Subsistence gardening

Garden Life
It is wonderful to imagine supplying yourself with vegetables and fruit from your own garden. The implementation of such a garden demands a lot of physical effort and time. Furthermore, the menu for self-providers is extremely dependent on the season. However, vegetables and fruit from your own garden can be preserved or stored. And how much fun and pride is it to say: “Look! – this is out of my own garden – home-grown!”
The following questions will help you to make decisions regarding a self-provider garden and its successful planning: 

• How much time do I wish to invest?
• What do I want to grow?
• How many people should the garden provide for?
• How much space is available?
• Do I wish to be completely self-sufficient? 

It is recommended to those who wish to make a trial run to initially only convert a small area into a kitchen garden. This possibility to try things out is ideal for people who also have to go to work, in order to estimate how much time and effort their garden will take.


Prior to setting up a kitchen garden, it is worth drawing up a rough sketch. The geographic orientation and the prevailing wind direction should be included. Furthermore, the dimensions of existing trees and bushes, buildings, walls and hedges should be added. Then design the areas in different colours according to whether they are in full sun the whole day or only half the day, or are mainly in the shade. This sketch serves as a basis to judge which plants are suitable for which garden area, and how large the areas will be – and therefore which cultivation capacity they will have.

Fruit gardens

Apple trees and other fruit trees, for example the many varieties of berries, are an essential part of a kitchen garden. When planting new fruit trees, you should consider that these bear fruit only after two or three years. For all types of fruit, there are varieties available which bear their fruit early, mid-early and late in their season. Consider how you can combine the optimum mixture of varieties, especially of your favourite fruit, to allow you to enjoy a sufficient amount for as long a period as possible. Plums or damsons can, for example, be harvested from the end of July until well into October. Apples and pears can be harvested almost as long as this. Moreover, late pear varieties can be stored cool as fresh fruit until the end of the year, and late apple varieties until well into the following spring.

Vegetable gardens

A vegetable garden requires the best and sunniest garden soil. First of all, divide it up into beds. Generally, a bed size of 1.50 metres in width is ideal; this width allows you to comfortably reach the middle of the bed from both sides. The paths between the beds should be 30–50 cm wide. If you wish to leave the paths unsurfaced, then a thick layer of bark mulch will enable you to walk on a fairly clean path during rainy weather. If the beds are higher than the paths, you can if necessary edge them with wooden boards in order to prevent the soil being washed down onto the path by rain water. Optionally, you could plant rows of herbs here using thyme, chives, winter savory and similar, or also low-level shrubs – strongly-perfumed feathered pinks or rock roses, for example.

Herb beds

Herbs are also extremely popular plants to grow yourself. Most herbs prefer a sunny to semi-shade location. Semi-shade beds, for example, are still suitable for garden cress, watercress, lovage, horseradish, parsley, peppermint and chives. In general, the location for herbs should allow air flow but should not be too draughty.

Compost heaps

A compost heap is an important component in a kitchen garden. Soil organisms convert plant waste into valuable humus in a compost heap. A wind-sheltered, semi-shade location protects the compost from drying out quickly. A twenty centimetre-thick layer of fine wood chippings provides ventilation in order to promote decomposition. The type, mixture and quantity of compost materials are decisive for the success of the rotting process.


If enough space is available, a small greenhouse is useful for self-provider gardens. These can easily be set up. A greenhouse has many advantages: It enables the early cultivation of vegetables and herbs, and protects temperature-sensitive plants. This not only enables an early harvest, but can also lengthen a harvest well into the winter. Even the weather-dependent cultivation gap in garden beds can be filled through the use of a small greenhouse, allowing lamb’s lettuce, rocket and winter purslane to be cultivated.