The John Seymour School for Self Sufficiency


September is a busy time of year in the garden and (especially) in the kitchen.      The french bean harvest (in August) was good this year - in fact the year generally has been good after a very (very) slow dry spring.     It took 6 weeks for most of our spring sowings to germinate - never seen anything like that before.    But germinate they did - and then the rains came and the crops grew.    We even harvested a reasonable crop of peas - despite the attentions of mice and pheasants.    All the potatoe haulms have been cleared now - safely onto the compost heap to avoid blight (we had very little this year).     Beetroot have been good - many are still in the ground as we don't have enough jars to pickle all at once.     The parsnip crop looks huge but only a few have been harvested so far - they go DEEP into the ground and take some digging out!     At present the emphasis is still on runner beans - massive crop, sweet corn and autumn raspberries.     The apples we left on our young trees have turned out magnificently - big and juicy - can't wait until next year when we will leave more.

In the kitchen we've had many a steamy evening as bags and bags of sliced beans need to be blanched for freezing - carrots too.     And the beans keep on coming - what a wonderfully bountiful crop is the runner bean.    But - and note this - the plants grow huge and need STRONG support if they are not to collapse in the first summer gale - see pic.

Please go to the Course Booking page for more information about our courses and drop me an email if you would like to be put on my email list for course updates.      We normally publish final course dates in the weeks after Christmas.      The first course is the Spring course in April - preparing the ground and sowing the seeds ("setting" the garden as they say around here in Northumberland).

The April course was a great success with half decent weather, great basket making and lots of useful talk and debate.       We cleared off the rest of the sprouting broccoli (enjoyed eating plenty too!) and sowed lettuce, carrot, beetroot, spinach and parsnip.    We pricked out seedlings in the greenhouse, did a great job of scything the orchard and enjoyed a great folk music session in the pub.     As always the evenings were spent chatting and enjoying fine food in front of a lovely open fire.
In July we enjoyed a great week with our 2 students from China.    The weather was kind and we were able to cram in a huge number of projects.      It was inspiring to find the chinese grasp the crucial importance of treating human waste more sustainably (how I hate that word) instead of flushing all those vital nutrients into our rivers, lakes and seas.      We hope to have a bigger contingent of chinese students in 2018.

carrotsrunner beans


Here you can see what we've been harvesting.    Carrots ready for the freezer.    The massive cloud of runner beans.      Beetroot, pumpkins and potatoes.    Finally the lovely jars of pesto made from our greenhouse basil crop plus cheese, garlic, ground walnuts and olive oil (keeps very well in the fridge).

Northumbrian A Frame Scythes - for Sale     My campaign to re-introduce the traditional scythe for controlling grassland and weeds has resulted in sale of 5 new scythes this year.    I make these scythes myself, importing blades from Austria.   Slowly more people are realising the advantages (and pleasures) of scything.  I now have 4 lovely new scythes ready for the 2017 season. The two handled scottish or northumbrian scythe is much the best tool for controlling tough weeds like thistle, nettle and (particularly) brambles/tree seedlings.    My new scythes sell for 100 - they are a joy to use and last a lifetime!     Drop me an email if you are interested.

Northumbrian "A" frame scythes for sale
New Scythe 
The Renovation Story

  In 2014 our courses moved to the beautiful coast of north Northumberland where we have begun the renovation of a fine old Victorian kitchen garden.    The renovation work provides an unusual opportunity for our students to be involved in the development of the garden infrastructure and planning.     It's many years since the garden was in full use but the site is lucky enough to have a massively high brick wall along its east and north sides.    The wall was built from the dutch bricks which were used as ballast by coal ships from Newcastle in the nineteenth century.  

The old farmhouse has been lovingly restored and now includes a pond and wildflower meadow.

The wildflower meadow

The kitchen garden lies on the north side (to the left of the picture).     The soil is a heavy well drained loam with few nasty weeds - no creeping buttercup or couch, just a few nettles.    The biggest challenge was digging out a few very old tree stumps whose roots have gone under the walls.   You can see the massive (recently re-pointed) south facing wall which will give the garden such a beneficial micro-climate.  

The School

Will Sutherland has run self-sufficiency courses for more than 20 years, teaching the methods and philosophy developed by John Seymour.     Will worked for over 10 years with John Seymour in Ireland and, with John, created the New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency published by Dorling Kindersley.   In 2010 we took our courses to the wine growing region near Bordeaux where the warm weather, swimming pool and excellent local wine made a nice change from the cooler climes of Ireland.    Now we are moving back to cooler climes to take up the challenge of re-creating a classic old kitchen garden.  

STLCourse LunchStLegerBaskets

What our students said:

“Thank you so much: we really enjoyed the course and found it VERY interesting and helpful. And what a beautiful place in which to do it”

“Thank you for a wonderful holiday. The food has been amazing and we have really enjoyed the Class. You have a beautiful place here.”

Such great people. Such strong spirits. Great to know you guys!'