A reader named JPL asked me a very good question the other week:
"How close does your garden come to feeding your family? I can calculate the raised bed space you now have, but what about the rest of the homestead?"
I can state definitively that my current garden does not provide ALL the fruit and veggies my wife and I eat. Fortunately I am only growing for two people, but that is still a very large task. Only 1/2 of my .09 acre property is planted with edibles. The other 1/2 contains the footprint of our home, a 12' x 22' shed, and a front yard which is landscaped with flowering shrubs and bulbs. So I guess I'm really working with .045 acres.
In back I currently have five 4' x 8' raised beds, and I'm expanding them for increased veggie space. Last spring (when I started the garden) through fall we did not purchase a cucumber, pepper, or tomato. We had a surplus of them all. We also had pounds (no exaggeration) of basil for pesto, etc. Beginning in August I transitioned the garden to fall production by planting carrots, radishes, beets, lettuce, chard, onions, and kale. The lettuce performed poorly, but everything else thrived. We ate chard all winter; harvested kale like crazy and still have a full bed of kale; consumed an entire bed of carrots (appx. 200); devoured beets, etc. Despite the great harvest, we still purchased a few key items on a regular basis: lettuce, onions, potatoes, and some herbs. Onions and potatoes take up a fairly large amount of space in a garden so it's almost easier for me to purchase them rather than grow them. All in all I guess we made out pretty well with the veggies, yet we were not completely self-sufficient.
I also have a variety of fruit trees and berries planted in the back yard that offer fruit at different times of year. Although many are younger plants, they still produced a few fruits last year. This season I'm hoping for a decent harvest of each variety of fruit because the plants are maturing and growing very well. Here's what I have, listed in the approximate order of production:
Blackberries - This will be their first year of production so I should have berries from May-June.
Raspberries - Last year they fruited at two intervals, June-July and September-October.
Peach - Last year I harvested 8 peaches of poor quality from my one and only tree in July. They didn't receive enough irrigation. This July I'm hoping to double that number and have better quality. If the tree under-performs, I may replace it with a low maintenance tree like another pomegranate.
Fig trees - I have six different varieties planted in the ground and I can expect a very reliable and fairly large harvest from July - October.
Pomegranate - My tree finally produced its first four fruits last November after 4 years of growth from a tiny cutting. Again, hoping for a much bigger harvest this fall because the tree is growing very well.
Citrus - My potted citrus trees put out lemons, limes, and calamondin oranges from December - February.
Looking at the above list, I'm optimistic that my wife and I will have different varieties of fruit to harvest from May 2011 - February 2012, leaving a 2-month gap from March-April. Add the vegetables to this list and it's a fairly substantial amount of production from a relatively small space.
Did we succeed at growing everything we ate? No, but we proved two things. One, we were capable of reducing our overall reliance on others for our food. And two, we were able to do this in a relatively small space. What's the moral of this story? I don't know. But if we had let ourselves be limited by our perceived lack of space for growing sufficient produce, we never would've succeeded at proving ourselves wrong.