You’ve decided to become more self-reliant, but don’t know where to begin. With 40 years of homesteading and self-reliance behind us, we’d suggest you plant a garden as your first step. This is especially important in this new virus era when some food items are being rationed or when income security is in question. Let’s take the first step to self-reliance by planting a garden.
First Step To Self-Reliance
If your diet consists of frozen pizzas, microwave burritos, cheese doodles and fruit roll ups, planting a garden won’t help you in your pursuit of self-reliance unless you’re willing to change your eating habits. But if you’re looking to free yourself from reliance on supermarket produce and commercially prepared canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, then a garden is a viable, important first step toward your ultimate goal.
If you’ve never gardened before and are completely clueless, the best advice we can offer is to start small. Although a fully stocked pantry and root cellar filled with homegrown goodness that will feed you for a year is a worthy goal, setting out to achieve that on your first attempt is expecting a bit much. You could be setting yourself up for failure resulting in disappointment and frustration that might lead to giving up altogether.
Instead select a few of your favorite vegetables, the ones you buy weekly from the grocery store, and try growing those. Read up on their cultural requirements – do they like cool temperatures, hot weather, can they withstand frosts or are they susceptible to it, any specific soil requirements to be aware of, are they prone to certain diseases or pests and what can be done to keep either under control. In other words become close to an expert on these few favorites. The following year you can expand your horizons and add some new vegetables or fruits to your patch.
When I was a teenager, our garden was pretty basic- peas, corn, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, beets, cabbage, broccoli as well as summer and winter squash. Not until I began homesteading in my late 20’s did I begin growing “exotic” vegetables such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, dry beans, potatoes and pumpkins and not until I was in my 40’s did I add leeks, Belgian endive and Florence fennel to the list. The point is there’s no need to try and grow everything under the sun the first time out of the gate.
Once you’ve figured out what you want to grow, assess what you have for space. Do you have a backyard you can convert to a garden patch? If not don’t despair. We’ve always had acres of land at our disposal but in reality, we only use a very small area to grow our yearly needs, so having a large amount of space isn’t necessary. You just have to be creative with what you have.
If you have a deck or patio, fill it with containers of vegetable plants. You can buy pots, planter tubs or growing bags that can be filled with soil and planted with an astounding array of vegetables and even fruits. Or you can scrounge for containers using what you have on hand. We’ve used leaky buckets that are no good for hauling water anymore, a cracked enamel canning kettle as well as old dish basins. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, lettuce, radishes, carrots, all Cole crops, cucumbers, melons, as well as summer and winter squash are good candidates for containers. Be sure to select bush or compact varieties and to match the size container to what is being grown in it. Larger plants need larger containers.
To make it even more convenient, especially as we grow older, consider building sturdy platforms or benches to set the containers on, thereby raising them up off the ground to a more manageable height.
Use window boxes to plant food instead of flowers. Lettuce, radish and green onions are possibilities for these. Use hanging baskets to grow strawberries or tomatoes that cascade over the sides instead of flowers.
If you have a bit more space you can establish a small garden in the yard. You can set up raised beds if you want (we have one long raised bed), although that is not absolutely necessary. Plant in traditional rows or do as we do and grow most vegetables in beds and wide rows that aren’t raised. You can review our recent post on Mapping Out the Garden for details.
Once again keep your exuberance in check and don’t plant more than you can take care of. In spring it’s easy to get carried away and plant an excess of everything. But unless you can keep up with the weeding, watering, thinning etc you may end up with less return than if you’d planted less to begin with.
As first time gardeners you may be overwhelmed by how to convert your plot into a productive garden. See our posts The Real Dirt on Garden Soil for info on how we’ve converted poor ground into productive loam not once, not twice but 3 times at each of our off-grid homesteads.
You can buy started seedlings for many plants (tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli and the like) from a garden center but if you want to try growing your own from seeds, that is one of the most satisfying methods and the one we’ve always chosen to do. It’s all the more satisfying when many of the indoor started seedlings are from seed we saved ourselves from the previous year.
Planting and tending a garden is work but it’s gratifying to sit down to a table laden with the fruits and vegetables of your labor. Gardening can be a family affair where each member is responsible for certain tasks so no one individual bears the burden for all of it. Perhaps you’ll find that a family that grows a garden together, stays together.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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