Last weekend we took the first steps in bringing our greenhouse vision to life and hopefully using some of our back garden to grow our own food. There’s something so satisfying about growing your own and turning your back garden into a food farm isn’t just a fun project but can also be hugely beneficial for our health. Researchers from Harvard have said growing your own food can improve health in many different ways and I’ve recently read a great book about the impact of growing on our mental health.
Despite the obvious benefits though, turning our back gardens into a potentially more sustainable way of living can feel very daunting. We dipped our toes in the water during lockdown starting off with just a few seeds and a small growhouse just to see if it was something we even enjoyed.
With the cost of living crisis, it may be something to consider so here are some thoughts regarding how to go about it.
Start With A Rough Plan
As I start our own garden transformation, I’ve come across many US “homesteading” accounts on social media. There are more than 2 million farms in the United States and with all that space it makes sense. We all have unique space, climates, ground quality and these are all important factors to consider when starting the plan plus acknowledging that nothing will happen without a certain amount of dedication and hard work.
Whilst you’re developing the plan for your space, here a few questions to keep in mind:
What Crops Will You Grow?
First and foremost, you’ll want to decide what you’ll grow on your food farm. Some crops, like lettuce, peas, and radishes, tend to be very easy to grow and don’t need much space or commitment. I certainly found with our garden, peas were rampant. Other crops require a lot more energy, especially anything which requires a hand with pollination.
It’s also important to think about your climate and soil at this point. For example, heat-loving plants like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers may not be a good fit if you live in a region with lots of cold weather. When I tried growing things in my first year, I had a lot of “helpful” advice telling me things wouldn’t grow in my very warm, mostly south-facing garden in south London because it wasn’t warm enough…from people living the other end of the country!
And, of course, the crops you grow should be foods that you’ll actually want to eat. Last year I sowed 4 cucumber seeds and they all took. But I worried when I planted them out that they wouldn’t thrive so I planted all of them and ended up with about 40 cucumbers at any one time, too much for us no matter how much I love them.
Where Will They Go?
Once you know what you’re going to grow, the next step is figuring out how to fit it all into the space. It’s definitely a good idea to sketch out a map to get an idea of what can be accommodated, but be creative too – is there room to grow upwards and not just use the ground for example? Once the map is ready, take it out into the garden and partition off the spaces where you plan on putting each crop.
Will You Raise Animals, Too?
This is where I really do envy accounts across the pond, and even in the countryside here. Despite me being desperate to have my very own version of The Good Life, I really don’t think I can swing a goat here in suburban London. Raising animals is one of the healthiest ways to provide your family with consistent access to fresh produce such as eggs and milk and its also become a lot easier to do in recent years.
Before we got Boo we had seriously considered chickens – we have the space and I love the idea of fresh eggs. With a portable chicken coop, you can raise chickens without spending tens of thousands on constructing permanent chicken housing and taking up space permanently which is so much more flexible.
Portable chicken coops can also be moved with ease. That way, you can continue using every part of your property to grow food and rotate where your chickens live which also helps to keep things more interesting for them. But raising animals is a huge commitment, which is important to consider before deciding to doing so.
How About Bees For The Garden?
If you want to turn your garden into a food farm, there are several insects that you can nurture to help increase the yield of your crops. Ladybugs, for example, are excellent predators of aphids, which can destroy many types of plants. Lacewings are also effective at controlling aphids, as well as other pests like caterpillars and whiteflies.
Bees are essential for pollination, so consider setting up a bee-friendly environment with flowers that bloom throughout the growing season. With the right beekeeping equipment and knowledge, you can also try beekeeping which you can harvest honey in the process.
By nurturing these insects in your garden, you can create a thriving ecosystem that benefits both you and the environment.
Get the Right Supplies
Now it’s time to pick up supplies and surely shopping is the best part? Items to consider include gloves, seeds, a rake, a shovel, loppers, plenty of soil and manure, a hoe, a watering system (either irrigation or manual), and a wheelbarrow may also come in handy.
Of course the list is never-ending and if for example you plan on building your own raised beds, you may require wood and power tools.
Your supply list will, ultimately, depend on the kind of things you plan on growing and what it will take to transform your space into a garden that’s capable of bringing your plan to life.
Set Weekly Goals
Understanding the growing calendar is so important to achieving success. Of course, it’s not set in stone and as mentioned before everyone has unique growing conditions. But it’s important to know what needs to be done when otherwise as I found out in my first growing year it can all become very overwhelming. Setting weekly achievable goals helps keep those feelings of overwhelm in check
Finally, keeping yourself motivated is important when creating a food farm at home. I have had two growing years and even on a modest basis found it challenging and a lot of work. But the rewards more than make up for it. Once things are up and running, it’s amazing to have heaps of the freshest, healthiest foods possible to eat throughout the year and for the super organised, even store items to eat throughout winter too, whether by freezing or pickling. I can’t wait to see what 2023 brings for my garden.
Post in collaboration.