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Sustenance Farming on 1/4 acre

 
pollinator
Posts: 264
Location: Dayton, Ohio
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Because of the limited size of my yard in my suburban lot east of Dayton, Ohio, I have to be frugal with my use of land if I want to grow enough food to feed three to four people on only 1/4 an acre of land. I am curious if any members here have successfully grown enough food to feed themselves for a year on only 1/4 an acre of land.
 
pollinator
Posts: 331
Location: Zone 8b Portland
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That’s pretty tight for 4 people. Although Mollison said yield is only limited by our imagination. My calculations on my 1 acre were about a 1/4 acre almost meets the calories for one person for a year. I wanted to get most of my calories through perennials. The calories per square foot I think are higher for annuals. If you put up tall fences and make judicious use of the vertical space you might be able to pull it off.
 
Ryan M Miller
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Posts: 264
Location: Dayton, Ohio
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I've had to grow my squash on trellises by necessity. There simply isn't enough space to grow squash vines on the ground in my yard. Ironically, I find vining squash take up less space than compact bush squash when I trellis the vines.

As far as perennial crops go, I'm limited on options. I am aware that Jerusalem artickokes are very productive on limited land. Because it get's too cold here to overwinter runner beans, I have to grow thicket beans (Phaseolus polystachios), but I'm not sure how well they yield in limited space. I hope to plant a few bur oak trees (Quercus macrocarpa) to replace some maple trees that were destroyed in a recent tornado, but they will take several years before they produce a sizeable crop of acorns. Because there is no longer any shade in my yard, it may be several years before I can plant pawpaws (Asimina triloba) to provide frozen fruit over winter.

In the immediate future, my best options for annual staple crops are potatoes, field corn, and beans. In order to save space on planting, I plan on intercropping my flint corn and popcorn with pole beans to maximize use of space. I cannot use the full three sisters method though since I'll have to trellis my squash to save space.

Nevertheless, I would still have to save room for fruits and vegetable greens. I currently have some wild blackberry (Rubus allgeheniensis) and black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) seeds I'm trying to figure out how to sprout. Without any shade trees currently in my yard, I would have to plant the berries on the south facing wall of my house.
 
gardener
Posts: 1913
Location: South of Capricorn
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I`ve got a tiny space as well- probably smaller than that. I think containers (sweet potatoes in bags, climbing foliage), vertical growth (climbing beans), and combinations (beans and okra, beans and corn, etc) are good. If you`re adding animals, rabbits can fit into a tiny space and help you remove additional space dedicated to composting. (whatever they don`t turn into manure, I either mulch or put into bokashi, which gets buried in the beds).
There was recently a nice video about an australian gardener on a tiny slice of land that was interesting.
 
pollinator
Posts: 11804
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I recommend the book One Circle by David Duhon, which is about how to plan a nearly-complete vegan diet in the smallest possible space.  It gives recommendations of the crops which are the most nutritious to grow in small spaces, and some sample diets. The growing method used is Biointensive, which is compatible with permaculture concepts. http://www.growbiointensive.org
 
pollinator
Posts: 1165
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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I think my yard is about 1/4 acre, so I understand your situation.

Just curious why you want oaks instead of maybe pecans or Carpathian walnuts?  But all are big trees and will take up a lot of space.

I think pawpaws only need shade the first few years. Sunflowers or amaranth might work for shade. I just planted my first pawpaws, so I don’t know for sure.

Persimmons might be another option. The improved, grafted varieties are much better. Bigger fruits and some are seedless if there isn’t a pollinator in the area. The wild fruits here are really variable. I know of one tree that has fruits that never lose their bitterness. Also some trees are male only.

I like mulberries too. The trees can get huge. I’m planning to keep mine cut way back, maybe by coppicing.

Using improved varieties of plants helps a lot. Some wild blackberries hardly produce anything or have tiny, seedy fruit. Thornless is great too, especially when you don’t have much space. I have to plant my berries on the north or east side of the house so they have at least afternoon shade. You are too far north for some varieties of blackberries. The University of Arkansas developed a lot of them.  They sometimes freeze down to ground level here.
 
pollinator
Posts: 291
Location: New Hampshire
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While I have the room to grow most of my own food since it is just 2 people on 2.5 acres I don't have the energy for it.  We are currently only using about a 1/3 of a acre to produce about 1/3 to a half of our fruit and veggie consumption.  Since my husband is still working full time and I am partially disabled we can't quickly increase our production.  Once you start growing a good chunk of your food you find processing and  preserving all that food takes a huge amount of time on top of gardening and maintenance. We do add another garden bed and or project to the homestead every year but we have a long way to go till we are producing most of our own food.  

I am hoping the plan for the oak trees is for the north side of the property.  I have too many friends with low producing gardens due to shady  oaks and maple trees.  I planted American Hazelnuts because they are deer resistant shrubs and produce in 5 to 7 years.  They are mixed with dwarf or semi dwarf fruit trees and other fruiting shrubs.  I did this because they are near the house and driveway. I don't plant tall stuff near the house, power lines, or driveway. I didn't want to worry about something getting tall enough to damage the house if it came down in a storm 30 to 40 years from now when I am a little old lady. Shrubs are ideal for me for ease of maintenance and harvesting.  I find these work really well in my zone 1 and 2 areas.  Paw Paws could be planted on the shady side of the house but not too close to the foundation since they are shorter trees at full height.  There are other nut and fruit trees that do not grow 100 feet tall that may be a better fit for your space.  

My front yard garden  is about a 1/4 acre and we are slowly removing lawn and adding more edibles.  I would start with the things you know you will eat.  I know that isn't as cool as a bunch of hard to find native stuff but it sucks to out a lot of energy and space into something to later find out you don't like or can't eat.  

Can you legally raise chickens or rabbits?  I don't like harvesting my own meat so we just have laying hens.  I also can source most of my meat from local farms that I love how they raise and treat their animals and I happily support them.    

After 5 years many of the fruits trees are starting to produce.  The fruit shrubs have been the best bang for our buck so far.  The blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, and sour cherries have been amazing.  Autumn Olive is aggressive and invasive so we hack it down in the fall and make ketchup from the berries.   I love the black currents, pears and peaches we harvested for the first time this year.  Asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb are also great perennials that we love.   Apples have been a buggy nightmare so we are moving one of them and replanting it in the chicken run. We will put a dwarf peach tree or a dwarf mulberry in it's place. All of these perennials are mixed with herbs and flowers so it makes for good looking landscaping that produces food.  More importantly is food we eat and tends to be expensive to buy organic or better grown.  Cooking herbs are an easy one to grow and they do not take up a lot of room.  

Veggies are mostly annuals at this point due to my inability to properly digest many great perennial foods that will survive a NH winter. I am grateful that I do garden and can grow a wide variety of foods I can eat that I can't regularly find in the stores here.  I am glad these are annuals since I had to dramatically change the way I eat 2 years ago for health reasons.  I have winter squashes, potatoes, canned sauces and condiments, dried herbs and a freezer full of home grown fruits and veggies.  It takes up a lot of space and if we do get to the point we are producing most of our food we may add a chill bot room in the basement.  

I love cattle panels and T posts for trellises. The 16 foot long ones make great arches and the 8 foot ones are great for tomatoes and cucumbers. We have high winds here and the cattle panels are the only thing that hasn't fallen in a storm.  I will plant greens in the under story of the trellised crops to get more out of my space.  

Growing mushrooms is worth it.  We currently grow wine cap and shiitake mushrooms and at some point I may add oyster mushrooms.

One thing we have done is chose plants and varieties so we would could have a smaller harvest over a longer period of time. This way we currently have some sort of fresh fruit ripe from the middle of June to early October.  I love having grapes for over a month instead of just 2 weeks because we have 3 vines that produce at different times. Ever bearing strawberries give us strawberries from spring to fall.   We need to add some fall raspberries to stretch that season.  I try and plant the early season types closest to the house so I know when I need to start watching the other plants.  It saves time and energy.  

Here is a link to images of my garden.
https://permies.com/t/36459/Kate-Hampshire#1002253
 
pollinator
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This family of 4 adults does it on 1/10th of an acre, but in a much warmer climate. And they have enough left over to sell to local chefs to bring in about $20k/ year which they use to buy their grains, etc.
 
 
pollinator
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My bitter experience of trying to do everything at once when moving into my first home is learning that it’s best to start off very small, then slowly expand over the seasons. Trying too much too soon can lead to burn-out and giving up.

I think an ideal system will reveal itself with time and experience, not by planning a perfect system from the start. Eg. I now find watering to be a massive pain even though I have a tiny yard; in my Mediterranean climate if you aren’t willing to invest in a good automatic irrigation system and buying effective shade cloth then there’s no point even thinking about becoming self-sufficient.
 
pollinator
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Location: Denmark 57N
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Ryan M Miller wrote:d. Because it get's too cold here to overwinter runner beans, I have to grow thicket beans (Phaseolus polystachios),



Why? Until very recently I didn't know runner beans were perennial they are one of the most commonly grown vegetables in the UK and they are always grown as an annual. They are the only bean (other than broad beans) that I have found will reliably ripen enough to dry in my Northern Danish climate.
I grew just over 900kg of vegetables on 1/4 acre this year, all annuals. and that included over 170kg of strawberries which obviously is not a good use of space in a subsistence situation (however it's a very good use of space for sales!) Notable crops by weight and therefore calories were, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, winter squash, and peas.  Remember dried peas were a staple protein crop for many centuries. on 1/4 of an acre you can't do very much, I don't think I would add any tree larger than an apple on semi dwarfing root stock, unless you have an area where you cannot plant anything better anyway, like over the bins or compost heaps or somewhere like that.
 
pollinator
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Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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Ryan, I think there are some good points on here. People don't realize that growing is step one, preserving is step two and using is step three. I think I am somewhere about 25% on step one, but only 10% on step two if I am being honest. Step three is my forte.

At the end of three steps you need 1,000,000 calories per person per year. That is about 8,000 potato equivilents per person. That is just the calories. You also need protein which is generally beans or animals. On 1/4 acre you are looking at small animals or maybe a milk goat. I looked into a milk goat and I think they are an awesome resource, but they cannot deal with your sick days or vacation. You need backup. Then you haev to figure out how to feed it over the winter and get milk production continuously and store the protein in cheese... etc.

This is why starting small is key. Learn what works. If you are on 1/4 acre I'm betting you have squirrels. Most moderate density areas are pretty thick with them. If you get more than a few nuts you will be very motivated because squirrels are really good at nut harvesting. I gave it up and just harvest squrrels! Get a Gamo whisper cat and no one will even know. I am now using the squirrels to plant my food forest, but it looks nothing like I thought it would with the little circles from the nice permaculture designer.


 
Tim Kivi
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I forgot about animals that eat the food. In my area it’s possums and birds. Farms here just net the entire area, not individual trees. That’s another huge investment.

@skandi: Nordic strawberries are so amazing; I’d grow them too if I were in your climate! Those very long mild Scandinavian summer days really being out the flavour. Australian strawberries just taste like vinegar in comparison.
 
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Annie Collins wrote:This family of 4 adults does it on 1/10th of an acre, but in a much warmer climate. And they have enough left over to sell to local chefs to bring in about $20k/ year which they use to buy their grains, etc.

 



This was very interesting. A model for the whole planet.
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