Year-round self-sufficiency is possible! We’ll show you our homestead garden and explain how.
A home vegetable garden is lovely. Who doesn’t love fresh produce in the summer and fall.
But what about those long winter months? How do you feed yourself then?
On just a 1/4 acre of our property we are able to grow well over half of the food our family consumes each year. This includes meat, fruit, and a variety of energy rich storage crops that we harvested last fall and are still eating into July.
How Our Self-Sufficient Homestead Garden Began
You can read more about how we got here in our post, Beginners Guide to Self Sufficient Homesteading.
But to give you the condensed version, after moving onto our 5 acre homestead, relying on the grocery store for our food just didn’t seem to make sense anymore. We desired a more self-sufficient, homegrown life.
Learning the secret to feeding ourselves through the winter would be key. So, we looked at how our ancestors grew, preserved, stored, and prepared food before the era of stocked supermarket shelves.
This looked like baskets full of potatoes in the cellar. Chickens on hand to butcher for a quick source of protein any given day or week. Thick skinned squash laid out in single layers that lasted until next year’s harvest. And storage varieties of apples and other fruits that stay fresh long into the winter and early spring months.
Was all this possible on our land? And how big of a space did we need for all of it?
In the winter of 2020-21, the design challenge was on. Here’s a breakdown of the homestead garden we came up with and how it’s worked so far.
Developing Whole Farm Systems
No one part of any farm stands alone. Instead, we see our job as creating a whole farm ecosystem. Each piece should work in harmony and be a companion with the whole.
For instance, an orchard provides diverse habitat for beneficial insects. Raising animals allows for natural forms of land management and replenishing nutrients into your soils. Growing a diverse range or crops increases your lands resilience to drought, pest, or disease. They all make up the whole.
The things we were planning to grow were:
- Fruit trees
- Chickens for meat
- Three sisters garden (corn, beans, squash)
- Other storage crops (carrots, beets, turnips, garlic, etc.)
The question rolling around in our brain is how can we establish all these things on our homestead in one single space and system that works together. Some ideas started to form and it became clear that fruit trees were step one.
Starting with Fruit Trees in our Homestead Garden
The only permanent things from the list above were fruit trees. That would be our starting point! We targeted a long, rectangular part of property that was flat with full sun. It turned out to be about a 1/4 acre.
For our 30 fruit trees we had ordered, we tilled up 3 long rows. Each row was approximately 175’ long and 3-4’ wide; trees were planted about 18’ apart in each row.
While we knew it would be years before these trees produced fruit, it was a worthwhile investment to make early in our homesteading journey. In our post, Beginners Guide to Homestead Fruit Trees, we talk all about planning out your orchard and how to source your trees. We order from Fedco and planted unique, heirloom varieties – many of which are optimized for storage through the winter.
So, our orchard was established! But what about the rest?
Planting a Three Sisters Garden
We had recently been introduced to the three sisters gardening method. This brilliantly simple companion planting method produces incredible amounts of food – corn, beans, and squash – that sustained generations of Native Americans.
So, between the three rows of fruit trees we tilled up two more long rows – each about 150’ long. Following the traditional planting technique, we created mounds every 4’ or so where we planted corn and beans with squash plants between each mound.
We probably shouldn’t have been as amazed as we were given the age-old wisdom this system carried with it. But it all flourished and did exactly what it was supposed to! The corn grew tall, the beans trellised up the stalks, and the squash created a massive ground cover over all of it.
Planting Potatoes and Other Storage Crops
Remember how we tilled up those long rows for the trees? Well, that left a lot of cultivated, fertile stretches of soil between those trees. In them we planted potatoes. Lots of potatoes. 50 lbs. worth.
In 2022 we also planted more storage crops besides potatoes. The previous fall we planted around 100 heads of garlic. In the spring we then added root storage crops like carrots, beets, and turnips. We had previously planted these root crops in our vegetable garden. However, it made sense to relocate all of these to this self-sufficient homestead garden area focused on other storage crops.
Raising Chickens for Meat
The spacing between our rows was determined by the Suscovich Chicken Tractor we built to raise our meat chickens in. The tractor measures 6’ wide. So, between each tilled row, we left a 6’ grassed alleyway.
We pull the chicken tractor through those rows, moving them twice a day. This allows us to raise our meat chickens on fresh pasture. Our chickens really thrived in this system where they act out their natural foraging instincts and help offset the cost of feed.
Moving the chicken tractor through the pastured alleyways also helps cycle nutrients and organic matter back into the soil of our homestead garden. The chickens are never in one spot for long. So, their manure is evenly distributed and not concentrated in any one area.
Adding Bee Hives
We also recently added 5 beehives to the corner of this quarter acre rectangular system. Between the trees, pasture, and crops, there is continuous flowering happening throughout the season. Since the crops growing within this system rely heavily on pollinators, we look forward to having the honeybees close by. And we can’t wait to harvest honey and beeswax!
What We’ve Learned and How We Are Adapting
After one full growing season, we did make a couple changes that should help refine this system in the future:
1. Rotating Crops
We knew it wouldn’t be wise to plant the same crops in the same locations. Especially with growing crops like potatoes and squash that are susceptible to pests when not rotated. So, we planted our three sisters garden in the rows with the trees this year and flip flopped our potatoes to be in the two smaller 150’ rows. So far this seems to be working great!
2. Building a Second Chicken Tractor
Our first year went smoothly but one challenge kept popping up – fighting back the squash plants! We raised two rounds of meat chickens spanning into early August. Keeping the grassed alleyways clear of sprawling squash plants this long to pull the chicken tractor through was no simple task. To remedy this, we built a second tractor and raised a double batch of meat chickens early in the season. A less irritated gardener + happy squash plants = winning all around!
3. Abandoning Planting in the Tree Rows
We realize eventually we will need to stop planting in the rows with the trees. This year might be our last. The tree roots are establishing more and eventually they will get big enough to shade out whatever is growing under them. We may establish one or two more rows for planting on the outside of the current rows. Or, we may simply just plant in the two existing 150’ rows. So far, this garden system has produced more than our family needs. So, planting in less space may very well simplify things and produce an appropriate amount for our family.
The Self-Sufficient Homestead Garden Harvest
That first fall, we were blown away with how much food we produced on such a small space. Literally, we had over 1,000 lbs. of potatoes, hundreds of winter squash, buckets of beans and corn, and 40+ chickens in the freezer. This year, we already have 63 chickens in the freezer and the gardens are looking strong!
We are still in the very early stages of our homesteading journey. What we want you to know is that it’s totally possible to raise meat, fruit, and storage crops to feed your family all year round.
And it doesn’t have to look at all like what we’ve laid out. Yes, it’s possible to reproduce this exact system on some properties. But what if your property doesn’t have a full 1/4 acre for planting? Or you’re in the suburbs or even an urban setting?
You can still grow SO much food! A three sisters garden can be planted in any unused space on your property. You can build raised beds and plant root storage crops in them. You can plant potatoes in containers on your patio. Chicken tractors can be built to fit in almost any yard space. And hey, don’t limit your gardening to the backyard. As we found out when we lived in the suburbs, the front yard is a great option too 😊.
Where are you at and what steps are you taking toward self-sufficiency? We’d love to hear from you!
Interested in more self sufficient living topics? Check out these posts: