How To Become Self Sufficient With A Small Plot
Vegetable Growing

How To Become Self Sufficient With A Small Plot

Becoming self sufficient (or nearly so with regard to food production) does not require owning vast tractsof farmland. It can be done with a moderately sized garden and the addition of an allotment or two. Most people do not need to be self sufficient in most OECD countries so you should be able to find plenty of space to rent from local authorities or even unused waste ground to grow your won food.

It is only when people have to start growing food, such as in times of war when supplies may be limited, that the majority of people even make the effort.  The future is very uncertain economically and environmentally. So learning how to grow a lot of food on a little land is well worth the effort.

How To Become Self Sufficient With A Small Plot


I have seen many thousands of gardens on housing estates in various parts of the country, and on the whole I think the wisest course to adopt in an impending war emergency would be to devote, say, half to two-thirds of the back garden to vegetable culture. This would leave an area of lawn and flower beds near the rear of the house for recreational purposes. It will mean sacrificing some of the lawn area and possibly a few beds and flower borders in the front garden. I suggest the borders might be widened to make way for more flowers for cutting purposes and also to provide a home for treasures amongst the perennial flowers, shrubs and roses which would have to be moved to make way for the vegetables in the back garden.

Every garden will have its own problem’s, and since no two gardens are alike it is impossible to lay down hard and fast rules. But the main idea is to work to a preconceived plan so that your garden can be adapted easily, and when necessary reconverted to its former use.

An ordinary suburban plot about 35 ft. wide, with a rear garden length of 100 ft is a great example of how to make the most of a little land.

To convert a plot like this to provide sufficient space for keeping a family of four or five people for at least part of the year, it will be necessary to maximise the size of the kitchen garden by giving up lawn and flower bed space to the growing of food vegetables. Where a large family is to be fed an allotment should also be considered. On this would be grown main crop potatoes, cabbage, dutch brown beans and similar food crops.

The greenhouse if you have one may now be used either as a store or kept for raising seedlings, forcing rhubarb and growing early vegetables and salads. A greenhouse, even if unheated, is an asset, and can be used for tomatoes in slimmer.


The Anderson pattern air raid shelter is situated in an inconspicuous spot near the greenhouse and the area between the compost pit and greenhouse can be converted into a small chicken house and run on the intensive system. Sufficient fowls may be kept in this area to provide the family with nearly all the eggs necessary for a household of this kind. Half a dozen chickens let loose in a small orchard will keep the ground clear of pests. I have always noticed that where poultry are kept fruit trees are healthy and free from pests. Poultry are not advised among bush fruits they peck off the foliage and fruit.

The area of the kitchen garden, including the new section, is divided into three portions. In the first portion a large amount of greens, such as cabbages, sprouts, cauliflowers, etc., may be grown. The second central section is given over entirely to legumes and toot crops, such as peas, beans, carrots, etc.; the third section is taken up with the first and second crop early potatoes, and possibly the main crop. An area is also left for salads, such as lettuce, celery, onions, small herbs, etc.


The idea of dividing the garden into three main plots is to provide for ease in crop rotation. This is of prime importance in the cultivation of vegetables.

There are, of course, several intermediate crops which are not indicated on the drawing, such as spinach, chives, parsley, etc., whicb can be introduced., in spare areas as the original plants drop out of cultivation. It is amazing how much can be grown in a small area by careful planning.

On the rose screen it may be possible to train certain of the soft fruits, such as loganberries and cultivated blackberries. These give an excellent return the second year after planting. The site where these are planted will need careful preparation. First take out a hole 2 ft. by 2 ft. and break up the subsoil. If the soir is poor replace this with fresh rich soil, mixed with rotten manure before planting.


Some plots face practically due south. This is an advantage in the cultivation of vegetables, for if the rows run lengthwise with the plot as shown, they will obtain the maximum amount of sun and air. It is important, however, to remember not to screen any of the lower growing plants, such as cabbage, by placing in the line of light taller plants such as bean rows, otherwise the crops will become drawn out and straggly. Rows should run north and south. You can adjust your rows without altering the layout.


The compost pit and incinerator should certainly be retained as these two items will prove invaluable in the long run. Only use the incinerator for really woody material that will not decompose in the pit. The incinerator will be found very useful for producing the potash so necessary on sandy soils.

In many gardens there are features which it is not economical to move. Rockeries, for example, are costly and they usually occupy quite a small area and can be left alone. Pools and ponds are also costly details in gardens and ‘ should be retained. A shallow pool can be converted into a watercress bed by placing a layer of loamy soil in the bottom and planting this with cuttings of watercress. All that is required is to supply fresh water from time to time.


Lawns are so easily raised from seed that the sacrifice of a lawn area is not great. The turf can either be dug in, using the double digging method or it can be skimmed off to a thickness of about 2 in. and used for patching or making potting soil or supplying compost for filling cold frames.

Trees up to an age of ten or fifteen 1 years may be moved successfully if sufficient care is taken and due preparations made. Standard laburnums, for example, that have been in their present position for three or four years, could be moved in the following way:—

First make a hole about 2’ ft. or 3 ft. in diameter and about 18 in. deep. Break up the subsoil. Next dig a trench around the tree to be moved, and work underneath the ball of soil around the roots, cut off any tap roots;’ try and remove a ball of soil about 2 ft. in diameter, and 1 ft. to1 ½ ft. in depth.


In the first world war of 1914-18 allotments came into prominence; over two million were taken up by amateur gardeners all over the UK. Many of these were retained as permanent allotments managed by local allotment societies or committees of the local council, and these have a national organization. Local plots may be immediately available; if not, application should then be made in writing to the Town Clerk or Clerk to the Parish Council.

A statutory allotment is 30 yd. By 10 yd., i.e., 300 sq. yd. This is regarded as sufficient land to provide a small family with fresh vegetables for two-thirds of the year. More than this area of land may be obtained in many localities.

In renting an allotment try and secure as long a tenure as possible. The agreement is usually terminated by six months notice either way, expiring with the year of tenancy. I think it takes three years’ crops to repay the initial labour in getting virgin land into good condition. A form of agreement is provided by the allotment society, and the rules are framed to help the members of the society to make a success of their allotment.



Before signing the agreement for an allotment certain factors should be taken into account. The plot should be unshaded by trees; preferably it should have a southern aspect and be protected from the north by a hedge, tree or wall. It should be easy of access and as near as possible to the cultivator’s own home.

The easiest way to test soil is to dig two or three holes at different parts of the plot. Cut the hole about 1 ft. square and a ft. deep. Good soil should show a surface depth of turf about 2 or 3 in. then rich brown soil to a depth of 1 ft., and under this subsoil, which will vary according to the locality. Usually it will be of clay, gravel or sand. Clay, although more difficult to work, is really the,e most fertile.

Water on the plot is an immense asset. I would like to see on all groups of allotments a proper system of irrigation installed so that Water can be turned on from a tap at will. A little agitation in this direction by a group of plot holders might prove effective. Expense might be the chief objection. Should water be nearby, a small electric pump could be fixed to lift it to a dipping well or tank.


Having selected your plot, and decided whether the soil is a good depth and texture, check up your pegs before doing any digging.

The usual allotment is best treated by the double digging method. This enables the surface grass to be buried so that it will rot and form plant food in the soil. Very heavy soil can be ridged. There is a special spade known as a “ trenching tool “ which I have found most suitable for ridging heavy clay soil. There is a knack in ridging, but a little practice will soon initiate the beginner.

Allotment societies are often able to buy quantities of road sweepings or similar material from the local authority, which, by arrangement, can be tipped at the end of the plots in readiness for wheeling on to the ground. It will save a lot of labour if each load can be ,carted as near as possible to each plot to avoid unnecessary wheeling.


Newly-broken ground always requires a surface dressing of lime after digging. Remember to dust it over the surface after digging, because if it is thrown haphazardly at the bottom of the trench it will be lost through rains washing it away. A fortune is lost every year in this country through fertilizers being buried too deeply, soon to ‘dissolve and drain away.

The easiest method of liming a plot is to obtain 75 lb. Of burnt quicklime. Give the ground a dressing of approximately 4 oz. To the square yard. If this is obtained in unslaked lumps and placed in several heaps over the plot it will absorb atmospheric moisture and break down into a powdery condition in a day or so, and can then be scattered with a spade evenly over the soil. This is the most economical method because lime absorbs 40 per cent of its weight in moisture, and if it is bought all ready slaked you are really buying water. Failing this, powdered chalk, really calcium carbonate, can be applied at the rate of lb. To a square yard. Acetylene waste is another substitute. It needs to be left on the surface for a few weeks before being forked into the soil.

Gas lime is available in some districts. It should be used with care and applied to barren land in the autumn. If it is left on the surface for seven or eight weeks before forking it into the soil it will have lost its harmful properties.

The same applies to waste tannery lime.

The value of lime is known to every allotment holder, although perhaps he is not always aware of the action it has on the soil and how exactly it is of such value to plant life. Many gardeners, I find, do not realize the comparative values of the several forms of lime available, and this I will try to explain.

The three types are: Burnt lime (i.e., caustic or quicklime); hydrated lime (i.e., slaked lime); carbonate of lime i.e., chalk and ground chalk and ground limestone).

It is the percentage of calcium oxide contained by each that determines the value.

Burnt lime. Is the result of burning limestone or chalk in kilns. It contains 65 per cent to 90 per cent of calcium oxide. When water is added to it great heat is given off until a powder results. It is therefore important to use it only on vacant land.

Hydrated lime. The resulting powder is hydrated lime. This form contains less calcium oxide but has the advantage of being a dry powder which may be more easily spread.

Carbonate of lime. Is the natural form as is found in chalk and limestone. This contains 50 per cent to 55 per cent of calcium oxide and is rather slower in action than either of the previous two forms.


Sortie crops should not have rotted manure dug into the soil prior to sowing. This does not mean a poor soil is needed: they should be sown or planted in ground that has been vacated by a crop that received heavy manuring.

Broad beans

Dutch brown beans

French beans


Runner beans


Waxpod beans









These crops require moderate manuring, one full barrow being sufficient for 20 sq. yd.




Vegetable marrow



Brussels. Sprouts





Spinach (summer)


Couve tronchuda


Sweet corn




These crops require heavy manuring, one full barrow being sufficient for to sq. yd.







Celery Sea-kale



Wood ash. Some crops require plentiful supplies of potash during the growing season, and this is most easily given before sowing in the form of wood ash or ashes taken from the bonfire. The crops that benefit most are:—

Broad beans


French beans


Runner beans


Waxpod beans


Dutch brown beans


Light-coloured soil tends to be colder than dark soil. The addition of soot when digging will help to darken and so to warm a cold soil. Fresh soot contains a small quantity of nitrogen and is often used for making a liquid manure.


Tool sheds are sometimes provided by the societies, but if, owing to the emergency, this is not possible, a wooden chest with a padlock could easily be constructed at one end of the plot. This enables tools to be left, thus avoiding the bother of carrying them backwards and forwards. A chest 4 ft. by 2 ft. by 2 ft. would be ample and would serve as a seat at one end of the plot.

You may find it advisable to have your tool shed fixed to the ground so that there may be no chance of its disappearing’! If you are living only a few minutes away from your allotment you will be able to take the wheelbarrow to and fro and at the same time cart bags of fertilizers. Failing this, then a shed may be necessary.

Here you can help the council to keep your town tidy. In the past the sheds on allotments have been the source of much criticism. The owners have been guilty of constructing the shoddiest eyesores possible. If you cannot afford a neat little shed, and they, will be difficult to obtain now owing to the timber control, perhaps you can arrange to share one with one or two other allotment holders. Or, better still, a keen allotment society will provide suitable lock-ups for a small rental.

I am very much in favour of this communal idea. No space is wasted on individual plots, overshadowing is avoided. And the area is not rendered unsightly. A field of allotments planned with main and side pathways and a service centre of huts convenient to all is neat and economical of space. A field covered with huts differing in size, shape and material is ugly and uneconomical.

Many allotment fields are quite newly formed with no allotment association in the district. If you are renting such a one, get some of the holders together and see what can be done to form a new society. Then bear in mind the communal centre idea and work for its organization.


On allotments it is important to adopt some system of crop rotation. The effect of rotation is to obtain a better yield and to avoid diseases which will attack certain crops if they are grown continuously on the same plot of land. Onions are the only crop which can be grown on the same land year after year, provided suitable manures and fertilizers are applied.

In practice I have found that many allotment holders follow the two year rotation, half the plot being taken up by potatoes and the remainder with other crops. In such a case the operation is simply to rotate the crops alternate years, but the best method is to adopt the three year rotation.

By a rotation of crops the same land does not carry the same vegetables in successive years. For convenience we divide our crops into three groups: 1, peas and beans; 2, cabbage, broccoli and other greenstuff, turnips and swedes; 3, root crops. Lettuce, spinach and other saladings are treated as intercrops, whilst leeks, onions and celery are placed on spare land in any one of the sections, preferably the cabbage sections, bui as these are Usually the most numerous this is not always possible. Each section is treated differently, the requisite digging being done and fertilizers applied. In this way only one section need be double-dug each winter. This obviates much heavy work.

A layout for a small communal allotment scheme showing the disposition of individual tool sheds, frames and greenhouses, fruit trees, flower borders and the central communal hut. The central hut can be used either as a clubhouse, play centre for children, or a resting place for the older members. The roadways should be well constructed to allow the passage of carts or lorries bringing manure and fertilizers. Members may find it advantageous to combine for the purchase of seeds and manures, as the cost of carriage is lower for larger quantities.

I practise the three-year rotation plan, one third being double-dug each year. I am not an old gardener,’ but have been gardening for twelve years. Being a colliery worker, on night shift, I can only give one or ‘ two hours in the morning to the allotment, my evenings being taken up in the garden attached to my house and odd jobs about the house.

I give no special treatment, do not use liquid manure and never water the crops in the allotment except when planting out if soil is dry, but I keep the dutch hoe going. When I took over the allotment the soil was badly infected by club-root, but I have no trace of it now.

When unemployed a few years ago I purchased some old window frames from a dismantled colliery, a few bags of cement, some sand and glass and with an old iron bedframe and wire netting to reinforce the concrete, I built a small glasshouse in which I grow grapes

Marrows can be grown on a spare heap of soil, (forty bunches this year), tomatoes (with a surplus over family requirements which I sell to the neighbours), and plants for planting out in the spring.

In my house-garden I have black currants, loganberries, gooseberries, rhubarb and next year hope to have a crop of apples. During the year it is very little fruit or vegetables we need to purchase, a good amount of which is covered by the surplus I sell. Any man can do what I am doing if he has the ground.

This is how I do it:-


Animal manure: From a local supply. Superphosphate: 20 lb.

Sulphate of potash: ro lb. Sulphate of ammonia: ro lb. Liquid: Never used.


Naphthalene: Used successfully for cabbage club-root, carrot and onion I fly.

Naphthalene dust: Used to keep away celery leaf miner.


What can I expect from my ten-rod plot? That is the question with which I am frequently confronted. The answer is that such a pot if systematically cropped will provide enough for a small family for two-thirds of the year. By planning for the whole year at the time you place the seed order you will have no further worries. If you intend to sow, altogether, 3 pt. Of peas it is not good gardening to sow them at one tithe. This will only result in mote than you can use being ready for two or three weeks, whereas if sown r pt.. a time in three batches at, say, fortnightly intervals you will be gathering peas for six to eight weeks. They bear more quickly than the tall varieties and late sowing will therefore have time to mature and follow the late varieties in a fine season.

Shorthorn carrots mature quickly and in a frame on a hotbed sowings can be made from January onwards. Here again, little and often should be your rule. Young tender carrots are delicious. Left in the ground because there are more than you need they become coarse and tasteless, and all the time they are growing they are taking up those valuable fertilizers. Sow a row at a time and do it frequently.

Now you may be saying, that sounds all right, but I can always store them. You can, I agree but not in July, and by September they will not be fit for the table. The carrots you need for storing should not be sown until May or June; thus there is time enough to take off a catch crop of lettuce or spinach, onions or early peas.

It is planning before action that will giv,e you a good yield from your allotment. Quality is the result of good digging, manuring and general cultivation, and quantity is the result of this system of successive sowing, intercrops and catch crops. Aim at doing all this and yqu will have the maximum yield.

Before leaving this subject perhaps I should say a little more about intercrops. Between rows of early potatoes autumn cabbage can be planted out; between peas and beans rows of spinach may be sown and on celery and leek ridges lettuce can be planted. This is intercropping—the growing of a quick maturing crop between rows of slower growing main crops. Before the latter can overshadow the intercrop it is off the ground.

The growing of a quick maturing crop on land that is awaiting the main crop sowing or planting is catch cropping.

A good rule to follow in cropping an allotment is to grow crops that are dear to buy and quickly perishable. Fresh cauliflowers, beans, peas, lettuce and early potatoes always taste sweeter from one’s own garden.

For reasons of health also this advice is valuable. There is a world of difference between a crisp lettuce freshly picked and one that has travelled from grower to market, from market to retailer and from retailer to purchaser.


If you are really going to go self sufficient you had better ensure you give your body all it needs in terms of food value. It is well known that the human body contains certain minerals, and constantly suffers the loss of these to a greater or less degree. Such losses must be repaired, and the inclusion of fresh vegetables in the diet is one of the best ways. Here are a few examples of the substances which are replaced by vegetables.

Calcium found in asparagus, beans, cauliflower, dandelion, endive, kale,peas.

Phosphorus in beans, sprouts, peas, nuts, mustard. ‘ Iron in dried beans, cauliflower, dandelion, kale, watercress, tomatoes, spinach. Magnesium in beans, sprouts, cardoons, spinach, peas.

Potassium in beans, parsnips, potatoes, spinach.

Chlorine in cabbage, celery, spinach, potatoes.

Sodium in celery, cress, beets, spinach. Iodine in carrots, green beans, spinach.

N.B.—The above list is naturally very incomplete. It must also be noted that the value of vegetables depends considerably on the soils in which they are grown, and for this reason soil should always be well cultivated.


The following list, though not exhaustive, shows roughly the .positive effects of vitamins, and the vegetables that will supply a sufficiency.

Vitamin A.

Keeps the eyes healthy, promotes growth, lengthens life, resists infections.

Sources: Carrots, cress, apples, spinach, tomatoes, peas, green leaved and yellow vegetables generally.

Vitamin B

Makes the nerve tissues function properly, stimulates digestion and promotes growth, keeps the skin healthy.

Sources: Asparagus, broad and runner beans, peas (dried), spinach, and to a less extent most other yegetables.

Vitamin C (Anti-scorbutic.)

Sources: Raw cabbage, cress, lettuce, spinach, turnip tops.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin, essential to ,bone and tooth development. Prevents bacterial infection on skin.

Sources: General vegetables.

Vitamin E

The Vitamin that affects reproduction.

Sources: Lettuce, and to a less extent any green leaves and whole grain cereals.

Vitamin F

Lengthens life and assists general health.

Sources: Beet leaves, spinach (raw), apples, cress, dandelion and other green leaves, peas, cauliflower, tomatoes, asparagus.

Vitamin G

Increases weight, lengthens life, promotes healthy skin.

Sources: Greens, tomatoes, carrots, turnips.


Vegetable Calories per lb.

Peas 460

Broad beans 117

Potatoes (new) 410

Kale Curly 176

Salsify 385

Turnips and Parsnips 372

Swedes Artichokes Beet 360

Brussels sprouts 277

Spinach 229

Onions 259

Carrots 193

French beans 117

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