I have one basic goal: Grow and harvest more food. Let’s call it Project Self Reliance. If I sit back and look at where our biggest struggle is when it comes to self reliance, it’s the grocery store. We are not producing enough food to eliminate the need for the grocery store and yet when I get there I find myself struggling with what to put in the cart.
Common sense says that the more food I can produce and harvest myself, the fewer trips to the supermarket I’ll have to make and the less frustrated I’ll be with the options there. The bigger question is: How am I going to make this happen? How can I harvest more food for improved self reliance?
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The very first thing I’m going to do is reread The Resilient Gardener.
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Project self reliance: Growing & harvesting more food
This post was written back in 2015, kind of a laundry list of steps to take toward better self reliance. I’ve added updates to each of these tasks, as of May, 2018.
While I did put in one small garden bed when we first moved, the goal is to greatly expand our growing space to harvest more food. Our biggest stumbling block here is the soil. I need to improve the soil in order for plants to thrive. I also need to figure out a way to do that without breaking the bank.
I’ll definitely do lasagna beds, but I still need a good quality growing medium to top them off with. We compost, but not enough to enrich the number of beds I want to create. I’m experimenting with a little chickens-in-the-garden wizardry but, again, this won’t be enough for the space I want to amend.
My garden to-do list looks a lot like this:
There are a couple of horse stables nearby but I need to be more consistent about checking their supply. Every time I think to stop, someone has beat me to it. (Great minds and all.)
Because of potentially bringing fire ants onto our place, we’ve decided against importing manure from local farms. We’re working to reduce inputs by making some of our own garden products. And we’ve brought in a couple of bunnies to live with us, solely for their manure. (And okay, they’re cute.)
This is just a matter of remembering to take containers with me so that when I see a good pile I can scoop it up so I can increase the size of my composting operation.
While I kind of failed miserably at this one, we have acquired a wood chipper and are slowly removing invasive trees and using the chips to mulch perennial beds. We’re also growing plants specifically with the intention of turning them into mulch.
Grab coffee grounds.
There are several coffee shops that I can enlist to save their grounds for me — I just need to do it, again for improved composting.
For about a year, my son worked at a coffee shop and brought coffee grounds home regularly. The garden bed that we amended with lots of coffee grounds? Is one of my best. I do grab coffee grounds when I’m near a coffee shop these days, but not nearly as much as I’d like.
Do the math.
I need to figure out how much of everything to plant. I’ve done this in the past to figure out how many tomatoes to grow, but some new-to-me crops will require a little thinking.
We’re gaining a much better understanding of what will grow here. We’ve discovered that bananas — which do really well here — can also be added to our diet as a starchy potato replacement when used green. We still are a far cry from claiming ‘garden success’ but we learn a little more every season.
Determine my best plan of attack for starting plants. We don’t have frost here, but the temps do drop below 50 degrees F this time of year. I find myself a little confused by the “start 5 weeks before last frost date” directive. While I have some cool season greens started already, what about warm weather crops?
Best to start those indoors with a bit of heat and light? Or just wait until the temps increase a bit? (If you garden in regions that don’t actually get frost but do get quite cool, I’d love to hear how you manage this.)
It’s still a gamble, trying to figure out the best time of year to start seeds.
We’ve already planted a fair number of fruit trees since we moved in, but we need to continue doing so. We’ll add those that take longer to produce, but we also need to increase the number of papaya and bananas we have here since they produce within just a year or two.
Both papayas and bananas are doing well here, and producing a harvest. The bananas are abundant already; the papayas are just coming into production. We also have planted a number of other trees, including ‘ulu, lychee, citrus, and rollinia, in addition to our experimental apples and pears. (We had TWO apples set this year, on a three year old tree!)
My small flock of five hens is back to laying regularly, but even so, they’re not producing quite enough eggs for us.
So many chickens. We have a couple dozen hens, several of whom seem to be broody at any given point. So our flock keeps growing and we’re even helping other people grow their flocks, sharing the idea of self reliance.
I’d like to add another half-dozen chickens or so to our flock to expand egg production.
At some point in my younger life, someone told me that ducks don’t lay eggs except for when they are ready to sit on a nest and hatch babes. Imagine my surprise to discover that ducks are a great source of eggs! The bonus here is that while I can’t let chickens loose in the garden for fear of them decimating it, ducks will apparently tackle the bugs in the garden with a much lighter footprint.
We’ve had ducks here for the past couple of years now. We started with an adopted flock of drakes purely for slug and snail control. They really help to knock down these pests! Our newest flock is a young set of four ducks (female) and a single drake. And duck eggs are regularly on the menu.
Every time I buy meat, I go through a mental battle with myself. “This is crazy!” “$28 for a roasting chicken??” “Sure, it’s organic, but what kind of life did this animal lead?” The fact of the matter is this: We have enough space to be raising some of our own meat for better self reliance, but we live in a time that allows us to skip the ick factor of doing our own butchering.
Plus, most of that store-bought meat comes on Styrofoam. We are often too soft for our own good. So we’ve decided that this year is the year it stops. I don’t relish the idea of butchering, but if we’re going to eat meat—and we are—the most sensible solution is to raise and butcher it right here.
Raising chickens for meat
We’ve been having long conversations about this. Raising broilers here would be a snap. I’ve been reading up on letting meat birds free range and I think this is a viable solution for us. It’s a way to lower feed costs (more about that here) and eliminate some of our unwanted pests. I figure if we can move electrified poultry netting in a pattern across our little orchard, they’ll have freedom to roam in a protected area where they can’t do any damage.
The only thing I’m not sure of is which breed is best. I’d like to do heritage breed birds, but finding them and getting them shipped here might prove tricky.
We have an active flock of egg layers with hens that go broody regularly. We’ve opted to let the broody hens hatch out chicks, adding the pullets to our egg-laying flock and culling the roosters. With the help of my sons, we’ve been butchering chickens for meat regularly now.
We need to improve the size of our chickens, though, as the ones we have are quite small, making for a meager meal.
Raising pigs for meat
While we’re not yet ready to raise pigs—we don’t yet generate enough food to feed caged pigs without shipping in feed—we have an ongoing problem with feral pigs. We’ve had hunters on the property but it makes sense to trap and harvest the meat ourselves. (I mean, we’re trying to be sensible, right?) The first step is “build a pig trap.” Then we’ll need to find someone who can teach us the ins and outs of butchering a pig.
Not a single step forward on this effort.
Growing and harvesting more food
While it’s such a simple goal, there are a lot of steps we need to implement in order to make it happen. Some sounds easy. Some feels daunting. But we need to do this!
What are your food production goals for better self reliance? Will they be easy or difficult for you?