Food Security at Home
With the rising cost of living and disruption to supply chains during the last few years, the idea of self-sufficiency and creating your own food security at home has become increasingly popular. The pandemic has made an impact globally on supply chains; this means longer shipment times and less variety on the supermarket shelves. Coupled with lowered crop yields from bushfire and flood affected areas in Australia, it has taken a real hit on the access to fresh food in some regions. Areas in Queensland in particular have lost thousands of dollars of stock, with many farmers flooded in unable to sell what produce is salvageable. Some of the hardest hit crops from the March 2022 flooding event include leafy greens like lettuce and herbs, foods that can easily grow at home.
Growing your own food not only provides you with fresh nutrient rich produce right at your doorstep and creates less reliance on the supply chain, it is a great activity to take up to relieve stress and anxiety during these uncertain times. It is not as hard as you think either!
Choosing your crops
High Value Crops
Growing your own high value crops is a great place to start for beginners; these sell for a high retail margin at the supermarket and often have a short shelf life too. Try out annual herbs such as coriander, basil, and dill either in pots or in the garden. Leafy salad greens, microgreens and sprouts are also great options as they are quick to grow, will thrive easily indoors and sell for a premium price making them a great bang for your buck to grow your own.
Mix in some crops with multiple harvests too as they can provide food over a number of weeks or months without the need to replant, saving you precious time in the garden and great value on your seeds. Some of our suggestions include kale, silverbeet, tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, zucchini, kangkong, snowpeas and perennial herbs including rosemary, oregano and thyme.
It also pays to focus on growing crops seasonally as these will thrive in your climate and will provide the most amount of food. For example, cooler climates will favour many of those brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale, while warmer regions will have a longer season for many of those fruiting crops like tomato and zucchini.
Prioritise foods that you and your family enjoy to eat and are happy to use on a regular basis. You will need to become more flexible with your cooking and substitute certain foods in recipes throughout the seasons, which actually makes cooking much more exciting!
If you just can’t get enough of some of those out of season veg or you live in a cool climate you can extend your main growing season using a greenhouse or indoor garden such as a hydroponic unit. Heatpads are also super useful, to give you that head start on your seedlings for Spring.
If you are strapped for space choose crops that are an effective use of land. Think Dwarf fruit trees in small gardens, particularly deciduous varieties like apple and pomegranate as they will allow more sunlight into the garden in those Winter months and protect more sensitive crops from the harsh sun in the Summer.
Climbing plants like tomatoes, passionfruit & cucumber are excellent too. Trained up or across a trellis they will take up little space on the ground, which means you can grow a variety of herbs, leafy greens and edible flowers along the edge.
Intercropping is also a useful skill to learn which maximises your growing space. Try out quick harvest catch crops like radish, Asian greens, loose leaf lettuce and coriander between or under your rows of long season crops including tomato , kale, cabbage and eggplant.
Sowing your crops in succession is one of the best tips to create your own food security. The idea with this is to sow little and sow often to avoid wasteful gluts of produce in the garden and keep a steady stream of supply.
To start off have a think about how much your family eats, you may for example use 2 heads of lettuce every week which means you should sow lettuce seeds quite regularly, approximately 5 or more plants a fortnight (to account for any crop losses).
Other crops may naturally form a succession on their own such as a bed of beetroot. For example, after your beetroot bed has germinated use the small thinned out seedlings as a leafy green in your salads. This will allow the remaining plants more room to grow. A while later start an early harvest of small baby beetroot, leaving fewer to mature into full size beets. This utilises all stages of the crops life, avoiding an overabundance of food. Try this on other root veggies too like carrots and turnips.
Calorie + Protein Crops
For the super savvy gardeners out there looking for the complete survival garden you will need to balance out the leafier veggies with some more calorie dense crops. Grow plenty of potatoes, pumpkin, corn and sweet potato as a source of carbohydrates. Legumes are important too and offer some more protein in your diet. We love broad beans, soybeans, peas, green beans and chickpeas.
Saving your harvests
Another great way to reduce your reliance on grocery stores is to build up an abundant pantry stockpile. This doesn’t mean raiding your local supermarket and clearing shelves but rather preserving your home grown organic goodies for months to come. Some of the popular methods include dehydrating, deep freezing, pickling, canning and fermenting your veggies.
We recommend joining some local cooking or gardening groups in your area to see if they hold workshops. Canning and fermenting foods require specific steps to ensure the food remains safe to eat for months or even years to come.
Creating a community
An important factor in creating your own food security is joining or creating your own local network with likeminded people. Not only can you share knowledge and tips among the group but also barter and trade home grown goods. Try searching online to find a group or contact your local council to see if they have any community hubs or other initiatives. And if it doesn’t exist why not start your own! Some tips on how to start your own home grown cooperative community are listed below:
- Get together with neighbours, friends and family ahead of the main growing season and decide on 1-2 key staple crops each household can focus on growing. This way each family can fine-tune their gardening skills and efficiency on a couple of crops at a time. Come harvest time trade them with your network for access to a variety of foods.
- Pool resources such as books, garden tools and machinery and set out your own loaning system with the gardeners in your street.
- Organise working bees during the busiest times in the season to share the workload of some of those more monotonous tasks like spreading compost, weeding or harvesting potatoes. Many hands make light work and it will break up the tasks for each household. It is also a great opportunity to catch up with your network for socialising and planning the next season.