Without effective planning, growing your own food can be a crazy mix of feasts and famines.
The feasts are less problematic than the famines but you can get awfully tired of a steady diet of pumpkin. While famines can be handy for rapid weight loss, they can be a real nuisance if, like most of us, you’ve got used to eating regularly.
Knowing what to grow is one thing; achieving continuous production is quite another.
The first step to ensuring that you have continuous food availability is to make up a menu comprising all of the things you and your family are going to eat – three meals a day for at least six to eight weeks.
This period fits in well with many micro-farming cycles. You can be eating your own salad greens in three to four weeks. Silver beet and other leafy greens will follow soon after.
Assuming that your new laying pullets are actually 20 weeks when you buy them, you can expect your first eggs about three weeks after they arrive home. Quail will lay eggs and the birds themselves will be ready for eating at six to seven weeks. Many of the herbs that you’ll need to enhance your meals including parsley, thyme, coriander and chives will be ready by the time you need them for your chicken dishes.
To avoid sharp production peaks and troughs, plant seeds every week. Rather than planting a complete punnet of tomato seedlings at the same time, plant one or two every two or three weeks. Plant six lettuces, or three silver beet seedlings – or whatever you need – each week. Once you get your parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme established, you’ll be harvesting them the ensuing year. For continuous coriander production, you’ll need to plant fresh seedlings at fortnightly intervals.
With the best of planning, you’ll produce more than you need. The surplus can be given away to friends or family or bartered for things you need but don’t have. Your other option is to take your surplus plants or livestock to your local grower’s market and turn it into cash.
Some people compost surplus vegetables and fruit. My view is that the best way to compost unwanted food is to put it through the guts of a chicken., worm or Black Soldier Fly larvae first.
Surplus eggs, bread, vegetables and cooked left-overs can also be fed to your poultry. We always have surplus quail eggs so we hard boil and crush them – and feed them to the chickens…shells and all.
Three good laying pullets will provide 15 to 18 eggs a week for much of the year. Four Muscovy ducks and a drake will keep the average family in premium duck meat.
Five rabbit does and a buck will provide a meal of rabbit for a family of four every week and starting a dozen day old broiler chickens each month will ensure continuous production of up 4 kg (per week) of the freshest and cleanest chicken meat you’ll ever eat.
Six quail trios and a small incubator will provide you with gourmet meat and eggs as often as you want.
I’d recommend that you construct a raised wicking bed garden if you don’t have experience with soil-based gardening. It’s water-efficient, suitable for all types of fruit and vegetables and easy on your back.
A 1000 litre fish tank, some recycled blue plastic barrels and some DIY grow beds/tanks will enable you to add freshwater fish and even more vegetables to the menu.
Research the growing periods (including the germination times) for your choice of vegetables and herbs and develop your planting schedule accordingly.
Your goal is to ensure that you have a continuous yield of fresh, clean food for you and your family. Over time, you can expand your repertoire and the knowledge and skills that you will need to make it all happen.
When you reach the point where you are producing most of your own food, you are also saving an amount of money equal to the cost of the food that you would otherwise have to buy. This saving can be re-invested in other aspects of your self-reliance program like debt retirement, a rainwater tank or some solar panels.
This article was originally published in May 2009. It was reviewed and updated in June 2017.