Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Focus on Possibilities

I yammer incessantly about my small space and the challenges of attempting to satisfy some significant portion of our dietary needs on what we can grow on our quarter acre (supplemented by stuff we buy, and also by food we forage). With more than one-third of the population of the US living in suburban-type areas on less than an acre of land (and many, many more living in urban areas with even less land than that), it seems kind of relevant. An acre is 40000 square feet. The usual size for a suburban lot is 5000 to 10000 square feet, with 10000 square feet being considered a "large lot." My lot is just under 10000 square feet. Our nanofarm is big for suburbia (although smaller and oddly shaped for what's normal in my neighborhood).

Still, I've always felt, and I've always said that it's not size that matters (when it comes to self-sufficiency), but what one does with what one has. There are a lot of people who are doing quite well with not a lot. The key is to not accept limitations but to imagine possibilities, to not accept what others believe as fact (i.e. less than five acres is too small for self-sufficiency), but to make our own realities.

Part of that, for me, has been to be more creative in my growing techniques. I'm not just limited by the size of my space, but I'm also limited in the shape and a few particulars about my lifestyle and my lot. First, as I know I've mentioned before, is that I have a septic system, with a tank and a leach field. The leach field is my front yard, and unfortunately, one of the largest, flat sunny spots on my property. But I can't plant a traditional garden on the leach field.

In addition, I have dogs. Lots of dogs. Lots of big dogs. They need a space in the yard.

They get the top of the leach field.

But not all of it, because it's too much of my limited space to give up.

Part of the area that makes up the leach bed is where I've planted a container garden - and when I planted it, I was sure I was being very clever, planting both beauty and function in the same containers, i.e. I make great use of the small space I have by intensive companion planting.

This container is broccoli and Dianthus, an edible flower variety. It's very pretty - in my opinion - but also
functional, because it's food.

I thought I was being original and clever by planting my vegetables with the flowers.

This weekend we visited the wild animal sanctuary where I noted a container garden (very similar in size to the ones I have in my yard that we made from cutting our broken rain barrels into three pieces) containing pansies, and of all things, corn. I smiled, and took a picture.

For many years I've been promoting the idea that there is a lot one can do with *just* a quarter of an acre and that self-sufficiency IS possible even with that tiny amount of land. There are people out there who are doing amazing things on very small acreages. The other day, I found that someone had written a book about self-sufficiency on a quarter acre (published in 2010), and I thought, "Awesome!" I don't have a copy, but it's going on my to-find-and-read list.

I'm inspired anew to work even harder to make more out of what little space I have. The grape vine is actually looking pretty healthy this year. Maybe this will be the year we (finally) enjoy a grape harvest ... and if not, there are still plenty of other plants ... and I can use the grape leaves in the fermentation process for pickles.


  1. Good looking book! We're on a "standard" city lot. It's about 5,000 s.f. I reevaluate how we use it yearly. With a huge maple tree in the backyard, it cuts down on the sunny areas. We've had it trimmed and thinned to increase the sun. That leaves the front yard. I'm still tying to figure out if I can plant more veggies? We already planted 3 fruit trees, choke cherries, and service berries out there. Still scratching head :) I'd like to grow potatoes, carrots, etc. More root veggies. Maybe a raised bed?

    1. I have a few raised beds, and I do like them. You might also consider other containers. I've used all sorts of containers for growing stuff, including storage bins, in which I grew potatoes one year.

      You can also look into some perennial vegetables/herbs that might look a little more like a landscaped bed. I don't know what would grow best in your area, but there are a lot of choices, for both plants that do well in full sun to plants that prefer shade.

      Like you, we're always adding something and moving stuff around, and my yard has really changed in the almost 2 decades I've lived in my house ;).