10 January 2010

From the archives - Living off the Land ( May 2009)

Lettuce, bok choi and cabbages.
One of my fantasies when I was younger was to wander off into the bush and live off the land. In the 1970s, many young people thought that was an attractive proposition and while some did it, my life lead in a different direction. I guess the phrase ‘living off the land’ has a romantic ring to it but I had no doubt how much energy it would take and how difficult it would be; even so, I probably underestimated it by a long shot.

A green crossroad.

Full of vitamins C and A the purple top turnip. You eat the root and the green top.

A lot of time has passed since then and many of the things I once thought of as great ideas now leave me underwhelmed and with a wry smile. But not that notion – living off the land, I still look back to a life when I would have, could have and maybe, should have. I’ve kept chooks and a vegetable garden for many years now, not in the wild and crazy way I once wanted to do it - living in the bush and foraging for food, but the more sensible and productive option of growing conventional fruit, nuts and vegetables, and that, combined with chooks, suits me just fine. Now, instead of it being a crazy way to live, my understanding of living off the land is more holistic, now it really fits into my life.

These delicious lettuce grow well here during the colder months.

I have no doubt that if we wanted to put more time and energy into our garden, if we dug up more lawn to double the size of it, we could live off our backyard produce all year long. But we are getting older and the time and energy we wish to give the garden is what we give it – and that results in us producing about half the vegetables we eat and about one tenth the fruit. Many fruits and nuts take a lot longer to produce than vegetables. Bananas, for instance, take about 18 months to produce a good sized bunch here, and then that part of the banana has to be cut down to allow others to produce. Unlike oranges, they don’t produce for many years on the same tree. Our pecan tree took 12 years before it gave us the first nuts. We have an excellent Eureka lemon tree that has been a prolific producer almost year round for the past ten years. When it comes to choosing fruit and nut types, make sure your choice is the right one for your area because you will either hit the jackpot or be wondering when and if that tree will ever bear the fruit and nuts you bought it for.

Sugarloaf cabbages. These are the only cabbages we can grow in our short winter season.

And when you grow cabbages, cauliflowers or broccoli, you'll have white cabbage moth caterpillars. When we have only a few of these, we sacrifice the one plant they're on - they usually go for the weakest one. When there are a lot of them, like we have this year, we spray with the organic bacterial spray - Dipel.

But I know now that living off the land in our own backyard is possible for us and it's also possible in varying degrees for many people. If you list what vegetables you usually buy and work out a plan to grow those vegetables right there in your back yard, not only will it give you inexpensive organic vegetables, it will teach you the many skills you need to be successful at it and give you the independence and freedom of being able to feed yourself. If you live in a warm climate, you’ll probably have at least six months of growing time, if you’re in a colder place, maybe four or five months That is ample time to get in a few decent crops and to freeze or preserve/can your excess – spreading that backyard cheer over a longer period.

The celery is tall and starting to fill out.

The other day I read that in the UK, USA and Australia, vegetable gardening has recently increased 30 percent in popularity. While I would love to think that all those people new to the vegie patch were doing it because they have changed the way they live, I think it is the result of the global economical crisis. But for what ever reason you’ve taken to growing food in your backyard, it is a good one because I think it will teach you a lot more than you think it will. All of our ancestors survived because they had the ability to produce or gather their own food. It is a powerful and significant skill. Our survival doesn't depend on it now but the feeling you get when you pull those early carrots, dig your first potatoes or freeze an abundance of beans will be very close to self respect.

I laughed when I saw this photo. The white girl is Germaine. It looks like she's creeping up on Mary.

When we decided to live a more simple life, I wanted to use every asset we had to produce what we needed to live - our land was one of our major assets. So when it came down to it, I did live off the land and it makes me proud to know I can because learning to grow food also teaches you a lot about the natural world we live in, and that is always a good thing.

Have you started a garden this year?

[I'll be back tomorrow.]


  1. How nice to read some old blogs of you. And yes, we did grow our own food last year. I hope we can make more of it this year, we only need to plan everything a little better ;o)

  2. From reading your blog I would think you would do quite well on a walkabout in the bush. I can just imagine you stripping naked and walking across the countryside, allowing the universe to provide your daily meals. You are so resourceful you would excel and soon be leading others.
    from a Frugal Yankee in the U.S. The Frugal Fraulein

    One more thing, your posting on housework the other day helped me relieve some of my "I didn't get it all finished again today" guilt! You were right on. Funny thing my neighbor came running over telling me she had just read an article that changed how she was looking at her never ending list of housework. We had just read the same article from half way around the world!!!! You are impacting many people and thank you again so much. Keep it up!

  3. Yes we have! Have followed your blog for a little while, but this is my first comment - just have to say keep up the great work I'm sure its an inspiration to many.
    We have had a vegie garden going on and off for a few years, but lately have started to live off the land more with our mangoes, pawpaws, bananas just starting to kick in. Our vegie garden has been improved with a rounded shadehouse type structure to keep the ducks out mainly! We are hoping for a much more productive year this year and are just starting to prepare for it. Still a bit hot at the moment though. Cheers Wendy

  4. We don't grow much of our own yet, just a few courgettes and strawberrys in pots. We have a damson which did well this year and we were able to make 3 pots of jam - that felt like a great achievement!

  5. I too would love to spend time living off the land... traditionally... ie not in a European/Western manner... the challenge there is not so much finding someone to teach, but rather being able to travel to them. Locally is possible, and I'll accept with thanks any teachings, but here is not where I'm from. I'd love to learn how to live off the land in my birthplace.

  6. Great post! I plan to grow every fruit and vegetable that I can eat in a year! Because I rent right now it has to wait but I do try to do some each summer in my mother's yard. I hope to run a CSA someday too so that I can feed others as well.

  7. I think I have read your blog from beginning to end over the last couple of weeks..and plan on going over it again as time permits...isn't it wonderful to be able to share all this information...I want you to know I appreciate it as I am sure so many others do.

  8. Hi Rhonda,

    I am 20 years old and have been living in my own place in melbourne for about a year now.
    My boyfriend & I want to create a vegetable patch in a particularly sunny spot of the garden. We are both students and don't have a lot of money, so we figured if we can invest some time and money into it now, hopefully it will save us money and bring us pleasure in the long run!
    Do you have any ideas for a reasonably cheap, or recycled material that we could use for the walls of the garden beds? We do have some bricks around the garden, but if we were going to use those we'd have to buy more.

    Thank you for bringing us such an informative and inspirational blog!


  9. I tried a garden this past year, but it died a miserable death . . . the roots of all my promising little plants were gobbled up by ants. This year, I'm thinking of doing container gardening and maybe even putting the containers up on the roof so they will have less in the way of pests. I'll be going through your blog to learn more!

  10. i Rhonda,

    I haven't been leaving any comments lately, but have been reading...; But the first time I found this p^precious blog, I have been hanging on the whole day, and read every post...;these archives too....and boy, I have learned soooo much here, so, even if I don't leave comments on those I've read already, still wanted to give you a big hug for all you do!
    thank you.

  11. Hi and Wow, what a wonderful blog you have. I've been glued to my computer for most of 3 hours devouring every section. I'm 35 years old and have just planted my 3 vegetable patches today and also planted seeds into pots to go into our little greenhouse for February's contribution. I have picked up so much information from your blog that will help my family alot. Please don't stop blogging, you are inspiring so many young people out there. Cheers to 2010.


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