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small but very productive garden

Posted by kumquatlady 9 (My Page) on
Tue, Mar 27, 07 at 13:39

Any of you gardeners out there have small garden densely planted with fruit trees and vegetables that feed the family quite well? I am talking about small garden like less then 1/4 of an acre or average subdivision lot to provide most of your fruits and vegetables. Please share it with others for inspiration and education.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: small but very productive garden

Path To Freedom is a good example.

I'm working on it by borrowing parts of my in-laws backyard for garden space since I'm in a townhouse. The less lawn my FIL needs to mow, the better.

Basically I'm just doing Square Foot Gardening.


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RE: small but very productive garden

  • Posted by boballi 8 Central Valley CA (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 27, 07 at 15:42

This is my first year gardening. My main garden area is about 27x27.

So far I have: 9 fruit trees pruned as espalier fans and am using the Square Foot/Intensive method for veggies and strawberries.

Next year: I plan to add 5 more trees.


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I don't "feed the family quite well", but I'm working with 200 square feet of vegetable garden space. I can probably expand to a total of 400 square feet, but that's about it without losing a lot of plant productivity due to shade (or cutting down a lot of 50 year old trees).

Last year I got all the beans we wanted to eat and then some for almost two months, all the lettuce and radishes we wanted for the same length of time. We had 30-40 ears of corn, 8-10 pounds of potatoes, about the same of onions... a lot of tomatoes, five or six under-sized bell peppers... 2-3 pounds of carrots, about the same of strawberries... hm, I think that's it, unless I count herbs, of which I grew sage, basil, mint and chives. Lots of chives. So many chives that I composted a lot of them.

And that was on 120 square feet. So in the fall I expanded another 80 square feet, taking over an area that gets 6 hours of sunlight a day. The original area got 8 hours a day, so I'm moving into suboptimal spots.

It's nice to have a garden so small I can easily till it all with a shovel. All of last year's work was done either very pregnant or recovering, as I had my baby on July 11. Though I did have help to get the initial compost into the ground.

Small gardens are also easier and quicker to water, though getting a fancy irrigation system isn't cost-effective. It's easier to catch problems early because you find them faster. I have a hard time resisting the urge to plant too densely.


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I am planning my little orchard--38x100'. I'll have the usual fruit trees, a few nut trees nearby, and grapes and berries within. Last year, we had all the tomatoes we could eat and give away, pumpkins, watermelon, and peppers. This year I am hoping to expand...as we add fencing. The rabbits and our chickens will eat everything not fenced...even my aloe vera, lol.
Gamebird, understand the very pregnant thing...due end of May. I find it very cumbersome to my plans as there are some things that jut have to wait for hubby....sigh. But am looking forward to the fruits of this labor as well.=)


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Kumquatlady, I have the same question as you except my vegetable garden will be more of a veggie "patch" as it will only be around 50 sq. ft. Adding to the problem of space limitations this area is in the front of the house, which is not ideal, so not only am I struggling with how to make it as productive a space as possible, but how to make it aesthetically pleasing from the street. So the raised beds used for square foot gardening, would probably not be an option. I have plenty of annual flowers I am growing from seed that I could plant around the front edge to make it look less like a vegetable garden.

What is the most efficient way to lay things out? I've wintersown spinach, lettuce, dill, chives, parsley, marjoram, oregano, thyme, spearmint, and cilantro and have sprouts up already. I also have seeds for 'Jack B. Little' pumpkins, several mild peppers, Charentais canteloupe, and 2" Strawberry popcorn, which I am waiting for warmer weather to sow. I'm just not sure how to fit everything in. My DH says he will build a trellis for the pumpkins, which will help. Can anyone suggest a book or give me guidelines for designing this area?


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I am moving in the very close future to a 10 acre piece of property but I have lived in this subdivision for over 10 yrs. I have tilled about 1/3rd of my back yard, maybe half with the various beds, and had a very intensely planted garden. I enjoy many different veggies and was determined to get them all in, LOL. I think the pros out-weigh the cons. It was always beautiful with all the plants and textures/colors. The only con I could think of would be the fact that in the heat and humidity of our summers, close planting isn't always helpful. The proper spacing is always good for things like tomatoes, which are my main focus. Lori


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RE: small but very productive garden

There was a time, over 20 years ago, when I briefly had plans to leave my agricultural lifestyle behind. While continuing my education, I lived on small lots and kept small gardens.

Two books helped me understand that I could continue as a gardener despite the confines of limited space. In all honesty, I've been searching and finding MORE space almost every year since. And, my plans for something other than a gardener's life were nothing more than pipe dreams (but that's another story. ;o)

I guess I should recommend the 1970's editions but there are fairly new editions available.

Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte

The Postage Stamp Garden Book by Duane Newcomb

Steve


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highalttransplant, this is what I did. Try to find the Square Foot Gardening book, I think you'll find it useful. Also look into the terms 'french intensive'.

Here's what I did last year with about 30 sq ft:







That is the result 1 month after planting, except for the tomatoes which were started in a greenhouse. Beans were grown on the wooden trellis but it was too cold at that point so I grew radishes in that area first.


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Our home is in town on 1/3 acre lot. We have converted most of our back yard to a combination of flower and vegetable gardens. The vegetable garden is 15'x15' and we have some raised beds as well. We expand the vegetable garden space using containers. I can't say we feed our family of two "quite well" with the garden, but what we grow makes a huge difference to us in quality and variety. We always seem to have plenty to share with neighbors and friends.

Here is what we grow in our small space in spring, summer and fall seasons: Tomatoes (slicing, salad and plum), eggplant, cucumbers, lettuce, scallions, peppers (bell, pablano and Thai), broccoli, spinach, kale, mustard greens, broccoli raab, swiss chard, snap beans, squash. I grew beets last year also. We grow herbs: rosemary, chives, sage, oregano, basils, thyme. You can save a lot of dollars growing your own fresh herbs (based on what the grocers charge in metro Atlanta).

Gardening is a joy to me. Seed companies offer varieties of vegetables now that were developed especially for small gardens. It is amazing how much food can be produced in a small space.


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Thanks Digit for those recommendations! I just ordered Carrots Love Tomatoes, and also Success with Small Food Gardens both by Louise Riotte. The Postage Stamp Garden Book was a bit expensive for the new addition, so I'll start with these other two. I don't want to blow ALL of my gardening budget on books. I haven't bought ANY compost or other soil ammendments yet, and NO I don't have a compost pile, the DH thinks they are an eyesore. I've thought about one of those space saving tumblers you see advertised, but they are kind of pricey.

Opal, I agree gardening is a joy, it is also an addiction, LOL! A couple of the pepper seeds I purchased were specifically designed for container gardening, so that will help with the space issue. How much room is needed for the canteloupe and popcorn? Those are the two that I am not sure I will have room for. I would also love to add cucumbers, if I could find a space saving variety. Maybe DH could build 2 trellises : )

The wooden boxes used in square foot gardening are not very attractive. I am planning on a curved bed to match the perennial bed on the other side of the house (see picture). Can I achieve a raised bed without the wooden boxes?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The right side of the house is where the herb/veggie bed will be in front of the fence. So you can see how visible it will be. Suggestions are welcomed.


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The wooden boxes are just a border, to separate the plants from other plants. You can use rocks or black plastic dividers (which is probably what you have on the left side already) or nothing at all. A raised bed is just a higher pile of dirt with plants growing in it. The wood frame is to keep the higher pile of dirt from washing away.

You could use native stone, perhaps something that would match the stone wall next to your doorway so as to echo that theme. Put it on both sides for symmetry.

If I were in your situation and wanted most of all to conform to someone else's idea of looks (the husband's), I'd plant that front area next to the walk with herbs (spinach, lettuce, dill, chives, parsley, marjoram, oregano, thyme, spearmint, and cilantro) and put any extras of the same at the front of the borders. I'd skip the popcorn, cantalope and pumpkins for different reasons. The popcorn won't fertilize well unless you plant it in a block, which your situation doesn't lend itself to. Or unless you're willing to hand pollinate every bit of it. The cantalope and pumpkins both spread and although both can be trained to a trellis, they are both "large fruit" plants and will require a lot of support and work to maintain.

I'd plant the peppers in the middle of the borders near the house and I'd intersperse them regularly with something else. Perhaps tomatoes: pepper, tomato, pepper, tomato, pepper, tomato, pepper. Pick pepper plants that have colorful pods. Some are bred specifically as ornamentals. You probably want to eat them, so you'd likely want to stick with the developed-for-eating varieties. For tomatoes, get dwarf plants, plants that won't grow more than 3' high, and/or be prepared to prune them. Or you could do pepper/potato in sequence. It's just something to break up the row and make it more attractive looking.

At the back of the border of the house and fence I'd put something that climbs that doesn't have a large fruit. Beans are a good choice, but cucumbers and some of the small gourds are okay too. Something to keep in mind is that to get to these plants at the back, you'll have to step past your other stuff, perhaps over them and maybe on them. So maybe you just want to put a climbing rose in the back. Another idea is a fan espalier dwarf fruit tree.

Something else I'd do is to edge the borders bigger, taking out some of that sod. This looks like a new house, so soil conditioning is very, very important. Most likely all the "dirt" under that sod is subsoil crapola, almost impossible to grow anything in. You'll need to amend heavily. Take a soil sample and send it to the local agricultural extension to best find out what you need to add.


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I think gamebird has some excellent suggestions, especially to make an herb garden of the beds along the walkway. Herbs are very frugal things to plant -- at least they are if you use them to cook! Everyone has made the point that you can grow a lot in a small amount of space, so I won't belabor the point. Until you try it, you would be astonished. Looking at your existing beds I see a LOT of usable space. Keeping it pretty will be the challenge, not trying to fit everything in.

If I were you, I would consider gardening intensively with low-growing plants like carrots and spinach and lettuce, and even broccoli and cabbage and kale. Then, I'd mix in some taller plants or large hardy herbs. Fennel, dill, some very short sunflowers. Don't forget a few attractive flowers for aesthetics and to attract beneficial pollinators. If these flowers are also edible, even better -- they add spice and beauty to dishes -- and have you PRICED edible flowers it the grocery store lately?!

I'd skip the rambling vines altogether: squash is never pretty and these kinds of vines take up a lot of space, even when they are highly productive. And it's already been pointed out corn won't work well, although an ornamental broom corn (sorghum) might be nice along the back as a backdrop.

A strawberry bed would also be fairly attractive but productive and a good bang for the buck, considering how expensive berries are.

I would also think long and hard about planting all or mostly perennials. This will help keep the "landscaped" look from year to year, and perennials like asparagus also bring a hefty bang for their buck in terms of grocery prices.


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You guys have given me such good input that I am still trying to absorb it all. Forgive me if I need to clarify a couple of the suggestions. Most of my vegetable gardening experience has been done in containers, except one "in the ground" garden about 15 years ago, which was an utter failure mostly due to being overambitious and clueless at the time.

Gamebird,
The existing beds have metal edging around them. We had plastic edging at our last home and it didn't hold up well. I like your suggestion of a natural stone edging though, it would give that bed it's own identity. When the beds were laid out a truckload of "composted topsoil" was laid down, but it was only slightly less bricklike than the original dirt! The perennials I planted are fine with it, as I picked mostly things that don't need rich soil and have low water needs since I live in a high desert climate. Is there a formula for how much compost you need per square feet of garden space when starting from scratch? Also, were you recommending that I plant the herbs in with the perennials in the beds that lay along the walkway that leads to the front door? And put the peppers in the bed that already exists along the front of the house, OR put them in the bed that I am going to make in front of the fence? The pumpkin seeds I have are for those tiny ornamental ones called Jack B. Little. I don't believe they are much bigger than cucumbers would be, though I'm not sure how long the vines get for them or the cucumbers. I just thought the kids would enjoy growing them. Plus I can decorate with them in the fall. BTW, I was in the same situation as you last year, pregnant while we were building and moving into our new home, delivered on June 17, which is one of the reasons why the landscaping didn't get done until September.

Alabamanicole,
That picture is a bit deceiving. It was taken in the fall right after the beds and sod were put in. There are currently over 50 perennials already planted, and over 30 more that will be planted next month (already bought and paid for). Everything was brand new in the picture, but once everything matures that is there now, plus the other plants that I've ordered, those beds will be packed. That is why I am adding this other area for the herbs/veggies. At first I bought the herb and pepper seeds thinking I could put them in containers on the porch, but then I realized I have way more than I can fit in that small area, and that's when I came up with the idea of expanding that bed that wraps around the porch. I love your idea of a strawberry patch, and I am trying to start some from seed, but I was informed on another forum that the deer will eat them like candy, so they will have to stay in containers on the patio in the backyard. It is funny you mentioned asparagus as I was given seeds for asparagus officinalis but I wasn't sure how much room they needed, and I thought it took 2 or 3 years before you were able to harvest them. Is that correct? Your suggestion about putting the lettuces, spinach, and carrots in the front, and taller herbs behind them is kind of what I thought might work, I'm just not sure how much space everything needs. It seems like if you follow the guidelines on the seed packets, you would need a lot more space than I am going to have.

Thank you guys for all of your suggestions, and your patience with all of my questions!

Bonnie


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Bonnie,

Don't follow the spacing on the seed packets. That works in big rows and single plantings, but it isn't necessary. You can put almost everything much closer together, and you can also stagger things by time (so early vegetables take up space but are harvested before later ones really start growing) and by shape, for example low growing vegetables that don't mind shade under taller ones that need lots of sun.

Of course, if you garden intensively, you need to pay a lot more attention to taking care of the soil.

Asparagus seeds -- yep, 3 years. 2 years for crowns. You'll get some spears earlier, but conventional wisdom is to not pick them and let them build up root strength that year for a healthier bed.

Strawberries from seed? Good heavens. Make your life easier and find someone with a mature bed that needs to thin it. You'll pass the favor on later! ;)


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I've slowly over the last 5 years turned my yard into a garden that produces enough for 4 all summer and I put up about 400 quarts of food for the winter. We only have a half lot. The guy who owned this place during the depression cut the lot in half and built his son a house on half of the original lot. If I had the other half of the lot I would definetly have more fruit trees.
In the back yard all available space is in wide passive veggie Beds, with the exeption of a 6 foot wide grass path down the middle, our shed and the compost bins.
One of the beds is a 100 square foot strawberry bed. There is a plum tree near the alley and a small home built green house for growing transplants and a few early tomatoes. i built a small cold frame for early and late greens and a few tables out side to harden plants off on. The shed has a small shop that I use to build the trellises and a canning kitchen, where I also wash pots and heat some of the water for sterilizing soil.
The front yard has a small flower bed that I now use to seperate a few plants from the rest of the garden when I want to save seed. There is also a long strip on the side of the house that we are getting ready to put into asparagus.
This year I going to dig a little bit more of my front yard to put in a permanant herb bed that will concintrate on herbs used more for hot tea than for cooking.
We still buy bannanas, a few bags of apples, and other fruit, but are able to grow all our own veggies and potatoes. When room is short I'll grow less carrots and buy 25 pound bags of them to fill out our veggie needs.


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My husband and I live in the Philadelphia suburbs on a plot of land that is only about a quarter acre. I keep a small vegetable garden a weird strip of land that is separated from the rest of the yard by the driveway. It's pretty small - I mostly use the Square Foot Gardening method. There are four 4x4 foot plots with 4x6 foot plots are each end of the garden.

One of the 4x4 plots is strictly strawberries, but the rest is all veggies. I have a pretty good yield usually - more tomatoes and beans that I can shake a stick at and enough of everything else that we have a constant source of fresh vegetables throughout the Summer and enough that I can preserve lots for the Winter, too.

I wanted to plant an orchard of dwarf trees along the back of our property, but there's too much shade. I did just buy two fig trees that I plan to keep in containers, and I'm considering yanking up some bushes on the side of the house and replacing them blueberries.


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RE: small but very productive garden

Wow! You guy are quite impressive. This is the book I read years ago and I really enjoyed and learn so much from it. Hopefully you guys will like this.

Back Yard Self Sufficiency (Aird Books 1993 $14.95 Australian,)

Once upon a time.....
When I was a child we lived in a new subdivision. Around us were neat gardens with shrubs and lawns, a small vegie garden or a few fruit trees. Except next door.

Mr Doo lived next door. He was one of the last Chinese market gardeners of the area. Like us, he had only a quarter acre. Unlike us, he used it all.

Thick clipped rows of trees and wide banks of vegetables, so closely planted it was hard to tell the celery from the cabbages; banks of edible chrysanthemums and tall red flowered vines on poles that dripped with beans. Mr Doo made his living on the same ground that provided us with lawn to mow on Sundays, a few roses and a sandpit, and had enough to give away as well.

Years later I learnt the old Australian ideal of self sufficiency from our next door neighbour. Jean learnt self sufficiency many decades ago - but it wasn't called self sufficiency then. It was just what everyone did in the depression, when money was short, supermarkets never thought of - and the nearest shop a day's journey away.

I remember my first dinner at Jeans. A roast chook- and indian game, small and sweet, with the chicken taste I'd forgotten from my childhood (todays frozen birds and even most free range ones don't taste of much at all). Potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, two sorts of beans and a small golden beetroot, all from the garden. Raspberries and cream for dessert - and through the window you could see the cow that gave the cream, chomping up the hill. It was sponge cake for supper, made with duck eggs and more of Sally's cream, and home grown passionfruit on top and home made raspberry jam.

Of the whole meal only a little flour and sugar were brought in.

Lunch was salad from the garden, fulfilled life.

A self sufficient garden needn't mean digging up the dahlias and putting the lawn down to potatoes. It just needs planning.

Almost Self Sufficient
I grow things because I enjoy it. The garden bulges with too many lettuce, radishes, parsnips, the apples are crowded into the mulberries and the strawberries are rambling through everything so its lucky the birds and wombats like them too.

I like having too much of everything. Maybe its a leftover siege mentality from my ancestors - when you never knew if you had to survive war or plague - or just a winter with no supermarkets, cans or freeze dried peas.

There's a difference, though, between growing most of what you eat and growing everything. It's easy to grow most of your fruit and vegetables on about a quarter acre- at least once you get into the swing of it. Its almost as easy to grow most of your own tea, mustard, herbs and spices. It's much much harder to produce everything.

For a while my son and I were almost completely self sufficient in food and a few other staples. This was from necessity, not choice. My income paid for petrol, preschool and not much else. We lived, and ate quite well. But I was glad when it was over.

Self sufficiency is as insular as it is exhausting. You turn in on yourself. And there is little leeway for a crisis.

During that time I got pneumonia. It's hard to be self sufficient when you're ill. Friends may be willing to help - but while neighbours a hundred years ago might have harvested your apple trees and collected your eggs, now adays they are more likely to expect to pick up your groceries for you. Neither the vegetable garden or the orchard need much work - but we had to pick the food, prepare it.

I began to long for canned tomatoes, lettuce that didn't have to be washed, potatoes ready washed, not in the ground. It's harvesting that's the most work in self sufficiency.

Growing nearly everything is easy. It's the final jump that is the trouble.

I'll probably never make our own soap again. But I'm glad to know I can do it. You can buy lovely home made soap in Braidwood, and I'll cherish that instead. I'll buy Sandy's pots and Robyn's rugs and Peter's honey, and let some one else do the milking. The knowledge is still there to do those things if they are needed. But now I choose the jobs with which I fill my life.

This book is not for those who want to be totally self sufficient. For those I have just this advice - don't do it. This book outlines the basic areas of self sufficiency. It is up to you which ones you want to practice.

How Much Work is 'Almost Self Sufficiency'?

The Urban Hunter Gatherer
Most of us don't have time to tend a garden - nurture it and coax it along. Luckily you don't have to break your back or dedicate your Sunday afternoons to be able to grow most of your own food.

Our garden provides most of our fruit and vegetables. Apart from the picking, it gets roughly half an hour a week, including lawn mowing. Through most of winter it doesn't even get this - and many weeks will go by when we don't do any work in the garden at all.

Of course its a mess. But it's a productive mess. (And I think a beautiful one.) If we came back in a hundred years it would still be providing food. It is a system that has been set up to feed us - and many other species - with a minimum of work and a maximum of productivity and beauty.

How do we do it?
Firstly it is planted - thickly - with productive perennial species- and many annuals that reseed themselves. Most gardens are badly underplanted. Thicker planting not only means you fit more in - it means that weeds can't enter, the ground is covered with greenery and doesn't dry out as fast; accumulated weeds and 'wastes' add organic matter to the soil - as do the bacteria associated with nitrogen fixers like clover, broom, wattles, lupins, casaurinas and the sweet peas that clamber through the trees.

We've got strawberries under fruit trees, 'wild' potato beds, garlic patches that grow themselves, indestructable providers like chokoes and Jerusalem artichokes and foliage turnips and hops and banana passionfruit. They are healthy plants in healthy fertile soil.

This is the second point. Healthy plants need less work. To have healthy plants you need healthy soil. Ours used not to be - it was so worked out that even grass wouldn't grow. but we mulched - and grew green mnaure crops (plants grown just to be slashed to add to the soil) and added hen manure and other organic matter - and now the soil is rich and black.

We don't use pesticides either. Why bother? We grow flowering shrubs and let vegetables go to seed to attract predators to do our pest control for us- and so much is growing that a little loss doesn't matter. We don't use herbicides either (except for testing). Every plant has a use - even if its just to be dug up to make compost or liquid manure.

Thirdly, we use 'no dig', low work gardens that need the minimum of maintenace from year to year.

The more you interfere with nature the more you have to maintain. A wombat track doesn't need maintaining - a bitumen road does. The more you weed your garden, the more weeds appear in the bare ground. the more you prune your trees the more you have to prune the lush new growth - and the more you have to feed them to make up for the prunings you've taken.

No one maintains the bush, but it keeps on feeding countless species. Once you establish a self sufficient system it should keep feeding you... and feeding you... and keep growing in productivity and beauty.

Why Grow Your Own?
I like growing our own food. It makes life richer. If you buy potatoes from the supermarket that's all you get - potatoes. This evening's spuds give memories too - grubbing them up with Edward this morning and listening to the lyrebird sing and smelling the soft damp soil. I remember Bryan mulching them with the wild oats he'd mown in the asparagus patch (and accidentally mowing the asparagus too). I remember when the spuds were first planted, years ago, and Mrs Hobbins down the road showed me how to bandicoot them so you always had a crop. There are a million memories in those potatoes.

There is something deeply satisfying in working with life's necessities - crops and shelter, children, other species.

There are other reasons, too, for growing your own. There is the knowledge that we as a household did not contribute to the Bhopal disaster, or any other of the tragedies that go to making pesticides for the wealthy. We don't support the fertilizer industry - our fertility is home grown or scavenged. And if it relied on people like us the food processing industry would go bust.

Every one of us, I think, has a little of our ancestors 'siege mentality' - a need to fill the cupboards and bolt the door. Growing your own is the best security you can have. It means your food is always fresh and unpolluted. It means you never have to worry about the cost of fruit and vegetables. (This year we fed most of our late peaches to the chooks - our friends were sick of them, and so were we. Strawberries? I haven't bothered picking them for weeks. As for beans - I think my family would go on strike if they were given the hard stringy things you buy in shops - or worse, watery frozen slips of green plastic. They like butter beans, or young five penny beans, or new Purple Kings.)

For us it's true wealth to give away the kiwi fruit, press limes on satiated friends, take armfuls of daffodils up to town to celebrate the spring and baskets of roses all through summer. Our standard of living is far higher than anyone on our income could expect - because we produce things ourselves that we would otherwise have to buy - and because any of the joys in our lives, from flowers to watching the birds splutter in the fountain, are things we don't have to pay for.

Anyone who has ever watched a child's face as they fill a basket of oranges or as they disappear to spend an hour in the raspberry beds, or let a child watch the progress of a seed as it becomes a vine and sprouts large melons - then let them pick it, all their own work - will know there is something very basic and very good about growing your own. This is after all what life's about - food and shelter, life and death and growing things. There is no better way to contact this than in a garden.

I, like all humans, am part of the earth. To work it, watch it, live within its rhythms - for me, that is the deepest satisfaction.

Chapter 1
Planning the Self Sufficient Garden
Knowing What to Plant
Getting to Know Yourself
Few of us today really know what we eat. This is because most of the food we eat is bought on impulse- or near impulse- weekly or even daily as we need it.

How many people know how many potatoes they eat a year- or even a week? How many apples, how much parsley, how many bunches of grapes?

Even adding together what you buy now won't necessarily tell you what you may decide to eat home grown. Peaches are expensive- but we feed the surplus to our geese. That means we don't buy goose food- or any number of 'cheaper' alternatives to peaches and cream for dessert.

Leftover avocados go into the compost, the harder bits of asparagus, beetroot that get a bit shrivelled. In the self sufficient garden nothing is wasted- because everything is recycled. What you don't eat goes to growing more, via the compost bin.

Home grown means you can indulge your taste for luxury.

It's taken me many years to work out what our family eats- how many brocolli plants we like, or brussel sprouts, how many artichokes, how many late peaches or early apricots..I've learnt what veg to plant near the kitchen door to grab when its raining or I want to prepare a meal quickly. I've leant when to expect visitors (like at Christmas and school holidays) and to plant my garden accordingly.

Looking at Your Garden

If you want a 'self sufficient ' garden you need to be able to look at your garden. Work out different ways of using space. I'm not advocating you dig up your roses or plant the kids sandpit. But nearly every garden has large areas that aren't used- the shady bit along the side, the awkward corner of the lawn where no one plays, the unused ground below the trees- even the strips of lawn beneath the clothes line or up the drive.

Start from the outside and work in.

Fences
Most fences don't grow anything. I hate naked fences - they look better green. Try -

. perennial climbing beans- they'll come up every year and give you thick wide beans you can eat young and tender or keep till they are old for 'dried' beans. They'll also cover your fence with greenery and bright red flowers

. chokos- eat the shoots as well as the fruit

. hops- hops die down in winter and ramble all over the place in summer. Eat the young shoots in early spring; make beer from the flowers or use them to stuff hop pillows.

. passionfruit in frost free places; banana passionfruit in cold areas

. loganberries, marionberries, boysenberries and other climbing berries, trained up wire stapled to the fence

. grapes - there are hundreds of grape varieties in Australia - suitable for any area, from snowy winters to tropical summers

. flowering climbers like clematis, wonga vine, perennial sweet peas bougainvillea, jasmine, rambling roses - to attract birds, predaceous insects and for pleasure

. edible Chinese convulvulus

. sweet potatoes (temperate areas only)

. or use your fence to stake up tomatoes, peas, broad beans.

Fruit Trees
The area next to the fence is the best for large fruit trees. Hedge your garden boundaries with tall fruit trees. Plant them 2 metres apart. They'll grow tall to reach the sun and the branches will tangle - but this means birds won't find most of the fruit (though you will) and tall trees bear as much fruit as wide ones - you just have to climb the tree or use a fruit picker on a tall stick to get the crop. This way you'll be able to have a far greater variety of fruit than you would with a normally planted orchard.

With close planting a normal backyard block will have at least twenty fruit trees. The selection is up to you- what grows best in your area and what you like to eat. As a basic rule I'd suggest three apples (late early and medium) one valencia and one navel orange if frost permits; one lemon (in cold areas try bush lemons or citronelles- the other trees will help shelter them from the frost); a loquat for earliest of all fruit, and the rest according to preference. Remember that early and late varieties may be separated by three months or more- two plums of the same variety may be too may for you to use if they cropped at the same time; but a January ripener will be finished by the time late season ones come in.

Plant dwarf fruit trees along paths as a hedge - dwarf apples, dawf peaches, pomegranates or nectarines - or trees like hazelnuts that can be trimmed to a neat hedge.

Small fruit
Next to the trees plant 'small fruit' - raspberries, blueberries tamarilloes, pepinoes, pineapples, tamarilloes, elder trees for flowers and berries, kumquats, guavas strawberry guavas, chilean hazelnuts.

Most 'small fruit' is naturally an understory crop anyway- they accept shade for at least part of the day. They will also cast much less shade over the next part of your garden. You can also plant 'small fruit' among the 'permanent' beds.

Permanent Beds

These are the crops you plant once and harvest for the rest of your life. I think they're wonderful - a bit of mulching and they keep rewarding you.

Asparagus
This is the first spring crop - fat tender spears that will keep shooting for months. We eat asparagus twice a day from September to December. Modern varieties crop in two years. Don't be put off by its reputation as hard to grow - asparagus just needs feeding. Ours has survived scratching lyrebirds, drought, fire and flooding - but with a bit of mulch it's good as new.

Artichokes
Artichokes are a form of thistle. Once established they crop every spring, tolerate drought and heavy frost and keep multiplying. Their foliage is grey and pretty. Eat them small.

Dandelions
Eat the young spring greens as a salad or like silver beet- they are bitter in summer heat but can be blanched in boiling water. Eat the roots like parsnip or bake and grind for coffee.

Rhubarb
Some rhubarbs are small and red; some fat and green; some produce through winter but most die down. All are hardy once established. the more you feed and mulch them the more you'll get.

Rocket
This is a peppery salad green; it reseeds itself after flowering and spreads. Very hardy.

Sorrel
Once you have sorrel you'll always have it. It's perennial but seeds and spreads. A bit bitter but makes a good soup, sauce for fish or addition to salads.

Chicory
Eat the leaves; dig up the root in autumn and eat like parsnip.

Sweet potatoes
These are frost tender. Plant a sprouting sweet potato and let it ramble. The tubers you don't dig up will shoot next year.

Ginger
for warm areas only. Grow like sweet potatoes.

Kumeras
These are really an annual but will come up every year from bits left from last year. They are 'New Zealand sweet potato'- really a form of oxalis- and tolerate frost. Keep them weed free. Buy the tubers from a good greengrocer.

Plants for out of the Way Corners

Horseradish
This is a good 'under tree' crop. Plant a piece of root and it will ramble all over the moist ground. The leaves are also edible (like silverbeet) but a bit hot for most tastes.

Jerusalem Artichokes
These are a form of sunflower - wonderful tall colour in late summer. Plant a few and they'll multiply like the loaves and fishes and you'll never be rid of them. Dig up the tubers in autumn and bake them, boil, them, fry them or make soup. Tasty but gas producing.

Arrowroot
You can eat this like sweet potato, or grate it and wash out the starch for arrowroot thickener. It looks like a canna lily - it is, canna edulis, high as you waist and pretty.

Bamboo
Eat the shoots in spring- these fresh 'bamboo shoots' taste better than any out of a can. Slice them into boiling water and leave for ten minutes or till they are no lgh to keep us in most vegetables for most meals with very little work. Then if I have time I plant the 'luxuries'. Basic crops include silverbeet (a dozen plants will give you most of your greens for a year), tomatoes because they grow themselves, as do pumpkins. Broccoli can be planted once and harvested for the next year, as long as you pick it every day.Vegetable gardens don't have to be a lot of work. (In a later article I'll talk about 'ten minute' gardens- gardens that take ten minutes to make and plant, and only ten minutes of work a week.)

Consider 'indestructables' like Chinese mustard, Chinese cabbage, Chinese celery and collards. These are all frost, heat and drought hardy greens, slightly tougher than their Aussie counterparts. Collards are like cabbage leaves - eat them the same way. They are slightly tougher but very, very hardy and prolific.

If you really enjoy growing your own there's no reason why you shouldn't have a bed of rice or wheat. I've grown both in the backyard - a square metre will give you a bucketful. The taste is wonderful.

House Walls
This is one of the most valuable areas of your garden. House walls store a lot of heat - and you can use them as a microclimate to grow fruit that may not survive in the open garden. We grow passionfruit on a pergola next to the walls here, bananas up the walls and sweet potatoes, cardamom and other frost tender plants in a garden below them.

Plant espaliered fruit trees - heat loving ones - next to the heat absorbing wall of your house. Put frost tender ones like avocados and oranges facing north. (This way even many Tasmanian gardens can grow sub tropical fruit - walled gardens are good too).

Pergolas
Pergolas cool the house in summer.Look for deciduous bearers like grapes, kiwi fruit, perennial peas, chokos or hops. Consider passionfruit or pepper in hot areas.

Lawns
Look at your lawn - work out how much of it is used - then plant the rest. Let pumpkins wander over it; plant potatoes; fill up the edges with small fruit like pepinoes, brambleberries, raspberries, kumquats, blueberries.

Under the clothes line
This is a low use area - trodden on only when you hang out the washing or bring it in. Surround the base of your clothes line with a couple of rosemary bushes or lavender (it'll make the clothes smell all the sweeter); pave underneath it, leaving lots of spaces for herbs like marjoram, oregano, chamomile and mints that don't mind being trodden on.

Under the Trees, Round the Back and Under the Pergola -

Edible Plants for Shady Areas
Many plants need shade or semi shade - especially those that originated as understorey plants in forests. Make use of shady spots with a ground cover of:

Asparagus
Asparagus tolerates semi-shade from a pergola above it - but not deep shade. I grow asparagus under the kiwi fruit - the asparagus bears before the kiwi fruit comes into leaf in spring.

Blueberries
Blueberries tolerate light but not deep shade. You can also plant them where they get morning sun but afternoon shade.

Cape gooseberries
These grow well under trees - especially in frosty areas where the trees give some protection.

Lettuce
In hot areas lettuce grows best under a pergola; even in temperate area lettuce tolerate light shade and will grow under trees such as peach or almond that don't shade the ground completely.

Parsley
See lettuce. We grow parsley under the kiwi fruit - or rather it grows itself, reseeding every year.

Sorrel
This is a leafy, slightly bitter green. Grow it under trees.

Strawberries
These are forest plants and grow best under trees. They are shallow rooted and won't compete with tree roots. Make sure they have plenty of phosphorus.

Don't grow grass in your shady areas - it'll choke out the fruit. I grow violets instead.

Growing Upwards
Even in a very small garden you can 'borrow space' - by growing upward. Put up trellises and grow vegetables vertically instead of horizontally. Wherever possible I grow climbing varieties. They take up less room- and you only need to weed the small area at the base of the trellis. We grow climbing tomatoes, beans, peas as well as the standard cucumbers and melons.

Consider window boxes. Stick poles in the middle of the garden for grapes to wander up - they don't have to be spread out - a ten foot pole give a lot of grapes and takes almost no room - or chokos or passionfruit. Grow passionfruit or grape vines through your trees.

Make terraces for flowers, vegetables and small fruits like gooseberries and raspberries. Terraces give you much more planting space than flat ground. You can make terraces with railway sleepers or bricks or rocks, or even old tyres scavenged from the local garage. Build them as high as you can be bothered- the more tiers the more space.

Three Tier Planting
What I've described above is a classic peasant garden. Peasant gardens are 'three tier' gardens' - a framework of trees with small bushes and low crops between them. The third tier is animals - chooks, ducks, rabbits,guinea pigs, geese, guinea fowl.

Rethink all waste space. Plant the drive with strawberries - you'll squash a few berries sometimes - but that's better than no harvest at all. Plant out the nature strip - preferably with plants that passers by won't recognise are edible and pinch - tea camellias, loquats, medlars, pomegranates, japonica (make jam or stew the fruit), Irish strawberries, guavas, hibiscus, kurrajong, elderberries, oaks for acorns for hen food, jojoba, white mulberries, bamboo for shoots.

Even a small backyard should be able to grow about 40 trees, thousands of strawberry plants, several dozen berry bushes and climbing berries and a good number of fruiting shrubs.

Self sufficient gardens are beautiful - a ramble of productivity, a profusion of smells and colour. We've forgotten how beautiful edible plants can be: fat red apples and tendrils of grapes, bountiful chokos and soft feathery fennel, the wide bright blooms of passionfruit, the scent of orange blossom on a summer night. It's like a Garden of Eden in your own backyard.

Back Yard Self Sufficiency (Aird Books 1993 $14.95 Australian,)

Once upon a time.....
When I was a child we lived in a new subdivision. Around us were neat gardens with shrubs and lawns, a small vegie garden or a few fruit trees. Except next door.

Mr Doo lived next door. He was one of the last Chinese market gardeners of the area. Like us, he had only a quarter acre. Unlike us, he used it all.

Thick clipped rows of trees and wide banks of vegetables, so closely planted it was hard to tell the celery from the cabbages; banks of edible chrysanthemums and tall red flowered vines on poles that dripped with beans. Mr Doo made his living on the same ground that provided us with lawn to mow on Sundays, a few roses and a sandpit, and had enough to give away as well.

Years later I learnt the old Australian ideal of self sufficiency from our next door neighbour. Jean learnt self sufficiency many decades ago - but it wasn't called self sufficiency then. It was just what everyone did in the depression, when money was short, supermarkets never thought of - and the nearest shop a day's journey away.

I remember my first dinner at Jeans. A roast chook- and indian game, small and sweet, with the chicken taste I'd forgotten from my childhood (todays frozen birds and even most free range ones don't taste of much at all). Potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, two sorts of beans and a small golden beetroot, all from the garden. Raspberries and cream for dessert - and through the window you could see the cow that gave the cream, chomping up the hill. It was sponge cake for supper, made with duck eggs and more of Sally's cream, and home grown passionfruit on top and home made raspberry jam.

Of the whole meal only a little flour and sugar were brought in.

Lunch was salad from the garden, fulfilled life.

A self sufficient garden needn't mean digging up the dahlias and putting the lawn down to potatoes. It just needs planning.

Almost Self Sufficient
I grow things because I enjoy it. The garden bulges with too many lettuce, radishes, parsnips, the apples are crowded into the mulberries and the strawberries are rambling through everything so its lucky the birds and wombats like them too.

I like having too much of everything. Maybe its a leftover siege mentality from my ancestors - when you never knew if you had to survive war or plague - or just a winter with no supermarkets, cans or freeze dried peas.

There's a difference, though, between growing most of what you eat and growing everything. It's easy to grow most of your fruit and vegetables on about a quarter acre- at least once you get into the swing of it. Its almost as easy to grow most of your own tea, mustard, herbs and spices. It's much much harder to produce everything.

For a while my son and I were almost completely self sufficient in food and a few other staples. This was from necessity, not choice. My income paid for petrol, preschool and not much else. We lived, and ate quite well. But I was glad when it was over.

Self sufficiency is as insular as it is exhausting. You turn in on yourself. And there is little leeway for a crisis.

During that time I got pneumonia. It's hard to be self sufficient when you're ill. Friends may be willing to help - but while neighbours a hundred years ago might have harvested your apple trees and collected your eggs, now adays they are more likely to expect to pick up your groceries for you. Neither the vegetable garden or the orchard need much work - but we had to pick the food, prepare it.

I began to long for canned tomatoes, lettuce that didn't have to be washed, potatoes ready washed, not in the ground. It's harvesting that's the most work in self sufficiency.

Growing nearly everything is easy. It's the final jump that is the trouble.

I'll probably never make our own soap again. But I'm glad to know I can do it. You can buy lovely home made soap in Braidwood, and I'll cherish that instead. I'll buy Sandy's pots and Robyn's rugs and Peter's honey, and let some one else do the milking. The knowledge is still there to do those things if they are needed. But now I choose the jobs with which I fill my life.

This book is not for those who want to be totally self sufficient. For those I have just this advice - don't do it. This book outlines the basic areas of self sufficiency. It is up to you which ones you want to practice.

How Much Work is 'Almost Self Sufficiency'?

The Urban Hunter Gatherer
Most of us don't have time to tend a garden - nurture it and coax it along. Luckily you don't have to break your back or dedicate your Sunday afternoons to be able to grow most of your own food.

Our garden provides most of our fruit and vegetables. Apart from the picking, it gets roughly half an hour a week, including lawn mowing. Through most of winter it doesn't even get this - and many weeks will go by when we don't do any work in the garden at all.

Of course its a mess. But it's a productive mess. (And I think a beautiful one.) If we came back in a hundred years it would still be providing food. It is a system that has been set up to feed us - and many other species - with a minimum of work and a maximum of productivity and beauty.

How do we do it?
Firstly it is planted - thickly - with productive perennial species- and many annuals that reseed themselves. Most gardens are badly underplanted. Thicker planting not only means you fit more in - it means that weeds can't enter, the ground is covered with greenery and doesn't dry out as fast; accumulated weeds and 'wastes' add organic matter to the soil - as do the bacteria associated with nitrogen fixers like clover, broom, wattles, lupins, casaurinas and the sweet peas that clamber through the trees.

We've got strawberries under fruit trees, 'wild' potato beds, garlic patches that grow themselves, indestructable providers like chokoes and Jerusalem artichokes and foliage turnips and hops and banana passionfruit. They are healthy plants in healthy fertile soil.

This is the second point. Healthy plants need less work. To have healthy plants you need healthy soil. Ours used not to be - it was so worked out that even grass wouldn't grow. but we mulched - and grew green mnaure crops (plants grown just to be slashed to add to the soil) and added hen manure and other organic matter - and now the soil is rich and black.

We don't use pesticides either. Why bother? We grow flowering shrubs and let vegetables go to seed to attract predators to do our pest control for us- and so much is growing that a little loss doesn't matter. We don't use herbicides either (except for testing). Every plant has a use - even if its just to be dug up to make compost or liquid manure.

Thirdly, we use 'no dig', low work gardens that need the minimum of maintenace from year to year.

The more you interfere with nature the more you have to maintain. A wombat track doesn't need maintaining - a bitumen road does. The more you weed your garden, the more weeds appear in the bare ground. the more you prune your trees the more you have to prune the lush new growth - and the more you have to feed them to make up for the prunings you've taken.

No one maintains the bush, but it keeps on feeding countless species. Once you establish a self sufficient system it should keep feeding you... and feeding you... and keep growing in productivity and beauty.

Why Grow Your Own?
I like growing our own food. It makes life richer. If you buy potatoes from the supermarket that's all you get - potatoes. This evening's spuds give memories too - grubbing them up with Edward this morning and listening to the lyrebird sing and smelling the soft damp soil. I remember Bryan mulching them with the wild oats he'd mown in the asparagus patch (and accidentally mowing the asparagus too). I remember when the spuds were first planted, years ago, and Mrs Hobbins down the road showed me how to bandicoot them so you always had a crop. There are a million memories in those potatoes.

There is something deeply satisfying in working with life's necessities - crops and shelter, children, other species.

There are other reasons, too, for growing your own. There is the knowledge that we as a household did not contribute to the Bhopal disaster, or any other of the tragedies that go to making pesticides for the wealthy. We don't support the fertilizer industry - our fertility is home grown or scavenged. And if it relied on people like us the food processing industry would go bust.

Every one of us, I think, has a little of our ancestors 'siege mentality' - a need to fill the cupboards and bolt the door. Growing your own is the best security you can have. It means your food is always fresh and unpolluted. It means you never have to worry about the cost of fruit and vegetables. (This year we fed most of our late peaches to the chooks - our friends were sick of them, and so were we. Strawberries? I haven't bothered picking them for weeks. As for beans - I think my family would go on strike if they were given the hard stringy things you buy in shops - or worse, watery frozen slips of green plastic. They like butter beans, or young five penny beans, or new Purple Kings.)

For us it's true wealth to give away the kiwi fruit, press limes on satiated friends, take armfuls of daffodils up to town to celebrate the spring and baskets of roses all through summer. Our standard of living is far higher than anyone on our income could expect - because we produce things ourselves that we would otherwise have to buy - and because any of the joys in our lives, from flowers to watching the birds splutter in the fountain, are things we don't have to pay for.

Anyone who has ever watched a child's face as they fill a basket of oranges or as they disappear to spend an hour in the raspberry beds, or let a child watch the progress of a seed as it becomes a vine and sprouts large melons - then let them pick it, all their own work - will know there is something very basic and very good about growing your own. This is after all what life's about - food and shelter, life and death and growing things. There is no better way to contact this than in a garden.

I, like all humans, am part of the earth. To work it, watch it, live within its rhythms - for me, that is the deepest satisfaction.

Chapter 1
Planning the Self Sufficient Garden
Knowing What to Plant
Getting to Know Yourself
Few of us today really know what we eat. This is because most of the food we eat is bought on impulse- or near impulse- weekly or even daily as we need it.

How many people know how many potatoes they eat a year- or even a week? How many apples, how much parsley, how many bunches of grapes?

Even adding together what you buy now won't necessarily tell you what you may decide to eat home grown. Peaches are expensive- but we feed the surplus to our geese. That means we don't buy goose food- or any number of 'cheaper' alternatives to peaches and cream for dessert.

Leftover avocados go into the compost, the harder bits of asparagus, beetroot that get a bit shrivelled. In the self sufficient garden nothing is wasted- because everything is recycled. What you don't eat goes to growing more, via the compost bin.

Home grown means you can indulge your taste for luxury.

It's taken me many years to work out what our family eats- how many brocolli plants we like, or brussel sprouts, how many artichokes, how many late peaches or early apricots..I've learnt what veg to plant near the kitchen door to grab when its raining or I want to prepare a meal quickly. I've leant when to expect visitors (like at Christmas and school holidays) and to plant my garden accordingly.

Looking at Your Garden

If you want a 'self sufficient ' garden you need to be able to look at your garden. Work out different ways of using space. I'm not advocating you dig up your roses or plant the kids sandpit. But nearly every garden has large areas that aren't used- the shady bit along the side, the awkward corner of the lawn where no one plays, the unused ground below the trees- even the strips of lawn beneath the clothes line or up the drive.

Start from the outside and work in.

Fences
Most fences don't grow anything. I hate naked fences - they look better green. Try -

. perennial climbing beans- they'll come up every year and give you thick wide beans you can eat young and tender or keep till they are old for 'dried' beans. They'll also cover your fence with greenery and bright red flowers

. chokos- eat the shoots as well as the fruit

. hops- hops die down in winter and ramble all over the place in summer. Eat the young shoots in early spring; make beer from the flowers or use them to stuff hop pillows.

. passionfruit in frost free places; banana passionfruit in cold areas

. loganberries, marionberries, boysenberries and other climbing berries, trained up wire stapled to the fence

. grapes - there are hundreds of grape varieties in Australia - suitable for any area, from snowy winters to tropical summers

. flowering climbers like clematis, wonga vine, perennial sweet peas bougainvillea, jasmine, rambling roses - to attract birds, predaceous insects and for pleasure

. edible Chinese convulvulus

. sweet potatoes (temperate areas only)

. or use your fence to stake up tomatoes, peas, broad beans.

Fruit Trees
The area next to the fence is the best for large fruit trees. Hedge your garden boundaries with tall fruit trees. Plant them 2 metres apart. They'll grow tall to reach the sun and the branches will tangle - but this means birds won't find most of the fruit (though you will) and tall trees bear as much fruit as wide ones - you just have to climb the tree or use a fruit picker on a tall stick to get the crop. This way you'll be able to have a far greater variety of fruit than you would with a normally planted orchard.

With close planting a normal backyard block will have at least twenty fruit trees. The selection is up to you- what grows best in your area and what you like to eat. As a basic rule I'd suggest three apples (late early and medium) one valencia and one navel orange if frost permits; one lemon (in cold areas try bush lemons or citronelles- the other trees will help shelter them from the frost); a loquat for earliest of all fruit, and the rest according to preference. Remember that early and late varieties may be separated by three months or more- two plums of the same variety may be too may for you to use if they cropped at the same time; but a January ripener will be finished by the time late season ones come in.

Plant dwarf fruit trees along paths as a hedge - dwarf apples, dawf peaches, pomegranates or nectarines - or trees like hazelnuts that can be trimmed to a neat hedge.

Small fruit
Next to the trees plant 'small fruit' - raspberries, blueberries tamarilloes, pepinoes, pineapples, tamarilloes, elder trees for flowers and berries, kumquats, guavas strawberry guavas, chilean hazelnuts.

Most 'small fruit' is naturally an understory crop anyway- they accept shade for at least part of the day. They will also cast much less shade over the next part of your garden. You can also plant 'small fruit' among the 'permanent' beds.

Permanent Beds

These are the crops you plant once and harvest for the rest of your life. I think they're wonderful - a bit of mulching and they keep rewarding you.

Asparagus
This is the first spring crop - fat tender spears that will keep shooting for months. We eat asparagus twice a day from September to December. Modern varieties crop in two years. Don't be put off by its reputation as hard to grow - asparagus just needs feeding. Ours has survived scratching lyrebirds, drought, fire and flooding - but with a bit of mulch it's good as new.

Artichokes
Artichokes are a form of thistle. Once established they crop every spring, tolerate drought and heavy frost and keep multiplying. Their foliage is grey and pretty. Eat them small.

Dandelions
Eat the young spring greens as a salad or like silver beet- they are bitter in summer heat but can be blanched in boiling water. Eat the roots like parsnip or bake and grind for coffee.

Rhubarb
Some rhubarbs are small and red; some fat and green; some produce through winter but most die down. All are hardy once established. the more you feed and mulch them the more you'll get.

Rocket
This is a peppery salad green; it reseeds itself after flowering and spreads. Very hardy.

Sorrel
Once you have sorrel you'll always have it. It's perennial but seeds and spreads. A bit bitter but makes a good soup, sauce for fish or addition to salads.

Chicory
Eat the leaves; dig up the root in autumn and eat like parsnip.

Sweet potatoes
These are frost tender. Plant a sprouting sweet potato and let it ramble. The tubers you don't dig up will shoot next year.

Ginger
for warm areas only. Grow like sweet potatoes.

Kumeras
These are really an annual but will come up every year from bits left from last year. They are 'New Zealand sweet potato'- really a form of oxalis- and tolerate frost. Keep them weed free. Buy the tubers from a good greengrocer.

Plants for out of the Way Corners

Horseradish
This is a good 'under tree' crop. Plant a piece of root and it will ramble all over the moist ground. The leaves are also edible (like silverbeet) but a bit hot for most tastes.

Jerusalem Artichokes
These are a form of sunflower - wonderful tall colour in late summer. Plant a few and they'll multiply like the loaves and fishes and you'll never be rid of them. Dig up the tubers in autumn and bake them, boil, them, fry them or make soup. Tasty but gas producing.

Arrowroot
You can eat this like sweet potato, or grate it and wash out the starch for arrowroot thickener. It looks like a canna lily - it is, canna edulis, high as you waist and pretty.

Bamboo
Eat the shoots in spring- these fresh 'bamboo shoots' taste better than any out of a can. Slice them into boiling water and leave for ten minutes or till they are no lgh to keep us in most vegetables for most meals with very little work. Then if I have time I plant the 'luxuries'. Basic crops include silverbeet (a dozen plants will give you most of your greens for a year), tomatoes because they grow themselves, as do pumpkins. Broccoli can be planted once and harvested for the next year, as long as you pick it every day.Vegetable gardens don't have to be a lot of work. (In a later article I'll talk about 'ten minute' gardens- gardens that take ten minutes to make and plant, and only ten minutes of work a week.)

Consider 'indestructables' like Chinese mustard, Chinese cabbage, Chinese celery and collards. These are all frost, heat and drought hardy greens, slightly tougher than their Aussie counterparts. Collards are like cabbage leaves - eat them the same way. They are slightly tougher but very, very hardy and prolific.

If you really enjoy growing your own there's no reason why you shouldn't have a bed of rice or wheat. I've grown both in the backyard - a square metre will give you a bucketful. The taste is wonderful.

House Walls
This is one of the most valuable areas of your garden. House walls store a lot of heat - and you can use them as a microclimate to grow fruit that may not survive in the open garden. We grow passionfruit on a pergola next to the walls here, bananas up the walls and sweet potatoes, cardamom and other frost tender plants in a garden below them.

Plant espaliered fruit trees - heat loving ones - next to the heat absorbing wall of your house. Put frost tender ones like avocados and oranges facing north. (This way even many Tasmanian gardens can grow sub tropical fruit - walled gardens are good too).

Pergolas
Pergolas cool the house in summer.Look for deciduous bearers like grapes, kiwi fruit, perennial peas, chokos or hops. Consider passionfruit or pepper in hot areas.

Lawns
Look at your lawn - work out how much of it is used - then plant the rest. Let pumpkins wander over it; plant potatoes; fill up the edges with small fruit like pepinoes, brambleberries, raspberries, kumquats, blueberries.

Under the clothes line
This is a low use area - trodden on only when you hang out the washing or bring it in. Surround the base of your clothes line with a couple of rosemary bushes or lavender (it'll make the clothes smell all the sweeter); pave underneath it, leaving lots of spaces for herbs like marjoram, oregano, chamomile and mints that don't mind being trodden on.

Under the Trees, Round the Back and Under the Pergola -

Edible Plants for Shady Areas
Many plants need shade or semi shade - especially those that originated as understorey plants in forests. Make use of shady spots with a ground cover of:

Asparagus
Asparagus tolerates semi-shade from a pergola above it - but not deep shade. I grow asparagus under the kiwi fruit - the asparagus bears before the kiwi fruit comes into leaf in spring.

Blueberries
Blueberries tolerate light but not deep shade. You can also plant them where they get morning sun but afternoon shade.

Cape gooseberries
These grow well under trees - especially in frosty areas where the trees give some protection.

Lettuce
In hot areas lettuce grows best under a pergola; even in temperate area lettuce tolerate light shade and will grow under trees such as peach or almond that don't shade the ground completely.

Parsley
See lettuce. We grow parsley under the kiwi fruit - or rather it grows itself, reseeding every year.

Sorrel
This is a leafy, slightly bitter green. Grow it under trees.

Strawberries
These are forest plants and grow best under trees. They are shallow rooted and won't compete with tree roots. Make sure they have plenty of phosphorus.

Don't grow grass in your shady areas - it'll choke out the fruit. I grow violets instead.

Growing Upwards
Even in a very small garden you can 'borrow space' - by growing upward. Put up trellises and grow vegetables vertically instead of horizontally. Wherever possible I grow climbing varieties. They take up less room- and you only need to weed the small area at the base of the trellis. We grow climbing tomatoes, beans, peas as well as the standard cucumbers and melons.

Consider window boxes. Stick poles in the middle of the garden for grapes to wander up - they don't have to be spread out - a ten foot pole give a lot of grapes and takes almost no room - or chokos or passionfruit. Grow passionfruit or grape vines through your trees.

Make terraces for flowers, vegetables and small fruits like gooseberries and raspberries. Terraces give you much more planting space than flat ground. You can make terraces with railway sleepers or bricks or rocks, or even old tyres scavenged from the local garage. Build them as high as you can be bothered- the more tiers the more space.

Three Tier Planting
What I've described above is a classic peasant garden. Peasant gardens are 'three tier' gardens' - a framework of trees with small bushes and low crops between them. The third tier is animals - chooks, ducks, rabbits,guinea pigs, geese, guinea fowl.

Rethink all waste space. Plant the drive with strawberries - you'll squash a few berries sometimes - but that's better than no harvest at all. Plant out the nature strip - preferably with plants that passers by won't recognise are edible and pinch - tea camellias, loquats, medlars, pomegranates, japonica (make jam or stew the fruit), Irish strawberries, guavas, hibiscus, kurrajong, elderberries, oaks for acorns for hen food, jojoba, white mulberries, bamboo for shoots.

Even a small backyard should be able to grow about 40 trees, thousands of strawberry plants, several dozen berry bushes and climbing berries and a good number of fruiting shrubs.

Self sufficient gardens are beautiful - a ramble of productivity, a profusion of smells and colour. We've forgotten how beautiful edible plants can be: fat red apples and tendrils of grapes, bountiful chokos and soft feathery fennel, the wide bright blooms of passionfruit, the scent of orange blossom on a summer night. It's like a Garden of Eden in your own backyard.


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RE: small but very productive garden

Kumquatlady,

I really enjoyed reading your last post since I was actually looking at doing something as described above. Since this is only my second year in gardening, I found the above infomation a tremendous amount of encouragement as well as wisdom. Thank you for sharing this, I really think that I need to buy that book. Thanks again,

Melanie


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RE: small but very productive garden

Melanie,

You're welcome. Isn't it a wonderful book? I am glad that you enjoyed it as much as I did. I wish they have more of these realistic, funtional, informative garden books.
I've used her book for shaping and designing my garden and the result is very fufilling and rewarding.


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RE: small but very productive garden

Ah... a wonderful thread!


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RE: small but very productive garden

My small but productive garden consists of two 5X5 raised beds, two 4X5 raised beds, a length along the fence 2X10 feet long, and a large pot on cement. This is what it produced this year:

#1 4X5 - garlic planted in the front half, butternut and acorn squash in the back half. By the time the squash started taking over, the garlic was ready to harvest and get out of the way. The squash is now trailing over the entire square and onto the cement patio.

#2 4X5 - spinach densely planted in the front half, snowpeas in the back half with radishes planted with the peas. Radishes were ready quickly, spinach was ready long before the peas. I harvested the spinach towards the middle first, leaving a strip of the middle third where the spinach and radishes used to be. I planted two rows of bush beans in the middle strip, 4 green bean plants and 4 yellow beans. Once the spinach was all done, that left the front third empty which I saved for planting fall peas. The snow peas are done now as well and I am considering using the back strip for fall peas as well. Bush beans have slowed down production, but still giving some. Which is a good thing, we are getting a little sick of beans.

#1 5X5 - Dedicated to strawberries. It was a decent harvest for 1st year planted strawberries. I hope next year is better though. They are Fort Laramie, which are supposed to be fall bearing as well, so we will see what we get for fall. These ones runnered all over once the berries were finished, making it very thick with plants.

#2 5X5 - Tomatoes and hot peppers. I have Supersonic tomatoes and Red Pears. The Red Pear is growing everywhere. They grew over the top of a 5 foot tall cage and have flopped over the sides and have almost trailed back down onto the ground. If I held them upright, they would be over 8 feet tall. I had no idea they would get that large. I am impressed with the amount of clusters on the plant. The Supersonics, while not nearly as tall, are still producing well enough for our family. They just started ripening and we have been enjoying toasted tomato sandwiches. The peppers are Hot Portugals and Long Slim Cayennes. The long slims are turning ripe now. We have enjoyed one and there are two more ready. The hot portugals just started turning red yesterday.

2X10 along the fence - This is separated into 2X2 squares and planted with herbs. I have basil, oregano and chives growing. I left one portion unseparated as a 2X4 ft area and grew lettuce in tht area earier. Now, I have put in stakes and twine and am using that for fall peas as well. I need lots of space for peas. They seem to be the favourite here. Well, behind the strawberry.

1 large pot - In this pot I have peppermint growing. My son just enjoyed some hot chocolate with peppermint leaves in it today. Blazing hot day and he comes in from the pool wanting mint hot chocolate. Crazy kid.

So, is this productive enough for such a small space?


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RE: small but very productive garden

Kumquatlady - that's an impressive document! I didn't know a lot of the fruit names and I'm envious of your more tropical growing climate that allows such diversity!


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RE: small but very productive garden

this comes long after this thread seems to have dried up. so to speak, but I have only now come across it. I'm not sure whether anyone else will see this or not, but here goes.
It is finally spring in my side of the world (South Africa), and after a particularly long cold and wet winter, things are finally happening. I have a VERY small garden, 2x +/- 4x3 meters in the middle of the city.the one half is a shade garden under a big avocado tree, and I've left that to ferns and other ornamentals (but have snuck in some mint recently)

the other half (I'm sure you will all think I'm mad but I am so glad to see life in the garden again, I have a desperate compulsion to share) has: 2 lemon trees,3 chilli 'trees (1m high), several perennial chilli bushes (scraggly now, but improving), too much (overcrowded) lettuce,rocket (normal and wild),sorrel,thyme (2 types), oreganum (2 types), rosemary (2t), marjoram, basil (babies)+ perennial, chamomile, curry plant,parsley, celery, mint, spinach, mustard, pak choy, bok choy, carrots, radishes, broad, runner and bush beans, peas, chives, spring onions, sage and a few marigolds for pest control.
I've probably forgotten a few in my haste to share my excitement with people who (I assume) might be interested.
I'm still very much a novice, I know there's far too much in a very small space, but I am loving every minute of it, and really enjoy this website, it has been invaluable in terms of advice.
thank you.


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RE: small but very productive garden

I'm very pleased that you have decided to share your growing enthusiasm here, Kaliman.

And, by posting on a new thread information about your continuing gardening activities, you should be able to bring a breath of Spring to us, northern-hemisphere-bound people. You will find a few New Zealand and Australian gardeners here, as well.

Happy Spring!

Steve


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RE: small but very productive garden

My sister-in-law lived in SA for several years, but as she isn't a gardener I didn't learn much about the climate in that regard. I got the impression that it's frost-free, cool and dry in the winter. Must be so for you to have perennial pepper plants. I wonder if artichokes might not do well there?


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RE: small but very productive garden

I think we're working with under a 1/4 acre for growing veg and bush or bramble fruits but my orchard takes up an additional 1/4.

THis is the second year working this garden space (hand digging plots) out of a grassy lawn. We plant intensivly on the square foot system most beds being 12x4 or so. We certainly have had enough tomatoes, peppers and cukes to can or freeze. However, if my goal were to feed my family year round it seems like I'd have to have way more under cultivation.

For example, we had multiple areas devoted to different types of beans, but some the rodents got, some were not in good places to pick (among the Three Sisters) and there just weren't enough of the bush beans to plan on doing more than eating fresh. I would love to know what size gardens are planned for those who want to be able to have a surplus to put up. Our potatoes and onions are already gone--we would have needed to plant a heck of a lot more. The number of winter squash per plant isn't particularly high either--2-3--and they eat a lot of space both vertically and horizontally.

So, long and short of it is that the garden is providing well while each veg is in season, but except for certain things, there's not been enough planted to sustain a family year round. I'm still learning how large it needs to be for what I want to ultimately do.


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RE: small but very productive garden

I'd think it's way under. 1/4 acre would be an enormous garden to work by hand for one or two people. That's over 10,000 sq ft. Without any deficits in the critical inputs of sunfall and moisture and intensively cultivated it would easily produce enough fresh and storage veg for a large family year-round, and probably compost material as well.

I come pretty close to producing that for myself and some stuff for the family on about 2,000 sq ft, and that's with some significant deficits.


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RE: small but very productive garden

I have a very small garden, about 100 sq feet scattered here and there in raised beds, plus some containers. I don't have fruit trees but even with that little bit of space I grew almost all the tomatoes, beans, lettuce, and squash needed for two people!

I grow things vertically when they don't shade the rest of the garden, plant intensively with lots of compost and well-aged manure, and grow varieties that are very productive or have dual uses.


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RE: small but very productive garden

pnbrown: SA is a rather huge country, so climates vary. We don't really have such a sophisticated zoning system like you guys in the US. In the Cape, where I am (South), winters are very wet (and very cold, in my opinion, but seldom less than 5 deg. C - I know, don't laugh, it's very cold for us). We had a bit of frost this year, but that's unusual for the Cape. The climate here is often described as Mediterranean, and it is very similar to France and Spain. My mom grows artichokes with great success (her garden is much, much bigger), mostly for show, not eating.

So the Western Cape is a winter rainfall area, but in the North winters are dry and very cold with summer rainfall. Summer is very hot all over, and particularly hot in the City Bowl.
A link to our weather: http://www.southafrica.info/plan_trip/travel_tips/questions/climate.htm

I must admit that my eclectic mix of veg seldom provides enough to pick in one go (except for the leafy stuff) for a meal, but I'm hoping that the broad and other beans will produce a nice crop. I tend to eat the peas on the spot while fiddling in the garden (think my partner is starting to wonder about the spectacularly unproductive pea plants!)

I'm looking forward to making chilli sauces and pickles, but need some patience, they've only just started to flower. This is my first time with habanero's (still only tiny seedlings). I also have jalapenos, cayenne, purple and a long, mildish pepper, no idea what type it is (those are the ones that are perennial). The other perennial chillies look a bit like a chiltepin, but bigger, can't remember where I got them from, but think I grew them from fruit bought at the supermarket. They are very hot, and have grown into small 'trees'. I have searched the internet for hours trying to find out what they are, but have never come across a picture of them (I was sort of hoping that they were chiltepins, but it was not to be).
The only surplus I can hope for will be the chillies, of course. And lemons, actually. I preserve them with salt, seems to work quite nicely. Hmmm... Xmas gifts...


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RE: small but very productive garden

My entire usable yard is about 25 x 50ft. More than half of that is blacktop driveway. Plus a car (currently off the road) on the driveway and a truck. Otherwise, almost my entire available space is garden. I don't have a lawn mower, since there's really just a little strip of grass left along the fence used as a path.

Anyway, I grow about 80+ tomatoes, 35 or so peppers, bee balm, lemon balm, basil, echinacea, columbine, 60+ onions, 100+ garlic, 75+ sweetcorn, 30+ strawberries, raspberries, pole beans, 2 honeysuckle vines, 5 watermelons, 1 Brugmansia & numerous Datura, many shallots & walking onions, various lettuce, radishes, carrots, bush beans, etc. Plus 100+ Sugar Snap peas, and 1 or 2 Atlantic Giant pumpkins. I'm sure I forgot something.

I deleted a few tomatoes last season to plant 96 garlic, and after the garlic was harvested in July I planted the bush beans, lettuce, arugula, peas, beets, carrots, radishes, etc. I let some of the radishes flower for beneficial insects. I'll finish harvesting the lettuce, beets, carrots, sugar snap peas, etc, and reclaim that bed for new garlic in a week or so. I picked about 250-300 bush beans a week or so ago, plus my neighbor picked some 2-3 weeks ago.

Many of the tomatoes & peppers & things are grown in 4 or 5-gallon containers on the driveway. Much of the rest is in raised beds. Half the corn & most strawberries are grown in mostly compost dumped onto the driveway. Everything is on drip irrigation, divided into 3 zones (corn/pumpkins, containers, raised beds.)

I consider this getting the most from limited space, sort of a ''relaxed'' method of square foot or intensive gardening, since only some veggies are done by square foot gardening spacing methods.

A reduced quality/color/size sketch is at the link below.

Hope this helps.

Mark

Here is a link that might be useful: My ''yarden''--Reduced quality/size/color diagram, 2007 Fall, before 2008 garlic...


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I live in Colorado (transplant from So Cal) and am just getting back into gardening. Veggie gardening is brand new for me, so I'm starting with a 10x10 foot garden so I don't overwhelm myself. I have 5.25 acres, so could have some incredible gardens (but I also have 6 Tennessee Walkers). We have an area with some immature fruit trees, and we are going to add quite a few more apples, cherries, peaches (and who knows what else) so we have a nice fruit orchard. I also have my home-made compost aka the horses LOL!

Lisa :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Firewalkers Ranch


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RE: small but very productive garden

My grandfather had his suburbia orchard/vineyard pretty close together in a raised area, he had about a 2 foot high concrete retaining wall. He spread all his lawn clippings there and kept the trees pruned to a size to fit the space. They didn't have to go the store for much fruit. He had oranges,grapefruit, tangerines, grapes, apples, pears, apricot, peach, walnut, guava, lemon,lime, persimmon.


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RE: small but very productive garden

Have you looked at the Biointensive method? It's a fair amount of work but they are specifically aimed at just such a goal. I've been looking at it and have one of the books. I don't intend to grow all my food (we bought a CSA share) but you probably could, except for a few things that can't be grown in your own climate. Since you are in zone 9, that's not too much.

You might also want to look at the Dave Wilson Nursery site to see his method of growing fruit trees in a small space.

Rosefolly

Here is a link that might be useful: Biointensive Gardening


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RE: small but very productive garden

It's been a while since I have visited gardenweb but need to pick up these winter blues with some thoughts of spring & plants. I have a small garden about 15'x 20'. I grow mostly vegetables that we eat when in season. I try to start most of my tomatoe plants from seed I have saved from last year & just planted some in my little mini greenhouses the other day. They're by a sliding glass door off a covered patio that faces south. Hopefully they will germinate in a week or so. Besides my vegetables, I have two kinds of grapes that I started about four years ago & they produce enough to eat. I have a small bunch of thronless blackberries & a small peach tree. About seven years ago I bought a small fig tree & keep it in a large container that I bring into my basement when freezing weather appears. It produces quite a few figs. Last year we had a long dry & hot spell during the summer & my fruit trees didn't do well but my vegetables did o.k. because I keep them heavily mulched. We have city water & I don't want to have the expense of a high water bill. I try to save rain water but it's only enough to keep my patio plants happy. I like to share plants through dividing & transplanting of volunteer annuals.


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RE: small but very productive garden

Old thread but a good one. I'll read the book later when I have time, but I'm well on my way to a small but very productive garden. My "garden" area that I recently built and will plant this spring is 120 SF of raised beds. I could expand into the backyard from my side yard but I have two young kids that like to play in the back yard so I doubt I'll expand. However, we do have a mature pear and plum tree back there, as well as a newly planted apple tree and two newly planted blueberry bushes. I don't think I'm anywhere near self sustaining, but if I can help feed my family healthy and flavorful fruits and veggies for most of the year, then I'll be more than happy.

Here is a link that might be useful: Check out my garden in progress...


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