Sustainable Living Is Possible
Have you always dreamed of living a simpler lifestyle, of having an organic or green garden that is sustainable, but you just don't know where to start? Do you dream of eating vegetables and fruit that you know is not full of pesticides and chemicals, that is grown by you and can be picked fresh to eat?
This may be referred to as permaculture; however, it is may also be called simple living or sustainable living. Permaculture is the art and science of working with nature (wind, sun and water) to provide food, shelter, water and other needs with minimum labour and without depleting the land.
While most of us would love to have that dream piece of land to set up orchards, vegetable gardens, livestock and of course that dream cabin with solar panels and water tanks, it is not always possible. Does this mean that leaving a smaller footprint and beginning the journey to sustainability and self-sufficiency is impossible? Of course not! Sustainable living is easily achievable and possible—no matter where you live. Read on to follow my tips on how to micro-farm in your own backyard.
Why Do We Micro-Farm?
- We Eat Healthier: The longer we micro-farm in our backyard, the happier we are and the more we eat fresh, healthy and less-processed foods.
- Weight Loss: We have both lost weight since we have chosen to eat fresh, homegrown vegetables and fruit and our health has improved. My type 2 diabetes has improved and I have been slowly reducing my meds.
- Organic: It is organic and pesticide free. Although we still shop for odd items that we are unable to produce ourselves, one day we hope to eat only from our own garden.
- Fresh: We know that what we eat is picked fresh from the garden—it has not been in a market or supermarket for weeks and days.
- Better Flavour: Home-grown produce undisputably has better flavour. Vegetables and fruit are not artificially ripened and so taste far better.
- Pollination happens in your own garden, which benefits your own plants.
- Saving the Planet: You are contributing to bettering the planet and reducing your footprint on the planet.
- Your children learn from you: It teaches us about sustainability and seasonal vegetables as well as encourages our children to appreciate the food on their plates and where it has come from. It involves the whole family in producing food and children are more likely to eat vegetables and fruit they have grown than if it arrives on their plates from the market.
Sustainable micro-farming in your own backyard doesn't have to be a dream—it is possible if you put your mind to it. It's also a whole lot of fun.
Myths About Sustainable Living
- "You need a large piece of land." This is far from the truth. Green living/sustainability is not only for farmers or landowners. Many people create sustainable gardens in their own backyards. We have created a sustainable garden over the last 18 months that has provided us with beautiful, fresh produce. We have had more than enough food from our garden, so much so that we have had to give vegetables and eggs to our friends.
- "It is expensive to set up." Anytime you buy brand new equipment, it will cost you money. We have set up our gardens and chicken coop on a shoestring budget. We believe in upcycling and recycling and so everything we have set up has been from rubbish others have thrown out, materials from a recycle, waste centre or materials found on hard rubbish piles ready for collection. We have purchased very few new materials and if you keep your eyes open it is simple to find solutions.
- "You have to follow permaculture rules." While knowing about permaculture and educating yourself is helpful through documentaries and videos, it is not imperative for creating a sustainable garden. Use your common sense as to where you want to place things in your garden. Practicality is more important than rules. Creating a sustainable garden does not have to follow the strict principles that permaculture sets out. We keep our herbs planted in containers outside our kitchen door because we use them frequently. Our chickens are at the end of the garden away from the house so as to not disturb us and to be near the compost heap when we clean their coop.
- "You have to be a hippie or tree-hugger to live this way." This is an old perception of micro-farmers. Gone are the days when those who wanted to connect with nature were hippies or people who wished to live on a commune. Almost everyone has become aware of the global epidemic of obesity that is affecting our population and the need for healthier food choices has made us aware of the need to know where our food comes from. All kinds of people are hoping to live healthier, simpler lives.
- "You don't need to grow your own food if you can access an organic market." While buying organic is great, it is not the same as growing your own food. Growing your own is considerably cheaper than buying organic and it has other benefits too. It connects you to nature and the pleasure of watching the ground on your property (even if you rent as we do) produce food you know is safe is extremely rewarding.
- "It is time-consuming." I won't lie to you—it does require time to grow your own food, but the beauty of it is that it is flexible. There is no designated amount of time that is required to make it happen. You can dedicate as much or as little time as possible to your garden. Obviously the more time you spend setting it up, the greater your yield will be and the bigger your garden. You can choose to build it up slowly over time or spend a weekend working intensively to set it up. Involve others and make it a family project and divide up the chores of watering, weeding or caring for any animals you may have.
- "Micro-farming makes your garden ugly." This excuse makes me smile—there is nothing prettier than a fruit tree in full blossom or laden with colourful, bright lemons. Herbs are particularly pretty, too: lavender, rosemary, mint and almost every herb produces lovely flowers. Even leeks bloom beautifully if left long enough. Planting edibles among your flower beds also fills in gaps and also keeps some pests at bay. Plan your garden so that the uglier elements are confined to areas that are not visible from the street.
- "You need to be good at gardening." How will you know that you are no good at gardening unless you give it a try? None of us is good at anything until we try and even fail a few times. This is how learning occurs. Nowadays with videos and blogs it is possible to learn about absolutely anything—even gardening.
How We Began
Knowing how to begin sometimes is the hardest part—but it doesn't have to be. Here are some tips on how to begin:
- Begin by buying one tree a month or bi-monthly: We rent our home and so we did not want to spend a huge amount of money on planting fruit trees in our landlord's garden; however, we did want trees.We bought ourselves an olive tree, an almond tree, a banana tree and a paw-paw tree. We potted them in huge plastic containers that were the cheapest we could find at our local home-wares store.
- Pot plants in containers: We potted our strawberries in an old barrel that we picked up off the side of the road. Start by collecting as many containers as you can. See opportunity in objects that others are throwing out and re-use. This truly lessens the amount of rubbish going into landfill which benefits our planet.
- Plant Beds: All our other vegetables we planted into some of the garden beds we created or re-purposed.
- Find creative ways to plant herbs and edible flowers: Old pots bought from a recycle waste centre cost a fraction of purchasing new pots, an old wheelbarrow we found dumped on hard rubbish became a large bed for herbs and old wooden crates became beds for flowers and vegetables. We even managed to create a small water pond in the one wooden box we constructed.
- One man's rubbish can be another's opportunity: Old pallets that are thrown out or discarded provide a great opportunity for vertical beds or making raised beds. The possibilities are endless. We even found an old wooden ladder that we use to stand pots on and it has become a trellis the beans are growing up right now.
- Check out your local garden centres to see what vegetables are in season and read the back of seed packets to learn what to plant when.
- Backyard chickens are an added bonus: Setting up a chicken coop does not have to be expensive—our chicken coop is made purely of recycled materials—it is rustic and simple but quite sufficient for our chickens as they free range in certain parts of our garden during the day (we do have to keep them from some of the vegetables).
- Micro-farming can be done in small spaces: Our courtyard is full of pots and vegetables and even an apartment with a balcony is suitable for growing a few vegetables and herbs.
- Do not spend a fortune on plants: Take slips from friends' gardens—our rosemary, ginger, lavender and lemongrass were all slips we rooted and planted. It does take longer but is so rewarding at the end of the day. Seed your own vegetables, too. Potatoes are easy to plant when they sprout, pumpkins and garlic also grow well as do tomatoes, beans and sweetcorn.
Things to Consider
- Preparing your soil: It may be necessary for you to supplement your soil when you begin and it is a good idea. If you are potting your plants use a good compost mixed into your soil. We have created our own compost over time, throwing all our vegetable and fruit scraps, grass cuttings, old hay from the chicken coop into a compost heap. The boys in our family even take the odd leak over the compost heap as this gives extra nitrogen which ultimately benefits the plants. Cultivating our own compost has been very helpful in growing our vegetables and supplementing the soil. It has also enabled us to keep our chicken coop clean and find a way to utilize the old straw.
- Make Things Simpler: The maintenance of our garden has been simplified by my husband creating a drip feed scheme with a large container that he has modified to water the garden during the really hot Australian summer months. He used a large tub which he covers with a makeshift lid. Then he ran tubing used in fish tanks down to the garden as it was cheaper than irrigation pipe.
- Extra supplements: He also adds Epsom salts every now and again to the bottom of the plants and they respond so well to the extra nutrients. One of the best benefits to fee dour plants has been worm tea which we now harvest from our worm farm. The vegetables and plants love it diluted in water.
Chickens and Worms
- Backyard Chickens: We have four chickens currently in our backyard and they produce lovely, large eggs. We do not feed them only layer mash, as we initially did, because we've discovered that this type of food really shortens their lifespan and messes with their natural rhythms. Now we give them layer pellets occasionally but the bulk of their food source is from digging for worms and bugs, leftover vegetable and table scraps as well as grass which they seem to love. Since we have changed their diet and even included some maggot worms and more protein they have really been producing fantastic eggs.
- Worm Farm: It has taken us two years, but we have recently started a worm farm. This is because it creates compost but also worm tea, which has incredible benefits for the garden. We use an old rubbish bin that we've converted to our farm. We drilled a hole in the plastic and inserted plumbing pipes to have access to the farm as well as a tap for the worm tea to be taken from the farm. Our biggest expense was buying 500 worms to get started, and even that wasn't a huge expense.
- Collecting rainwater also benefits our plants as the composition of rainwater is far more nutritional than tap water. It also saves on water bills when you can use rainwater to water the vegetables.