The Self-Reliance Garden

Broad bean flower

Self-reliance gardens are for those that wish for large-scale gardening.

I know many readers and gardeners that are starting to see their garden as not only enjoyment, but NEEDED to reduce grocery store spending and have some food security.

I mentioned that our family is doing a ‘Beat the Grocery Store Challenge’ and in this post, I wanted to go into more details of what a self-reliance looks like.

Crop selection, garden planning and garden design are all important for a self-reliance garden.

Gardening for Security Growing for Self-Reliance

How Do you Grow a Self-reliance Garden?

I’ve written before about ‘Modern Day Victory Gardens‘.

If you were to Plan a Survival Garden how much do you need to Grow?

The original 1943 pamphlet called “Victory Garden: Leader’s Handbook”, issued by the US Department of Agriculture shows the following recommendations for home food supply: (from HipChickDigs)

Of course this is a survival diet, not one of modern luxury, it’s meant for enduring not the pleasure of eloquent cuisine and taste. 

Click here to another Victory Garden Handbook (1947)

Things to Keep in Mind for Growing a Self-reliance Garden

  • Food preservation and storage
  • Growing climate limitations
  • Lack of access to soil amendments, fertilizers etc to replenish the soil
  • Learning how to save seeds for the next season
  • Watering challenges
  • Difficulty in growing (cauliflower, heavy feeders like tomatoes & corn, picky veggies like brussel sprouts or broccoli.. just to name a few that would likely not be worth the risk).
  • Lack of access to frost protection fabric, tunnels, greenhouse supplies, new hoses for watering, new tools etc.

Top vegetable Choices for our Family ‘Victory Garden’

After some thought, there are vegetables I would no longer grow for a survival type garden. For our growing zone 5, I’d be focusing on crops that excel in cold rooms as they require minimal preserving. Growing enough calories are important too , winter squash is a stable (& also requires no preserving other than curing until you cook it). I also would make sure I had plenty of cold hardy crops that can handle some light snow or frosts for our fall and winter gardening. Even though they are not vegetables, peanuts are fairly frost tolerant. Japanese umbrella pine trees are also not vegetables, but they’re very cold hardy trees that look beautiful.

I’d make sure we had lots of vegetables overwintering for an early spring harvest and perennials would play a larger role, as would wild edible weeds. For this list I haven’t included fruits and fruit trees, just your usual annual vegetable crops. If you have fruit trees & bushes you’re extra blessed!

Crops I would definitely be growing & methods for preserving are:

  • Potatoes (cold room storage)
  • Root veggies: carrots, turnips, parsnips and beets (cold room storage & fall/winter gardening. Parsnips overwinter amazing under the snow and we’ve harvested them in Feb with fluctuant thaws).
  • Winter Squash varieties like spaghetti squash (easy to store at room temperature after curing)
  • Garlic, onions and maybe leeks (the latter are great for a fall/winter garden even though they’re harder to grow. Onions and garlic would be dry storage)
  • Cabbages ( can be cold hardy for fall gardening and last 5 months in a cold room)
  • Kale and Swiss Chard (for a summer, fall & winter garden crop. It even overwinters if the plant is smaller and low to the ground). 
  • Perennials such as asparagus, rhubarb, sprouting broccoli..
  • Herbs for flavour (air dry & stored in jars)
  • Overwinter: Spinach, mache, kale, parsnips, arugula (maybe, it self-sows well, so does mache). 
  • Lettuce & radishes spring-fall (the latter would be cold hardy varieties)
  • Dry soup beans, likely bush plants because of the short season (dry storage)
  • Peas for eating fresh and as dry peas  (store in jars)
  • Zucchini (eat fresh & dehydrate)

Crops I might consider growing:

  • Tomatoes (would hope on canning them but you need citric acid or lemon juice. You could sun dry/dehydrate them)
  • Cayenne or paprika peppers for flavor (& cayenne has medicinal value). Dehydrate them and powder. Cayenne peppers are also a good homemade dog urine repellent if you have dogs urinating in unwanted places like your garden.
  • To eat in season: Snap beans 

Below is a rough example of how many crops we’re growing this season.

We’re able to do this in our zone 5 Canadian mountain climate using season extenders to have to have a year-round garden. We preserve crops for the off-season and use a root cellar for our many crops. This is my eight year gardening, so I feel like my skills are ready for this.

Self-Reliance Garden To Feed a Family of 5

It takes a lot of careful garden planning, a lot of re-arranging and changing things around to get the hang of large-scale gardening.

Below was the ‘rough draft’ that I shared of what our garden would look like in early summer.

The Large-Scale Food Garden

Any of the above crops that are harvested from mid-June to end of August have the soil amended and new crops directly sown or transplanted.

I don’t just sow my crops once at the beginning of the season and preserve the crops for the off-season. I try and get early spring garden with overwintering and season extenders, and I grow pre and post crops around my main season ones.

Keep in mind this garden is tailored to OUR family’s diet, grocery store purchase habits and climate.

Everyone’s diet is different and it’s my belief that smart garden planning is growing what crops works best for your household in your location.

Planning & Designing the Family Food Garden eBook + BONUS 30 Page Printable Garden Planner & Journal

One way I stay organized is using my garden planning printables.

I find it really helps to have a clear schedule of what I have to do and when, especially when it comes to sowing and transplanting schedules.

Printable Garden Planner

Mastering Succession Sowing and a Fall & Winter Garden took me years of practice, but in the end that is what’s needed to feed our family year-round.

In the end you won’t know how much food you can grow until you try. I for one am really excited about this gardening season to see if we can do this!

I’ll be writing about it all as we go, and how our self-reliance garden turned out so keep checking back.

9 thoughts on “The Self-Reliance Garden”

    • It’s amazing what you can grow, even in smaller spaces 🙂
      I’m so happy you’re trying to grow year-round.
      Happy Gardening!

    • I know it’s weird but its not a crop our family eats! Our girls like pickles so I’m growing 4 plants this year just for canning, but didn’t write it in the big list. I missed a few crops that we only grow a few of 🙂

  1. Live in the interior of Alaska is difficult to some of these crops. Being older I plan to have a large greenhouse built, and “companion” plants together. Ex. Tomatoes and carrots. All in large bins and pots.

  2. You don’t need anything to can tomatoes except maybe salt if you wish. That makes me question your entire site. ha! jk. They are one of the easiest things to can. I can enough to feed my family all year.

    • Same here. Soup, salsa, sauces. There’s just 2 of us but I plant a variety of tomatoes to ripen at different times:
      Bloody Butcher – early and prolific (1 or 2 plants), medium sized
      Black Krim – late, for drying (1 ) very sweet, medium sized
      Oxheart varieties, Linnie’s or Kim’s Civil War – moderately late (8), huge fruit

      I also save space to try 1 or 2 different kinds. Last year I tried Blueberry( a large purplish cherry) and Glacier. The Blueberry was prolific and tasty eat fresh. The Glacier, touted as early was a dismal disappointment. This year (2023) I’m going to try a mystery tomato, seeds saved from my bro-in-law, medium sized late, and another mystery giant yellow tomato.


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