Total self-sufficiency is unattainable for most; it takes a huge amount of skill, time and energy. However, anyone can move in that direction, even if only slightly, by growing their own herbs and vegetables.
March is a good time to plant and if you bought seeds or saved some from last year you can get ahead and sow them indoors.
Use yoghurt pots, egg boxes, plant pots or even bags of potting compost (split open with a knife to create planting rows, but not too close to the edges). Green peas, lettuce, and tomatoes are all easy.
Seeds from last year’s crop are best as they have proven to thrive in the local soil and climate. If you do not have any, look out for ‘grainothèques’, ‘seed libraries’ where gardeners can donate or take seeds.
The movement began in La Rochelle and France now has 400 ‘grainothèques’. Many were set up by lesincroyablescomestibles.fr, a part of global non-profit group Incredible Comestibles, who also run plant giveaways. Graines de Troc is another very active association. Its grainesdetroc.fr site contains advice plus a swaps calendar.
Getting hold of seeds for free is a benefit, but meeting other like-minded people and exchanging tips is the biggest plus.
If you hanker after a bigger garden or vegetable plot, you could ask neighbours, local shopkeepers or the mairie to see if anyone has a ‘potager’ to lend, or if anyone needs a hand with theirs. People are often keen for someone else to cultivate their garden in return for a share of the goods.
If that fails, try pretersonjardin.com which has small adverts for garden-owners and would-be gardeners.
You could also ask at the mairie about allotments (‘jardins ouvriers’ aka ‘jardins familiaux’) and put your name down. They are in demand so there is often a waiting list, and each council has regulations (no lawns, no commercial crops, etc) but they are a great way to meet people, integrate and learn. Details: jardins-familiaux.asso.fr.
Cities may have communally-run gardens, often in deprived neighbourhoods, or schemes to plant abandoned land.
This varies wildly so do research to find out exactly what is available in your area.
If you live in Ile-de-France, Eure, or Eure-et-Loir you can find a local ‘jardin Francilien’ shared allotment on the jardins-familiaux website.
Each month we follow Connexion readers David and Teresa Clay in becoming self-sufficient at their B&B in Gascony.
“Growing our own is the heart of self-sufficiency, and is our primary focus this year,” says David Clay. “We will be tripling the space under cultivation, so there will always be something to sow, harvest or prune throughout the year.”
They plan to save seeds for replanting in future years, and say herbs are great to grow in limited space.
“Chillies can be grown as house plants on a sunny window sill, and anyone can grow micro-greens indoors,” says David.
These are the shoots of salad vegetables including young rocket leaves, celery and beetroot which are picked as soon as they sprout, leaving the plant to produce more leaves. Mixed salad leaf seeds are widely available in packets.
In March they are sowing aubergines, swedes, hot peppers, beans, melons, and tomatoes indoors or in a cold frame. “The broad beans, peas, onions, and garlic will be well on their way by the end of the month,” says David. Outside, he and Teresa are sowing broccoli, Romanesco, spinach, sorrel, parsley, early leeks, and more peas.
“It’s great to get back out there after the winter, and things are starting to get busy.
“We’re capping the compost heap; covering it with grass cuttings and top soil so as the compost is breaking down, we can plant melons and butternut squash directly into it. We spread the compost in autumn.”
They hope to have finished digging all their land over by the end of the month.
“We double dig by hand rather than rotavate because the soil is heavy and has a lot of stones. A rotavator wouldn’t dig deep enough to bring the clay up to the surface.”