Garden self-sufficiency

I grew a total of 367 lb. of produce in the garden in 2009. Those 367 lb. translate to about 63,000 calories – enough food for one adult for about 25 days. So I wouldn’t say I’m anywhere near self-sufficiency on that score. Not that total self-sufficiency is really my goal. Sure, I am curious to see what it would take to grow my all my own food, but I don’t feel a particular drive to be my own farmer. I’d rather have community sufficiency, and besides, I have a day job (knock on wood) and an aversion to getting up at 5am to milk goats.

However, there are a couple foods where I think I could grow our yearly supply.

  • Kale. I planted something like 25 kale plants last year. Once they started producing, we had all the fresh kale we could eat, and we harvested a total of 4 giant Rubbermaid containers of kale which cooked down into about 9 quart freezer bags (2-3 meals in each bag).  I’m still hauling armloads of it out of the greenhouse. It’s starting to look a little worse for the weather (it was 15 in the greenhouse overnight) and I expect I’m pretty much done harvesting until March, at least. But there’s all that kale in the freezer…if we are judicious, we might just make it the whole year without buying any kale.
  • Onions. I didn’t grow all the onions we need this year, but I think I could do so easily. I planted about 15 square feet of them last spring, which yielded about 12 pounds of onions total. I think double that would get us through the year. I probably need to plant my storage onions later if I use sets, so I’m not harvesting my storage crop in July. Or better yet, grow them from seed. Seed-stated onions are supposed to keep better, but starting them from seed requires grow lights and the transplanting of finicky little seedlings. So I’m not sure what I’ll do.
  • Green beans. Ok, this is a bit of a cheat, because I almost never buy green beans. If they’re not straight from the garden, we just eat something else. But this year, I grew more than just snack-sized portions; I had enough for many meals and six or eight quarts to freeze. I also gave away five pounds of them when I just couldn’t stand to deal with another bean at the beginning of August.
  • Snow peas. Again, we don’t really buy these, but they were the surprise success of the year. My sweetie loves them so much, he’ll harvest them before work and take them for his lunch instead of carrots. Which is great, because I can’t grow carrots worth a darn.
  • Tomatoes. We don’t eat a ton of tomatoes, and they generally produce like crazy, so I usually come close to growing what we need for diced-tomato and salsa purposes. Pizza sauce is another thing entirely, but we love Dei Fratelli pizza sauce, which is local-ish, non-GMO, and grown on fairly small farms. And at $1/can, it’s hard to beat the price. So I have no plans to try to grow all our own pizza sauce, even though I probably could.
  • Potatoes and squash. Again, we don’t eat tons of these, and they are generally easy to grow and store, so I’ve found I can grow more or less what we need.

Money-wise, if I just grew all our kale and onions, I’d save about $300 per year. So at least my hobby pays for itself!

What about you? Is there something you grow enough of that you don’t need to buy it? If you were going to try to grow all your own of one crop, what would it be?

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8 Comments

  1. Ed Schenk said,

    January 11, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Don’t forget the Herbs! very important garden item

  2. Robyn M. said,

    January 11, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    One warning about the onions (in case you don’t already know, tho you probably do ;-), they are bound by daylight-time. They grow their greens until roughly summer solstice, and then begin producing their bulbs. The larger the greens, the larger the eventual onion. So if you plant your sets out later, you may not buy yourself anything other than smaller onions, since the greens won’t have had time to get big… But then, I ain’t exactly batting 1000 with my onions, so take this with a grain of salt.

  3. aimee said,

    January 11, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Since you are talking about greens and veggies, you shouldn’t measure self-sufficiency in calories, but rather in vitamins! I bet you get closer that way.
    I must use a LOT more onions than you – we probably go through 40 or 50 pounds a year. If I were going to try to grow one of all my own crop, I’d probably pick tomatoes. They are so superior fresh from the garden!

  4. Chard Lady said,

    January 11, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Thank you for posting your yield information!
    I am growing enough of every vegetable and herb that I use except potatoes and carrots. I would love to be able to grow more bulb onions, but I have settled for more leeks, scallions and garlic. It seems like no matter how much space I devote to bulb onions, there aren’t enough or I get some sort of disease or crop failure. I wish I could grow more carrots and also wish that I could extend the seasons on some of my favorites, like cucumber and lettuce.
    I grow my own bulb onions from seed because I cannot get the right sets for my latitude. And, it is not just that they go to bulb at the longest day of the year. They will start to bulb when they hit their right day length and for some varieties that may be in early spring depending on where you live! Or it might be never. Most onion sets, especially the red varieties found in all the garden stores, never do bulb around here, and that is why I go to the trouble of starting them myself. Today, my onion seedlings are about 1/2 inch high.

  5. January 12, 2010 at 7:15 am

    Herbs, probably — though each year I think I should dry more peppermint or make more pesto, I don’t end up using it all.

    Lettuce, sugar snap peas, green beans — as you say, a cheat, because I only like them fresh and only at certain times of the year.

    Chard and pac choi (especially if the season for them were as good as last year!) — haven’t had your luck with kale yet! 😦

    Parsnips! 🙂

    Garlic, probably.

    On the others, I’m going to work at it this year — and maybe even get into the habit of keeping track of weight of produce. You inspire me yet again, Em! 🙂

  6. January 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I think it’s safe to say we are self-sufficient in squash and potatoes. We eat what we grow and then don’t eat any more until the next crop comes in. Kale and parsnips too and beets for the most part. Garlic is tricky because even though we grow a LOT of it, when it starts to sprout I don’t know how to function in the kitchen for the several months it would take until the next crop comes in. I dehydrate what’s left and then grumble when I have to buy fresh. We’re nowhere near self-sufficiency in the onion department. I have no skill with this crop it seems. This year I’m growing lots of leeks though, so that may partially plug the gap. And I will try again with onions.

  7. Robin Mullet said,

    January 20, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Hi, I’m a little late to this post but if I could only grow one thing it would be beans, both fresh and soup. They freeze well, and also pickle ok. The dried ones are beautiful and we eat tons of soup in the winter.

  8. Anonymous said,

    April 18, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Haven’t figured out the secret of lettuce, but for carrots what has worked for me is a soaker hose on a timer. I water for 5-10 minutes/day and an extra 30-45 min 1x/week (turning the system off in rainy weather). I also grow my carrots in raised beds in the soft loose soil they need


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