I’ve done it; my seeds are bought for next year and it was only 14 September! The best bit is, I have planned my garden and the seed purchase based on the next 3 years of growing produce for my family. Planning a garden for self sufficiency need not be a daunting it can be a fun and delicious adventure!
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This is the last time I’m planning on buying seeds for at least the next 3 years. For real.
This will be a challenge folks since I’m like a magpie and shiney things when it comes to seeds! Actually I’m probably more like a dragon hoarding gold. Either way, I have a bit of a problem when those glossy magazines show up or the virtual sort appears in my inbox.
So, I decided I would plan my garden for the next 3 years using only the seeds I have already acquired and the purchase I have made. I’m allowing seed saving each year from my garden and of course swapsies with friends.
I have clearly gone on an organization kick since my post about growing like a pro but this is great! I feel prepared for the next season and I can concentrate on harvests and preserving right now, taking cuttings to root over winter, tidying up around the homestead and all those sewing and home remodeling projects I have!
Henghis, eater of bugs and berries. Currently going through the autumn molt.
We have had an interesting year in the garden. Sure we have a powdery mildew problem on all the squashes and squash family plants, the sow bugs and earwigs destroyed my seedlings, the crickets/locusts/grasshoppers have descended upon my organic plot in droves and are eating EVERYTHING, my blackberries failed, the chickens ate all the blueberries and my greens, the apple trees might not survive and my melon harvest was a complete washout.
But, there are plenty of good things like the chickens are enjoying chasing the bugs in the garden, we had almost 100 lbs of peaches and we’ve severely cut back the tree removing all the broken limbs, crossing branches and stems ready to move the tree next year. We have had over 100 lbs of tomatoes, plenty of fodder greens for the chickens, huge sunflowers with 17 inch diameter heads, 25 lbs cucumbers, 30 lbs corn, 100 lbs of sugar pumpkins and the beans are still growing and we’ve had lots of eggs.
You can check out the sunflowers in my video below:
You won’t win at everything in the garden but you can sure plan ahead and have a back up to help you through the tough times.
Grab a cup of tea (or a beer) and I will take you through step by step how to plan your garden for self sufficiency or to feed your family
What is Self Sufficiency?
Self sufficiency and self reliance seem go hand in hand with homesteading. Being able to rely on yourself, your knowledge and resources rather than those of others to live. Maintaining yourself without outside aid are ways to define self sufficiency.
To me, a self sufficient garden would be one which produces its own nutrients such as fertilizers and mulch without external resources being brought in and seeds to grow the following season. For this post, I am defining self sufficient garden to be a garden which provides all of the food for a family with extra to preserve or barter with.
Your garden or homestead should be able to produce enough compost to feed your plants. You can get a head start composting by reading my previous posts:
Compost, mulch and soil diversity are the key to growing amazingly abundant plants.
Planning a Garden
There a a few phases to planning a garden:
- Mapping the garden beds
- Deciding on your seeds
- Plant spacing
- Seed starting and timings
I like to start with mapping the garden. There is little point in deciding on seeds if you haven’t mapped the growing space; you will end up buying seeds you don’t have room to plant and wasting money. This comes from my own experience!
How to Map Your Garden
Sketch your garden or make a spreadsheet diagram. If you can remember what you were growing in the space, jot that information down.
Take a tape measure and record the size of your beds so you know what square footage you are working with. This is going to help you figure out how many plants and seeds you will be able plant in each bed.
If you are starting your garden completely from scratch, as you are building your beds you should maximize the growing space by reducing the number of pathways. If you are wanting rows, make them raised, 5 to 6 ft wide and reach into the middle rather than many rows of a smaller width.
In an average garden, single rows of crops need approximately 40 square feet of access paths whilst a wider raised bed would need approximately 10 square feet of path. Taking a lesson from my Permaculture Design Certification class, keyhole and mandala gardens offer more square foot gardening space.
Decide On Your Seeds
The best advice I can give on buying seeds is to have a list of the vegetables you and your family love to eat on a regular basis. Don’t buy seeds for plants you don’t like just because they look pretty, you are growing your plants for a purpose in a self sufficient garden.
If you are wanting to grow produce to feed your family then think about crops that will store well and how you will store your harvest.
Let’s take winter squash as an example, I love pumpkins and squash. We like to grow pumpkins for carving at Halloween and pumpkins for making pies and squash to make as spaghetti, soups and to roast.
Ute Indian squash grown 2017.
For 2018 I will grow the following:
- Wolfstem carving pumpkin (tried and true favorite)
- Musquee de Provence carving/eating pumpkin (trial)
- Winter Luxury pie pumpkin (trial)
- Sugar Baby pie pumpkin (tried and true favorite)
- Ute Indian Squash (tried and true favorite)
- Spaghetti squash (tried and true favorite)
- Buttercup squash (tried and true favorite)
- Marina de Chioggia squash (trial)
By growing family favorites or tried and true cultivars which have grown in my garden or in my area, I know that these varieties will grow and I am more likely to get a harvest. If the trial varieties grow better or are preferred by my family in terms of taste, then the following year may be a little different for winter squash.
2019 might look like this:
- Musquee de Provence carving/eating pumpkin
- Long Island Cheese carving/eating pumpkin (trial)
- Sugar Baby pie pumpkin
- Marina de Chioggia squash
- Spaghetti squash
- Buttercup squash
- Candy Roaster (trial)
Let’s say that the Candy Roaster squash was better than the pie pumpkins that we grew in 2019 for taste and we didn’t want to eat pumpkin in 2020 because we had so much of it grow in 2019 and we still have some left to use that was preserved. 2020 could look like:
- Wolfstem carving pumpkin
- Rouge Vif D’etampes carving pumpkin (trial)
- Candy Roaster squash
- Spaghetti squash
- Ute Indian squash
- Hopi Grey squash (trial)
In general, plan to try new varieties of your favorite plants each season. That isn’t just me encouraging you to experiment in your garden (although that is the fun bit for me!). I encourage you to have trials because you might find a cultivar that grows better for your area; it might be better tasting or tolerate heat/cold more than your usual variety. It might resist bugs or diseases that are prevalent where you live. You won’t know unless you try!
Tips for Buying Seeds
When looking through catalogues or online, pay attention to the growing zones for the plants. Many websites allow you to search by your growing zone. Don’t try to grow something suited to the sub-tropics when you live a stone’s throw away from the arctic circle!
If you have a short growing season, buy quick cropping varieties with shorter days to maturity or early varieties to get a harvest before the frosts come.
If you are a new gardener, try to keep to 1 or 2 varieties of plants so that you don’t get overwhelmed. For example, paste tomatoes for canning and a fresh eating variety or pole beans for drying and bush beans to eat fresh.
It is really easy to get overwhelmed by planting too much and to trying and do it all. Take small steps so you can own the basics like a boss and build on your experience. Starting small would be to grow tomatoes to preserve and can as sauce for the remainder of the year, growing okra for the season or growing salads for the whole summer for the family.
If you do find yourself in a pickle at harvest time trying to manage gather your bounty, consider inviting friends and relatives to help harvest, cook or can. You can share the load and the harvest as a thank you and get to spend time with them.
If you are a seasoned gardener, organize your seeds and make a list so you know what you already have before diving into the glossy seed catalogues and avoid buying duplicate seeds.
List out the varieties of plants you are wanting to grow and if necessary narrow them down before you order. I will get a selection of 4-5 varieties of plants and ask my family to pick which they want to grow. They can pick no more than 2 which will give me either 2 plants to trial in a year or 1 plant to trial over 2 years.
Where to Buy Seeds
There are lots of places available for you to get seeds for every budget, even really tight budgets!
I generally only order seeds from two places:
These aren’t affiliate links, I’m just a huge fan.
I love that the seeds are certified organic and a great price from Peaceful Valley. I also like their offers and shipping speed. I have also bought bareroot plants, bulbs and seed potatoes from them which have been great.
Spuds and garlic for 2018.
Baker Creek Heirloom have a MASSIVE selection of heirloom seeds available and I love growing heirlooms because it feels like I’m growing a little piece of history. They have heirlooms from around the world available so you can grow some rare and exotic cultivars indeed!
The seeds I bought for the next 3 years!
The majority of my seeds have come from Baker Creek Heirloom so that I can grow purely open pollinated heirloom varieties. I have always grown heirlooms so I can save seed and grow on these plants the next year.
Occasionally I will buy biodynamic seeds from Turtle Tree Seeds. They have a great selection of vegetables, herbs and flowers grown and harvested biodynamically.
You can also try searching for local seed swaps or asking gardening friends or relatives for seeds. If you get old seeds, check out this post by The Prairie Homestead How to Test Seeds for Viability to check that they are still able to germinate and grow.
You should now know the list of seeds you will be ordering (or have ordered) and the garden space you have available. What comes next? Plant spacing and planning what you are growing where!
Seed packets are a great source of information and most give you planting spacings between each plant. This is how far apart the center of each plant needs to be for optimum growing conditions.
You can use a seed spacing calculator to figure out how many to plant in your garden space.
As an example, my garden beds 5 ft x 3 ft. Using the seed spacing calculator let’s pretend we wanted to plant the whole bed with Romanesco broccoli which needs spacing of 18 to 24 inches.
We put in the length of the bed (5) and the width (3) and the plant spacing (18) in the appropriate boxes of the seed spacing calculator.. I chose the smaller spacing to get more plants in. I could put the larger spacing of 24 if I wanted to plant other things in the same bed.
As you can see from the image below for our broccoli, if I grow in a triangular pattern I can grow 8 Romanesco broccoli plants whilst a square planting pattern offers 7 plants.
This is a really useful tool for your seeds so be sure to bookmark Midwest Groundcovers LLC Plant Calculator! Play around with it so you can get a feed for plant numbers.
You might be asking yourself (or the computer) by now “But how many plants do I need to plant to feed my family?”. This is a great question and I’m so glad you asked it!
How Many Plants Do You Need To Feed A Family?
There are a few schools of thought on this question, and a few resources to help you out. Answering the question depends on a number of factors. It depends on the number of people and their eating habits. One family might need to grow 1000 bulbs of garlic whilst another family has a real love of Brussels Sprouts. It also depends on if you are aiming to feed everyone throughout the whole year or just through the growing season.
If you are wanting to feed your family for the whole year then according to the book How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons, you need at least 4000 square feet of growing space per person to accommodate growing all the fruit and vegetables. A family of 4 will need far less space than a family of 6.
Now that’s not to say that you can’t maximize the space you have by growing vertically, companion planting, successional sowing, intercropping (growing plants in between others) and using the square foot and triangular sowing patterns. Growing plants more intensively has some benefits like shading soil, reducing weeds and of course more plants but they can be more work as you need to be continually sowing and putting the space to use for a new crop as you harvest from the bed.
You can leverage plant varieties which mature at different times such as early, mid season and late varieties of potatoes or corn to produce more in the space you have available.
The amount to plant also depends on the plant too. Vining plants like cucumber, melon, squash, grapes and pole beans produce lots of fruit whilst some plants are a one time harvest like cabbage, onion and carrot. From Scratch Magazine has this great table you can use as a guideline for the amount to plant for your family.
Be sure to plan in crops which will provide you with calories. The Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth book has some good information about calories from produce.
What to Plant Where
To seriously own growing a garden, you need to put your seeds and plants in the right position. Heat loving fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers and such love to have the maximum amount of sun to help ripen the fruit. This is especially important if you have a short growing season.
In general the use the following image as a rule of thumb. Plant positioning will depend on your location, structures or trees nearby casting shade, prevailing winds etc.
Plants you would want to protect from scorching in the afternoon sun like cilantro you would put on the east side of a tall plant which will cast shade in the afternoon. To the north you could plant rhubarb, salad leaves which are prone to running to seed (bolting) or herbs like sorrel, chives or parsley.
Crop rotation is simply moving annual crops around the garden so that you do not grow the same thing in the same place. The aim of crop rotation is to maintain balance of the microorganisms and nutrients in the soil. Growing the same plant type in the same location will reduce your yields.
Plants are in types or families and generally, there are 9 plant type families:
These include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, tomatillo, potatoes and physalis or groundcherry.
Peas, beans, peanuts, cowpeas and green manure like hairy vetch.
Your leafy vegetables like cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, mustard greens, turnip, kale, cauliflower and radish.
Maize, sweet corn, popping corn, flint corn.
These are your squashes, melons, cucumbers, gourds and loofahs.
Carrots, parsnips, salsify, scorzonera, sweet potato.
Lettuces, Jerusalem artichoke and sunflowers.
These are your beets, spinach and chard.
Onion family including garlic, leeks and scallions.
There are some variations on the crop families and the rotation schedule. Generally, if you were to follow the families above you would move your garden bed through the following plant families:
Year 1: Legumes
Year 2: Goosefoot
Year 3: Alliums
Year 4: Curcubits
Year 5: Daisy
Year 6: Brassicas
Year 7: Roots
Year 8: Nightshades
Year 9: Grass
You want to move the family of crops to a different location to grow each year to reduce the build up of pests and disease and to replenish nutrients lost.
Crop rotation is easier if you plant the families together for example, a bed of carrots and parsnips or a row of garlic. Then you can move the crop family to a different row or bed the following year.
It is good practice to not keep planting the same annual crop in the same place. This also includes if you practice companion planting or polyculture growing such as the three sisters of corn, pole beans and squash or plant onions and carrots together.
Using the information on where to plant and plant spacing, draft up a plan for your garden of where your plants will go and how many to plant in that area. Winter is a great time to start planning a garden for self sufficiency as you have time to work up a couple of plans and look into how to maximize the space you have.
The last piece before you really start planting is to rock seed starting. To do this, you are going to plan when you will start seeds, how often you will sow them (if successional sowing) and the approximate harvest dates.
Most seed packets contain information on when to sow the seeds and how long it will take for the plant to mature, written as Days to Maturity or DTM. Days to Maturity can vary depending on where and how the plant is grown but they provide a good guideline. It it helpful to make notes of how quickly seeds mature in your garden.
If you don’t have the Days to Maturity information on the seed packet, take a look at some other online seed suppliers and see if you can see that variety and the Days to Maturity there. If you can’t find it, have a look at similar varieties and average the number of days.
By using the number of days it will take for a plant to mature, you can estimate when to plant and when can expect to start harvesting!
Let’s work through an example together and take a packet of carrots. On the back, it says that the plant will be mature in 50 to 68 days.
If I wanted to be harvesting carrots by 01 August, I would need to plant them 50 to 68 days earlier. I would need to start sowing my carrot seeds from 25 May to 12 June for a harvest on 01 August.
If this seems daunting to you have no fear! You can get my seed starting planting schedule spreadsheet for free in the Urban Homesteading Resource Library! All you need to do is put in your frost dates and add in your seed names and days to maturity.
Many gardeners and homesteaders use a spreadsheet system or a diary which they write in the seeds they will be starting, plants to transplant and likely harvest dates and they are a crucial tool for them to be successful.
A big part of gardening is experimenting; trial and error. When things fail and go wrong, there is a lesson to be learnt from it. You will get better each year you grow; you will learn to read the land and your plants.
A final thought for you to start planning a garden for self sufficiency is:
Photo Credit: sydney zentz
For real, you got this.
Appreciate the wins and the fails in gardening. Mother Nature will always challenge your garden and experience will help you go with the flow so why not start your garden?
Some related posts which you might find useful:
What do you struggle with the most when planning a garden? Let me know in the comments below.
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