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©2011 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)
When you are new to trying your hand at growing your own food, it can be daunting to know where to begin. How do you plan a garden for food production? Is it possible to become self-sufficient in a short time? It’s understandable to want to grow everything your first year. Experienced gardeners and homesteaders know, from trial and error, that it’s best to get into self-sufficiency one task at a time.
Take these steps to learning how to plan a garden for self-sufficiency and build on them each year. Before you know it, you’ll be providing a year’s worth of food on your own land:
- Grow High-Value Fruits and Veggies—What do you consider value? Flavor? Freshness? Or savings on expensive varieties from the supermarket? You can save money and enjoy flavors by growing varieties that can’t be found in grocery stores.
- Get the most out of the seasons—Make use of late winter/early spring by using cold frames, tunnels, cloches and other devices to stretch the season and grow more food. You can get a head start on spring salads by at least a month. Extend your fall crops by using row covers to protect them from frost and deer. Extend both seasons to grow more cold-tolerant greens and root crops for food production.
- Grow early-bearing fruit and berries—Grow June-bearing strawberries and early raspberries. You can put these up in your freezer before canning veggies take over the kitchen. In the fall, there are late-ripening raspberries and apples that come after the hectic food preserving frenzy of summer.
- Utilize what grows in your climate—Some crops will be easy to grow in your area while others can be a challenge. Soil type also determines what will grow where you live. If carrots don’t grow well in your area, but beets thrive, then grow a small patch of carrots and all the beets your family can eat. This takes you in the direction of self-sufficiency.
- Grow your beverages—Mints, sage, raspberry leaf and nettles make delicious and healthy teas. Even rhubarb stalk makes a tea that tastes like lemonade. Learn to make your own sodas, hard cider and wine from berries and fruits.
- Grow perennials—Perennials come back every year and this save you in time and maintenance. Just weed, fertilize and mulch. Asparagus, rhubarb, sorrel, Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish, bunching onions and bamboo shoots are just some of the possibilities. Find out which ones do well in your area.
- Choose varieties that grow in your area—Talk with gardeners around you to see what varieties grow well and produce high-yields. It’s frustrating to spend all summer tending to a tomato plant and only harvest a few tomatoes at the end of the season when a different variety would have produced an abundant harvest.
- Grow Herbs—Culinary herbs like dill, basil, rosemary, sage, parsley and mint add flavors to foods for canning and freezing. They are easy and inexpensive to grow.
- Don’t overplant one type—Yes, you can grow too much of a good thing! It’s easy to overbuy at the greenhouse on too many tomato plants. Don’t plant 50 when 10-15 plants will supply 2 people with a year’s worth of frozen, canned and dried tomatoes. The only reason to grow more would be to sell at farmers markets.
- Grow something new—You don’t have to grow it all your first year. As you grow in knowledge and experience, add something new each year and keep learning. If something failed to grow in spring, see if it grows better as a fall crop.
Growing enough food to preserve for a year or more is a fine goal and achievable, but there is a learning curve if you’ve never done it before. Take one step at a time and build on your knowledge each year. Before you know it, you will have a pantry and cellar full of shiny jars of food you grew and preserved yourself!
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