How To Live Off Your Garden

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Generations ago, living off the land was common, and that practice is coming back into fashion. If you've got property to work with, you may be able to grow a garden that takes care of a significant portion, or perhaps even all of your family's food needs.

Why Live off the Land?

Buying food in the supermarket is convenient and the selection is plentiful. So why grow your own food instead? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Freshness: Your food doesn't have to fly half way around the globe to get to your table.
  • Better nutrition: Just picked food retains more nutrients than produce that has to travel for weeks to your grocer.
  • Sustainability: The food you grow has a much smaller carbon footprint than factory farmed and processed foods.
  • Peace of mind: You'll be sure the food you grow doesn't contain any unwanted pesticides or chemicals.
  • Personal satisfaction: Growing your own food will help you feel more in touch with the earth and give you a sense of confident satisfaction.
  • Savings: You'll get a great return on your initial investment when you don't have to deal with the ever-rising prices of food.

How Much Space Do You Need?

Surprisingly, a good-sized suburban yard may be enough to sustain a family of four completely. These guidelines based on the average American's food consumption should help you determine if you've got enough space for this type of endeavor:

  • In order to grow enough fruits, vegetables and grains to sustain a family of four on a vegan diet, you'll need at least 76,666 square feet of land.
  • If your family enjoys wheat, you'll have to reserve 12,012 square feet of your land to grow enough wheat for a family of four.
  • Corn also requires a good deal of your garden's space. If you plan to grow your family's corn, reserve 2,640 square feet.
  • Perhaps you'd also like to add eggs to your family's diet. If so, plan on caring for 13 chickens and having an additional 65 square feet to devote to your birds.
  • Garden fresh milk is a treat for the whole family, but keeping a cow requires more land than most families have available. Goat milk is a great alternative. A Nubian goat produces lots of delicious milk and needs only about 100 square feet of land as well as your loving care and companionship.
  • Non-vegetarians who'd like to grow their own meat might want to consider bringing some pigs onto their land. Three pigs will feed a family for four, twice a week for a year. Additional piglets each need an extra nine square feet.

To truly meet all of your family's food needs, you probably need about two acres of land in total. But home gardening isn't an all or nothing prospect. For example, if you're willing to buy your grains, you can take care of all your family's needs for produce, dairy, eggs and meat on only an acre and a half.

Designing Your Garden

You'll need to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to provide a varied, nutritious diet for your family. Be sure to include staples such as peppers and tomatoes, as well as some foods from all these categories:

  • Fruit trees: Choose a selection of trees for the orchard section of your garden, perhaps apples, pears, cherries, peaches, or if your climate permits, citrus fruits.
  • Berries: Reserve an area of your garden for sweet berries including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or mulberries.
  • Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens: Offer your family super nutrition packed meals by growing kale, collards, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, arugula, Brussels sprouts, dark green lettuce or spinach.
  • Root vegetables: Don't forget root staples such as beets, carrots, potatoes, yams, radishes or parsnips.
  • Vined vegetables: Your family might enjoy squash, pumpkins, peas, cucumber, beans and melons.
  • Onions and their relatives: Include onions, scallions and garlic to add flavor and nutrition to your garden meals.
  • Herbs: Herbs such as mint, chives, basil and rosemary allow you to make truly gourmet homegrown meals.

Some types of produce require much more space to grow than others, so be sure to research the needs of each plant before mapping out your garden and planting seeds.

Becoming a Home Farmer

Are you ready to start growing some or all of your family's food? These tips will help you get started:

  1. Make sure you have enough land for your garden project.
  2. Take a good look at that land to insure that it gets enough sunlight, has proper drainage and has good access to water.
  3. Clear your land of any large rocks, weeds or wild plant life.
  4. Purchase the tools you'll need. A good starting tool set might include a hoe, spading fork, bow rake, round shovel, shears, gloves and a watering can with a spray head for seedlings.
  5. Prepare your soil by treating it with organic fertilizer and breaking it up to give roots room to spread.
  6. Purchase good quality seeds and plant them, following packet instructions carefully.
  7. Water seeds and seedlings gently at first, then as plants get stronger you'll be able to use a hose or sprinkler system.
  8. When seeds sprout and grow to one to two inches in height, thin out your garden according to seed packet instructions to be sure your plants have the space and nutrition they need to grow and be healthy.
  9. If you're planning to keep animals in your garden, be sure to obtain any necessary permits, build safe and comfortable housing for them and purchase nutritious feed.

Whether you're able to live entirely off your garden or just grow a good portion of your own food, you and your family will enjoy lasting health and financial benefits. You may even end up with some extra food to share with friends and neighbors.

Last Updated: July 29, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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