Being new to this forum I'll quickly introduce myself: I'm a city dweller of 29 years old, currently living in the North of Europe with my partner. We're living in the city, but I do rent a very little plot close to home of around 100m2, where I grow some fruit and veg.
Recently, we have been considering moving to Sicily, Italy, and I'm investigating what it would take to grow most of the fruit, vegetables and nuts we eat ourselves.
This is what I'd like to grow:
- winter garden with onions, cabbages, root vegetables, asparagus, other greens, etc.
- summer garden with squash, pumpkin, tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplants, etc.
- I'd like to grow a decent amount of tomatoes in order to can for use in winter.
- Food forest with different types of fruit / nut trees (a.o. prune, apricot, avocado, peach, almonds, pistachio, fig, pomegranate, apple, pear, olive, cherimoya, different types of citrus, guava, etc.)
- Probably some chickens for eggs
We would buy stuff like bread, pasta, flour and rice locally, so no need to supply for this ourselves.
I'm curious to hear from anyone who does / has done something similar, and what size property would be appropriate for this purpose.
I cannot really give an area since my climate (Denmark) is so different from a Mediterranean one, but here 1500m2 of annual plantings (growing season June to October) provides us with over 700kg of vegetables, we get a lot more rain, but a much shorter season than you would have there, So I would assume you would need more space due to water constraints but then less due to the longer season!
As for tomatoes I grow them in polly tunnels and this year we got 107kg from 34m2 using mainly determinate varieties due to our short season. Here I would say that 4000m2 would be enough for your needs as you specifically state you wouldn't be growing staples but it is probably very different down there!
How large was the average peasant farm in the area? That might give a good starting point.
I've seen information where families meet around 80% of their food needs on 1 acre through intensive methods and vertical growing. You'll have to forgive me for using acres, but it's the system I'm comfortable with. An acre is roughly 4047m2 however, so just multiply whatever I mention by that.
I would say don't go by anyone else's numbers though aside from using them as a vague estimate. A lot of the land usage is going to depend on your own tastes and eating methods. Getting a lot of nutrients and calories out of growing a particular vegetable that takes almost no space won't do you any good if everyone there hates it. Look at the kind of things you are cooking and decide based on that what you need to grow in practical terms. Also consider that not every plant or animal will produce the same amount from year to year. Then there's the consideration of how many inputs you want to come from outside of the property.
If a mostly closed system (minimal outside inputs) is important to you, I would say 5 to 10 acres would be a safer bet to ensure you have high enough production each year without needing to bring in outside feeds and fertilizers by and large. Being able to preserve what you grow will also be a big factor. Make sure there is space to process what you raise/grow. Otherwise it doesn't matter if you grow 100 percent of what you could eat in a year. If you can't put it away for later, winter will still see you going out and buying elsewhere.
Maybe sit down and work out all the ingredients you use for the next month and in what amounts. Take those numbers and get a ballpark estimate of how much of which things would need grown to meet that need year round. Growing guides will help note the space per plant and average yields, while breed information will let you know what volume of food an animal would need grown for them and how much yield is achieved when they are harvested or their other yields are attained.
Be honest with yourself about how much you can put into things too. An acre of intensive gardening might provide what you need, but will you have the time and capability to dedicate to the intensive methods that involves? Are you going to be able to tend to things that need a lot of care or are you better with plants that can take care of themselves? Anyway, these are my thoughts when it comes to the amount of land you will want to aim for.
I would say 2.5acres or 1 hectare is the perfect/max size. Over 2.5acres and you would need machines/help to manage it.
On the lower end (after years of building max fertility, perfect species/cultivar selection, perfect watering, in a zone 10), maybe quarter acre per person.
I help tend an olive orchard in Noto during part of the year and lived next to it for a few years.
I managed to do well with a hectare and a half. There was already citrus, nuts, stone fruits and carob when I arrived covering half the land.
Meat aside, it provided me with close to 75% of the fruit and vegetables for the year. This fed 5 people.
I tried avocado but didn't have success as the winter temps went to low.
I live in a temperate Mediterranean climate and the most successful method of growing food longer term is orchadry/food Forestry. It is far more drought tolerant and less maintenance longer term. This isn't to say that you shouldn't continue gardening, it's just an important consideration. Historically Italy had a lot of tree based agriculture actually, and still does. Olives, almonds, citrus, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and fruit were all historically important, even for animal feed.
When you reach your lowest point, you are open to the greatest change.
Unfortunately there is not likely to be a simplistic, formulaic answer to your question. At times I have grown very intensively in very small garden spaces and had bountiful harvests. I once grew veggies on a garden on the south side of a building in a garden 3’ by 30’ (1 meter by 10 meters). I harvested my last tomato of the season on December 10th—incredibly late for this region.
The next year I expanded my garden dramatically, but only harvested a bit more. Having more garden meant having more maintenance and headaches—mostly weeding.
If you are really willing to throw yourself into gardening, I would say that you could probably grow the vast majority of your food for two people in under one acre of land (1 acre=approximately 40% of 1 hectare). Potatoes grow a vast amount of food in a very small area. Sweet potatoes grow just as well in warm climates and are very nutritious. You would definitely want to rotate your crops as even losing a small portion of your land to disease could be disastrous.
Also consider double cropping and especially adding in appropriate fungi. I use wine cap mushrooms that not only provide a nice harvest of mushrooms, but also really break down woody material into wonderful composted bedding.
Speaking of bedding, if you do have a small plot of land, don’t hesitate to bring in lots of materials like straw, woodchips extra compost, etc. used properly, these will drastically add to the fertility of your land.
I could go on, but I will stop here. Plan in advance and don’t hesitate to ask further questions. In fact, please keep us updated. I like this project.
Good advice. One other thing to consider is the soil. You will be able to grow more on good soil than on poor or with a lot of rock. Yes, you can improve soil, but it takes several years, and is something to keep in mind as you look at property.
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