It has been predicted that 12% of Americans will be living off the grid by 2035. Some people manage to live off the grid and maintain a living allowing them to buy food and supplies. Others live in communities who share the load. For most, however, there is always going to be some amount of gardening involved. Given that gardening improves mental health, relieves stress, strengthens your immune system and has many other key benefits, it's no surprise that for most, gardening is more of a pleasure than a chore.
But gardening in a traditional urban home connected to the municipal water, sewer, gas, and electricity systems is a very different prospect from working the land off the grid. What tips do newcomers to off grid living need?
Water Is Everything
More people than ever are choosing to live off-grid, but not all of them fully realize what they are in for. Once there's no water main supplying endless amounts of water, you'll be reliant on a stream/river or well or bringing in water from off-site. Whilst river water is fine for gardening, pumping water from a well for your vegetables will soon become tiresome.
But there's a simple solution: rain barrels. You should try to collect as much rainwater as possible by connecting one or more rain barrels to the downspouts of every gutter on your land. Rainwater harvesting systems are actually quite simple, and our friends at Blue Barrel Rainwater Catchment Systems make it easy by providing the hardware and helping you source recycled barrels in your area.
Depending on how you garden (the use of pots or raised beds tend to lead to a greater need to water), you also need to remember to keep the chore up regularly. If you need to go away on holiday or business, don't forget to get a neighbor to drop by and keep everything hydrated. When you are in the suburbs, a lost crop is a pain in the neck. When you are off the grid, it could be life or death!
Make The Best Use Of Space
Pots are very water-greedy options, but, depending on the size and layout of your site, they may be your friends. Pots allow clean divisions between plants that may otherwise compete, they are movable, and they can be placed in areas where you couldn't otherwise plant (on decks, on walls, on paved areas and so on). To maximize yields per square foot with some plants, it is a good idea to go up rather than along. Potatoes can be planted in empty bins, cylinders of dense chicken wire, or even heavy duty plastic bags. By planting the seed potato near the bottom and then gradually adding more soil and compost as it grows, you can craft tall potato plants with huge yields. Other plants that like to spread (such as squash, melons, various berries and, of course, legumes) can be trained to climb stakes or wire trellises.
There's Always Something To Do
Gardening never ends, but it doesn't always have to be back-breaking. To keep a plot maintained, it's vital that you check it over as often as possible, even just for a short while. Pots always need watering, weeds are easier to remove when they are small, and it's simpler to treat disease or damage earlier rather than later. Early in the season, mulch needs to be laid, at various times the compost needs turning, and you can always be planting new seedlings (or moving them on to planting out). Little and often will make a garden sustainable. If you leave things till they are out of control, the work will be exhausting and you may not be able to do anything for a while after.
Remember To Plant And Harvest In Waves
Do you have the room - and know how - to store an entire year's supply of carrots in one go? Whilst the end of season will see you learning all about storage for winter, what are you eating in the summer? Gardening is a constant job because you should have plants at all stages, at all times. Get seedlings going as early as possible and then plant new ones every few weeks. This isn't just true of vegetables like carrots or onions, but of the herbs too. Some herbs you will get through quickly, so you'll need plenty planted at all times. Others, like cilantro, go to seed and become useless (except to get the coriander seeds), so you'll need another crop ready to go.
There's No Such Thing As Waste
Anything biodegradable is compostable. A good compost pile can create beautiful organic matter in a few short weeks, while a poorly constructed one takes months or years. Learn the best composting techniques and make sure to maintain your pile properly. Living off the grid and organically, that stinking pile will become like gold dust to you, especially if you have to overwork the same plot of land year after year. If you want a can't-miss way to create great compost, consider buying a compost tumbler.
Off-grid gardening takes more forward planning, but is ultimately more rewarding. Rainwater and organic matter cannot simply be allowed to go to waste; everything is needed. You need to plan ahead on planting, training plants, weeding, and harvesting. Looked after properly, even a small garden can feed a family but if you don't plan, your dreams of off-grid living could end very quickly.
Sally Keys is a professional freelance writer with many years of experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family, and traveling as much as possible.