Smallholder's Manual - Katie Thear The Smallholder's Manual
by Katie Thear
pub. Crowood Press, 2002
Hardback, 240 pages, 25
ISBN 1 86126 555 7

If you are one of the growing number of city dwellers thinking about a move to the countryside and have grand designs of a self-sufficient lifestyle then Katie Thear's 'Smallholder's Manual' will provide you with much of information needed to plan and run a smallholding. Thear, herself, was one of those who made a life-change and set about harnessing the crop growing and rearing power of 2 acres of Essex land.

Broken into 3 parts - The Rural Property, The Land, and The Livestock - Thear analyses and reviews all the major considerations and problems that the smallholder will need to deal with. In 'The Rural Property' there are drawings of smallholding layouts, basic information on a country house [including an outline of alternative energy sources], and the sort of equipment the smallholder will need.

'The Land' part is broken into chapters on boundaries, kitchen gardens, protected cultivation, orchards and pasture/fodder crops. Mainly the topics covered are overviews, but there is some useful detailed information. The chapter on the kitchen garden, for example, itemises many of the crops that could be grown and details the best soil type, optimum pH and light for different crops. This happens to a lesser extent in the chapter on the orchard. To a certain extent this is one of the deficits of Thear's book. In providing a comprehensive manual a lot of the fine detail cannot be included and this reviewer feels that if the reader is going to keep livestock then certainly supplementary reading matter will be needed beyond Thear's words... Particularly so in the case of bee-keeping.

Among the animals Thear suggests rearing there are the usual culprits like sheep, cattle and pigs but also more unusual ones such as quail, goats, rabbits, alpaca and exotics like emu and rheas. The book's appendices offer up some ideas on farm diversification - B&B, PYI and rearing rare breeds among them. There are also a few pages on the basic regulatory aspects of farming, and organic pest control.

Bottom line...
For anyone about to embark on a self-sufficient lifestyle 25 is a snip of an investment. While the reviewer has reservations about the level of detail in some instances, that does not detract from the book's comprehensive coverage which will provide readers with an excellent overview upon which they can make important decisions. The design style, with its double column pages and copious illustrations - including one showing how to safely hold a goose - is well suited to providing Thear's knowledge in manageable information chunks. Well worthwhile for those with an eye on country living and ditching trips to the supermarket.

Copyright © 2003