With a small domestic polytunnel, it is unlikely that you will be able to be entirely self-sufficient in food. But that does not mean that you should not aim for a greater level of self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency, in terms of home gardening, means trying to work towards being able to locally meet as many needs of the garden (and gardener) as possible.
By setting up a number of garden systems, you can work to increase self-sufficiency over time. This self-sufficiency can refer to the amount and types of food you can produce for yourself and your household. But it can also refer to the maintenance of your garden over time. Of course, these two things are inextricably linked. By boosting the self-sufficiency of the garden itself, you can boost the overall self-sufficiency of yourself and your household.
Boosting Energy Self-Sufficiency
The first thing to consider, when it comes to self-sufficiency in the garden, is energy. We need energy to grow plants, which in turn fuel us. Also, we need energy to operate any automatic systems such as irrigation systems in our polytunnels, and potentially also to heat the space in winter if we choose to do so. We will also need energy to cook the food we grow.
The most important energy source on our planet is, of course, the sun. In order to increase our self-sufficiency in our polytunnel gardens, it is important that we make full use of this vital resource.
A polytunnel can already help us harness the power of the sun by concentrating and containing the heat it can provide. As experienced polytunnel gardeners will already know, this can allow us to grow food not just in summer but all year round.
But we can also go further in using the sun’s energy to the fullest. We do so initially by utilising the principles of passive solar design. This involves thinking about how and when sun falls on our polytunnels, and how we can catch and store that energy. Adding items with high thermal mass means that the sun’s heat is captured during the day, and released slowly at night.
Items like stone, brick, clay, stored water etc. are great at gathering heat energy and releasing it slowly when temperatures fall. This can help us avoid relying on additional heat systems and keep our polytunnels at a more constant temperature throughout each day and throughout the year.
We can also make use of the energy from our sun in other ways that are beneficial to us as polytunnel gardeners. For example, you might be able to:
Create DIY solar dehydrators to help you preserve the produce that you grow.
Make a solar oven to cook food without the need for additional fuel/ power.
Add solar water heating to keep a polytunnel frost-free in winter.
Use solar LED lights to light the space without having to use mains electricity.
Use solar panels to provide renewable electricity to power irrigation systems/ pumps etc..
Improving Self Sufficiency in Terms of Water
Another very important element when it comes to self-sufficiency is water. Even when we are on mains water, and there is lots of it around, it never hurts to become more self-sufficient in this regard. We should all be more mindful about how we use water in our homes and in our gardens.
If you do not already have a rainwater harvesting system in place, you should consider implementing one right away. You can collect rainwater from the roof of your home. But it is also worth remembering that you can also collect rainwater that falls on your polytunnel.
More than this, however, it can be helpful to think about how we can also catch and store rainwater in other ways in our gardens. Water cannot only be stored in waterwater butts, tanks or barrels. Water is also stored in the landscape itself. It is stored in trees and other plants, and in the soil.
We should all make sure we have a wide range of trees and other plants in our gardens, around and inside our polytunnels. Good ground cover and avoiding areas of bare soil can help prevent water loss and erosion, protect the soil, and help make sure water sticks around.
We can also create reservoirs of fresh water by making ponds close to our polytunnels. Not only will a pond provide a reservoir of water. It will also help control pests by attracting a wide range of predatory wildlife to your garden. This is another reason why placing a pond close to a polytunnel can be a great idea.
Building Self-Sufficiency in Soil – Feeding Your Garden So It Will Feed You
Self-sufficiency in a garden system depends upon creating a thriving, biodiverse ecosystem. This includes creating a thriving selection of plant and animal life above ground. But also making sure that the soil ecosystem that we cannot see is healthy and protected.
One of the most important ways to ensure self-sufficiency in a garden is through making sure nature’s cycles are maintained.
Composting is one of an organic gardener’s most important tasks. It allows you to take excess and waste materials and return these to the system. By composting vegetable scraps and organic waste from the garden, we can keep the wheels turning. We can turn these materials into a valuable mulch, growing medium and soil amender.
In a no dig garden, the key is to avoid disturbing the precious soil ecosystem as much as possible. Rather than digging on organic matter, gardeners will lay it on top of the soil, and allow soil biota to do its work. This addition of mulches helps maintain the garden’s fertility over time. You can not only use home-made compost for the purpose, but other types of natural mulch – such as comfrey leaves, grass clippings etc…
Chopping and dropping materials from the garden in place can allow you to maintain fertility and protect the soil that will allow your garden to flourish over time.
You can also help to replenish fertility in growing areas by feeding plants with liquid fertilisers or liquid feeds. The great news is that you do not have to buy anything to make them. You can make liquid feeds using home-made compost, or using a range of different plant materials from your garden. You can even use weeds you pull from your polytunnel to make a general purpose liquid feed for your plants. When it comes to self-sufficiency – nothing should go to waste.
By using natural and organic waste materials in these ways, you can avoid the need to buy in any fertilizers for your garden.
Building Self-Sufficiency By Using Other Natural Materials In The System
As well as making compost, mulches and liquid feeds, you can also use other natural materials from your garden to make it more self-sufficient. When you make use of all the natural materials at your disposal you will often find that there are far fewer things you have to buy.
For example, natural branches pruned from garden trees and bushes can be used in a range of ways. You might use them as simple plant supports, to make trellises or frames, to line garden beds, in making new growing areas using hugelkultur methods etc…You can also use garden stones to line beds, build up growing areas, add drainage in containers, as garden markers and more.
Using natural materials can open up a huge range of new possibilities for self-sufficiency in your garden. They can not only make it easier for you to grow crops. They can also help you learn a range of new skills to become more self-sufficient in other areas of your everyday life.
For example, you might be able to learn about natural medicine. You might make your own cleaning and beauty products. You might learn about making yarn or paper from plant fibres, making your own natural dyes, basketry, green woodworking, and the list goes on.
When working in your polytunnel garden, it is always worthwhile remembering that a garden can offer far more than just food.
Are you aiming for self-sufficiency or greater self-reliance in your garden? Share your experiences, tips and suggestions below to help others follow the same path towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.
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.