9 square metres: or my small scale attempt at sustainable self sufficiency.

14 Dec

My name is Gareth, and in May 2012 I will be 50 years old. Since about the age of 14 I have dreamed about running a smallholding and being self-sufficient; the BBC television sitcom the “Goodlife” being the major influence. So far I haven’t got there yet, but I have been one the World’s top Agricultural Engineers, and I now own a small business; successful is not a word currently used a lot around here as I am literally hand to mouth and only a step or two from folding the business. However, the work is very interesting, I make the unusual and at least I do try to make a go of it.

Lois: My partner and I now have a decent size back garden at the house we moved to 12 months ago. The garden faces south, and we have a tall conifer hedge on each side, and stand of tall mature Sycamore, Ash, and Oak  trees at the bottom. So from these 3 directions we are well sheltered. Half of the garden on the North side is sheltered by the house, and most of the rest of this side is sheltered by a wooden workshop almost 2.5 metres high, but there is also a 1 metre wide pathway with a wrought iron gate. Here the winds are predominately from the North or the North East and are usually cold as they come in off the North Sea.

This blog is about my (our) attempt at two adults trying to live sustainably by growing vegetables on 9 sq/mtr. We both know that in reality we will not achieve this, and to this end we will have a larger area under cultivation: approx. 15 sq/mtr, and if various troughs, tubs, pots and possibly a home-made nursery green house are taken in to account the area will be closer to 20 sq/mtr. It is my (our) intention to grow as much as possible for us to eat in the original 9 sq/mtr, and to utilise the rest as nursery growing on beds or for crops such as; potatoes, sweetcorn, marrows, melons, and other crops where the individual plants take up a larger area.

Apart from area, the main emphasis will be upon companion growing, crop rotations, and maintaining a continual harvest by tightly managing a square foot gardening approach, and of course there will also be the personal satisfaction of producing vegetables from seed to table. I am  not going to spout off about any green, ethical or moral issues, nor will I attempt to take the high ground.  This is about me doing what I have wanted to do for many years; I am going to make mistakes, some of it will not go right, there maybe a disaster or two along the way, and I will have failures. However, this is the way I am doing it, and hopefully I will generate a little humor, and a few good meals along the way as I pass through middle age.

Where we can we will be utilising several, 3 stepped vegetable planters and there will be at least 4 and possibly 5 of them, but so far I have made only one vegetable planter. This has been used for growing vegetables for around six months now, and has been a very efficient and successful way to manage the growing vegetables: during the late summer/early autumn the growing rate of this planter actually out stripped our ability to consume all of the vegetables and we actually managed to preserve some for use later in the year.

Currently we have 3 x 3 stepped planters in our garden; a vegetable planter 1.5mtr X 1.5 mtr or 2.25sq/mtr, a Herb and medicinal plants planter 1.2mtr X 1.2mtr or 1.44sq/mtr, and a flower planter 1.2mtr x 1.2 mtr or 1.44 sq/mtr. These have all been made from timber reclaimed from scrap pallets (but more about this later). When designing and making the original vegetable planter I made an error in judgement regarding the overall size: it’s too damn high! the surface area is perfect for our needs, and the  length and breadth are just what we wanted, but the mistake that I made was making each of the 3 steps at 30cm high increments; don’t get me wrong these heights are nice to work at, but this just increased the volume of the planter, which meant that I needed an awful lot of drainage stones and riddled out stone free top soil. Because these planters of ours are free-standing on a free draining top soil that was a part of our lawn, it is not necessary to have such high step increments. We tried 15cm steps on the Herb planter, and these seem a good height for this feature, the flower planter has steps that are at 20cm increments, and this is the height that all the other vegetable planters I will make will incorporate.

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