Growing your own food means independently producing enough food for your needs. It is a lifestyle that you can adopt gradually and which, depending on your personal experience—have you lived in the city or in the countryside until now?—may prove to be a minor change or a radical upheaval. There are various possible reasons for going down this route: not only to save on shopping, but also to eat better, safeguard the planet's resources, and improve quality of life.
Growing food at home also means reviving expertise that was forgotten in the space of a generation from the post-war period onwards, when people lost touch with the land and with the origin of their food. Ever since that expertise was forgotten, we have become dependent on supermarkets and a whole supply chain from farm to fork. Growing your own food can be the first step towards being fully self-sufficient (in terms of energy, water, etc.), which can ideally influence every aspect of daily life. In this article you will find some ideas on the topic, as well as advice on how to start growing your own food starting with a vegetable plot and fruit trees.
What food self-sufficiency means in practice
Just as you can’t imagine becoming 100% self-sufficient, the same applies to producing all your own food: it would be inconceivable to grow everything you need by yourself and to eat nothing else. Growing your own food should therefore be the final goal, but you can set realistic intermediate goals on the way to getting there.
Let's see what your pantry should contain so that it provides your body with all the nutrients you need to stay healthy (carbohydrates, proteins, etc.):
Vegetables and legumes: grow these in the garden.
Fruit: collect it from your orchard.
Cereals: wheat, spelt and similar grains require ample availability of land.
Oil: an olive grove needs time to become productive.
Sugar: You can replace this with honey, which you can get by keeping bees.
Eggs, milk, meat: consuming these things implies rearing animals, growing feed for them, having space for them to graze, and so on (it also means killing them, which not all people feel comfortable doing). So, a non-exclusively plant-based diet requires a lot more land.
Wine: this is the result of a long process that begins in the vineyard and ends in the cellar.
It is a maturation process that varies depending on tastes and the type of diet you follow (omnivorous, vegetarian or vegan). We have not listed cheese and other dairy products, hams and sausages, coffee, chocolate and many other foods and drinks that end up on the dining table every day. It is therefore clear that growing your own food not only means producing as much as possible yourself, but also obtaining other supplies through swapping and ethical shopping, which involves paying attention to the social and environmental impact of what you buy, for example by prioritising small, local producers.
Cultivate a vegetable plot and orchard to grow your own food
Even if your vegetable plot and orchard don’t provide enough food to meet all your dietary needs, cultivating them is perhaps the simplest step to start producing your own food and gaining some autonomy from the supermarkets. Depending on the climate in your area, a well-organised vegetable patch will produce food for most months of the year, so you will rarely go short of fresh vegetables. What you don't consume straight away must be converted in order to preserve it: summer in particular is the season in which to stock up on vegetables for making purees, preserves in oil, and pickles... The garden is also a treasure trove of raw materials for producing compost and obtaining precious resources from waste, which you can return to nature.
As regards orchards, the ideal solution is to plant a mixed orchard, with various types of trees that bear fruit at different times of year. In this way, production is not concentrated into a short period, and you forego the risk of losing a harvest in the event of unforeseen events or adversities (frost, hailstorms, illnesses, etc.). Consider the multiple uses of many plants that produce small fruits (currants, dog roses and many others): they prefer limited sunlight (partial shade) and may be as useful as hedges. With the surplus fruit harvested from the orchard you can make jams, juices and so on. In addition to all this, orchards provide firewood for your wood burner, wood waste to make chips or pellets for the stove, and material to compost. You can read about this in our article on how to recover green waste.
The surrounding countryside or woodland additionally provides forest fruits, edible wild herbs, mushrooms, wood and much more. The key to living off your own produce is to organise your vegetable plot and orchard in a rational way. They must be designed by choosing plants not only based according to personal taste and how easy they are to cultivate, but above all considering their yield, land requirement, and the shelf life of the produce (for example, apples, onions, legumes, potatoes and pumpkins will keep for months). It is also vital when growing your own food to equip yourself so that you can keep whatever you don’t eat straight away by making it into preserves, and drying, freezing and vacuum packaging it. You can therefore avoid having a monotonous diet by using ingenuity in the kitchen, especially during periods in which the vegetable plot and fruit trees offer limited choice.
What you need to start cultivating a vegetable plot and orchard
If the area you have chosen for cultivation needs to be cleared of vegetation, you can use a brushcutter or shredder to clear away weeds, brushwood, small shrubs and saplings. If the shrubs and trees are thicker in diameter, use a chainsaw.
To prepare the soil of your vegetable plot and orchard you can use manual tools such as a spade, hoe, rake, or even better, motorised tools like a rotary tiller. A wheelbarrow or transporter can help to transport heavy or bulky materials, including soil, fertiliser, plants, tools, wood and much more.
Cultivation practices help you to better manage your vegetable plot and fruit trees in a way that will improve the quality and quantity of the food you harvest. They are therefore essential tasks, especially if you plan to be self-sufficient, for which you can use:
Water pump to distribute the water needed for irrigation if your vegetables are far from a supply source. On that topic, take a look at our article on how to harvest rainwater.
Brushcutter or rotary tiller for tidying between rows on the orchard.
Mistblower for applying specific products, such as treatments against parasites and diseases.
Below you will find a collection of articles with basic information for growing a vegetable plot:
Below you will find articles regarding orchards, vineyards and olive groves: