How Much Is Enough?

by Daisy on 08/07/2013

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One of the main issues about gardening/sustainability in the suburbs is space.  Particularly a lack of “farmable” space.

It matters most in terms of how far you want to go with sustainability.  Are you content just sticking your toe into the water, growing a salsa garden, maybe a couple of blueberry bushes?  Or do you want to jump in all the way, getting closer and closer to providing most of your groceries from your yard?

I am fortunate to have 1 acre.  But not all of that is useable for planting.  In fact, although Deanna’s yard is smaller in acreage, she has more sun than I have, and can have a bigger garden.  My garden is smallish because of these:

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And these:

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And these:

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And many, many more, but you get the idea.

I could have some of them removed, and I have had a few taken out over the years.  It still leaves trees, trees, trees.  I’ve never counted them all, but there are dozens and dozens.  It would cost many thousands of dollars and have a shocking effect on our summer cooling bill.  We would also sacrifice a lot of privacy and beauty and lose a lot of wildlife habitat if we started chopping.  It’s a luxury I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have the ability to buy groceries.  If I didn’t have that ability, those trees would come down so I could farm properly, but we’re not to that point yet.

So I am left trying to grow the most I can in the sunny space I have.  Vertical gardening, intensive raised beds, succession planting, etc.  But I have so much to learn.  I never seem to have a big enough crop of anything to “put up” a year’s worth of it, which is the general goal–grow enough to last until the next year’s crop comes in.

I lie. I have enough pickle relish to last for 19 years.

But beyond that, not really enough.

I keep trying, adding here and there to the overall garden space, when a tree falls, or when I decide the kids really don’t need anywhere to kick a ball as much as we need to plant tomatoes.

So instead of bushels of green beans, we have just enough for a big Nicoise today, with fresh tomatoes, some of the dwindling new potato harvest, fresh-laid eggs, bell pepper and cucumber.  A fig tart would be good now the Mission figs have begun to ripen.

But in terms of true self-sufficiency, I fall flat.

I’m a self-sufficiency dilettante.

Do I want the farm lifestyle and all the day-in, day-out physical labor that entails?  That’s a lot of shucking and shelling and coring and slicing and canning and drying.

The answer lies somewhere between yes and no.

Yes, I want more produce from my garden, to the point where we’re pressed to get it all in.  I want a pantry crammed full to bursting with tomatoes and beans and peas and fruit and herbs.  I want to know where my food comes from and want my children to know what it is to work in the garden and kitchen, to know what homegrown tastes like.

No, I don’t want to be a full-time farmer-canner.  I don’t want to take all the trees out and plant the whole yard in crops.

I’m working toward that in-between place, and while I’m not sure what that will be, I think I’ll know when I get there.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Blythe Barbo August 8, 2013 at 8:41 am

“Do I want the farm lifestyle and all the day-in, day-out physical labor that entails? That’s a lot of shucking and shelling …” This post is SO right on! The difficulty of trying to balance the ideal with the feasible and the reality of what we can really achieve and still have time for other things that are meaningful to us! For me, I am growing *some* of what we eat everyday, more of the unusual things that I can’t find elsewhere (and that have a potential market), buying more from our local growers (who always have plenty of carrots, squash, and tomatoes), and transitioning to more of a permaculture system that will eventually be higher productivity with less work.

Daisy August 8, 2013 at 9:54 am

Blythe Barbo–That’s the direction I’m taking, too. It makes sense from just about every perspective, and although the learning curve is pretty steep and the speed at which this is catching on worldwide is slooowww, I think it will eventually play an important part in the way we grow and eat.

Meredith August 8, 2013 at 11:36 am

I totally know how you feel. We live in the city and all we have for gardening is a small backyard, that’s also full of trees. We only grow crops that do well in partial shade in our raised beds, and anything else is grown in containers that can be moved to sit in the sunniest spots. Trees can be a big pain, but they can also be a blessing. Our trees are all maples or black walnuts. In the summer we harvest walnuts, in the fall we harvest fallen leaves for our compost, and in the winter and spring we harvest sap from the maples for home made syrup. Maybe you can find a way to make those trees work for you? Start a leaf composting system, hang a hammock, have picnics in the shade. Making the space work for you is half the battle!

Kelli August 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm

It looks like you are nearing your destination 🙂

Sarah August 8, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Daisy, this is so right on with where I am too. I want to provide all that we need for our family, and yet I don’t want to be in the garden and kitchen all the time. Somewhere in the middle has be to be out there somewhere. I’m trying to find it too.

Mike Corbeil August 9, 2013 at 1:56 am

I understand that it’d be more work, though how much more is something I’m not sure about; but, what about raised gardening with boxes set up in high parts of your trees where the plants being grown get more sunlight? Sounds primitive, but it might actually be efficient and then all you’d need is a ladder, a primitive instrument that people continue to often make good use of. You evidently have some nice trees, but maybe placing growing boxes high in these trees might work out for preserving the trees as well as getting some extra food gardening well done.

I think to have once read about some people doing this, but am not going to try a Web search, for doing that could take quite a long time due to needing to figure out what the best search terms would be. Just tried a search and … no luck. But such gardening should be do-able. People could construct tree “forts” high in the trees, while gardening boxes would usually be much smaller, so it should surely be possible to have gardens constructed high up in trees.

Daisy August 9, 2013 at 7:47 am

Mike Corbell–I don’t think I could get high enough in a tree to be where it wasn’t still shaded, among other issues, but I have considered roof gardening. I would have to experiment with it and see if it is doable given the intense heat up there. Thanks.

Daisy August 9, 2013 at 7:54 am

Meredith–I finally removed my black walnuts. Their allelopathy and proximity to the garden made it just too tough to grow things. I had them sawn into some great lumber by a portable sawmill operator and I hope to use it to make furniture.
I do use the leaves of the remaining trees for compost, and have planted some useful shade-lovers, like ginseng and solomon’s seal. My attempt at mushrooms didn’t work, but I’m determined to try again one day. Trying to make the best of it!

Pghpickles August 10, 2013 at 8:18 am

We converted a third if our south facing front yard into garden space as we have too may trees in the back. Our suburban neighbors are excited for us and look forward to our next growing season
Not self sustaining, but what we can do in our corner if CO high desert

Leila August 10, 2013 at 8:59 am

Love this post! I am dealing with the same situation but on less land. I have a huge deck that gets lots of sun and only a small part of my yard gets any. This year I decided to try some large container planting on the deck. I got 4 kinda large tubs from where I work (they just throw them away!). I drilled some holes in the bottom and filled with compost and dirt. Currently I grow some herbs in them and they are doing great. It is still a work in progress but I plan on using more of these tubs next summer with more produce.

Bonnie Toney August 10, 2013 at 10:42 am

Thank you for sharing this. It is exactly where I am. I have felt like a permaculture failure but the reality is, I’m 62 and can’t do as much as when I was 30. I’d love to have chickens but hubby says no and when I actually think of all the care they would take, I say no, too. I’m glad to know there are others with the same mind.

Olivia August 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Having a large garden does sound wonderful. I have a small raised bed and several containers for vegetables in my back yard. I dream about having more land, more garden and some chickens….then I get to help with a family member’s country land. In the Louisiana heat, and at my age, the dream is better than real true life. There is no day off, if you are sick you still have to feed animals and forget a vacation. There are always a list of things to do, to start or to repair. The work really is endless. So be careful what you wish for…….

Handful August 13, 2013 at 10:36 am

Luckier than many… or am I? We took about a 1/2 acre out of the field behind our house and turned ALL that into garden. Another 1/2 acre is becoming a fruit orchard. Lots of work, heatstroke, sunburn, bug bites, knee deep all summer and fall in canning supplies in my large kitchen, missed opportunities for fun filled sunny days on a beach or a ride on my Harley.
I would not trade it for the world. It is so satisfying to know, really know what is on my table.

Natalie August 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm

I don’t usually comment on websites. Love this site…..but just have to throw my 2 cents in. LOL. I am 52. I stayed home…doing various odd jobs to make ends meet…with my two girls. We homeschooled. I started a very small garden when they were just babies. It grew and grew as they got older and I learned to can, freeze and some dehydrating. We went to u-pick it stands and farmers markets. I learned to buy market down meat, etc. One year I counted 750 jars. When they left home I got rid of all my canning supplies. Then the economy took a down turn….and I love the security of a stocked pantry. Now we both work full time…have a few raised beds…visit the farmer’s market…and u-pick farms. It is amazing how much we can put back. But truly self sufficient….raising all you need….it would be exhausting…just like the old timers did. I love the mix of doing some and buying others. We just bottle fed our first calves 1 1/2 ago. One day we may get there…but I am truly just enjoying the journey.

Daisy August 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Natalie–750 jars!!! You were really cooking that year. Amazing!
Handful–You paint the picture well. A real push/pull. The orchard, oh!

Missy August 15, 2013 at 6:49 am

I’m so there…. I have this ‘push’ to be as sustainable as possible- but I work full time (my job is a blessing- my children are grown, in college, live on there own). I have very little time to garden and sew my own paper towels etc. But I love the idea. HOWEVER!!! I can support my local farmer. I get my milk from her. I carve out time to make my butter, kefir, ghee, and paneer. I have an herb garden for food and for medicine. I have several herbal salves in the fridge. AND THANK YOU LORD- I just discovered bushes and bushes of Elderberries growing in my yard! (I just learned about Elderberries last year).

Thanks for being honest. I’m praying that the Lord will show me what to do and where the balance is. 🙂

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