Many of us have dreamt of a self-sufficient lifestyle where we need no one and nothing outside of ourselves. Though this is a beautiful idea, it is very impractical, and nearly impossible. The only way for true self-sufficiency to be possible is with a combination of giving some things up and creating a community that works together. This way, the many tasks for self-sufficiency are spread out among multiple people.
When it comes to food, all plants and animals will most likely need tended to at least once a day. If you only want to be self-sufficient with your food, you may be able to do this on your own. Otherwise you’ll likely need help in other areas of self-sufficiency.
There are hundreds of planting guides out there. Some are broad with little detail, while others narrow, even pinpointing a specific region. Here I want to give you the basics so you can apply them to your situation.
The first thing to consider when growing anything is your soil. Soil pH is a hot topic for many gardening books, but if you cannot access tests that tell you what your soil is doing, you need another option. If your soil is too acidic your plants will develop yellowing on the foliage. If it is too alkaline, they will develop dark green foliage and even reddish hues. Adding aged manure when you see yellow, and wood ash when you see dark green or red, should balance out your pH.
Your soil will separate into its main components if you shake it in a jar with water. After sitting for a while they will be stacked, from top to bottom, as clay, silt, and sand. You want a ratio of 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand. You can add whatever you are lacking.
Next, you should consider what individual plants need. In general, you want to give the plants the nutrients to grow the parts you want to eat. For roots add phosphorus, for fruits add potassium, and for leaves add nitrogen. There are exceptions but this is the trend most plants follow. For phosphorus add bone meals. For potassium use wood ash, but mix it with compost if you don’t want to change the soil pH. For nitrogen use well-rotted manure.
Once you have your soil balanced the way you like it, you need to keep it that way. If you have limited space you may want to use the same garden space every year. For this to work you should amend the soil every year with compost, and use crop rotations so you deplete the soil less. In general, you want to plant from fruit to root and root to leaf. An exception would be nitrogen fixing plants, such as legumes. You can insert nitrogen fixing plants between root and leaf plantings. If you have plenty of space you can rotate between 4 garden plots, allowing each to rest 3 years in turn. This will allow the microorganisms to repopulate the soil and make compost less necessary. This makes planting each garden less complicated since you can plant anywhere you like.
After you get everything growing nicely in your garden you need to guard against other creatures who will eat your food first. To keep large animals, such a deer, away you will need deer fencing, daily sprinklings of human hair clippings, or a good dog. For smaller underground animals you can put strong metal mesh beneath your garden, or get a dog. With above ground rodents you can plant mint around your garden, or get a dog or cat. Basically, a dog is a good idea. Then we come to bugs. Coffee grounds ward off slugs and add nitrogen to your soil. Marigolds planted around your garden will keep most bugs at bay. Soap water spray will kill most everything else.
There are a few things that you will encounter in these planting guides that should be addressed ahead of time. First off, when you see the phrase “root cellar conditions” it refers to a high humidity, low temperature, low lit space, such as a crawl space, unfinished basement, or an actual root cellar. You can learn to make your own root cellar in Nuttatiello Guide to Self Sufficiency Shelter once it is written.
When this book says something about propagating from cuttings you need to follow a few basic rules. First, cut a decent amount of the plant. Don’t cut one leaf, cut at least a portion with two inches of stem. Then you can stick it in water, or into moist soil. To help the rooting process you can dip a dampened end in cinnamon or honey which are natural rooting agents. When you propagate from cuttings your days to harvest will be shorter.
Another thing you will find is that many plants can cross pollinate. When this is the case, I suggest bagging flowers to prevent cross pollination. In the squash, melon and cucurbit families you get seeds from the fruits, which come from female flowers. You can put a paper bag with a lightly tightened twist tie over 2 or 3 of the flower buds with a swelling behind them. The swelling means they are female. You don’t have to bag every flower. When the other flowers are in full bloom, check the bagged flowers, they should be too. Then stick a q-tip or paintbrush into a male flower with no swelling and wiggle it around. Then wiggle the same thing in your bagged flowers, and re-bag them. This is called “hand pollinating”. When the flowers start to wither you can remove the bags, but mark which ones you had bagged somehow so you know to get seeds from those.
The carrot family produces umbels, or round clusters of flowers. When they start to flower cover them with paper bags and tighten lightly with a twist tie. When the flowers are in full bloom uncover them, bounce the umbels against each other, and recover them. When the flowers start to wither you can remove the bags.