Monday, 17 March 2014

Self Sufficiency

Self Sufficiency

I'm well aware that this isn't going to happen but during a part of last year our weekly shopping bill reduced from approx. £100 per week down to approx. £20 per week for a couple of months which is a huge saving. 

Not all the savings came from us producing our own food but because we needed to go shopping less we also ended up not buying those "things on a whim" simply because we weren't in a shop.

The price of food, especially the things that aren't necessary, is becoming a huge issue. Obviously we can't make those kind of savings every week all year but if you could then that equates to around £4,000. Before tax it would be £5,000. For someone like me who only works 3 days a week this would represent 4 months of work.

Being a bit more realistic, those kind of savings for half the year would seem a sensible goal.

Spending many, many hours in the garden can seem a bit frivolous at times and hard to justify. Thoughts of, I should be earning money often arise, but by looking at it in a different way it can be seen that I am earning money while tending the garden.

Permaculture is a lot about design, the course I am on is a Permaculture Design Course, not that I knew that when I enrolled, and the formal design bit is something that I'm really not interested in. I just want to grow food, flowers, help wildlife, enjoy nature and enjoy my surroundings but I'm beginning to see a way into the design side for my own needs.

If I look at my time spent in the garden as also having a financial benefit I can see that one area to concentrate on would be to replace some of the time spent sowing annuals and instead sow perennials once and thereby free up time.

One of the permaculture principles is observing rather than doing and I have just realised that this can also save time and effort. Specifically, one of the problems is with the amount of time harvesting takes. A crop becomes ready and all of a sudden you have to drop everything, harvest, clean, process it and store it. This year I have observed 2 things that go together very nicely and which you wouldn't necessarily have thought about. In recent years weather forecasters have been telling us about the effect of the jet stream on our weather. If the jet stream is in one position we get stuck with wet stormy weather and stuck in another position we get fine weather but colder weather (in winter). They can also say that the weather type (wet / fine) will not change for a few weeks. Because of the position of the jet stream now we can see that there will not be intense cold and snow for the next week or 3 and because of the time of year the longer this goes on the less chance of a cold snap. If you can get an indication of the general weather a few weeks in advance you can also make a good guestimation as to whether less hardy crops can be left in the ground. The other thing I observed this year is that if you leave your beetroot in the ground way past the normal cropping time and the weather isn't too cold then they happily sit there with no damage. Normally if we have a lot of beetroot we end up picking them all then wasting a lot as we don't have time (at that particular time) to deal with them properly but this year we haven't wasted any as they have sat in the ground and we pick them as and when we need them. Had there been a cold spell like last year we would have wasted them all either to snow and cold damage or because we picked them and then did nothing. Predicting the general weather (listening to the forecasters) meant there was no rush to pull them all and still isn't. Observing and linking things in nature like this can make a big difference. Also because we left the beetroot in they regenerated and grew new leaves, which is another crop. 

October 2013
Sprouts and Broccoli
The small and large white butterfly devastated Sprouts and Broccoli last year but I decided to wait and observe what happened if I left them. Normally instinct would have said pull them and plant and autumn crop but I'm very pleased I didn't. What we have now is rather unexpected.  

March 2014
You can see how well they recovered. After the devastation last year I had decided that I would need to protect them next time but in the case of the broccoli it would appear that it isn't necessary.

The sprouts produced nice tops which with hindsight should have been eaten but now they have started to flower and the leaves are looking a bit tatty.
March 2014

A close up shows just how well the Broccoli recovered and is now producing a worth while crop.

I think this demonstrates the value of observation rather than acting immediately.  Had I acted immediately and pulled them all up I would have had to deal with the same problem next year and I wouldn't have had a crop to eat now.

The simple act of waiting and observing saved money time and effort and produced food. The sprouts will be left as a decoy / sacrificial crop but I still need to find a way of protecting the sprouts so I can produce some to eat but Broccoli in the late summer can now be safely left for the caterpillars to eat. Even if I fail to protect the sprouts then I know that the chances are I will still have the sprout tops to eat next spring.

I've never grown purple sprouting broccoli before so for all I know stripping all the leaves in late summer may have forced the plant to produce more flowers this spring so the caterpillars may even be beneficial ! 


  1. I love it! Just what I would do! To start with nature surprises you all the time and then you begin to get some insight into what might happen and can anticipate a bit, a bit less guesswork and a bit more 'method' if it can be called that.

  2. Last year I watched a parasitic wasp lay its eggs inside a caterpillar. While letting nature take care of pests obviously works to a degree it didn't work ultimately to stop the caterpillars munching the crop but now I can see Broccoli can recover that's weight of my mind, how ever I would like to find out what plants the wasps like and see if I can attract more of them this year because I still want sprouts. Using last years sprouts as decoys is one method but companion planting parasitic wasp friendly plants will also help. I also intend on planting sprouts elsewhere but hidden if I can. I think cabbage whites use sight to locate plants so I need a companion plant that covers the sprouts then dies down to allow the sprouts to continue growing after the butterfly season.