You don’t need a lot of land to create a self sustainable living. In fact, it’s best to start small and grow from there, unless you’re certain you want to go all in with homesteading.

All you need to start, is a small plot of urban land, suburban yard garden or country field, and a desire to become more self-reliant. And yes, there are those with homeowner association (HOA) restrictions, but there are always workarounds. For this article and story, we’re assuming that’s not an issue, but if it is, you may benefit from reading this article linked in the footnotes.1)https://www.gardensall.com/gardens-not-allowed-hoa-homeowners-associations-and-yard-gardens/

The 5 F’s of Survival

You can produce the “five Fs” in even a small garden:

  • Food
  • Fuel
  • Fiber
  • Fertilizer
  • Feedstock

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If you are interested in becoming more self sufficient, you’ll enjoy learning from someone who is doing it. It’s valuable to learn from others’ successes and failures if we want to make faster progress.
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The Darleys’ in Sonoma California show what can be done to bring people towards more self sufficiency, and they are doing it on a double urban lot.2)http://makezine.com/2014/05/01/making-the-energy-garden/

Making the Energy Garden

By Julian Darley3)http://makezine.com/author/julian-darley/and Celine Rich-Darley4)http://makezine.com/author/celine-rich-darley/, on Makezine.com

On Valentine’s Day 2007, we immigrated from Vancouver, B.C., to Sebastopol in Sonoma County, Calif. To our surprise, the house we’d rented, sight unseen from an ad on Craigslist, had a double-sized lot. The third of an acre was in a very run-down state; it had been used as a Rottweiler and pig run by the previous tenants. Our request to turn the yard into a garden was granted by the landlord, and the Energy Garden was born.

The first thing that sprang to mind when we saw the yard was a question: can a family, in the middle of a town, be food and energy self-reliant, and even have some left over to share? Our garden would be an experimental demonstration. Its goal was to produce as much food and fuel as possible with as few outside inputs, especially petroleum, as possible.

We wanted to produce the “five Fs” in our garden: food, fuel, fiber, fertilizer, and feedstock — all things that we currently rely on petroleum for. We were also interested in the calorie. How many calories could we grow, both to eat and to turn into other forms of energy, and how could we demonstrate different methodologies of gardening to the public?

Methodologies

We used John Jeavons’ book How to Grow More Vegetables as a guide for the Grow Biointensive method, which advocates double digging of beds and helps calculate expected yields from areas of land. We also drew on permaculture methodology, including “guilds” of mutually beneficial plants, and crops with “stacking functions,” where many parts of the plant are useful for different purposes.

We also staggered our plantings, following market garden techniques, to keep the beds continually in use growing food, energy, or compost crops.

All of the garden work was done by hand. We started in March 2007 with forty 10’×4′ beds, and a few weeks later we added three 30’×4′ beds. Then we turned the whole front yard into ten 15’×4′ beds. To use water most efficiently, all of this was drip-irrigated by a computer controlled timer.

By the time summer came, the last open space of the backyard had been turned into a mandala garden with 3 concentric rings, using the layering method and planted with cover crops to wait for spring. By autumn, all the trees had guilds around them planted with berries, rhubarb, and shrubs.

Editor’s Note: we’d recommend some kind of living edible shrub fence such as blueberries, goji berries, elderberries or kiwi berries.

For a lovely free plant guild guide, you may enjoy this by Bryce Ruddock.5)https://midwestpermaculture.com/eBook/Plant%20Guilds%20eBooklet%20-%20Midwest%20Permaculture.pdf

A small section demonstrated “square-foot gardening,” to show people that they could start small. And in summer 2008, the front side-yard demonstrated the “Do Nothing” method that some farms use to minimize soil erosion: we established a cover crop of clover and vetch, then cut it short and planted starts of quinoa into it.

In order to get plants started quickly, we built three cold frames and a temporary greenhouse out of hay bales and clear plastic.

Next up: Foods for high energy calories.

Growing Calories to Eat

Amaranth
Amaranth

Since we wanted to focus on calories and to show people the plants that they eat, we grew grains: wheat, amaranth, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, corn, and oats. We also planted traditional vegetables, such as tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, squash, watermelons, beets, and beans.

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Buckwheat blossoms

Over time we also learned what didn’t work in the Energy Garden — such as potatoes, which were eaten by the gophers.6)https://www.gardensall.com/keep-rodents-rabbits-squirrels-out/

There were wonderful old apple trees on the property, and we planted more fruit trees and berry bushes. Our medicinal and culinary herbs did quite well. We grew echinacea, and our basil was the envy of the town.

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Tending the foundation of the garden, is next

Growing the Soil

It may sound strange, but if you are to have a sustainable production garden, your first and last task is to grow your soil. This means building the organic matter as well as keeping up vital nutrients such as nitrogen.7)https://gardensall.com/your-weeds-telling-you-something/ The traditional way to do this is by making compost and, if possible, keeping chickens. Making compost is not terribly difficult, but a good compost pile needs the right mixture of carbon-rich matter (for instance, straw) and other vegetable matter.

To have a sustainable production garden, your first and last task is to grow your soil.

We found it very effective to keep the compost piles in the chicken run. This way, new kitchen scraps and other vegetables got thrown on top of the compost pile, and the chickens eagerly eat what they want while conveniently depositing their nitrogen-rich fertilizer into the pile. The resulting compost is like rocket fuel for the plants.

As to creating liquid fuel, the Darley’s discovered just how much work went into trying to produce and distill that from grown food. They concluded that:

“Trying to produce usable fuel is very difficult, and the Energy Garden really helped us all see why petroleum is so extraordinary and valuable.”

For the rest of this story, visit the rest of the Darley’s article to learn how they tried creating liquid fuel.8)http://makezine.com/2014/05/01/making-the-energy-garden/

For more on urban homesteading, you will also enjoy this phenomenal story.9)

References   [ + ]