One of the initial aims that led us to go off grid was to grow a higher proportion of the food we consume. Below I’m going to talk you through my own design process.
- What foods do I consume at the moment? Keeping a food diary for a week or longer could help you answer this!
- What are my favourite meals and recipes?
- How would I like my diet to look?
- How many people do I wish to feed?
- What are their dietary needs?
- What grows well in this climate?
- What are other people growing?
- What local produce do I see at farmer’s markets?
- What are the average temperatures, weather conditions?
- What is the soil pH?
- How many hours of sunlight does my garden site receive?
- What is the average rainfall?
- How long is the growing season?
- What crops have I grown successfully before?
A good design will be a marriage between what you
require, what you desire and what suits the land. From the ‘food questionnaire’ you should be able to draw up a dream list of foods you’d like to consume, and rough quantities of what you’ll eat annually. From the ‘growing questionnaire’ you can draw up a list of foods you are going to be able to grow well and easily on site.
Circle the foods which appear on both lists- these crops are your starting point for a homegrown diet.
Now turn to the foods which are on your desire list but haven’t been circled.
- Some you may be able to subsitute for foods that are easier to grow in your climate. Eg. Sweet peppers for courgettes, pine nuts for pumpkin seeds.
- Some may be things that you love so much that you’re willing to put the extra effort in for. Extreme example: Avocados in the UK.
- Some maybe foods which you’re happy to keep on buying- possibly with the money from sales of surplus veg. My examples; coffee, chocolate.
Next look at the foods which grow well in your area, but aren’t circled. Are there any you might like to try?
What’s really important is that you end up with a good nourishing diet that you also enjoy. There’s a lot of theories on what makes a good diet- I’m sure you have your own ideas. For me its about a diversity of fresh, local foods; a mixture of fats, carbs, veg, proteins, ferments, vitamins and minerals.
So by now you should hopefully have a list of foods you hope to eat and quantities.
Now we need to consider the ‘seasonal dimension’, that is, what food you’ll have when, how you’ll have food all year round.
In the UK it’s hard to grow a diverse diet, outside, all year round. So during winter and early spring we eat mainly stored foods. It is also possible to extend the growing season by using glasshouses, polytunnels and even geothermal heating (check out what this guy’s doing with geothermals!!)
Anyway… you’ll need to research when the foods on your list will be avaliable for harvest, how you might store them otherwise and adjust your list accordingly. There are many vegetable that store over winter in the right conditions; squash, parsnips, carrots, onions, potatoes, beetroot to name a few. Our other storage methods are jams, preserves, ferments, drying and freezing ready meals in our off-grid freezer.
We found a low tech method for storing root veg is to chuck them in a recycled feed sack with dry builder’s sand in it, then hang it in our shed where the mice won’t get to it. A better option is an old chest freezer full of sand…. or even better a purpose built cold store..
Play around with your list and see if it looks feasible to you. Don’t worry too much about getting it spot on- you’ll have plenty of time to Evaluate and Tweak.
Collecting this information has greatly informed our land design as a whole- and the techniques we use too. You can continue reading this ‘SADIMET production’ here where I look at our annual vegetable garden design in more detail.
Finale Top Tip….
When we decided we wanted to grow our own food I decided to start adapting our diet straight away. Firstly, by choosing to buy local seasonal veg over imports. Secondly, by substituting the imported things we bought for alternatives which could be grown in this country.
Eg. Cornflakes–> Oats, Lentils–>Quinoa, Rice–>Millet
This gave us a chance to try out our plans before we put them into practise.