Smart strategies for self sufficiency

We like our wide variety in freshly produced vitamins all year round. Yes you do get creative when you have heaps of zucchini (courgette) in June or daily kilo’s of tomatoes in August, but after a week it’s not fun anymore.
And besides: more diversity is more nutritious. Eating a variety of foods can help prevent diseases and did you know that all different colors in food bring different nutrients? (Read: “Eating well by color”)

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Planning your meals ahead

Planning your meals for the coming year… that sounds a bit over-organized, doesn’t it? Control freak Supermum; not for me. But I do have a general idea of what we will eat in which month because asparagus only produce March-June and jeruzalem artichokes you can only harvest from October-March.

For instance: we like to eat beans or lentils once a week, rice maybe once and on Wednesdays we usually make fresh pasta (to get rid of the surplus of eggs). So that’s potatoes 4 times a week. 208 potato meals in a year, which happens to be also 208 kilo because one person eats around 200 gram potatoes and we’re on average with 5 people at the table.

With those calculations I know how much to plant.

Potatoes, lentils and chickpeas I want to grow for sure, and of course onions and garlic. 3-4 Garlic bulbs a week means that I need to plant 150-200 cloves in October. And after planting the garlic in fall, I have winter time to think of what we want to eat next year.

Planting a variety for an abundant garden

I make sure that we always have leavy greens available. Chards all year round, kale from summer until spring, and salad greens should always be available. And in between these leavy greens, I can plant radishes, kohlrabi, fennel, turnips, parsnips, carrots, peppers, green beans… where there are still empty spots, I plant pumpkins and zucchini’s in a heap of compost.

Somewhere in the full sun, I make my corn bed(s) and bean trellis for growing dry beans. A few weeks after sowing them, I sow lettuce in the middle between the rows so it can profit from the shade the beans will give.

Lettuce doesn’t like our summers, so I make sure to plant some big vegetables (chards, peas on a fence, tomatoes) between them and the sun. Or I use the garden beds in the shade of the elderberry shrubs.

Tomatoes don’t like water on them, so I like to plant them in the greenhouse or under the overhang of the tool shed roof. In between the tomato plants, I sow carrots and I plant basil, parsley and calendula. In front of the row of tomatoes I usually plant a row of onions and/or a row of garlic. All these are good plant combinations.

Sowing with an interval

If you make sure you sow your seeds with an interval, you can also harvest with an interval.
My tomato seeds can officially be sown indoors in February and March. So I will rebelliously start 2 weeks earlier (to give it a try), and sow just a few seeds with a 2 weeks interval, ending 2 weeks later than the official date. So between mid January and mid April I sow a few seeds (5 or 6) every 2 weeks.

After mid May most of the baby tomato plants go into the garden, but I like to put a few of them in a pot in the greenhouse, on the balcony or behind a window. Especially the ones I sowed late, that are still small. Behind the glass they get a good chance to grow well and give tomatoes until late in the season (November!).

Be creative with overproduce

And sometimes you can’t manage nature, so you will have heaps of the same vegetable in a period. This is usually the moment that I post a question on social media (“Creative ideas of what to cook with zucchini, anyone?”) or Google around and find nice ways to eat or store your harvest!

Zucchini (courgette) is notorious for producing their fruits all at the same time. So I pick them when they are young: 15-30 centimetres (6-12 inches) long because the taste and texture are better. I grate them in a salad, cut them in halves and fill the “boats” with something, make Greek moussaka, grill them sliced, use them in stews or soups… And when that is still too much, you can freeze or DRY thin slices of your zucchini!

Drying is a healthy option

I like to cut my zucchini’s thinly and dry them in our solar dryer. Or in a not so hot oven with the door open.

Dried zucchini “chips” are a nice and healthy snack and you can use them in winter soups. Also (small) tomatoes or thin slices of beetroot pumpkin dry well.

Sometimes I dry a mix of all vegetables I would normally throw in a soup, like carrots, parsley, celeriac, celery stalks, parsnip, fennel, onions ans garlic). Once they are dried, I put them in the kitchen machine to turn them into a powdered bouillon.

Creativity and love for food and gardening

So besides knowing what your family likes to eat and what grows when, to plan your sowing schedule and calculating the amounts and space needed, it comes in handy when you have passion for food and your garden, and some creativity to produce colorful meals on your table every day.

> Podcast (8 minutes) of Smart strategies for self sufficiency

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