The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How much land do I need to grow all my own vegetables?

Steve Solomon in his gardenSteve Solomon grows vegetables in an area about 2,000 square feet in size (about 2,700 feet if paths are included) to feed himself and his wife half of their daily calories.  He is currently able to use copious soil amendments and irrigation, and also benefits from gardening in an area where the soil doesn't freeze solid in the winter.  Without those advantages, Solomon estimates that he could need as much as 9,000 square feet to feed his family.  If he wanted to include potatoes and sweet potatoes in his garden to fulfill more of his food requirements, he would add another 1,000 to 1,500 square feet for a total of a tenth to a quarter of an acre to feed two adults.

In addition to this garden area, Solomon sets aside another area of equal size and rotates his entire garden every three to five years.  He argues that if you live in an area where the ground doesn't freeze solid in the winter, disease and insect infestations will build up to a point where your yields begin to decline after a few years, even if you rotate crops.  So he manages a ley equal in size to his current garden, where he grows grass and clover, cutting the greenery a few times a year and letting the clippings rot into the ground to increase the soil's fertility.  After a few years, he tills up the ley and turns it into garden, then sows the old garden into a ley.

This is one of the areas where I wish that Gardening When It Counts went into a little greater depth.  While I agree that people have been letting land lie fallow and rotating vegetables through these areas at intervals for a long time, I wonder whether a permaculture approach could result in a garden ecosystem that was resilient enough to prevent disease and pest outbreaks.  I'll discuss in a later post how Solomon uses a mixture of seedmeal, lime, guano, and kelpmeal as his primary fertilizer and only adds a relatively small amount of compost.  If he added more organic matter to his soil every year, would this whole garden rotation be unnecessary since the plants wouldn't get micronutrient deficiencies and would be healthy enough to resist diseases and pests?  The necessity of tri-annual tilling using Solomon's method turns me off, but I can't say for sure whether my method will be any better since this is only our fourth garden year.

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This post is part of our Gardening When It Counts lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I've had some kind of garden here for 15 years (how much depending on how busy I was with other things). Last year and now again this year, I've doubled the size of the garden. I don't till, and never did, and I use primarily compost, including horse, rabbit and chicken manure, to enrich the soil. I agree with Steve Solomon about letting a portion of your garden rest every few years--that's an ancient and long-proven axiom--but disagree with most everything else he preaches, lol. His COF formula uses several things that are GMO, or heavily laced with pesticides (canola or cottonseed meal), and several things that are almost impossible to find in my rural area (kelp and bone meal).

I fed my family of three adults almost entirely from the garden last year, except for meats and grains (and this year I have wheat planted as well). In the past, when my children were little, I fed our family of six from an intensively managed garden in a suburban back yard.

Comment by Liz Wed Apr 27 22:29:19 2011
Great comment! I tend to agree with you about the parts of Steve Solomon's books that are perfect, and the parts that should be thrown out. I definitely won't be making COF! I'm curious about how big your garden is?
Comment by anna Thu Apr 28 07:26:56 2011

To be fair, he just says "seedmeal" and doesn't tell you what type - just to use what's available in your area. He also says that coffee grounds count as seedmeal, which makes for a free and easy-to-find ingredient if you live near a town with cafes.

The kelpmeal and bonemeal were optional ingredients in COF, so if you can't get them don't worry about them.

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Wed Aug 24 22:54:28 2011
Good points, Darren. I'm glad you're chiming in! Despite my nitpicking, I do think that Gardening When it Counts is the first book I would recommend for a serious grower.
Comment by anna Thu Aug 25 07:08:03 2011

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