spirit of generosity to share advice, tips, problems and produce. I have found GIYers to be a most magnanimous bunch – particularly (and I’ve always found this interesting) the more experienced ones.  It’s very heartening to think that the closer to self-sufficient GIYers become, the more they are keen to share their knowledge and their produce.  Of course the very existence of GIY groups depends on more experienced growers being willing to share their knowledge with the rest of us.

This week I visited fellow GIYers, Alan and Sue Pimm, who live about 5 miles from us.  They have many decades of experience and have an idyllic and supremely productive vegetable patch and garden.  Alan also has a commercial polytunnel in his garden (which I would give my right leg for) which enables him to escape the vagaries of the Irish ‘summer’ and to grow some more exotic fare such as figs and grapes. 

I always thrill at being able to walk around the veg patch of another GIYer, particularly when it’s a very experienced grower like Alan.  But it is the generosity of spirit that always enthralls me – I came away with a load of little tips (using a capillary mat for watering seedlings for example) but also with seeds (for a New Zealand ‘everlasting’ spinach which I am looking forward to trying) and lettuce seedlings which Alan thrust on me as we walked around.  He even offered me a well-established grape plant in a pot (surely the ultimate act of generosity!), which reluctantly I had to turn down due to lack of space.  So there’s the irony – self-sufficiency as it turns out is not all about “self” – it can be an incredibly generous pursuit at the same time.  

Things to Do this Month – August


Green manures (mustard, buckwheat, radish, rye, alfalfa, clover and vetches) are plants which are grown specifically to improve soil fertility and useful at times when beds are empty (as is often the case in August). Grow directly in the bed and then cut down and dig in to the soil. Give pumpkins plenty of water and apply a high-potash liquid feed. Nip out the growing points to encourage the fruits to swell.  Net brassicas to keep butterflies and the cabbage moth away (and check undersides of leaves regularly for caterpillars).  Keep watering – mulch around plants to retain moisture.


Continue succession sowing. Sow spring cabbage, red cabbage, winter spinach, salad onions (in polytunnel for spring crop), autumn salad mix, endive, parsley, onion seed, Chinese vegetables.

Pick Beetroot regularly as they reach the size you require – if left to grow too large they will loose their tenderness. 


Continue to harvest beetroot, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, broad beans, french and runner beans, salad leaves, radish, turnip, potato, onions, peppers and chilli-peppers, aubergine, globe artichoke, courgettes, cucumber, gooseberries, raspberries and currants.

Related: GIY Recipe of the Month – Tomato and Basil Soup

Be Inspired.  Be Informed.  The GIY Gathering 2012 – September 15/16.

The 4th annual GIY Gathering takes place in Waterford on the 15th and 16th of September as part of the Waterford Harvest Festival.  The event will bring together up to 400 people from every corner of Ireland for a two day festival of learning and to share tips, ideas and advice on growing your own food. So whether you're a complete newbie or an old hand, interested in complete self-sufficiency or just growing some herbs or salads on a balcony, we can offer you all the inspiration and information you need. 

This year's Gathering has a truly international feel, bringing together some of the world's leading food-growing experts and advocates from Ireland, UK, US and New Zealand. Speakers include BBC Gardeners World presenter Alys Fowler, River Cottage head gardener Mark Diacono, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International and inspiration behind The White House veg garden Roger Doiron, Darina Allen, Joy Larkcom, Klaus Laitenberger, Ella McSweeney, Joyce Russell, Kitty Scully and Trevor Sargent.  A €20 ticket gives you access to all Gathering events over the two days and includes a packed lunch on the Saturday. Tickets from

Operation GIY Nation August Project

Strange to be thinking about Christmas in the middle of summer, but GIYers know that they must be thinking ahead.  This month’s GIY Nation project is growing potatoes for the Christmas table – yes, it can be done!  You can download the easy-to-follow instructions and follow the progress of our six pioneer families at  Operation GIY Nation is proudly supported by and AIB.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY Ireland.

We are trying to get 100,000 people to take a pledge to grow something they can eat – take the GIY pledge at

What have you done in the garden this month? Tell us in the comments below

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