Can you really grow your own food? Even if you wanted to, how on earth would you get started?! And, bottom line, is growing your own food cheaper than buying it? We answer these questions and many others in this beginner’s guide to growing food wherever you live.
This article is long but the idea of growing your own food has a lot of moving parts. Anyone can do it, though! Read through the information, and then grab a pen and paper to answer the questions. Take time to think about your answers and the ideas you’ve brainstormed.
Resolve right now to at least try to grow food for your family this year!
Can You Grow Your Own Food and Why Would You?
Yes, you can grow your own food and the best reason to do it is that it’s your food. That you grow. In your backyard. You can’t get more local and convenient than that!
Here are a few other reasons to consider:
- There’s no shipping and, therefore, no shipping costs.
- You aren’t effected by oil or gas availability for shipping food to your local store.
- No need to purchase from said grocery store.
- You don’t need to pay a middle man to provide food for your family.
- Your family’s food source won’t be dependent on market forces.
- There won’t be any GMOs in your garden unless you want them there.
- You can grow food without chemical pesticides and other harmful products.
Just you and your dirt. It’s about your safety, your family, your way of life. I encourage you right off to just decide to grow food, in any way you can. AND YOU CAN!
Is Growing Your Own Food Cheaper?
That’s a little tricky to quantify but I’ve seen through my own experience that we all define “cheaper” a little differently. The food I grow myself is healthier and more nutrient-dense than what I can purchase in the store. Therefore, my general health is good and I don’t spend money on doctors, copays, or medicines.
So, does that make growing my own food cheaper? Well, it does for me.
- Another way growing my own enriches my life is that I know I don’t have to worry about whether food is available in the stores. I also don’t have to worry about the fuel that was required to bring my vegetables to me.
- I’m way more connected to my food when I grow it myself and am less likely to waste it. My kids feel that, too!
- I also use my veggie plants to create compost at the end of the growing, which becomes a soil enhancer.
- Additionally, I feed veggie plant scraps to my livestock, which saves on food costs. I also grow specific veggies just for the poultry, goats, and alpacas. More savings.
- Some veggies sown in my garden are used as trap crops that distract nasty bugs from my main crops. I can’t remember the last time I purchased any garden product for controlling bugs!
All of that makes growing my own food cheaper for me.
Food is a Big Homestead Deal, Right?
Food is such a huge part of why we homesteaders, gardeners and DIY types do what we do and live the way we live. As we noted in our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead,
“A homesteaders life revolves around food, am I right?
“We’re usually to be found planting seed, growing veggies, pruning fruit trees, tending livestock that produces or becomes food, bringing in the harvest, preserving the harvest, sharing the harvest, cooking with the harvest and, in general, raising our own food.
People with a homesteader’s heart are often to be found reading nourishing cookbooks. We put more research into how to build up soil fertility than we did our thesis or our baby’s name. How to turn a pig into bacon is the major theme running through the several books we have stashed around the house.
“We homesteaders take food very seriously.”
How Much Food Can You Really Grow?
This is a very logical question and the answer is somewhat dependent on the land you have available for growing food. It also depends on how many people are in your family, and a few other factors.
Get your pen and paper and start taking notes and answering the many questions in these next sections.
How Do You Define “Grow Your Own”?
First, here are some questions to ask yourself about the kind of food you can/want to grow:
- Do you only want to raise vegetables?
- Would you like to grow fruits, too?
- Are you thinking you might like some small farm livestock (like chickens) for eggs? Or meat?
- Do you want to have a dairy animal for milk?
- What about growing mushrooms?
- Or keeping bees for honey?
- What about herbs for food or wellness?
These are just a few of the possibilities when it comes to growing your own food – there are so many kinds of food!
How Much Space Will You Need?
Each type of food has its own space requirements. Here are a few examples:
- A veggie garden that’s meant to feed a family of four should be at least 20′ x 40′, according to The Farmer’s Almanac. (That’s a very relative number, but we’ll just use it as a jumping off point.)
- A single fruiting elderberry plant can require as much as 20 feet of clearance on all side once it’s mature. Cane berries like blackberries are often grown in rows where they’re staked to spread as far as six feet, or more, on each side.
- Chickens, ducks, goats, sheep all have space requirements of their own. For example, a chicken typically requires 3 square feet per bird in the coop to be healthy.
- A homegrown mushroom patch can be limited to a 5-gallon bucket, or be as large as a greenhouse!
- I usually keep at least 6′ of space around my beehive to ensure that it and everyone else is safe, though you can get away with less.
Having said all that, however, you CAN scale your plans to your space. So many things that want to grow large can be persuaded to adapt to smaller spaces (with the exception of livestock that will have health issues if cramped).
If you are growing your own food in an apartment, there are ways to still grow! Tuck that truth away in your mind and keep reading.
How Much Food Will You Need to Grow?
Once you’ve decided what kind of food you can/want to grow, it’s time to start figuring out how much of each item you’ll need to produce. Let’s assume we are going to grow our own vegetables this year.
Here are a few good questions to ask to determine how much of each veggie you’ll need to grow:
What garden space do you have? If you have a very small amount of land available, you’ll need to concentrate on smaller plants (like radishes) which don’t take up much space, and/or vining plants like cucumbers that can be grown vertically and save space in the dirt.
What is your climate like? If you live in Alaska, the growing season (when there’s enough sun and no snow) to produce vegetables is very much shorter than if you live in California. The same is true if you live in Finland, as opposed to another gardener who lives in Ecuador. This climate factor is expressed in a measurement called your “growing zone”, and each place in the world has one. To learn more about your growing zone, I can recommend this class by Angi Schneider.
How many people in your family? And how old are they? Are any of them vegetarians? The answers to these questions will help you determine how much of each vegetable you’ll need to have available every month of the year.
Garden Betty discusses this in her article How Much to Plant in a Vegetable Garden to Feed a Family. She also asks important brainstorming questions to build on what you’ve already covered here.
More on Determining How Much Food to Grow
Space is an important factor in gardening whether you’re on .14 acres (the size of my first homestead) or 60 acres (the size of my homestead now). If you own absolutely NO SPACE, you can still grow your own food in community gardens and plots rented out by local farmers.
Here are a few articles to read:
- If you have a small space, grow vertical gardens as much as you can to increase your yields.
- What if you’re in an apartment? Grow in pots – everywhere.
- If you’d like to increase the amount of land on which you can garden, look around for empty neighborhood lots and see if they can be converted to community gardens. Ask neighbors if they have unwanted space you can use.
- Be bold and garden on top of your grass – grass can take up a lot of precious food growing space!
Here are a few more links for your consideration:
- Learn how to grow enough to feed your family
- Know when to plant each type of veggie – planting at the right time is key!
- How much land is needed to be self-sufficient?
- Do you have special garden ideas in mind? How about Planting a Medicinal Herb Garden?
- Or a children’s garden?
Growing Your Own Food Starts with Growing Good Dirt!
Growing your own food in the garden starts with growing good dirt. Learning to truly nourish your soil, without the need of commercial fertilizers, is a skill that you can start working on this year.
It will take a lot of reading and practicing, so here are a few articles to get started:
- Here are 9 Organic Soil Amendments for Growing Vegetables – these are materials you can source locally and add to your soil to help it grow the delicious vegetables you want it to grow.
- Learn to work with the seasons by building your soil in the fall with Learning and Yearning.
For a small but thorough explanation of how to grow good dirt, please click below to learn more about The Art of Gardening:
Think worms are cool? Have you heard about vermicomposting – that is, composting with worms?
- Here’s an article to answer all your Vermicomposting Questions
- Pint Size Farm can educate you on using mealworms as fertilizer
Learn About Permaculture
Permaculture, a contraction of the words permanent and agriculture, is a way of growing food that:
- Naturally nurtures and grows the soil in the garden and, therefore, the plants;
- Involves polyculture planting, or planting a wide variety and types of plants in the same space;
- Includes capturing and intelligently moving water in the garden;
- And otherwise mimics how nature grows food.
In my opinion, permaculture principles are of the most benefit to the widest range of veteran and newbie gardeners. The principles are sound and work no matter where they’re applied.
To learn more:
- Garden Planning – Tenth Acre Farm – or ANYTHING on her site because it’s fantastic!
- Homestead Lady – An Introduction to Permaculture
- Northern Homestead – Permaculture Zones
- Homestead Honey – Building the Soil with Lasagna Gardening
Harvesting Your Own Food!
Growing your own food is work. Perhaps I should have said that first.
It’s work from the moment you begin to grow your soil to the moment you preserve the last of your harvest before the winter holidays begin (or longer, depending on where you live).
Depending on what you grow and how you’re able to time it for your area, you can begin harvesting early spring and until your first hard frost. Once you really get confident, you can be harvesting year round in many, many climates.
And isn’t that the best part?! You have worked hard and now it’s time to harvest. And harvest. And harvest.
What to Do with All That Harvest?
Treasure it and thank God for it and consume it, making it last as long as possible!
Need more specifics? Here are just a few:
- Harvesting, Curing and Storing Onions
- Harvest Potatoes
- How to Grow, Harvest, Cure and Store Sweet Potatoes
- All there is to know about Pumpkins and Winter Squash
- How to know when to Harvest Broccoli
- Perennial Flower Harvest and what to do with it
- How to Harvest Herbs
- How to save seeds: Leek seeds and tomato seeds
For Further Study on The Harvest:
Learn more about Food Preservation from Homespun Seasonal Living. She even has a wonderful canning booklet to get you started with unique recipes:
Joybilee Farm can help you year round as you learn to use and preserve the harvest of herbs.
Schneider Peeps is here to help you learn more about growing a real garden. She even has a garden notebook resource to use year after year. This is the notebook I use for my garden: