Between food shortages, epidemics, and other situations that the world has experienced lately, more and more families are making the shift toward self-reliant gardening.

Many people do not wish to depend on their local grocery store anymore to provide fresh and healthy food for their families. This may become the sustainable society of the future.

Instead, many people are starting to grow their own food even if just in a small space. From simple vegetable gardens to completely sustainable agriculture, the term “organic farmer” seems to be the new trend.

If you are looking to achieve greater self-reliance where you live, it’s a good idea to start with self-reliant gardening. 

Self-Reliant Gardening

Our self-reliant gardening plots in the front yard

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What is Self-Reliant Gardening?

Basically in its simplest form, a self-reliant garden provides you with a good bit of the food you need to survive, grown in a chemical-free or organic way. It means providing fresh vegetables, herbs, fruits, and berries for your family.

You become an organic gardener and leave a smaller footprint in the process. Gardening is also one of the basic prepping skills.

Read Prepping Skills for the Self-Reliant Lifestyle for more information on prepping skills you should learn

While self-reliant gardening, there is no use for chemical fertilizer. Instead, animal manure and other types of organic material are incorporated. This type of garden usually starts with the planting of staple crops first.

The 3 main staple crops are potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash.

Four Main Steps Before Starting Your Garden

There are four things to consider and plan before you jump into self-reliant gardening. Getting these four things right from the beginning can mean the difference between a successful garden and one that fails.

4 Main steps of starting self-reliant gardening
The four areas of gardening to consider first.

Consider Your Climate and Soil

The first step when starting your journey of self-reliant gardening is to consider your climate and your soil. Make sure you are aware of the first and last frost dates for where you live.

These dates will help determine when and what you can plant and harvest. You should know whether early spring or early summer is better for example.

Make sure you are aware of your plant zone too as well as whether you have a short growing season or a longer one.

Most vegetables need at least six hours of sun, so pick an appropriate place to plant. Once a plot is chosen you must then be aware of the type of soil you have.

A simple soil test will work. Samples of soil can be taken to your local agricultural center to be tested.

Learn How to Amend the Soil and Control Moisture

The ideal pH of gardening soil is 6.5. You should learn how to lower and raise the pH of your soil if needed and when to do so.

Other areas of learning may include using cover crops, making compost, using animal manures, and incorporating organic matter.

You should also know how to regulate your watering and watering methods as well as how to use mulch, the different kinds of mulch, and which mulch is best for the plants they are surrounding.

You can find more information about all of these things in my Self-Reliant Gardening E-book.

Using a sprinkler for the new vegetable garden
Using a rotating sprinkler for the new garden.

Consider Gardening Methods 

If you are going to grow your own food by practicing self-reliant gardening, you should learn common practices. These include crop rotation, cover crops, pest control methods, and how to prevent pathogens.

Then, of course, some different methods such as no-till gardening raised beds, and vertical gardening. Research some of the innovative techniques that are being introduced to new gardeners.

Using raised beds
Our raised beds are made from old bathtubs and shower trays.

Select Quality Heirloom Seeds

Before starting any self-reliant gardening project make sure you are using quality, heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds simply mean that the seeds you collect this year will produce plants next year that have similar characteristics as the original plant. 

The best part about these types of seeds is that they are open-pollinated and contain no GMOs. They also usually have a history behind them. Bakers Creek Seed Company provides a plethora of heirloom seeds to get you started.

You can also check out Mary’s Heirloom Seeds as well.

Seed packets
Seeds from Bakers Creek and other stores are being sorted to plant.

Using Staple Crops While Self-Reliant Gardening

Now that you have everything in place, let’s talk about what crops to start with. Staple crops are the foods that are the basis of a human diet.

If you search the internet there is a wealth of knowledge available on the food groups and what amounts you should consume daily for a healthy diet. This is where we will start.

The staple foods you choose for your self-reliant garden should be easy to harvest and store, return a good yield, and be calorie-dense to provide the energy from carbohydrates that you need daily. 

The three most common of these crops are; potatoes and sweet potatoes, grain corn, and home-grown wheat. Growing wheat in the home garden may not be possible as it requires a bit of space. 

Our self-reliant gardening style in 2020
Vegetables in our garden in the summer of 2020

Choosing the Crops That You Need

The food you will choose to grow will be decided based on your needs and available space. Below is a list of the common plants to consider when you start self-reliant gardening on your own property.

Pick the ones that are appropriate for your family.

  • Dry Beans: average yield of 3 to 5 pounds per 100 square feet. High in calories. Can be stored, when dry in jars for a long time
  • Potatoes: Calorie-rich and nutrient-dense. Harvest is ready in 2-3 months. Can be stored for up to 6 months.
  • Grain Corn: Very nutrient-dense. Easily grown for cornmeal.
  • Winter squash: yield between 50 and 90 pounds per 100 sq. ft. Can be stored all winter in a root cellar.
  • Cabbage: Very nutrient-dense, cold hardy. Can be used for fermenting and freezes well.
  • Onions: Seeds or sets work well. Store well. Can make onion powder.
  • Garlic: Can be stored for several months. Can be made into garlic powder. Not nutrient-dense but great medically at home.
  • Carrots: Can be grown year-round in many places. Nutrient-rich, easy to grow, and take up little space.
  • Beets: Easy to grow. Stores really well. Nutrient-dense. Multiple harvests. A great addition to livestock feed.
  • Greens: Nutrient-dense. Great for smoothies and salads.

Other Crops to Consider for Self-Reliant Gardening

The above staple crops are a great start to your self-sufficient garden. However, there is a wide diversity of crops you can consider also.

Tomatoes, peppers of all sorts, radishes, swiss chard, and pumpkins are also common plants in your garden. Your self-reliant gardening journey can become whatever you want it to. Add new plants and try new things each year.

Make sure to grow only what you and your family will consume. No sense in planting cabbage if no one will eat it.

Start small with only a few vegetable plants in the first year of gardening on your own property. Then increase each season to add more variety to your garden.

Peas, squash, beans and herbs
Peas, Squash, Beans, and Herbs. All are part of our self-reliant gardening.

What’s Next in your Self-Reliant Gardening Journey?

Once you get the hang of basic gardening you may want to consider expanding your gardening skills. You can add perennial grasses, grains, and plants that you can extract and make oils from. These include sunflowers, peanuts, sesame seeds, rapeseed (for canola oil), and flaxseed.

You may also want to consider making your own sweeteners by growing Sugar Maple trees, raising bees for honey, or growing sorghum, cane sugar, and stevia. Consider fruit trees also.

Other considerations may include learning to collect rainwater in rain barrels for better watering in dry spells, or including a pollinator garden to bring in beneficial insects to your garden.

Examples of pollinator gardens
Examples of pollinator plants that attract beneficial insects.

Final Thoughts on Self-Reliant Gardening

Self-reliant gardening is all about growing the best food possible for your family in whatever space you have available. With a little effort, you can produce a lot of food that you may not have thought you could grow before.

Can you imagine what it will feel like when you are not depending on the grocery store to feed your family anymore?

Use this essential guide to self-reliant gardening to get started feeding your family healthy food from your own property.

Don’t forget to get your FREE Gardening Resources Workbook!

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