The Complete Guide to Creating a Self-Sustaining Garden

Over the past decade, the landscape design industry has been growing at a significant pace. By working with an experienced landscape architecture firm, you can add value to your home and also create a much more livable environment. This can include a wide range of projects including building a new patio, installing a koi pond, or—as has become especially popular in 2020—installing a new garden. 

Landscape architects, generally speaking, will help blend the best of architecture with the best of landscaping. They’ll focus on pursuing many different goals include creating a space that is environmentally friendly, increasing your overall rate of livability, and also adhering to your original budget. They will also work to ensure that the space you are creating is one that can be enjoyably lived in for many years to come. 

Recently, many top landscape architecture firms, such as Lifescape in Colorado, have been receiving requests to help install a self-sustaining garden. These gardens are popular because not only do they effectively decrease your current carbon footprint, but they can also help you add a reliable source of food and produce for many years to come. Additionally, growing your own food can be incredibly fulfilling. As the famed Roman philosopher Cicero once said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” 

In this article, we will discuss some of the most important things to know about building a self-sustaining garden. Whether you plan on working with a landscape architect or creating a self-sustaining garden entirely on your own, this spring is the perfect time to begin a gardening project and bring some new life to your home. 

Step One: Choosing What You Want to Grow

Contrary to what you may have initially assumed, there are actually many different crops that can be easily grown in almost any corner of the United States (and elsewhere around the world). If you have never gardened before, you may want to with some relatively high-calorie crops that are also very easy to store. This includes potatoes and sweet potatoes, along with winter squash and pumpkins. By planting just 60 sweet potato plants, you can generate more than 140,000 worth of calories, all of which can be stored for multiple months. 

In-ground crops are generally considered easier to grow, especially because you do not need to worry about insects, birds, and squirrels as much as you would with above-ground crops. Because of this, growing carrots, turnips, onions, and radishes can also be very productive. Most of these crops require about 2-3 months to fully grow. If you are going to begin growing above-ground crops, consider growing corn, tomatoes, basil, and even wheat. Though some of these crops will require careful attention to detail, they can still be successfully grown by even a novice gardener. 

What Conditions are Best for Creating a Self-Sustaining Garden?

The first thing you will want to be sure to include in your garden is plenty of space. If you want to create a garden that is genuinely capable, The Urban Homestead claims that a family of four could be fed with less than one-fifth of an acre of land. Other estimates claim that one-tenth of an acre can be enough to sustain a family, though this may require some additional equipment, such as vertical farming supplies. 

Beyond space, your garden will need the three basics that all plants require: sunlight, soil, and water. Ideally, your crops will be exposed to at least six hours of sunlight each day. In the Northern Hemisphere, south-facing gardens will be positioned to get the largest amount of sunlight. You should also avoid placing the garden where trees, buildings, or other tall objects will block the plants for significant periods of time. 

To help better improve your soil, consider creating a compost pile that incorporates all (or most) or your organic waste. Additionally, fertilizer—which can easily be made from scratch—will help add nutrition to the soil and help your plants grow. Some gardeners will use pesticides to help discourage pests from eating the plants, though others prefer to grow without them. In terms of water, there are also quite a few things you can do to create natural irrigation and remove the need for sprinklers (discussed below). 

Creating Natural Irrigation Systems

Water will be essential for growing all crops—if you are in a relatively dry state, such as Colorado, it will be crucial to develop strategies to help ensure your plants are getting the water that they need. One of the ways that a landscape architect can help ensure your plants are well-watered is to create natural irrigation systems that direct water from higher ground to the lower ground where your garden will ideally be located. While you can’t control the rain, you can control where the rain landing in your yard ultimately ends up. 

Additionally, you may want to consider using various rain collection systems to help increase your water supply even further. These collection systems are relatively affordable and can usually be purchases at your local hardware store. You can also use a hose or sprinkler to water your garden, but this might go against the “true spirit of sustainability.” 

Pursuing True Sustainability

William Kent once said, “Garden as though you will live forever.” With today’s emphasis on sustainability and minimizing environmental harms, it seems this quote is now more relevant than ever before. Naturally, if you want your garden to be truly sustainable, you’ll need to do some additional planning. 

By choosing local plants that are compatible with your growing conditions, cycling crops as needed, reusing seeds, and utilizing compost as fertilizer, your garden will continue producing crops into the perpetual future. Take some to research your options and see what works best for your specific yard. If you are able to plant the right crops, you may not only eliminate your (food) carbon footprint, but you can potentially create a negative footprint, due to carbon capture. 

Conclusion

There are few things in this world that are more fulfilling the creating your own food supply. By creating a sustainable garden in your own yard, you can have a regular supply of crops and the satisfaction of living harmoniously with the Earth while creating something from scratch. By keeping these things in mind, and by working with a landscape architect as needed, the home garden of your dreams is something that will be well within your reach.

Amelia
 

Amelia Robinson is a lover of plants and gardens, as well as an educator on this topic. It’s her goal to make sure that you get the chance to learn what you need to about gardening to succeed with your own home garden at the blog RobinsonLovePlants.com. You’re not going to find just a collection of basic articles about gardening here. Instead, she wants to answer the difficult questions for you. She tweets at @robinsonplants

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