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Number of Plants Per Person?  RSS feed

 
Sean Banks
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If one was to become fully self sufficient how many species and what number of each species would be needed to support one person for a whole year? I would like to become completly self sufficeint without having to rely on grocery stores but I am not sure what it would take. I am an omnivore so I am not completly relying on veggies/fruits/nuts for my consumption.
 
John Elliott
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A very open-ended question that could have thousands, nay, millions of possible answers. Depends on where you are, what grows well there, your diet preferences, and a whole lot of other factors. I'll take a stab at an answer by considering a few plants I am familiar with.

Orange or Grapefruit tree: 1 will supply you with all the breakfast juice you can drink for 6 months of the year. But there is that second half of the year when last year's crop is well past its prime and the new crop is not ready.

Collards: A dozen plants will supply you with plenty of greens during the winter and early spring. At least here in Georgia they do. If you want variety, you could mix it up with kale, mustard, chard, and other cut-and-come-again type greens.

Semi-dwarf fruit trees (apple, plum, cherry, pear, apricot, etc.): Mature trees can yield over a hundred pounds of fruit in a good year. You can't stretch the season for these fruits but you can dry, freeze, or preserve them.

Pecan/Walnut: You might get 50 pounds of nuts per tree in a good year. Then again, if conditions are not right, you might only get 5.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants: Two healthy plants per person are plenty. Maybe three if you really like salsa and baba ganush. With peppers, it's more a question of variety and one of each different kind that you like should give you more than enough.

Perennial onions: I'm still trying to figure out how to make them substitute for bulb onions. I'd say 50 plants would be a good number to start with, and that sounds like a lot, but they don't take up that much space.

Strawberries: Number of plants doesn't apply here, because they will propagate to fill in the empty spaces. A bed of 50 sq. ft. will overwhelm one person with their production when they are in season.

Celeriac: This is a better plant than stalk celery, because you can keep cutting it, and then at the end of the season you get a root to use. Four plants per person should be plenty.

Lemon grass: One clump. I don't think one person can make much of a dent in this one. Maybe a cow could, but not a person.



 
John Polk
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How long is a piece of string?

It all depends. On your growing season/climate. Your diet likes/dislikes, and many other factors.

Many vegetables & fruits will store for quite awhile @ the right temp/humidity.
Most can be canned or frozen for year round consumption.

Some things like summer squash and eggplants are such prolific producers that a single plant should provide one person with a steady supply for the summer. Of course, you should plant several, because the gopher or squirrel may destroy the one you have. And besides, any extras are always welcomed by chickens or hogs.

If you are going to raise chickens (or any other livestock) you will need garden space to help provide year round food for them as well. Hogs & chickens can receive a large portion of their diets by forage alone, provided that you have suitable pasture for them. Kitchen scraps, plus blemished produce can supply the bulk of what they can't forage. In harsh winter areas, you may need to buy in feed for them if you don't specifically grow it for them. (Small scale hogs are normally butchered right after the first hard frost. This saves feeding them in the colder months when they consume many calories just to keep warm, and it also assures cooler temps for hanging the carcass.) Chickens are kept over winter, as their needs are minimal, and they will continue to produce a trickle of eggs. If you were to start with fresh hens each spring, you would need to wait several months before the eggs began again.

Cereals are not often home grown. They can be, but many people would rather just buy an occasional 5# bag than 'waste' their precious garden space.

Precise numbers are meaningless, as some of us use much more of certain things than other people do. As an example, I read in a book that you should plant 15 asparagus plants for each person. I love asparagus, but that number seems high to me. Perhaps I should pickle several jars to spice up things in the months when they are not harvestable.

And 1 tomato plant 300 miles east of here will probably produce more pounds of tomatoes than 5-10 planted here.
Things that don't grow well in very hot summers might need an earlier, or later (maybe both) planting than here to produce well.

My diet wants tomatoes, onion, garlic and peppers (sweet & hot) all year. Others might use 10% of what I do in a year.
 
Paulo Bessa
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Consumption is different for each person.

I generally eat around 25kg potatoes per year, 12 Kg beans per year, 45 kg of grains per year, and plenty vegetables, nuts and fruits.

Therefore, I would say something like:
- 30 m2 potatoes or sweet potatoes
- 30 m2 beans
- 120 m2 grains

But numbers are subjective. I tend to eat more beans than the average, and less potatoes than the average. These are my staples and therefore they require more land. They are however cheap to buy. But easy to grow.

And a nice patch of broccoli (a few dozen plants), tomatoes (a few plants to a few dozens), pumpkins (just a couple to a few plants), onions and garlic (a few m2), carrots (a few m2), kale (a few m2), turnips (few m2)....
Fruit and nuts trees, probably a couple of each is enough (anyways some fruit trees need to be at least two for cross-polinization).
A small patch of things of raspberries and strawberries is also a nice thing for my diet.
I forgot corn, just grow also something like 30m2. And I also think amaranth or quinoa are also worth to try.

Anyways,I am preferring perennial species, because then I do not have to till the soil as often. And they can grow and propagate over time, providing you more harvest and demanding less fertility input (and less watering).

Key is that you will harvest these at one season, so you will need to preserve the food by freezing, drying, canning.. you will suddently have a lot by later summer, by little harvesting by winter

But as I said, things change from person to person. You need to grow a lot of compost crops to ensure enough fertility in your soil (if you want to be free of inputs), and also feed for your animals, in case you want animals.

Climate is also key. As further north you are, the more need to rely on animals and more challenging to grow vegetables in a short season. In hot dry climates you need to create a microclimate, and provide some spots of shade.
 
Anne Rambling
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To start- you want to take inventory of what you consume to get an approximate idea of about how much you will need- then make sure to have plenty extra. If you are planning on seed saving, you'd want to figure this in as well. It's going to be trial and error for awhile to find what works best for you.

It changes.. like everyone above said.. and so does the weather.

There will be crop fluctuations- diversity offers a buffer. The weather by us the previous 3 years was nuts (2 years of historic flooding, derechos, drought.) A huge buffer for us was that we had several gardens in different locations. That also saved some of our crops from pests.

Then there is differences in the qualities (flavor, texture, acidity, yield, etc.) in each variety of crop. Some are best for fresh eating, some canning, freezing, drying, etc. The yields can vary by crop.. as can the harvest time... and how well some strains perform in your location. Consider harvest timing if you are planning on preserving what you grow.

If you have a Ball Blue Book for canning.. they have a chart that will give you a rough guideline of approximately how much to try to plan. Just keep in mind it is a very very rough guideline.

My family of 3.. 30 tomato plants is the bare minimum (some are best for sauce, some for fresh eating. Then also always setting aside room to try new types.) That's leaving us hoping like heck nothing goes wrong. (About 3/4th are for canning.. salsas, tomato sauces, curry ketchup, stews. I need to make sure I have enough ripening at about the same time to do batches for canning.. same goes for other crops. Enough for fresh eating, for chicken treats, deer & chipmunk invasions.) So with this.. I need to time other things that as well go into the recipes (herbs, peppers, onions, etc.)


Look to the cook.. and keep track of things both in the garden and in the kitchen. (Planting times.. yields.. weather.. attributes you like/ dislike of varieties.. pest emergence.. etc.) What you need and how much will depend on what you like to eat.. and how much variety. (We also grow extras which we give away and also swap with neighbors.)

This will also impact plant utilization. Example.. peas. We use some as an early green veggie (the shoots).. a lot for fresh eating, some freezing, some for dried peas/ seed stock... and some for the chickens. So we plant 3 different kinds.
Radishes.. raw it doesn't get eaten often by us in as big of a quantity.. cooked more so.. pickled they go quick.. and the greens would be ignored- except I've found if I julienne them with other ignored greens (finely chopped brassica leaves & stems) I can use them in potstickers that my family LOVES. We haven't yet gotten a variety meant for the pods.. (and found out we have a few chickens that will obliterate huge bunches of pods drying for seeds. So now we have extra for seed- harvesting the whole stem- hang it in the coop in winter for their amusement when they can't go outside due to bad weather + what we set aside for replanting.)

How much of what we grow in regards to seeds- also varies. I make sure to have enough for at least the next 2 years for most crops. (There are a few that don't hold viability that long, like onions & parsnip.) Also packaged separately and stored separately (learned the hard way on this.. which really sucked.)

Herbs.. are a wonderful thing. Not just for seasoning.. but teas too.

Part I guess is diligence. Aside from growing it.. making sure it gets well utilized is important.

Hope that helps.






 
John Polk
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I will address some seed saving issues here.

You should have many extra plants (of each variety) if you plan to save seeds each year.
For successful seed saving, you need plant diversity. Saving just the seeds from your biggest, healthiest & most productive tomato plant will not give you good results in the long term. After a few generations, your plants will begin suffering from inbreeding. You will end up with sickly, disease prone plants.

I have heard that for successful corn crops, you should save seed from 100 different plants.
Saving 100 seeds from a single plant will eventually result in poor quality corn.
Saving 1 seed from each of 100 plants will give you the genetic diversity you need to avoid genetic inbreeding.

A second critical issue, is that the seeds need to be mature. Most vegetables are consumed long before the seeds are mature.
This means you will need to grow certain plants just for their seeds.
For example, many plants like peas will keep producing pods as long as you are continuously picking them.
As soon as you quit picking them, they shut down production of new pods. Their mission in life (to procreate) has been accomplished. It is now time for them to put all of their energy into maturing the seeds on the plant. So, you will need plants for continuous fresh eating, and other plants just for going to seed.

This will greatly increase the total number of plants you will need to become totally self reliant.

 
Clara Florence
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It depends upon your definition of self sufficiency. It's one thing to say I can plant x number of potatoes and have potatoes all year. But the human palette is easily bored and variety more so than quantity will be of prime concern when it comes to self sufficiency. And then there are crops which in my book just aren't worth self cultivating because they are so abundant and cheap to buy. It actually costs you more to grow them and you pay for them doubly because you cannot grow another crop in the same space it is occupying. I'm into self sufficiency but what I call selective self-sufficiency, I will not grow something just for the sake of growing it myself. Land is finite and so is time, therefore I will not waste my time growing say grains, which are easy and relatively cheap to source organically grown, especially for the small quantity I eat of them. Instead I focus on the items that cost me considerable $$ and aren't readily available in my area in a good fresh condition, leafy greens, fruits, berries, exotic meats, tomatoes, and other salad veges.

I still do believe in the benefits of trade because I don't believe that every patch of dirt is necessarily going to heathfully grow the entire range of food I might consume. But I am happy to trade locally, barter and reduce my consumption of commercially, mass produced food. If everyone just did that, instead of bringing home mountains of packaged food with tonnes of plastic packaging which will go into landfill then the world would be a lot better off. Others are self sufficiency purists, preferring to 100% support themselves off their land. I congratulate those people as I'm sure it will require quite a few sacrifices in what they can consume and they must change their lifestyle accordingly.

So much of what we are conditioned to eat are single season crops which means you will have gluts of certain items and then none of them at all throughout the year. Self-sufficiency ideals will require some creativity in how you can stretch the season of certain foods. The biggest benefit I have found had been in re-discovering the old food crops, perennial herbs that were once routinely eaten but now aren't because of their poor shelf appeal in supermarkets. I believe we are missing a lot with our relatively narrow food choices. A lot of these ancient salad herbs are highly nutritious but have been replaced by the far more delectable but less nutritious lettuce. I actually adore nasturtium leaves with breakfast now and it's one of the few year round crops in my climate.

I think a good starting point with self sufficiency is to define attainable goals and little by little acheive them. Trying to grow everything at once will meet with some success but probably a far cry short of where you thought you would be. It's a long term project as you discover what grows well on your soil, what struggles and what gets to harvest then inexplicably dies with unripe fruit on the vine. This year we tried growing winter tomatos (subtropical zone) and used a winter tomato variety. At first it seemed like a roaring success as the plants grew vigorously then quickly set fruit. But then all of sudden the plants succumbed to attack by both bacteria and some leaf eating pest. In contrast a summer variety planted in the garden at the same time has set less fruit but seems far more promising as the plants are still strong and lush. Everything is an experiment and it may turn out that growing winter tomatos is just a waste of time and garden space for us, as another crop may produce more for us over winter.

Although lettuce is growing really well here and some brassica greens we find you need prodigious amounts of it to really make it an everyday staple for just two people. Because of that I've given up growing lettuce in garden beds. They do just as well in shallow pots and that way they are not taking up garden space which other plants will need. We have a vertical shelf system down the side of the house were the ground is poor but light is good and use that for growing a neverending supply of lettuce in shallow trays, starting off a new tray every week. In summer when lettuce is hard to grow we can move it to a cool spot in the garden and hopefully get a longer season out of it. I would start with just trying to supply certain foods from your garden so you don't have to buy it then gradually increase the range of what you grow. You will discover along the way what to grow and how much to satisfy you.
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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John Jeavons & biointensive folks give some workable figures. It is not pure permaculture by any means, but they will tell you how much area you need to grow wheat to make bread for a year, etc. JJ's book is "How to Grow More Vegetables" look for it at public library. There is also this, which I haven't read: http://www.amazon.com/One-Circle-Grow-Complete-Square/dp/9996395707

In permaculture terms, trees offer tremendous production per sq foot. Look up the calories per acre on apples vs wheat or spuds. My fruits include apples, citrus (lime, orange, tangelo), stone fruits, loquats, mulberries, pomegranate, figs, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.

An avocado is 300 calories per fruit, and a single tree can provide hundreds of fruits a year. I consider them a staple. My big tree is Haas, keeps me in avos 6 months of the year, but am diversifying varieties hopefully to end up with avos 12 months of the year.

Year-round greens are no trouble at all in this climate. We've got swiss chard, 4 types of kale/collards, weeds such as purslane, arugula, lambsquarters, chickweed, wood sorrel, sow thistle...

We also use herbs such as mint, shiso, oregano, basil abundantly in our meals.

Greens also grow on trees, including moringa and mulberry leaf, and then there is sweet potato leaf...

I am growing 3 types of asian sweet potato. I just keep taking cuttings from the vines and planting slips wherever I find space. When I have too much to give away, I'll know to stop. This is actually my attitude towards planting in general. I have a bigger-picture plan, but day-to-day, not much planning, just keep growing soil and planting stuff I like to eat, ideally perennial and low maintenance.
 
leila hamaya
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Clara Florence wrote:. This year we tried growing winter tomatos (subtropical zone) and used a winter tomato variety. At first it seemed like a roaring success as the plants grew vigorously then quickly set fruit. But then all of sudden the plants succumbed to attack by both bacteria and some leaf eating pest. In contrast a summer variety planted in the garden at the same time has set less fruit but seems far more promising as the plants are still strong and lush. Everything is an experiment and it may turn out that growing winter tomatos is just a waste of time and garden space for us, as another crop may produce more for us over winter.



some unsolicited advice, and a good tip on getting tomatos in winter.

start some seeds in middle and late summer, so that they get to the point of having green unripe tomatos on them just as the season turns colder.

then when they have established the tomatos but they arent ripening yet, and the weather gets worse, dig up the entire plant up out of the ground and hang it upside down, roots and all, in a cool place for food storage. the tomatos will very slowly ripen this way if you pick the whole plant and hang it, with this method i have had tomatos in mid winter.
 
leila hamaya
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and anyway i agree with what youre saying, too, this is more where i have been at with it. i havent ever tried to grow everything i eat, and dont neccessarily think its better. i like more the stone soup approach, where i could make and grow certainly more than i need, to trade or buy from someone else who produces something else in excess.

getting your food from a good source is obviously better than the average grocery store, but i havent always gotten people's want for the whole total self sustaining thing, or when people talk about closed loops, for that i think we need to have community, and some networks. and even that may be some of the weird perceptions people have about the nearly impossible goal of some kind of independance, the weird stuff that gets projected onto people that should be able to do as an individual what takes a community of people to do, and if you cant you are somehow not good enough. where most people who are actually considered independant have others who still make their clothes, their gadgets, etc, and arent actually independant at all, as no one is totally independant.

or its kinda contrary, we can help each other become more truly independant, but realizing our dependance on each other to do so....

but its more like they should have to do everything for themselves, which is impossible, we need community, everything exists in dependancy.
 
David Hartley
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Better to plant more than you think you need of any given one variety, than too little of too many, imho...

Though there are many variations of the seed-sower's proverb, it essentially goes something like this: one for the slug, one for the crow, one for the soil and one to grow




ETA: lacto-fermentation is easy and fun! It will not only greatly extend the availability of particular foods, but also increase its nutrient value and digestibility
 
S Bengi
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If you eat only root/mostly crops potatoes, onion, radish, garlic, hazelnut, grapes, kale, (the full list has about 24 differnt plants) you only 5,000 sqft or 70ft by 70ft.
So check out the one circle book and this post: http://www.permies.com/t/17401/permaculture/Nutritional-analysis-Circle-square-foot
 
Renate Howard
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Sean,

I agree with the others, it's best to keep a tally of what you eat in a year to see what you need to grow.

Your climate and growing season also make a huge difference. Here in KY I can plant one yellow squash plant and one zucchini and be swimming in squash all summer and fall, in PA they'd get a disease and die out in about 2 weeks after they started bearing. There are regional differences in soils, insect pests, diseases, etc. that make all the difference in what you can grow and how successfully. It's good to look at what people in your region ate before the age of grocery stores, to see what kinds of crops thrive in your area and produce reliably, keeping in mind that almost everywhere in the US the weather is getting warmer and the winters milder, IMHO.

Also look at season extenders. For instance, mizuna is a really pleasant mild mustard green that will grow into December here for winter greens that are very well received even by my kids.
 
Sean Banks
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"in PA they'd get a disease and die out in about 2 weeks after they started bearing" Funny you should mention this because I live in PA and my zucchini are dying out after 2 weeks of bearing just like you said. They got freakin huge though about 6.5 feet wide and now they have blossom rot.
 
John Polk
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Blossom end rot is most often caused by a lack of calcium.
However, excess nitrogen and/or potassium can also trigger the disease.

 
Sean Banks
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Yeah I heard about the whole low calcium issue...however I applied bone meal and I have tons of egg shells and clam shells in there.... the garden is next to a concrete foundation so their is probably limestone leaching into the soil....so there should be lots of calcium. Didn't hear about the excess nitrogen issue....that would make sense though because I add a lot of organic matter and I do compost tea...maybe I made it to strong
 
Seth Wetmore
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As many as is physically possible in the space you have to work with. The more the merrier. As long as you can find and harvest the crops keep planting.
 
Joy Oasis
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I watched video once, where gardener said she counted, that she needs to have 20 kale plants going, if she wants to harvest 6 leaves daily for her smoothie. But most likely we wouldn't want (or it would be even optimal for our health) to eat same thing daily.
  Don't forget about growing your own medicine as well or get to know local wild plants for healing. Most likely it would be a mixture of both.
 
Marco Banks
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Let me frame an answer a different way:

It's not how many plants you are growing, but your succession plan.  In most climates, you can get at least 2 crops in during a growing season.  Where I live (zone 9b), I can grow year round.  In the winter cold months, there are always greens like kale, spinach, cabbage and other brassicas.  In the summer, all the regular warm-season veggies.  Perennial greens like moringa and chaya produce well in the summer.  We get all manor of squash and sweet potatoes all year.

So the key for us is to plant something EVERY WEEK.  If I'm not starting something every week, I'll run into a food drought in about 2 to 3 months.  Every Saturday I'm out scouting for a new space to drop a couple of seeds into the ground, or I'm potting up new plants in my little nursery. 

Then, throughout the year, I don't let plants grow to the bitter end and die of natural causes.  Once a tomato or squash has peaked and is starting to decline, I've already got a new baby plant growing nearby.  I won't keep a plant until every last single tomato has been harvested, but I'll cut it down and use that space for something new.  Just because there is one or two scrawny peppers still growing on a tired old pepper bush doesn't mean that it needs to continue to take up that space.

When selecting fruit and nut trees, don't just look for the most productive trees in your area (10 trees all of the same variety) but pick a variety of trees that ripen in succession.  I've got 5 peach trees, all of which ripen about 2 weeks apart.  I have fresh peaches from the end of May till the middle of July.  We have apples from May till November.  Avocados from November till June.  You get the idea.  We get a lot of fruit (particularly stone fruit) in May and June, but there is something ripening out there 12 months of the year.  Apricots, plums, pluots and cherries in the spring, apples and figs in the summer (when we've also got watermelon and other vine fruits), apples, pears, asian pears, pomegranates, figs and persimmons in the fall,  and citrus and avocados in the winter.  Every week of the year, we are picking something off a tree and eating it.

And throughout the year, there are veggies growing underneath all those trees, one crop after another.

All this does a couple of things:

1.  It produces a LOT of biomass, which we need to continue to feed the system.  A new compost pile is constantly being built. 

2.  It keeps a constant flow of dying plants and spoiled food for the chickens.  The girls always have something to peck at and eat.  They turn all that biomass into eggs, meat, compost and nitrogen rich poop

3.  It keeps a living root in the ground 12 months of the year, thus pumping life into the soil.  We don't worry about overusing our soil, as we are constantly re-mulching with wood chips, constantly top-dressing around plants with compost, and constantly rotating our crops.

4.  It maximizes micro-climates.  In the winter when leaves fall from the trees, we plant greens and plants that don't like too much sun.  In the spring, as the trees bud out, it gives salad crops and herbs a couple more months of shade before the hot summer sun makes it too hot to grow them (and by which time we are growing them on the north side of the house where it's much cooler and shadier).

5.  It's always visually interesting.  There is always life in the garden in some stage of succession—early growth, fruitful production, or seed production and end of life.  From month to month, the garden is in a constant state of change and succession.

6.  It maximizes the space.  I can get at least 4 crops off any given space in my garden/integrated food forest throughout the year.  It might be a cover-crop for winter, but something is ALWAYS growing out there. 

7.  There is always food "stored" out there: beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, and even cabbage have a tremendously long "shelf life" when they are growing in the garden.  Peppers will grow 2 or 3 years sometimes, remaining productive for multiple seasons.  Artichokes hang on the plant for a month or more waiting to be picked.  So a multi-layers, multi-succession garden is a food-bank of sorts.


So to come back to the original post, I would re-frame your thinking toward maximum production on limited space, and where there is excess, find a way to use chickens (or a pig) to absorb that food.  Permies love to use the word "abundance" rather than thinking in terms of minimal output.  Less isn't more . . . . more is more.  Yes, one full-grown apple tree may supply all the apples a family may need, but what's the fun in that?  I'd rather have 6 varieties, all ripening in succession, all drying out there at various times in the solar drier, and all bringing something unique to the biome.

Best of luck.
 
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https://permies.com/wiki/57503/digital-market/digital-market/Permaculture-Playing-Cards-Paul-Wheaton
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