How To Grow a Self-Sufficient Garden in a Container
Like us, many gardeners love creating a garden plan during the off-season. We map-out garden layouts, order seeds, check out the latest garden trends, research growing something new, stock up on supplies—all because we’re just itching to get our hands back in the dirt! For most, it’s a fun hobby that yields delicious rewards—and at the end of the growing season, a strong feeling of accomplishment!
Fresh veggies are perfect to use right away for summer meals, but if your goal is to stock your pantry with homegrown food all year, then it’s time to take the next steps towards growing a bounty to last you through the seasons. Follow our simple guide to growing an easy, self-sufficient container garden, and you will begin to reap the same benefits as lifelong homesteaders.
Why You Should Grow a Self-Sufficient Garden
If you’ve ever been caught off guard during any sort of life-altering event such as a natural disaster—or more recently, a pandemic resulting in supply chain interruptions and store closures—then you know how scary it is to be ill-prepared for these unexpected events. Panic-induced shopping often leads to increased demand and hoarding, which can result in reduced supply at your local supermarket. One reason victory gardens flourished during both World Wars was because governments around the world imposed rations on their citizens to reduce pressure on public food supply. While government rations may be a thing of the past, growing your own food to have a well-stocked cupboard is still a smart idea.
Even the best gardeners rely on the grocery store on a fairly regular basis for non-veggie foods like meat, dairy, grains, and other household staples. The goal here isn’t necessarily to become 100% independent of the grocery store, but rather to be better prepared for supply chain problems (including recalls for E. coli, salmonella, and listeria contamination) by knowing how to grow your own food. Container gardening with EarthBox® gardening systems is an easy way to get started.
3 Tips to Starting a Self-Sufficient Garden
1. Do your research and create a timeline—Don’t forget to consider how much time you will need to accomplish each task like setting up and planting the garden, doing routine maintenance, and processing your harvest for storage.
Figure out which type of crops you want to grow, when you should grow them, when you should harvest them, how to properly preserve them, and what equipment you will need for growing, preserving, and storing. See our section below, Best Crops to Grow for Self-Sufficiency, for our selection of crops to grow in your self-sufficient garden.
2. Make a list and budget accordingly—Create a budget for your gardening and preserving supplies. We recommend you make your purchases in intervals, rather than everything at once. Also, look for ways to cut costs. For example:
- Save your seeds! Did you grow something that you absolutely loved one season? Cut open that veggie and dry out those seeds – put in a sandwich bag or jar – label it – and put it away until you’re ready to start seeds for the next season.
- For seed starting, reuse plastic egg cartons since they make the perfect little mini greenhouses; and they fit perfectly on germination mats, under grow lights, and on windowsills.
- Use household spray bottles for holding DIY pest and plant-control solutions. If you prefer to buy something, we recommend buying concentrated solutions, like the Bonide® Garden Naturals line of products, which are safe for organic gardening.
- Cut old tees into strips to secure vining plants to a trellis. Old sheets can be repurposed into shade cloths. Stockings and more can be used as supportive slings for vertically grown winter squash and melons.
- Take used twist ties and bread tags as another source of plant ties.
- Sign up for promotional emails with your favorite brands to keep an eye on any sales.
3. Have patience and have fun—gardening in its own right requires patience. Just waiting for seeds to germinate and watching plants grow through a whole season is a process. Using that time to learn about pests and diseases, or finding new recipes to try with your harvest, will be educational and rewarding.
Best Crops to Grow for Self-Sufficiency
There are 10 key crops you should focus on growing in your garden to have a constant supply of food. The idea is to grow vegetables that are nutrient-dense, as well as fruiting plants that produce abundantly. You should plan your garden based on two types of crops:
- Continual Producers — Crops that will continually grow and provide throughout the year, both indoors and outside.
- Abundant Producers — Crops that will grow a lot of produce during a certain season, which can then be easily preserved and used in a multitude of ways over time.
10 Best Crops for a Backyard Garden
1. Tomatoes (Abundant | Warm weather crop)
Without a doubt, tomatoes grow phenomenally in the EarthBox® gardening system. If you’re already growing tomatoes, then you probably enjoy eating them fresh off the vine. Tomatoes are versatile, and they’re easy to preserve. Take your tomato garden to the next level and look at other types that can be grown with the intent of preserving them for use at a later date. Types that can be made into puree, juice, paste, or that can even be left whole or diced are ideal. Preserving them by canning, freezing, or dehydrating are all viable preservation methods that will leave you with a nice supply to use all year for making sauce, salsa, stew, chili, and more.
2. Spinach (Continual producer | Cool weather crop)
We already know that spinach is chock full of vitamins and minerals, so it’s no surprise we recommend growing this classic green vegetable. Because spinach grows easily under standard fluorescent lighting, this nutritious vegetable can be grown and harvested year-round indoors. And unlike most leaf lettuces, spinach can be preserved and used later. Spinach is easy to incorporate into each meal of the day, by adding it to omelets or scrambled eggs, on sandwiches, in various soup and salad recipes, stuffing meat and poultry, making savory pies or quiche, and simply sautéing it with garlic on its own as a side dish.
3. Winter Squash (Abundant | Warm weather crop)
Not to be confused with summer squash like zucchini and yellow squash, both winter and summer squash grow during the heat of the summer. So why is it called “winter squash” you ask? Because butternut, acorn, spaghetti squash, and more can all be kept for an extended period of time through the cold winter months, when stored properly. They can be put away whole, or you can preserve the flesh for use in pies, soups, or casseroles. Winter squash is packed full of fiber and essential vitamins, which is why it’s perfect to have on hand. In addition to the mild-tasting flesh, roasted squash seeds make a healthy and tasty snack!
4. Kale & Swiss Chard (Continual producers | Cool weather crops)
In addition to spinach, kale and Swiss chard are both nutrient-dense and packed full of vitamin C and essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and beta-carotene. Many cruciferous vegetables have also been found to reduce bad cholesterol, help fight against free-radical damage to the body, and may even help you lose weight. These fiber-rich veggies grow year-round, though they do slow down growth in the summer heat. Like spinach, both of these greens can be grown indoors. Steam or sauté them with garlic, make a quiche, or add them to stir fry.
5. Peppers (Abundant | Warm weather crop)
Fresh, pickled, or roasted peppers are an easy way to add zest to any dish. With their robust flavors, you’re bound to find a few varieties that will satisfy your personal taste, whether sweet or spicy. Not only are peppers packed with flavor, they also contain high amounts of vitamin A and C, as well as potassium, iron, and fiber. Pepper plants produce an abundance of piquant fruits, especially the hot varieties; so, consider planting two or three different types of peppers in each EarthBox® system, especially if you have limited space. There are a number of ways to preserve your harvest to use later in stew, salsa, chili, stir fry, and more recipes to enjoy garden-fresh flavors throughout the year.
6. Lettuce & Salad Greens (Abundant & Continual producers | Cool weather crops)
Growing leafy greens for self-sufficiency doesn’t mean you have to eat a “sad salad” every day. Variety is the spice of life, and Arugula, Escarole, Mustard, and Chicory are all leafy greens that pack a punch in different flavors. They can be added on a regular basis to sandwiches, grilled panini, flatbreads, eggs, quiche, or soup. Of course, if you enjoy a salad at each lunch or dinner meal, growing a variety of cruciferous veggies will yield the most desirable results. You’ll be able to pick varying leaves for adding different flavors and textures, creating a unique salad each time. Leafy greens will continually grow, so consider swapping out plants as needed or based on your seasonal tastes. Trading an older plant that may be struggling to produce sufficient leaves for fresh basil or a bunch of chives in its place will make a quick difference.
7. Onions (Abundant | Cool weather crop)
Onions are a flavorful must-have in your garden. These pungent bulbs are packed with tons of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds all on their own; but when cooked with tomatoes, they can actually aid in your body’s absorption of lycopene from the tomatoes, better than if you ate each food separately. Additionally, onions are a staple in most recipes consumed on a fairly regular basis since they provide so much flavor. Raw or cooked, you’re bound to use a lot of them, so be sure to grow a variety for all their different uses. Onions will keep for a while when stored properly but dicing them and storing them in the freezer is a great way to preserve them for a longer period.
8. Beans (Abundant | Warm weather crop)
Whether you’re growing yellow wax beans, green bush beans, or edamame—you can’t go wrong with legumes! Beans provide calcium, vitamin K, iron, and fiber. They’re incredibly versatile, and even the pickiest of eaters will usually eat them, making them a staple in most American households. Picking beans when they’re young will encourage plants to keep producing, allowing you to harvest continually during warm weather, and freeze or can any surplus.
9. Beets (Continual producer | Cool weather crop)
We get it…these earthy root crops aren’t always at the top of everyone’s list of favorite vegetables, but please hear us out and give this superfood a chance! Beets are loaded with anti-inflammatory compounds, vitamins, and antioxidants that are essential to brain, blood, liver, and heart health. They also grow quickly so you can get multiple harvests in a single growing season, you can eat both the greens and the root, and the beet roots will store whole for several months. Roasting them will bring out their natural sweetness, but they can also be pickled to add to salads or to eat as a wholesome snack. If beets really aren't your thing, try growing carrots instead.
10. Cabbage (Abundant | Cool weather crop)
Cabbage is hardy, easy to grow, easy to cook, and nutrient dense, making it perfect for a self-sufficient garden. Fermenting cabbage into homemade sauerkraut is a nutritious way to keep it for several months, where it will provide probiotics for good gut health through cold and flu season. If sauerkraut isn’t something you can stomach, fill the broad leaves with various stuffing mixtures, freeze them for hearty meals during the winter, and use the rest in soup recipes for canning.
The Best Garden for Self-Sufficiency
Below is an example of how to layout your EarthBox® garden to have an abundance of food year-round. If you live in an area where winter is harsh, and typically a season you wouldn't be able to grow, we recommend bringing your garden indoors and using grow lights during those months.
If you're wondering how to replenish the fertilizer in your "continual producer" containers, we have the solution! Since greens don't produce fruit, they won't use all the nutrients in the fertilizer as fast as tomatoes or squash, allowing the supplied fertilizer to last longer. When you notice your leafy greens are turning yellow or they slow production, it's time to add new fertilizer to your EarthBox® gardening system. You should treat the system as a regular replanting but instead of buying new seeds or seedlings, you will reuse your existing plants.
- Cut the mulch cover off and carefully remove the plants from the system. Many greens and herbs have shallow roots, so you shouldn't have to break up too much of the roots to remove them.
- Once the plants have been removed, scrape off the top layer of the growing medium, and remove the old residual fertilizer strip.
- Mix in fresh dolomite throughout the system, add your new fertilizer strip in the center, top off with new growing medium, and place a new mulch cover over top.
- Cut an "X" for each plant in your mulch cover and plant your greens back in the system. Water just once around the base of each plant, carefully with a watering can. If desired, you can give them a quick boost by adding water-soluble organic fertilizer in the watering can according to the recommended dilution instructions.
By growing your own produce, you’ll be on your way to becoming more self-sufficient with a well-stocked pantry and a continual bounty full of essential vitamins and nutrients.
Interested in raising bees or chickens to compliment your EarthBox® victory garden? Check out BeeSmart Designs and OverEZ Chicken Coop® for bee-keeping and hobby chicken solutions to suit your backyard homestead needs!
(Backyard garden photo courtesy of Susan Roghair)