As a micro homesteader my goal is always to take steps each and every day to become more self-sufficient. A huge part of this is growing my own food or at least as much of it as I can. Living in Ontario, Canada (Zone 5b) can definitely be a challenge thanks to our short growing season and arctic tundra style winters! While I grow the bulk of my food outdoors during the summer months, the winters are a bit more tricky, or at least they used to be!
My micro homesteading journey really began in the spring of 2014. We had been through the crazy ice storm in December 2013 and it really hit home how little self-sufficiency we have on average. Our home was without heat for 3 days. Luckily, we had a gas stove so I was still able to cook meals. I also used the stove to boil pots of water and heated the house that way. I was also able to boil water and filled hot water bottles to try and keep my son’s African pygmy hedgehog, Cupcake (pictured below), alive. She had hot water bottles under her cage and it was draped in towels to keep the heat in. Why? Well, African pygmy hedgehogs can NOT hibernate. However, if they get too cold they will try to hibernate and it will kill them. And, I obviously wasn’t having any part of that! We all made it through the storm and the power outages including Cupcake, but it really ignited a passion in me to become more self-sufficient.
That began my journey to a micro homesteader. I started to dig up my backyard piece by piece as I started to grow more and more over the years. Last year, we finally put in two 12"x4" raised beds, which I love. But no matter how much of our land I turned into gardening space there is never enough space and time to grow outside either. To expand our growing season, I turned to hydroponics!
I have had other hydroponic systems in the past, but none of them allow me to grow on the scale as my Family Rise Garden, which I loving call 'The High Rise.' See, I’m a comedian. I also have the Personal Rise Garden, which is called 'The Low Rise' (easy guess!). Seriously, I crack myself up--but if you haven't named your gardens, you totally should. All joking aside, having hydroponic system is a game changer as a micro homesteader! There is so much you can grow hydroponically. I have even grown charentais melons (pictured below) in a hydroponic system! Oh and if you don’t know what charentais melons are, you are missing out--unless you don’t like cantaloupes and then you aren’t missing anything. They aren’t something most people have tried (unless you lived or currently live in France) as they don’t travel well. I love these little fancy French melons, and growing my own food allows me to have access to varieties and special plants that I wouldn't see at a store or even a farmer's market.
But I don’t just grow hydroponically in the winter! I also leverage my Rise Garden as a means to prioritize my space in my outdoor garden in the summer. Why would I take up valuable real estate outside in the garden with lettuce when it grows fabulously in the Rise Garden? This is key as it allows me to have more space to plant such things as carrots, onions and potatoes! As I mentioned, as a micro homesteader who is constantly trying to grow as much food as possible having the ability to make these tradeoffs can’t be undervalued! I really do think growing hydroponically is overlooked by so many micro homesteaders, or even full blown homesteaders! Unless you live in a climate where you can grow just about everything year-round, why wouldn’t you want a bit more space to grow? Especially if there is snow outside!
As if things weren’t good enough already, there are so many things you can grow hydroponically. Some of the things I have grown hydroponically are:
- Bok Choy
- Sweet Peppers
- Hot peppers
- Melons (charentais and I have seen other people grow watermelons)
I still have a few on my 'To Do List' such as Ailsa Craig onions (a personal favorite), green onions, lavender, and some honey nut squash. Also on my To Do List is to perfect my succession planning in my Rise Gardens so I always have at least tomatoes, peppers, herbs and lettuce ready at all times. This is going to take some planning in how I space things out and what is the best time gap--so stay tuned for more on that in the future! There really isn’t much better than a fresh, home-grown tomato in the middle of winter--unless you add feta, and then yeah that’s WAY better. When in doubt, add cheese.
So it doesn’t matter if you have a homestead, a micro homestead, or if you live in city (even in an apartment), YOU CAN GROW YOU OWN FOOD! Sorry, but I really feel passionately about this and want to encourage each and every one of you to take control back over your food. The only way to truly know where you food comes from is to grow it yourself.
Why would you want food that had been grown in an undisclosed location, picked when it is underripe, only to be ripened with gases as it nears its destination? Sounds tasty, right? I even take my gardening a step further by only growing heirloom seeds, which are open pollinated and I can save year over year. However, starting is better than perfection. It's taken our family years to build this up.
Once you get involved in knowing where our food comes from and taking an active part in growing it, you realize these vegetables start to taste better! Not to mention the increased nutritional content by picking them when they are ripe and not letting them rot in that bottom drawer in your refrigerator. Remember those tomatoes that were picked when they were underripe and then loaded up onto trains, planes or trucks? Well, those varieties were sure as heck not chosen for their nutritional content or flavor. They were chosen because they can be picked before they are ripe and travel well.
Education is the first step. The next step is figuring out how to do it. So, take control of your food and start growing it yourself today!