I’ve always had this dream of living on a small-holding or to live in a house on an acre of land where I could just do nothing else all day with but work outside growing crops and raising chickens and other small animals and be completely self-sufficient. It would of course be utter hard work, in all weathers, but it would be very rewarding and I could be at one with the land.
Over the years I’ve been completely frustrated by the cost of land and the lack of options for getting into small-scale crop growing. I either needed to be very rich or move to Bulgaria. I was even more dismayed when looking at allotments as it was going to cost me £90 yearly for a plot, a plot that wasn’t ever going to be mine to keep.
But rather than moan about it I decided the next best thing would be to use what we already had in our possession – the garden. Was it possible to grow any fruit, was there enough room for growing enough for at least two people, would it be expensive to do? Well, there was only one way to find out.
The self-sufficiency challenge
When I first started re-designing our front and back gardens last yr I only had one thing I wanted to set out and achieve:-
- To be able to grow as much fruit and vegetables with the space available to us.
It’s been very successful (review later on in the year) but more than that it’s kinda woken me up to a few things, on a more personal level.
Things like – as I self-develop my love of animals means I could never have had a small holding with pigs and goats because I’d want to treat them like pets, give them names, and never ever send them to slaughter. Which kind of negates the need for all that space. (I wonder if there are any vegan small-holdings?)
- That just having five raised beds, two lawns, two grow houses, and various fruit/nut trees is enough work to keep me busy most evenings and weekends. Yes some days are work heavier than others but when you (or the household), work full time you still need to be pretty organised. On a grander scale I can’t imagine how I’d cope! I couldn’t even be sure that if I had an allotment on top of the gardens that I’d be able to use it effectively. So it’s taught me that it’s either a full time job or it’s a part time job along side other areas of interest.
- That gardening is different to self-sufficiency. Or at least I’m still trying to grapple this point. Can my garden still be classed as self-sufficient without chickens or goats? Should it really be called a kitchen garden as it feeds us? Hmm, I’m thinking that perhaps this is one to define as the year goes on.
- That my love of vegetables has grown more than I thought it would as I’ve gone along and I’m actively more interested in where our food comes from, the food chain, and what influence supermarkets have.
- That actually I don’t mind being a townie. This might be a cop-out for not having to take a huge plunge in changing our lives if we moved (I’m not sure yet). That the countryside might actually turn me into some kind of shouting old woman that runs after the fox hunts and gets frustrated by the pesticides being dumped on the fields, the housing estates being built and the sheep being sent off to slaughter. That actually I’m more townie than I realised but that I’m no longer annoyed with this fact.
- That by starting off on a small scale, growing fruit and vegetables is a very enjoyable way of spending time. I’m constantly being challenged by the space but nothing that can’t be solved (yet!), which is far easier (and probably cheaper) on smaller plot.
- That the size doesn’t mean any less variety in growing plants. It just means it’s done on a smaller scale which causes less waste. It also means I’m much closer to my crops and I can keep and eye on them closely.
- That you can definitely have cultivation space along side leisure space. Okay our lawn looks like something out of a disaster movie but that’s because it’s used. There is also enough seating to enjoy the sunshine all day long and enjoy the garden when it’s been worked in.
- That although I don’t see or hear nearly as much nature as I would living in the countryside I still do see a lot. Birds, foxes, bees, butterflies, squirrels…they are all coming to our garden because they know we give them good fodder and a safe haven. The garden works in harmony with nature, and apart from hearing the fox near by killing or the hawk swooping off with it’s next meal at least I don’t have to see any animals being raised and sent to slaughter.
- That for the first time, this year I could go into a supermarket and completely ignore the fruit & veg isle because we had enough to eat from our own garden. It might only have been a couple of weekends but hopefully it will be more than that once I rotate the beds and learn to sow in succession.
- That growing anything, on any scale is life long learning. I’d love to have come from a farming back ground or studied farming at University but that doesn’t mean I’m not learning along the way every time I plant seeds or measure out the planting space.
- That I look at other people’s garden’s now (including their front garden) and imagine what crops they could grow.
Going down the plant lane
I’ve mentioned animals and slaughter twice now.
That’s because from a personal point of view I have really begun to get in touch with the food I’m eating and find myself quite sub-consciously yet actively moving towards a more plant based diet. The business of food, and how it reaches our plates bothers me more and more as I grow our food for the table.
I’ll always actively support local small holders and farms for my meat and vegetables but if I had to kill anything myself I just wouldn’t be able to do it and really there isn’t that much difference between the abattoir killing on my behalf or me doing it – it’s just the sheer scale.
Cover photo courtesy of Wired for Lego
How wonderful! I recently moved to town with residence with small house, huge lot and didn’t get nearly the amount of infrastructure done I thought I would this past season – it’s all an experience, isn’t it?
I imagine, with your passion for growing abundantly in small spaces, you’ve read John Jeavon’s “How to Grow More Vegetables*” but if you haven’t, you might want to check it out – It’s my gardening bible! 🙂
Its definitely all about the learning and experience of it all. 🙂
Thank you for that book advice, I hadn’t heard of him so will be sure to have a look – anything like that is so useful. My original inspiration for our garden set up came from a guy called Paul Waddington – 21st Century Small Holder
It was his layouts that first got me thinking about sing the space we had.
This is so wise. My husband and I lived in a place where it was fairly inexpensive to have land (if you were going to be buying a home anyway), and we had dreams of self-sufficiency and got way more land than we needed. But he still had to commute quite a distance to his full-time job, I was busy and tired raising children; and eventually it all became too much and we never really used the land the way we imagined we would. I also became lonely out in the boonies, and disliked having to drive so far for friends and activities.
So now I completely agree with you about starting small, using the space that you have. Now that I’ve lived away from the country for several years I find myself longing for it again in some ways; but I also like making the most of what I have in the present. I find the concept of “urban homesteading” to be pretty inspiring- not sure what it’s like where you live but plenty of people around here have chickens in normal neighborhoods. Chickens or rabbits are probably enough animals for a bit of self-sufficiency anyway.
That’s a big issue of course (apart from the cost) – that if you still need to work full time and commute it can make rural life quite difficult as it’s really a full time job. Instead, as you said, I believe you can have both – the convenience of living in a more urbanised area while still connecting to your ‘farming’ ideals.
In the UK it’s pretty popular, more and more people are at least growing something, or thinking about buying locally and supporting more ethically sourced food. At our current rate of population growth farming on such a grand scale will be impossible in this country as we’re fast running out of land – hence why it’s so expensive to buy. Some farmers really have a monopoly on land and then sell it onto house builders for maximum profit. It would be better really if the land was carved up and given to more people – it probably sounds like we’re going backward but then again it worked back in the late 19th and early 20th C’s.
Where are you based? I’ve not heard of the word ‘boonies’ before! 🙂
Colorado, US 🙂 And actually, land is quite expensive where we are now- it is cheaper to live in towns and neighborhoods. But in New England it was the opposite- rural areas were cheaper. “Boonies” just means the middle of nowhere- and there are lots of places like that in the US 🙂
I love that word – I’ll remember that! We have a few places like that over here. 🙂