What does it mean to have a self-sufficient garden? It probably means something a little different to everyone. To me, having a self-sufficient garden means that if I foster it, the garden provides much of what is needed for it to continue thriving from year to year. I encourage self-reliance when I am a good steward of what the garden has to offer.
Self-sufficient gardening is developing skills and putting systems in place to help your garden thrive with less dependence upon other sources and less influence from outside forces.
A self-sufficient garden means you don’t have to run to the store every time you need seeds, compost, or fertilizer. Learn more about how to make your garden (and you!) self-sufficient with these 10 tips.
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10 Tips for Having a More Self-Sufficient Garden
These ten tips aren’t in any particular order, but the more of these suggestions you implement, the more self-sufficient your garden will become.
1. Learn how to save seeds
Saving seeds is not complicated; it is often straightforward. Learn about the crops you are growing and see if it is possible to save seeds from them. Learn the best time to harvest seeds, and store them properly. (This blog post tells you how.) Properly-saved seeds will last for years.
An added advantage to saving seeds is that seeds you save from crops that grow well in your garden are adapted to your garden’s unique growing conditions.
2. Plan and grow your own “seed” crops
When you think of seed saving – think outside the box a little. There are many crops that, if you save bulbs or learn how they propagate, you can grow enough to consume and set aside some to replant the following season.
For example, save your best cloves of garlic to plant the following season. Because I have two planting windows for potatoes, I can save some of my spring potatoes to plant out in the fall. Save a couple of sweet potatoes and grow slips to plant next spring. This blog post tells you how.
3. Learn how to start from seeds (indoors and out)
Learning how to grow crops from seeds successfully is a valuable skill. It can require practice and the right equipment if growing indoors. However, the initial outlay in time and money will be well-paid over and over in the number of transplants you don’t have to purchase from the garden center.
Although prices have gone up, the price of a packet of seeds is usually a few dollars (free if you save your own), and within that seed packet, there are usually dozens of seeds. If stored properly, seeds will last many years and give you more transplants than you probably need.
On the other hand, a six-pack of vegetable transplants (the price for these has also gone up!) is usually considerably more than the price of a package of seeds.
The added benefit of learning how to start from seed is the wide variety of fruits and vegetables, flowers, and herbs that are now accessible for you to add to your garden.
4. Learn which perennial crops grow well in your zone and area
Perennials are a sure way to become more self-sufficient in the garden.
Perennial crops come back season after season, with just a little seasonal upkeep or maintenance needed from you. Good examples of perennial crops to consider adding to your garden are asparagus, strawberries, artichokes, rhubarb, perennial kale, Jerusalem artichoke, I’itoi onions, longevity spinach, and peppers.
5. Plant fruit trees suited to your climate zone
Learn which types of fruit trees grow well in your zone and add them to your garden. Learn how many chill hours your area receives and pick fruit trees that require that number (or less). For example, where I live, citrus grows well and thrives in our native soil, as do varieties of peaches, figs, and pomegranates.
Fruit trees not only provide an abundance of fruit, but many are deciduous, and their leaves are valuable additions to the soil and compost pile.
Don’t forget other fruits like blackberries, raspberries, grapes, goji berries, etc. Learn what grows well in your area and plant it!
6. Learn how to propagate plants
Adding perennials can be a substantial investment, but there is another way to add perennials. Learn how to propagate and multiply your existing plants (or others’ plants). There are many methods:
- Air or ground layering
7. Learn how to compost
Compost is a mixture of ingredients that would otherwise be in the landfill used to fertilize and improve the soil. Adding compost to your garden at the beginning of each season is the best way to prepare your soil for spring, summer, and fall planting.
- Adds organic matter to the soil to improve the texture.
- Fresh compost contains billions of living microorganisms.
- Improves plant health and production.
- Protects plants from certain diseases.
- Helps moderate soil pH.
- Supports the beneficial microbes already in the soil.
With so many reasons to add compost, learning how to compost should be high on your list of ways to become more self-sufficient in the garden.
I compost my garden waste using traditional composting methods and my kitchen scraps using in-bed vermicomposting. I have articles and videos on YouTube about both processes.
8. Create your own fertilizer for self-sufficient gardening
Feeding your soil with compost is essential, but you may sometimes want added fertilizer boosts. There are a couple of ways you can produce some of your own:
Chickens or other livestock produce waste that is high in nitrogen that can be added to compost and then fed to your plants.
Grow comfrey. Comfrey leaves are high in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and many trace elements. Comfrey leaves decompose into a liquid rather quickly and make an excellent liquid fertilizer.
Gow cover crops. Some cover crops can help increase the nitrogen in the soil or be used as green manure.
In this article, learn more about using cover crops during summer to improve garden soil.
9. Learn how to collect and use rainwater
Collecting and saving rainwater for use in the garden makes sense and was a common practice by our ancestors.
Benefits of saving rainwater include:
- Water conservation.
- Saves money on utility bills.
- Access to water during a drought.
- Rainwater contains fewer concentrations of dissolved minerals like magnesium and calcium.
- Unlike tap water, rainwater isn’t treated with chlorine, minerals, and salts.
Before collecting rainwater, check your local laws and regulations to make sure it is legal in your area.
10. Maximize your garden space for self-sufficient gardening
There never seems to be enough room in our gardens (no matter how large they are) to grow everything we want. Using your area efficiently will help you become more self-sufficient in the garden. Methods that maximize garden space include:
Vertical gardening is better for plants and gives you more room to plant! Read this blog post to learn more.
Extend the seasons with shade, hoop houses, crop covers, etc. Read this blog post to learn more.
Succession planting. Don’t leave empty areas in the garden. When a spot opens up, plant something!