One Magic Square - book review

by Liz Beavis

Lolo Houbein lives in Australia, but grew up in Holland during WWII and experienced the famine of 1944.  On observing current events, she has become very worried that we are headed for a similar situation in Australia if we don't take food security more seriously.  To me this is a fascinating perspective, Lolo wants us all to take responsibility for at least some of our food needs, and she believes that we can all grow something, starting with "one magic square".  She has documented her philosophy in two books:  

One Magic Square: Grow your own food on one square metre


Outside the Magic Square: A handbook for food security


This is an excellent solution to the daunting task of starting a garden.  Lolo tells you to just go out and dig up a square one metre by one metre, and when you feel confident growing in that square, you can start on the next.  Brilliant!

In her first book, Lolo suggests combinations of plants to be grown in a magic square.  You can decide if you would prefer to grow staples such as potatoes and carrots, or high value crops such as eggplant and capsicum, or crops that don't store well such as silverbeet and salad greens.  She shares all her gardening experience to tell you exactly what to plant, when to plant and how to fertilise (organically and cheaply, of course).  If you want a step-by-step idiot's guide to starting a garden, this is it.  If you follow Lolo's instructions, I'm quite sure that you will be on the way to producing your own food.

The second book goes into more detail about why we should grow our own, more about food security, GM food and global warming, as well as offering yet more magic square combinations.  I enjoyed reading this book too, particularly the discussion on omega 3, which was totally new to me.  I did find that it was a little light on references (even referring to "Today Tonight" at one stage!), but I had to remind myself to take the book for what it is intended, its not an academic paper, its a discussion from a lady with decades of experience who would like to share thoughts on many issues.  She probably doesn't have the opportunity to research these issues in depth, but she does spend time watching documentaries and listening to the radio in order to inform herself as much as possible.  I found this book was like discussing these issues with a friend, and there are a few things I'd like to look up for myself to find out more.

Most of all, I have absolute respect for Lolo's motivation, having experienced famine herself, she wants to save us all from a similar fate, and has done her best to provide us with everything we need to know in order to succeed.  All that remains is to start digging those squares!

I would love to give away these books, but the postage is getting expensive, so I've decided to lend them to people and then give them to the local library.  Check your library too :)


For more book recommendations see by book review page.

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