Gardening Magazine

Cultivating a Space

By Sophiecussen

I’ve always had this dream of living on a small-holding or to live in a house on an acre of land where I could just do nothing else all day with but work outside growing crops and raising chickens and other small animals and be completely self-sufficient.  It would of course be utter hard work, in all weathers, but it would be very rewarding and I could be at one with the land.

Lego crops

Photo courtesy of Carly & Art

Over the years I’ve been completely frustrated by the cost of land and the lack of options for getting into small-scale crop growing.  I either needed to be very rich or move to Bulgaria.  I was even more dismayed when looking at allotments as it was going to cost me £90 yearly for a plot, a plot that wasn’t ever going to be mine to keep.

But rather than moan about it I decided the next best thing would be to use what we already had in our possession – the garden.  Was it possible to grow any fruit, was there enough room for growing enough for at least two people, would it be expensive to do?  Well, there was only one way to find out.

The self-sufficiency challenge

When I first started re-designing our front and back gardens last yr I only had one thing I wanted to set out and achieve:-

  • To be able to grow as much fruit and vegetables with the space available to us.

It’s been very successful (review later on in the year) but more than that it’s kinda woken me up to a few things, on a more personal level.

Things like – as I self-develop my love of animals means I could never have had a small holding with pigs and goats because I’d want to treat them like pets, give them names, and never ever send them to slaughter.  Which kind of negates the need for all that space.  (I wonder if there are any vegan small-holdings?)

  • That just having five raised beds, two lawns, two grow houses, and various fruit/nut trees is enough work to keep me busy most evenings and weekends.  Yes some days are work heavier than others but when you (or the household), work full time you still need to be pretty organised.  On a grander scale I can’t imagine how I’d cope!  I couldn’t even be sure that if I had an allotment on top of the gardens that I’d be able to use it effectively.  So it’s taught me that it’s either a full time job or it’s a part time job along side other areas of interest.
  • That gardening is different to self-sufficiency.  Or at least I’m still trying to grapple this point.  Can my garden still be classed as self-sufficient without chickens or goats?  Should it really be called a kitchen garden as it feeds us?  Hmm, I’m thinking that perhaps this is one to define as the year goes on.
  • That my love of vegetables has grown more than I thought it would as I’ve gone along and I’m actively more interested in where our food comes from, the food chain, and what influence supermarkets have.
  • That actually I don’t mind being a townie.  This might be a cop-out for not having to take a huge plunge in changing our lives if we moved (I’m not sure yet).  That the countryside might actually turn me into some kind of shouting old woman that runs after the fox hunts and gets frustrated by the pesticides being dumped on the fields, the housing estates being built and the sheep being sent off to slaughter.  That actually I’m more townie than I realised but that I’m no longer annoyed with this fact.
  • That by starting off on a small scale, growing fruit and vegetables is a very enjoyable way of spending time.  I’m constantly being challenged by the space but nothing that can’t be solved (yet!), which is far easier (and probably cheaper) on smaller plot.
  • That the size doesn’t mean any less variety in growing plants.  It just means it’s done on a smaller scale which causes less waste.  It also means I’m much closer to my crops and I can keep and eye on them closely.
  • That you can definitely have cultivation space along side leisure space.  Okay our lawn looks like something out of a disaster movie but that’s because it’s used.  There is also enough seating to enjoy the sunshine all day long and enjoy the garden when it’s been worked in.
  • That although I don’t see or hear nearly as much nature as I would living in the countryside I still do see a lot.  Birds, foxes, bees, butterflies, squirrels…they are all coming to our garden because they know we give them good fodder and a safe haven.  The garden works in harmony with nature, and apart from hearing the fox near by killing or the hawk swooping off with it’s next meal at least I don’t have to see any animals being raised and sent to slaughter.
  • That for the first time, this year I could go into a supermarket and completely ignore the fruit & veg isle because we had enough to eat from our own garden.  It might only have been a couple of weekends but hopefully it will be more than that once I rotate the beds and learn to sow in succession.
  • That growing anything, on any scale is life long learning.  I’d love to have come from a farming back ground or studied farming at University but that doesn’t mean I’m not learning along the way every time I plant seeds or measure out the planting space.
  • That I look at other people’s garden’s now (including their front garden) and imagine what crops they could grow.

Going down the plant lane

I’ve mentioned animals and slaughter twice now.

That’s because from a personal point of view I have really begun to get in touch with the food I’m eating and find myself quite sub-consciously yet actively moving towards a more plant based diet.  The business of food, and how it reaches our plates bothers me more and more as I grow our food for the table.

I’ll always actively support local small holders and farms for my meat and vegetables but if I had to kill anything myself I just wouldn’t be able to do it and really there isn’t that much difference between the abattoir killing on my behalf or me doing it – it’s just the sheer scale.


Cover photo courtesy of Wired for Lego

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