If you have been gardening for some time, you know how superior the food you grow is compared to store-bought produce. Maybe you grow enough in your garden to provide all the vegetables you or your family need throughout the growing season. Now, you want to increase that to provide all the vegetables you and your family need for the rest of the year. There are a number of considerations you need to realistically face before you can actually live off your garden all year round.
How much of your land is currently garden space, and how much more are you willing to devote?
If you have acreage, this isn’t a problem. If you have an urban lot, the amount of garden space you can access could be a limiting factor. Think out of the box. Plant your organic herb seeds in your window boxes. Instead of flowers, plant peppers, swiss chard, or rhubarb in the flower beds. If you have a narrow side yard next to the garage, consider vertical plantings of cucumbers or squash. Any plant that you locate outside of the main garden gives more space for your main crops.
How much time are you willing to devote?
Be realistic! Remember that you will have to tend a much larger garden. That also means it will take more time to harvest all the crops. You also will have to can, freeze, and/or dry all the food for the winter. That is a significant time commitment. Do you have enough time yourself or are friends and family willing to chip in?
Do you have the space for storing a year’s worth of produce?
If you plan on freezing most of the produce, you will need a stand-alone freezer. The size is dependent on the size of your family. If you plan on canning your produce, you will need plenty of shelves for your jars of food. You will also need a pressure canner. Purchase all the canning jars, as well as lids, so they are ready when needed. Do you have a cool space for storing potatoes, squash, onions, and pumpkins? It must be cool but not freeze. Have everything prepared before the growing season starts.
Tips for How to Live Off Your Garden All Year Round
1: Make a garden plan.
If you are still committed to the dream of growing all your year’s worth of produce, you will need to make a garden plan. If you have been gardening on a smaller scale, you probably know what your growing zone is. If you don’t know, find out here. This is crucial information. It tells you how long your typical growing season is and when you can start planting vegetable seeds and plants out in the garden. It also tells you when the first frost will hit, signaling that the garden will be going dormant. These dates aren’t written in stone, but they give you a close estimate. Lots of factors can influence when you can actually plant in your garden, including climate change and weather conditions. It may warm up by the date predicted, but if it’s been raining for three days, you won’t be able to work the soil.
2: Only plant what your family likes to eat.
Don’t waste space growing beets if no one likes them. On the other hand, gardening should be fun, so allow a little space to try. Grow enough for everyone in the family to try and either add it to your list of plants to grow next season or add it to the “never again” list.
3: Start your own plants.
If you are going to commit to growing your own food, start with the seeds. Choose non-GMO organic vegetable seeds. Set up your indoor plant nursery for those plants that can’t be directly sown in the garden soil. Keep control over what you grow for your family by purchasing the best seed available and growing your own plants.
If space is limited, you will need to grow intensively. Here are some ideas to get the maximum production from a limited garden space:
- Intensive gardening. Instead of growing a long row of single plants, grow in 4-foot-wide beds. If you keep the size to four feet, you will be able to reach into the middle of the bed for weeding and harvesting. Give each plant adequate space to grow. There are a number of advantages to this method of gardening. There is less space taken up by paths and more usable space for planting. The closeness of the plants minimizes the number of weeds that can grow, giving you less work. Since these beds won’t be compacted by walking on them, the plants will grow in loose soil, which is great for a good root system.
- Plant vertically whenever possible. The vines of a cucumber or squash plants will spread over a lot of the garden. If you provide a trellis for them to grow vertically, all that space is available for other plants.
- Plant two crops of cool weather plants. Plant crops like broccoli and cauliflower in the early spring for harvest before the heat of summer arrives. Then, plant a second planting that will be harvested right around the first frost.
- Use companion planting techniques to get two harvests from one space. Plant your storage onions and interplant with leaf lettuce. The onions will need a long growing season but, in the meantime, you can harvest salad greens growing between the onions. The lettuce will also help keep down the weeds.
- Use row covers to extend the season. Insulating row covers can give you an extra two weeks of growing time at the beginning of the season and another two weeks at the end. That is an extra month of growing food!
The best tip is to keep a journal! Record what you planted, how much you planted, and when you planted. Record how much of each vegetable you actually canned or froze. If you canned tomatoes and you ran out before you could harvest the next year’s crop, check your journal. You will have a pretty good idea of how many more plants to grow and how many more quarts of tomatoes you need to can. Note what crops did well in your garden and what didn’t do well.
Each year your garden will continue to improve—and that’s the best way to hit your goal and live off your garden year-round.