Self Sufficiency Suitability

Share with others

Sharing Things Always Increases Their Value

I was asked recently if my aim of living on an acreage property was to be self-sufficient and the enquirer was quite taken aback when I answered with a resounding ‘no way – do you know just how hard that is to do!’ Self-sufficiency is a pretty big deal in many circles, with advocates from permaculture groups, homesteaders and those searching for a reliable way to gain control of their health and food security and the concept is not to be dismissed lightly.

But what exactly is self-sufficiency and should we aspire to it? The dictionary definition of this term tells us that the adjective, ‘self-sufficient’ relates to being able to provide for oneself or manage without aid. Now, this may be quite important to you if you live on a multiple-million-hectare property six hours from any form of civilisation, but for those of us in small communities or even thriving centres does it make sense to try to live this way?

Even one year in a backyard garden will show you how much time and labour consumption go into growing enough to feed a family and for many of us this has to be weighed up against the income-earning potential of those hours. Now I’m not advocating that we all spend our time at the coalface or that we should buy our groceries from mega-corporations online because ‘there are only so many hours in a day’, but I do believe we can look at a more community-based sufficiency model rather than just a ‘can I grow enough of everything I need in my own backyard’ structure.

We are blessed to live in a community with many of the resources needed for such a community-based solution, and whether or not you know it, the answers can be found simply in being prepared to share yourself, your time and your resources with those around you. Taking into account the individual preferences, talents and environments in which we live, being community-sufficient could be as simple as growing food that does well in the particular microclimate of your backyard and sharing your surplus with others who do well at growing completely different but equally sustaining, nutritious and local, crops.

This system ratchets up to the next level with the inclusion of local growers markets and small businesses, on up to the larger community-based businesses that strive to provide for each of the needs we as a population tell them we have. The larger global brands can only dictate their control if we believe we really do need what we are being offered and every person has the opportunity to make their choice each time they are faced with the option.

I have chosen to live on a Better Ridge certainly to live more frugally, to eat as locally and according to the seasons as possible and to have greater control over the environment in which my food is grown. As for self-sufficiency though, I value the exchange of food, information and energetic connection that arises from having a somewhat larger focus.

Seed Saviours

Healthy Garden Growth

So Much in the Garden Does Well on Its Own

The last couple of months have been a little sporadic in the garden. A terminal illness and death in the family overlapped with birthdays and school holidays have somewhat thrown our basic schedule off track, but I’m pleased to say that regardless of what we as a family have been doing, the garden has reassuringly continued to thrive.

The salad greens I planted in my recycled raised garden beds a couple of months ago have flourished and are nourishing us at almost every meal. The snow peas that were planted at the same time have not only flowered but are rapidly filling out pods, and the marigolds are doing a great job as natural pest deterrents.

Although I’ve not been tilling the soil or harvesting great baskets of produce, I have managed to do some smaller-scale planting and have been raising my next crop of herbs, peas and cottage garden flowers which will all soon be big enough to plant out into the garden.

With such an intense focus on the latter part of the life cycle growing things from seeds has been a welcome reminder that the wheel continues to spin, everything is in a continual state of change and that a small amount of action and attention now will mean there are ongoing food and cheerful colour throughout the winter.

Herb Habitat

Herb Spiral

Revitalising the Herb Spiral

After a very wet 2013, our large herb spiral began to resemble something of a wild, over-grown, soggy, weedy jungle. A preoccupation with building, travel and other matters once the rain had stopped saw this once well-ordered herb habitat quickly turn in to a wild, over-grown dry weedy jungle. Just the look of it had us rolling our eyes and imagining the stiff shoulders and sore backs that would surely follow if we tried resurrecting it to its former glory.

However this, like many of the bigger jobs on the farm, was a far bigger task in our minds than in reality. The very welcome recent rains (400mm over four days) renewed the urge to get out there and rejuvenate the garden. The wet spell made the process of removing weeds so much easier, and the job (which had been agonised over and put off for so long) was completed in just one day! The poly path edging was straightened up, and the tired-looking stones around the bottom were lifted and reset after being half-buried from the heavy downpours of last year. The soil was given some more nutrients and a new lease of life with a dusting of gypsum, minerals and manure.

As living mulch, a row of 100 lemongrass plants was planted on the downside of the gravel pathway.  These plants will fill out to form an erosion barrier (especially in times of heavy rain) but will also be ‘chopped and dropped’ so we shouldn’t need to buy in mulch for this garden again.

Herb Spiral Mulching

Mulching the Herb Spiral

After the initial soil preparation, the spiral was heavily covered with sugar cane mulch, and then the Ridge Kids delighted in broadcasting the seed bombs we made (from the last issue) all over the mulched area.  This green manure crop has rapidly germinated after a boost of nitrogen from a few good thunderstorms, a dose of hot sun and a good watering from the heavens and will end up another great source of ‘chop and drop’ material to enrich the soil even further.

With a foundation like this, we are sure to have a bountiful and nutrient-dense crop of herbs to last us for many meals to come.

Seed Bombing

Making Seed Bombs

Mixing the soil, clay and seeds before they are rolled into Seed Bombs

We have the school holidays off to a ‘flying’ start here on The Ridge. In order to continue our planting schedule and provide the kids with yet another reason to be outdoors, we planned a seed bombing mission on a newly renovated garden bed.

We threw together a mix of cow-pea, jap millet, lucerne and sunflower seeds and soaked these for about half an hour in a mix of buttermilk and molasses. Soaking your seeds before planting activates them, making them more likely to germinate and sprout once in the soil. Using liquid that is nutrient-dense (and preferably fermented) provides the plants with a super boost and is a great start to life. Other things you could use to soak your seeds in include

– the liquid from kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut,

– the whey that forms on the top of your natural yoghurt, or

– some kombucha tea.

However, if you don’t have any of those, you can just leave a little milk at room temperature until it sours and use that.

Seed Bombs Drying in the Sun

Seed Bombs Drying in the Sun

Once the seeds are plump, you know they are ready for planting. If you intend to raise your seeds in the traditional manner, they can be planted into seed-raising mix, fine compost or dug straight into their growing location. For this adventure, though, we gathered some potting mix and sticky clay and added it to the soaking seeds. An activity in itself, great fun was had in kneading the ingredients together then rolling them into palm-sized balls. These were then placed in the sun to dry off a little. The clay allows the bombs to stick when thrown, and the soil provides the growing medium for the seeds to develop their roots and make their way into the underlying ground.

Launch time was a mix of gardening and playful warfare and kept the kids occupied for ages. Although more often associated with guerrilla gardening, our seed bombs proved an effective method for both sowing a cover crop and keeping the kids occupied during the school holidays. Seed Bombing is definitely an activity we’ll be trying again, and I think one that will be very effective for planting out a steep and hard-to-reach bank behind a creek.

Practical Palms

Palms and their products

Palms and Their Products

Some people dislike palms because of the mess they create, however, if you choose the right variety, such as the self-cleaning  Alexander Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae), they can be one of your greatest resources. Not only do they provide a cool, shady, tropical feel, the flowers are a magnet for birds and bees (especially those of the native variety), and they are very resilient in dry weather, and they also thrive when inundated with water for long periods.

Here on The Ridge, we make use of every bit our palms. When their fronds fall, we use the leaves as an excellent source of carbon for the compost, or we cut them into small pieces to use as mulch around the veges. Once the leaves have been stripped off the frond, we use the remaining ‘mid ribs’ to make strong garden stakes. We collect lids cut from tin cans and use metal punches to stamp out the names of the plants we want to mark out and then screw the lid straight to the stake. These make very long-lasting, weatherproof labels (sometimes lasting longer than the plant itself).

Palm Leaf Sheath

The Palm Leaf Sheath Makes for a Great Vase

The inflorescence (flower spike), once dried, is a very useful material for weaving baskets, hats, platters or garden art. The leaf sheaths, creatively folded, make very strong baskets or a wrap for a bunch of flowers or herbs as a gift. The flower sheath, once fallen, can be finely stripped to make string and rope or be used for weaving.

The seeds are easily propagated and can be sold or given away as yet another resource, but the best use of all is to hang a hammock between two sturdy palms and while away the hours with a good gardening book.

Give It Away To Keep It

Published in Eumundi Green Issue 191

Life on a Better Ridge Give It Away To Keep It

We were recently gifted a mammoth pumpkin (a Trombone Gramma to be precise), and it reminded me just how homogeneous our food can become if we only ever shop in supermarkets. When was the last time you saw a two-and-a-half-foot pumpkin in the fresh food aisle? I rest my case.

There are, however, many ways we can ensure that non-conformist species like this pumpkin continue to grace our tables. Many locations have formal seedbanks or seed-saver groups from which you can buy heirloom-variety seeds to grow at home, and there are commercial nurseries that will ship stock directly to your door. Farmers’ Markets are also a great source of non-compliant vegetables.

Buying veges from a local source like this also has an added informational component; the growers are usually more than willing to let you in on propagation advice and seed-saving tips so your crop will produce year after year. Not everyone has a Monsanto mindset and most people when asked, will be happy to share the lessons they have learned (given their knowledge, and possibly their plants, likely came from asking similar questions).

But our best resources are usually right on our doorstep. Neighbours and friends often have all sorts of interesting things hidden in their back gardens or in dusty bottles and packets of seeds that they found in great aunt Daisy’s airing cupboard. And if they live nearby and the plant grows well there, then you have a pretty good chance of being able to grow them at your place too.

The best way to keep heirloom varieties alive is by, well, keeping them alive! Seeds do have a shelf life and along with that can fall victim to moisture, mould and small critters. One thing I particularly advocate when you do get hold of interesting seeds or cuttings is to share them around. If you can give them to friends, neighbours or relatives to grow, they not only get to enjoy the foods or flowers these provide but with each successive generation you can collect more seeds and spread the species further. There is also the bonus of having access to more seeds if there’s been a particularly bad cold snap, dry spell or chicken invasion and you’ve lost your crop.