When we initially bought our home 3 years ago, we bought an acreage because we wanted to become self-sufficient. When I told my friend it’s so we can survive the armageddon when it comes she thought I was joking but considering the state of the climate I really don’t think it’s too far-fetched a prediction. Regardless, my husband, James, is an absolute green thumb and loves to garden. I am learning to embrace it and I must admit, not having a degree to do is helping me to enjoy spending time away from a desk. Plus, I love animals so having some space for chooks and dogs seemed perfect.
The place had a dam, which meant we had another water source, and we don’t have access to town water, so we have had the absolute privelege of living off rain water (once you get used to the soft, sweet water that comes from the heavens it’s difficult to even smell town water – when I visit my mum and have a shower I can smell the chlorine on my skin!). We also have our own septic tank for sewerage. Unfortunately we can’t get solar panels, and we’ve now had 5 different companies review our situation, but the house is surrounded by trees and so we just don’t get enough sun on the roof in the cooler parts of the year to make it at worthwhile. This is a major bummer because James and I are home during the day which is when you get the most from solar energy, so it would really save us (and the world) alot of fossil fuel burning! Hopefully technology comes up with something in the near future that can help. But this is really the main thing that prevents us from being totally self-sufficient (except, obviously, needing to work to pay the mortgage, land tax and council rates!)
While I wasted no time in filling all the space up with animals (we quickly went from 3 dogs to 5 dogs, 2 cats, 5 guinea pigs, 18 chooks, a rooster and a duck!) James had some landscaping projects he wanted to do around the place before getting to work on the veggie gardens. So it has taken us 3 years but finally we are getting really stuck into growing our own veggies, with the eventual goal of growing absolutely all that we eat – or using it for crop swap to supplement anything we can’t grow.
When we moved in, we already had well-established citrus (orange, mandarin, lime and lemons), figs, mulberries, persimmons and a beautifully blossoming tree with fruit that taste like skittles, which we learned were feijoas. We do have a mango tree too, but as yet have not figured out how to keep the possums from eating them before they get big or ripe! (We’re not a fan of netting the whole trees as this can trap bats, flying foxes and lizards). Nevertheless, we’ve done what we can with what we have – James has made lime cordial, and I made a batch of feijoa chutney and we also made feijoa kombutcha but we’re really going to explore how else we can make use of all our fruit because fruit trees really produce alot!
We’ve started growing some tomatoes, spinach, basil, rocket, kale, rosemary, dill and coriander (although the coriander never really took hold and then the chooks got into the garden bed and ripped it up) and I’m really loving walking up to the garden beds in the afternoon and picking a handful of greens and herbs for dinner. Sadly, we had a whole lot of seedlings growing to be planted for Summer but had a scorcher of a day and they didn’t survive in the greenhouse. James was pretty devastated that we lost them, but has now started sprouting some new seeds for Autumn planting.
All the garden beds have been there for quite a while – probably a year or 2 – we put branches, sticks, compost, chook poo, and other green matter in the bottom then James covered it with organic soil and all those things apparently break down and create nutrients – like they would in nature.
We’re learning about crop rotation and supplemental plants too – all our seeds are organic and we don’t spray pesticides or use fertiliser, so we have to make use of mother nature and her goods. Crop rotation is important so that the soil remains fertile, free of fungus and disease and full of nutrients (one reason you should shop organic rather than conventional is that the soil is usually much more nutrient dense for this reason and more nutrient dense soil means more nutrient dense food). Supplemental crops help to naturally keep bugs and funguses at bay. We’re in the very early stages of learning about this stuff though – and watching a lot of permaculture and organic gardening videos on youtube, as well as grilling our organic farmer at the markets who we buy our veggies from.
The greenhouse was a really great buy – but we’ve had to learn alot. By we, I mean James and he just tells me things as he learns. If he ever reads this I think he’ll be happy I’ve been listening! James bought it online and constructed it himself. We’ve learned the door had to be kept open for air flow to keep the temp down which means we had to put a big baking tray from his bakery in the doorway to keep the chooks out. We also had to hang shade cloth along the North side to keep things from burning, and we got our little solar fan which I explained in the caption. Losing our seedlings on a hot day meant we now keep seedlings on the kitchen bench, and we’re still figuring out what to do with them next (before they’re big enough for the garden). I’ve also started watering the garden and greenhouse each morning when I feed the chooks so that we know they’re all drenched and we check on them on hot days too when we’re checking on the animals. It makes for a bit of extra work, and luckily we are on rain water so water restrictions don’t apply to us – but obviously we have a set amount of water so need to be careful too.
While it can be devastating at times (like losing the seedlings in the heat, or yesterday when I found the duck and 2 chooks in the garden bed eating all the baby tomato plants) it is also so rewarding watching things grow and eating such fresh produce straight from our garden. It tastes amazing! After eating organic veg from the markets and now growing our own greens and herbs, and seeing how quickly they wilt and die once picked, I do worry about how big supermarkets get their produce to keep fresh for so long (especially when out of season crops come all the way from Mexico or like the kiwi fruit I saw from Italy).
At the moment James is preparing the ground in the image above for more planting. Currently it’s covered in weeds and vines, so apparently covering it like this will kill them without using any nasty chemicals, plus keep the soil moist for worms. The current plants will degrade into the earth which is how it should be really. Our biggest challenge is figuring out how to keep pests like birds, brush turkeys and possums from getting in – so whether we build a fence and cover around the whole thing, or individual beds like we’ve done in other areas with netting on top, or who knows what else we will decide!
I’ll keep you in the loop on this project as it expands, and we’re only newbies so if anyone has any tips or advice or anything you’ve learned along the way please share!