It is a dream for many people to be as self sufficient as possible. But how self sufficient can you be in your garden? To answer this question, we need to look at a number of different things. We need to consider:
- What ‘self sufficient’ really means.
- What you wish to eat (and other things you personally need).
- Your own situation, and the time you have available.
- The land, and environment, and what nature can provide (in terms of sunlight, water, and other natural resources).
By looking at these things in a little more depth, you should be able to work out just how self sufficient you can become in your own specific situation, and your own specific garden. So read on to make sure you have a clearer idea of what is truly possible, and to define your own more realistic goals:
What does ‘Self-Sufficient’ Mean to You?
Before you can determine how self-sufficient you can be in your garden, you need to think carefully about what the term ‘self sufficient’ means to you. Do you really wish to make sure that you are able to provide for all of your own needs? Or are you content to become self-sufficient only in certain areas?
For example, will you grow all of the food you require year round? Or would self sufficiency to you mean being able to grow all the fruits and vegetables you need – but purchasing staples?
If keeping livestock, would you wish to have the land available to grow all the food your animals need? Or are you content to buy in primary feeds?
Are you looking at self-sufficiency only in terms of food? Or are you really looking to provide for everything you need (clothing, fuels, etc..) in your garden?
Will you be entirely off -grid? Or will you still rely on mains power, and/or mains water?
Defining the term self sufficiency can help you to frame your goals, and to think more clearly about what, in your specific situation, you can and cannot do.
Complete self-sufficiency in all areas is generally not feasible in a domestic garden. But in certain areas at least, you may well be able to boost self-reliance far more than you imagined possible.
One of the areas where it is easiest to define the parameters of self-sufficiency is where it relates to food production. It is in this area where gardeners are able to make the greatest strides, even in surprisingly small spaces.
Of course, when it comes to food related self sufficiency, what you plan to eat is key to determining what is possible. Your lifestyle and the things you deem necessary for daily life will also determine the degree to which you can meet your own needs in your garden.
If you plan to eat an entirely vegan or vegetarian diet, you will likely find it possible to grow a far higher proportion of your own food in your garden. You will usually be able to become far more self-sufficient than those who are a meat-eaters.
Calories needed can vary considerably depending on size, metabolism, exercise levels etc.. But you can work from these figures to establish that a self-sufficient system would need to provide varied calories of a minimum of around 730,000 – 912,500 calories to sustain one person for one year.
Multiply that figure by the number of people in your household, and you can begin to determine how much food you might be able to grow, and what proportion of those calories you can provide from your garden.
As a general rule, it is often stated that to produce the requisite number of calories from vegetables/ grains and achieve a balanced vegetarian diet you will require 0.44 acres (approx. 1,780 sq m). However, many gardeners have shown that it is possible to grow enough food for a balanced vegetarian diet in far less space.
By growing year round, using small space growing solutions, and stacking productive plants in space and time, and taking steps like investing in a polytunnel so you can grow year-round, you can increase yields and obtain a lot more food. It may be possible to grow a much higher proportion of your calorie needs that you think, even from an average sized garden.
How Much Time Do You Have?
Of course, while space can be a limiting factor, your own time and energy levels can often be more of a constraint. In trying to work out how self sufficient you can be in your garden, you obviously need to consider how much time you will have to tend your garden.
It is important to be realistic about how much time you will have to devote to your home growing efforts, and in maintaining the systems you establish and the management and maintenance strategies that you employ.
Another key consideration, of course, is your skill level and experience. If you are a complete beginner, you will of course find it much more of a challenge to try to aim for self-sufficiency all at once. While if you are more experienced, you may be able to be more ambitious when setting your targets.
Your personality also comes into play. Are you ambitious, and happy to dive in at the deep end and take risks? Or are you someone who is typically more cautious and takes things slow? Remember, becoming more self-sufficient can be very rewarding. But it can also be a lot of hard work. Make sure you do not take on more than you can chew.
What Can Your Garden Provide?
Another important limiting factor in how self-sufficient you can be on your specific site.
It is important to look not only at the obvious factor of how much space is available in your garden, but also what it can provide in terms of the climate, and microclimate, water, soil, and plant resources before you even begin.
Determining limiting factors, it is important to look at things like sunlight and shade, water availability, and soil (its structure, fertility, pH level etc..).
Sunlight and shade, temperatures and, for example, whether a site is sheltered or exposed will determine what can be grown, and where, throughout the year.
In the UK, rainwater is often sufficient to provide for water needs in a garden. But it is important to understand how much rain falls in your garden, and to catch and store it in containers and in the soil when it falls, so it is available during drier periods.
Soils can be improved, though of course, starting from a point of healthy, fertile soil will make your transition to a more self-sufficient way of life a whole lot easier.
The land itself and where it is located will make a big difference when it comes to how self-sufficient a gardener can realistically become. But by choosing the right strategies in any garden, it is possible to become more self-reliant, and to create closed-loop systems that allow the garden to be maintained without any external inputs over time.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.