Self-sufficiency: How gardeners can cut down on groceries

Mar. 30, 2013 @ 06:48 PM


Part of the appeal of gardening is the idea of depending less on the grocery store and more on your own labors. In the past I’ve argued, based on personal experience, that harvest value will rarely if ever exceed expenses. However I’ve recently seen data that proves otherwise, perhaps calling into question my qualifications to pontificate on the topic. Not that I’ll let that stop me.

Thus, allow me to suggest a few ways to become a more self-sufficient gardener.

There is no better place to start than with the addition of a compost bin. Adding that homemade black gold to your garden beds will help your plants grow stronger. Be sure to compost kitchen scraps as well, including eggshells, coffee grounds, and fruit/vegetable scraps.

Keep in mind, however, that compost alone will not supply all the necessary nutrients. A friendly neighbor with chickens or horses could help fill that gap, as can nitrogen fixing cover crops. Otherwise, plan on buying fertilizer.

To reduce the need for pest sprays, one the best approaches is to invite beneficial insects to your garden. These are the predators that eat bad bugs, and the pollinators that are necessary for good production. You can lay out the welcome mat by planting a flower border that contains a variety of perennials, annuals and herbs. If possible, plant it in close proximity to your vegetable garden.

Another step on the path to self-sufficiency is to produce your own plants (it’s also load of fun!). To get started, you need small containers, quality seed-starting mix, and a light source. A fluorescent tube light suspended just over the plants is ideal.

To complete the circle, consider saving seeds to plant next year. With many plants, collecting seed at the end of the season is exceptionally easy. Dill, cosmos, marigolds and beans are great examples. Keep in mind that you should only save seed from open-pollinated varieties, as any hybrid varieties will not breed true.

If you get into seed-starting, you might as well learn how to root cuttings. Many trees and shrubs are easily propagated by this method. The only supplies you’ll need are clean containers, potting mix and a small bottle of rooting hormone powder.

Rain barrels are a wonderful addition to the self-sufficient garden, although the savings may be minor. Truth be told, a couple of 55 gallon barrels of water won’t go far, but they might get a couple of raised beds through a dry spell. 

Raising vegetables and herbs are a given for anyone starting down the path toward self-sufficiency. But to really raise your cred, you will need to add some fruit crops. Start with a couple of blueberry bushes or a few strawberry plants, then add figs and muscadine grapes. The more ambitious might even consider a few apple or pear trees.

Of course, you won’t be accepted into the “club” until you do a bit of canning or freezing. I confess I haven’t yet tackled this myself, but I discovered at an Extension workshop that it’s much easier than I feared.

More information on all these topics is available for the asking from your County Extension Center. Let us help you become a more self-sufficient gardener.