Self sufficiency is a common question I get when people see my vegetable garden. They ask, do I need to buy any vegetables and herbs with that much growing? You may be surprised to know that I always answer yes.
There are some things I like to eat regularly that I can’t grow in our climate, will only grow at certain times of the year or do not yield enough for the space. But there are many tactics I use in striving for self sufficiency in vegetables and herbs and I wanted to share those with you by focusing on my favourite crops. I determine a favourite crop by how often we have it in our diet, yield for the space, ease of growing and suitability for our climate.
My tactics of self sufficiency in vegetables and herbs in our sub tropical climate are as follows:
Lettuce – Can be planted in the sun for 7 months of the year and in the summer in partial shade, which means 12 months of planting so long as I keep the water up. I plant lettuce each month and move them around my garden to follow a rotation pattern. Lettuces are very productive for the space they take up. We do not harvest the lettuce heads, we pick leaves each day, which means we waste nothing. Normally we do not need to buy lettuces and we eat lettuce at least 3 days per week. You can plant about 12 lettuces in a 1 m2. In a cooler climate you can use a glasshouse or green house for lettuce growing.
Spring onion – I plant them monthly and use them within spaces and as a companion plant for lots of crops. Its amazing how many plants you can have in a small space. They are slow growing but when you plant each month, there is always something to harvest. Sometimes we pull out the whole plant and other times only some of green tops so it keeps growing. We never buy spring onions. You can plant at least 50 spring onions in a 1 m2 and in our climate they can be planted for 8 months in sun and 4 months in partial shade in the hotter months. Its fiddly but always plant these individually by pulling apart multiple plants often together in a seed pot.
Leeks – We have 4 plantings of leeks per year from April to August and plant about 50 each time. You can plant about 20-30 per m2. They are slow growers but we end up having them from the garden for about 8 months of the year. Leeks always thrive with reasonable soil and enough moisture
Peas and beans – Peas are an autumn to spring crop in our climate and beans are an autumn to early winter and spring to early summer crop. I always have either one of these crops going in the garden and use climbing varieties on frames to maximise the growth for the space used. I normally have 3 to 4 plantings of each in the year, say every 2 months depending on the crop and this gives peas or beans for most of the year. Jan to March is a bit lean but I have found that snake beans work very well during this extreme weather time. For 1 m2 of ground space and a climbing frame of 4 m2 (1.3 x 3), you can produce a massive crop from 3 to 4 plants
Cooking greens – We always have a mixture growing in our gardens and for most of the year we do not buy cooking greens. Our most common crop mix includes kale, choi sum, rainbow chard, silver beet and white stem bok choy pechay. These are all greens that you can keep harvesting from as you need leaves each day. In my experience, I have harvested for up to 7 months from one plant before it goes to seed. Make sure the water is keep up to them so the leaves stay fat and the soil vitality is strong. You can plant about 6 of these crops to a m2. If it gets too hot, shade them. Last year, I planted out each of these crops in an 8 m bed of ours and it was 40 C one week after planting. I shaded these for one month until it cooled down and those crops thrived for the next 5 months.
Carrots – Although carrots are not the easiest crop to grow in our climate, once you get the knack of how to grow them, they are a radical producer for a small amount of space. In one bed of 5 m2 we produced 500 good sized carrots last year. We have 2-3 planting each year with last harvest in December and first harvest in the following year starting in May. Thus we get about 6 months of carrots and normally store them in the ground, i.e. we don’t harvest until we use them. Suggest always seeding the carrots directly.
Beetroots – We have four plantings starting from April and harvest from June to December. Dense planting of 30- 40 to the m2 and well watered will produce great quality beetroots, you can also eat the tops if you are short on greens. Home grown beetroots are so sweet to eat. Make sure you plant the beetroots individually as you will often find them supplied as seedlings with 3-4 plants in one pot. Always pull them apart to plant as you will get much greater cropping this way.
Cucumber – Another plant that you can put on a climbing frame and get an amazing amount of food for the space. With up to 4 plantings we get supply for about 8 months of the year. In our winter, they need to be in a warm spot of your garden. They need hardly any bed space to grow when you use a climbing frame, you are gardening the air. I also use them to create shade for heat sensitive plants such as lettuces. For 1 m2 of ground space and a climbing frame of 4 m2 (1.3 x 3), you can produce a massive crop from 3 to 4 plants.
Cooking herbs – We spread our herbs around our garden beds and also have a dedicated herb bed. Some herbs we grow are seasonal annuals such as turmeric, garlic, fennel, dill, basil, coriander and parsley and others that are perennials grow most of the year such as mint, oregano, rosemary, lemon grass, sage, thyme, chilli, curry bush, French sorrel and chives. For an area of 1 m2, you can have a diverse range of annual and perennial herbs that will give you a big supply and if you use spaces within your garden, it won’t be too hard to completely avoid buying herbs.
As you can see from those crops, I strive for self sufficiency in vegetables and herbs. Some years I do better than others, but the core success factor is how the soil and plant vitality are managed. Diligent attention to this keeps the plants growing well and detracts most of the pests and diseases.
I have worked with organic methods enhanced with biodynamic practices for 22 years years now on acreage. We have a 2 day biodynamic workshop coming up, come along, I know you will enjoy it in our beautiful and productive space. Register here,
We also do design work and mentoring face to face in Brisbane and via video Skype to help our clients reach a desired level of self sufficiency in their food growing. See more.
Happy striving for self sufficiency
Authored by Peter Kearney – www.myfoodgarden.com.au
PS: In our new food garden in Draper shown in the top picture, the gross area is 220m2 and net bed area, 120m2. With climbing frames and cropping area is lifted to 180m2. Our aim when we commenced cropping in January this year was to achieve 1000kg of produce for the year. We have achieve this by October and have been able to regularly sell produce from this garden which is in its first year.