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When we first began our challenge, we wanted a fool-proof way to measure self-sufficiency. The government tells us we should be eating 2 fruits and 5 vegetables every day, but measuring ‘a serve’ can vary considerably.
I’ve found three reasonably sensible ways to measure self-sufficiency in degrees of difficulty:
Level 1 – Output from Vegetable beds
The Diggers Club claims that “in just 40 square metres you can grow 472kg of vegetables which is enough for four people”. So as there is only two of us, that would be a total of 236kg of vegetables. We would be aiming for approximately 20kg per month.
Level 2 – Average Australian consumption
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002) claims the average Australian consumes 92kg of fruit, 96kg of vegetables, 54kg of starch with a total of 242kg per person. We would be aiming for approximately 40kg per month.
This was our original challenge, but we have since realised that as our fruit trees are less then a year old they aren’t going to yield any where near the amounts we need, so we’ve dropped back down to level 1.
In comparison, the Chinese may eat less fruit (45kg), but eat a whopping 239kg of vegetables – for those who want to amp up the challenge. Read “The China Study” for the reasons why this could be the healthiest diet in the world.
Level 3 – Growing what you eat
You could work backwards. Jackie French recommends recording everything you eat in a year, and trying to match growing that. Another way would be to measure the (decreasing) quantity of produce that we are buying from the shops, (or the amount we can’t grow ourselves). This would take a few years of practice because you really need to perfect the art of successive sowing and preserving produce. This level is for the advanced gardeners out there.
The only problem with focusing on quantity is that quality is also a really important factor in the equation. Growing our own produce is much more affordable for us then purchasing organic.
Our seed potatoes went in on the weekend. I bought them months ago from The Lost Seed and they arrived in four neat brown paper bags. I was worried they’d gone bad or green in the back of the cupboard, and we really have missed the prime months for planting spuds. Matt declared himself in charge of the potatoes and he selected four of our local market favourites – Pink Eyes, King Edwards, Nicola and Kipfler. We shouldn’t have worried, the tubers were bursting with sprouting buds and more then ready to go in. Our only worry now is that perhaps we might have too many!
Today was the day before a full moon, and according to my “Astrological Calendar and Moon Planting Guide” by Thomas Zimmer, it’s a perfect time to sow “fruiting annuals – those vegetables which you want to produce abundant seed, or the seed bearing organ of the plant.”
We both got home early from work, and set about planting out our first three beds. The plantings were based on The Diggers Club article “The Mini-Plot“[PDF] and what in suitable for Brisbane’s climate in November.
- Squash: White Scallop
- Beans: Lost Seed Runner Scarlet Emperor x 12; Aqua Dulce Broad Bean x 12
- Eggplant: The Diggers Club Listada Di Gandia x4
- Rosella: Eden x 3
- Eggplant: Cima Viola x 4
We ended up swapping the carrots for squash, beetroot for eggplant and rosella. In the perennial bed, we swapped the artichoke and asparagus (we don’t like either) for watermelon and rockmelon. The potatoes took up half the bed, but that’s ok because we’ve got two lots of rhubarb in pots.
In retrospect, we were thinking it might have been better to space out the timing of the plantings so that everything doesn’t come up at once. Oh the enthusiasm of naivety :-).
About a year and a half ago we bought a house and our interest in gardening blossomed. It was a natural progression that our love of food would lead to wanting to try to grow our own organic produce. Ultimately, we were interested in finding out how hard it would be to become self-sufficient without giving up our day jobs, moving to the country or growing dread-locks.
We wanted to know whether two amateur gardeners could grow enough fruit and vegetables to feed themselves within a year.
We wanted to follow The Diggers Club article on being self-sufficient in “Growing your Own Heirloom Vegetables”. It explains in perfect detail how to “Convert your lawn into a food garden” [PDF]. The author Clive Beazley claims you can grow 254kg of fruit and vegetables in just over 10 metres cubed. The average consumption of fruit and vegetables per person in Australia is 242kg (according to ABS).
We’re aiming for 236kg* of fruit and vegetables on one tank, for one couple in one year.
We’re going to loosely follow the The Diggers Club instructions, substituting fruit and vegetables for ones suited to Brisbane’s climate and our tastes. We hope to inspire others to dig for dinner.