It's not easy, being green. You do your best; you grow a few peas, you try not to leave the lights on, you separate your plastics from your cardboard every Monday.
But there you are down the supermarket again, staring at a bunch of asparagus wrapped in plastic flown all the way from Peru, wondering what it's been sprayed with to get it here and why they couldn't have bought it from just down the road, and wishing there were some other way.
I'm not about to tell you to jack in the day job and go buy a smallholding on a remote hillside, either. It's much easier than that to take greater control over your food supply. In fact, you already have what it takes to become self-sufficient.
Well, OK, I probably mean self-sufficientish. Nobody's going to be growing their own loo rolls any time soon. And I for one am not prepared to give up pasta, or rice, or bread for that matter, and since I don't have a paddyfield or combine harvester (let alone the time to thresh wheat) I think flour is a little beyond me.
But you can go out, right now, and get hold of three large containers for the patio, balcony or even your front room. Add some compost and a packet of mixed salad seeds, and you'll never need to buy a bag of chlorine-zapped baby-leaf salads again. Find yourself a garden (you don't need to have your own) and you can abandon the fresh produce aisle altogether. One step at a time, you can start looking after yourself instead of depending on others to provide for you (and paying the price).
Here are ten steps you can take today, with your life pretty much just the way it is, to rediscover your own ability to look after yourself.
Grow the self-sufficiency easy hits
There are some veg so easy to grow year-round that I wonder why shops bother stocking them at all. Baby-leaf salads, for example; and coriander; and chillies. Even a middlingly well-grown chilli plant gives you twenty or thirty red-hot fruits - two or three plants gives you a year's supply. Dry what you don't eat straight away and voilà: self-sufficient.
The three-pot wonder
I mentioned how you can supply your own salads with just three pots: well, the same technique works for dwarf peas, herbs, baby beets, chard, in fact anything that's not too big and grows quickly. Sow each pot successionally, one a month, so you always have one just sown, one growing and one to pick. Constant supply: no shopping.
Eat with the seasons
You know I said no lifestyle changes required? Well... not quite. Eating strawberries in autumn will have to go. Asparagus in late summer too. Self-sufficiency means tailoring your menu to whatever's ready right now. But eating with the seasons is actually more exciting: you'll look forward to that asparagus all year, and when it arrives, my, it tastes good.
Share a garden
An apartment balcony can take you so far towards your self-sufficiency goals, but this is addictive stuff and it won't be long before you're yearning for a patch of soil. Again: no smallholding required. Ask around for a garden share (in the UK try www.landshare.net). Community gardens, CSAs (community supported agriculture), city farms... get out there and get stuck in.
Grow posh veg
What you grow is as important as how, especially if space is limited. Some of the best self-sufficiency hits are perennial veg, often high-value gourmet crops like globe artichokes (10 chokes a year for five years and zero effort); asparagus (twenty years plus from one planting), 'Ninestar' perennial broccoli and rhubarb. Plant once and you're self-sufficient for years.
Grow fruit and herbs
Also in the plant 'em once and fill your cupboard for life category are fruit, and shrubby herbs like rosemary, marjoram, thyme and sage. Fruit tree cordons squeeze into the smallest spaces, as do raspberries, blackcurrants and strawberries. Use the three-pot technique and you'll have all the annual herbs you'll ever need, too, including coriander, basil and parsley.
Learn to make pickles
Show me a self-sufficient gardener and I'll show you a good cook. Gluts are a blessing if you're aiming for self-sufficiency, as storing your produce well is your passport to a home-grown winter menu. Pack root veg into boxes, dry and store onions and squash, freeze beans and peas, pickle, bottle, ferment or make chutney with the rest.
Grow your own garden equipment
Self-sufficiency needn't stop at food: in fact it's downright contrary growing zero food miles veg up bamboo canes imported from China. Stands of hazel make plant supports and peasticks, bamboo provides wigwams and plant labels. Grow comfrey for fertiliser and Phormium tenax for string (tear leaves into strips) and you can give up going to the garden centre, too.
Make the final break by ditching the seed order next year and sowing your own seed instead. Saving seed is deeply satisfying and closes the self-sufficiency circle. Plus you get to breed your own heirloom variety, as each successive generation adapts better and better to your garden's conditions. You'll find a great species-by-species guide at www.realseeds.co.uk.
Veg, fruit and herbs are only half the story. Providing your own eggs and meat is just as satisfying, and possible even without owning much land. Two chickens provide a dozen eggs a week for the price of a good-sized run. Rent an acre for a starter flock of four sheep, or use a pair of weaner pigs to turn over your potato patch for the summer to provide pork for a year.
Smallholding? Who needs a smallholding?
Join me on my course with MyGardenSchool and I'll teach you all you need to know to become truly self-sufficient. Or if you're a beginner veg gardener try Alex Mitchell's 'Fruit & Veg Gardening for Beginners' Course first so you can see just how it easy it is to grow fruit and veg for your table.
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