Many of us now desire to become self-sufficient. The more we, as individuals, can grow in our gardens, the less we need to purchase from external sources. In the process, this can have a significant positive impact on our health and well-being, as well as reducing our carbon footprint in the process.
Why choose to live off the land?
- Before the introduction of supermarkets, people were used to eating only fresh seasonal produce, and the distance traveled by food was relatively short. So, by setting out to be self-sufficient, you are minimizing the food’s journey to your plate, which, when you consider the miles traveled by the food on our supermarket shelves, plus the extensive packaging being used, this can only be viewed as a positive decision for the environment.
- Health can be another factor. Concerns about pesticide and fertilizer use, plus people’s uncertainty about how food is processed and whether it comes from GM sources, makes us want to take back control over our diet. When you eat the food from your own garden, you can grow it organically, and you can use natural methods of pest control, dramatically reducing the levels of chemicals entering your body.
- There is also a great deal to be said for the mental and physical well-being that comes from working in the garden. It has been shown that people who spend time outdoors have higher reported levels of well-being, get more physical exercise, and feel less stressed.
With so many positives attached to growing your own food, you will probably want to get started as soon as possible.
How much space do you need?
Let’s consider first how much space you will need in your garden to provide for your own individual needs. The more self-sufficient you want to be, the more space you will need. However, there is no harm in taking it one step at a time. For one person:
- To grow sufficient fruits, vegetable and grains, you will need around 19,000 square feet of land. To grow wheat you would need an extra 3,000 square feet and for corn an additional 660 square feet.
- Eggs are a relatively easy addition and chickens will not require a huge amount of upkeep. An additional 20 square feet will be enough for 3 or 4 chickens.
- If you want to add milk into the mix, unless you have extensive land, you will not be able to care for a cow. However, goat milk is a great alternative and one goat will only require around an additional 100 square feet.
- For meat, you could consider rearing pigs but this will again increase the space you need, not to mention the time you will have to devote to their care, plus potential veterinary bills. Some animals also fall under agricultural regulations and will need permits.
Designing your garden
To be as healthy as possible and to meet your nutritional needs, you will need to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Before we turn to the staples which are easiest to grow, let’s look at the tools you will need and how to prepare your land.
The first aspect to consider is whether your garden gets sufficient sunlight and drains well. Clear the land of weeds and move away any large stones. You will then need to prepare the land by turning it over, this helps to improve drainage and then work organic compost into the soil to improve the nutrient density.
You will need a small selection of tools including a hoe, shovel, fork, shears, a watering can and gloves. Choose quality as you will need to use these items for years to come.
Finally, purchase good quality seeds and plant them, following the packet instructions carefully over the next few weeks to give them the best chance possible of growth.
Grow a range of vegetables and fruit
When you first start out, choose fruits and vegetables which are relatively easy to grow, then as your knowledge increases, expand your range.
Salad vegetables: Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, radishes, and spring onions will be your staples in summer. Herbs will add flavor year-round and can even be grown indoors on window sills.
Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, and kale are all highly nutritious and peas, runner beans, and courgettes are easy to grow. Beans of all varieties are a great source of protein.
Root vegetables: Beetroot grows rapidly and with few pest problems. Potatoes are a staple in most diets and can even be grown in bags if you are short on space. Carrots need spacing out as they require room to grow large. Onions are great for adding flavor.
Garlic: This is relatively easy to grow and garlic has many wonderful health benefits.
Mushrooms: Easy to grow, packed with protein and highly nutritious, so add them into the mix.
Fruit: Introduce a range of bushes to grow raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Fruit trees can also be introduced if you have enough space and apple, pear and cherry trees are all good choices.
Spirulina: This is actually a type of algae but is super-nutritious (very high in protein) and grows faster than almost any other substance. To some, it is a modern day superfood. Even a very small amount is highly beneficial to your health, and this makes it a great addition to a small garden. Blend together with other foods to add taste and substance to it.
Making the most of the space you have
Even in a small plot of land, you can grow lots more than you think by taking advantage of vertical vegetable gardens. These can be bought ready-made as kits or if you are resourceful, you could build them yourself. The pots used in these need to be deep enough for the root system to take hold and you will need to keep a careful eye on hydration. Black pots are a big no-no, too, as they can dry the plant out quickly when heated up from sunlight. Check out the best fruits to grow in a container garden.
Learn on the Job
When you start out on your road to self-sufficiency there will be plenty to learn and you will need to
- Research planting and harvesting times
- Natural forms of pest control
- Ways to get the most out of the space you have available. Check out Quick Tips for a successful patio or apartment gardening.
There may be times when crops don’t turn out as well as you had hoped but over time your knowledge and skill as a gardener will improve. Even if you don’t fulfill every need from your garden, you will be going a long way to lowering your carbon footprint and improve your health – those facts alone make the quest to be self-sufficient worthwhile.