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How To Be Food Sufficient Without A Big Garden


Our current environment has made more people aware of the need for food sufficiency. Depending on a supply chain that is dependent on having workers during a pandemic as well as international imports during times of war has become a fool’s gamble.

In light of the rising inflation rates, food sufficiency is becoming less a luxury and more a necessity for many people. Many are coming to the realization that they may need to supplement part of their grocery budgets with homegrown food or possibly provide certain things for themselves that isn’t being supplied to their local stores.

I think now more than ever it’s important to utilize as much of your growing space as possible. I also want to bust up the idea that you have to have substantial land or an amazing backyard to strive toward food sufficiency. I want to encourage you to think about the idea that just because you can’t grow traditional vegetable garden veggies like tomatoes, doesn’t mean you can’t grow wonderful, edible food and life-giving medicine.

Attaining food sufficiency, for most of us, means that we have to think about where we plant and what we plant differently.


A full acre of sunshine and usable growing land isn’t a resource everyone has. Yet, if you look around a property you will find many nooks and cranny’s you can grow usable plants in that you might not be able to grow traditional vegetables in.

Thanks to the rise of permaculture and awareness of the dangers of relying on a supply chain, edible landscaping has come a long way towards mainstream acceptance. I like to point out that many people are already landscaping with usable plants without even realizing it. Popular landscaping options like echinacea, tiger lilies, peonies, and forsythia are all edible and medicinal. Most people just don’t know that or how to use them.

The first step to incorporating more useful plants into your area is to take stock of what’s already growing. You may have a useful plant already there. For example, when I moved into my home there were beautiful peonies all over. I had no idea that peony jam was amazing or that peony roots are highly medicinal and a traditional Chinese herbal medicine until I took stock of what I had. Look at your plants and google the plant name + words like benefits, herbal, medicinal, edible, etc and you will find a wealth of information.

The second step is to take stock of areas where you can incorporate more useful plants. Forget the idea of scouting out a great garden spot, I assume you’re already planning or growing a garden if food sufficiency is a concern for you. I also assume you’ve considered adding as many containers as possible where you can. If you haven’t started with grow bags, search the group for a great post on them. So for our purposes, look for areas that are too shady, too wet, too whatever to use. We are going to talk about the wealth of untraditional plants you can grow to use in those spaces.

Here are some example areas that typically aren’t used to grow.

  • In place of traditional landscaping such as flower beds and shrubs.

  • In full shade areas next to buildings.

  • In areas that are too wet, too much clay, too whatever.

  • Unused vertical areas such as an empty wall or fence space.

  • On top of roofs, sheds, or other accessible building tops including a dog house or chicken coop!

  • For those in a city with alleyways, I wouldn’t plant directly in that soil because of contamination but it’s a great place for containers.

  • Along and utilizing chain link fences or other fences as trellises.

  • Hanging baskets.

  • Window boxes.


Don’t be afraid to rethink what you consider to be “food”. Highbush cranberries are just as delightful as raspberries. Ramps are just as lovely as a garlic patch. Sorrel, dandelions, and watercress are just as wonderful as lettuce. Eating wild becomes vital as traditional crops are just not as accessible to many.

In order to utilize unusual growing spaces, the key is to pick plants that thrive under those specific conditions. This will take a bit of personal research to fit your needs. Here are some ways I’ve altered non-traditional growing spaces to grow usable plants.


From flowering kale to blueberry shrubs the possibilities are endless here. Colorful peppers, clumps of spring onions, guelder rose, to wild roses, it’s all a matter of deciding what you think is both beautiful and delicious.


My yard backs to the south and up against the long side of my garage leaving a garage length, five-foot width growing area of nearly full shade that stays quite moist. That’s a lot of potential growth that normal veggies, even lettuce, just won’t thrive in. Nearly 120 square feet! So I turn to plants that love these particular conditions, woodland plants.

I have ginseng, bloodroot, ramps, Solomon’s seal, hostas, and violets thriving in this area. These are all medicinal plants. Solomon’s seal root and hosta shoots are edible and delicious.

There are many other medicinal or edible woodland-type plants to choose from. Do a little research on what grows near you.

This is also a great space to cultivate edible and medicinal mushrooms! Rethink what you consider to be a “crop”!


TOO WET Consider plants that love water! Marshmallow, watercress, ferns, daylilies, cattails, sweet woodruff, and more LOVE sitting in water and they are all useful as food, tea, and medicine.

TOO MUCH CLAY Consider soil busting asters, bee balm, echinacea, Solomon's seal, elderberries or guelder rose.

There are plants that actually LOVE hard, packed down overly moist clay soil! Wild Bergamot Bee Balm THRIVES in my packed clay soil.


Whether you choose to go vertical with plastic gutters, a pallet, or a fabric wall hanging plant holder, you’re going to face the same dilemma. It’s shallow.

Most plants love to send their roots down deep in order to thrive. In order to achieve productivity with this method, you need two things.

  1. Choose plants with shallow root systems.

  2. Water more frequently as it will be more prone to drying out.

Plants with shallow root systems include things like lettuces, strawberries, aloe vera, broccoli, onions, lavender, rosemary, thyme, and basil.

Growing vertical also means maximizing garden space by growing things like zucchini up. Instead of taking up four square feet of garden space, you take up one.


The only requirements for utilizing this space are that it can hold the weight of what you’re growing and that you can reach what you’re growing!

We have a low shed roof that I keep grow bags on. I can slide them around on the metal roof to reach each one and back and forth to reach to harvest from them. I have also added window box type planters around the edge of low roofs and planted things that can trail over the side such as trailing nasturtium, peas, trailing cherry tomatoes, even allowing pole beans to grow down the side from the roof rather than up. So if you can’t directly reach the roof, but you can reach the top, grow down the side! Rethink planting!


If you can’t fit a regular-sized pot in this area, consider adding a window box-shaped container, or a row of 5-gallon buckets. Grow bags come in all shapes and sizes now. Or maybe small pots with micro or dwarf-sized plants because a little of a lot adds up! Consider adding some growing in any way that makes sense for your space.

I keep a row of side-to-side plastic window box containers that I grow oodles of greens in from lettuce to rocket along an otherwise useless grow space next to a walkway.


I grow the majority of my vining-type plants by placing grow bags along my chain link fence. Whether it’s cukes or winter squashes, with a little training I save a TON of space by utilizing something that’s growing up instead of out. Simply “hammock” the fruit so it doesn’t grow too heavy and snap off the vine. You could do this with an old pantyhose, mesh packaging from onions, or my favorite, recycle old face masks. Simply attach the hammock to the fence and place the fruit to grow inside of it. If you can support the fruit, you can grow up a fence.


Having a beautiful hanging basket is great for making a home pretty, but many pretty things can also be edible or medicinal. Try a trailing tomato or an array of colorful lettuces or swiss chard. Rethink how you can substitute anything you grow with food!


The same concept as above, fill your window boxes with food or plants that you can make herbal teas and such from. Find out what grows well by you, what can handle the depth and sun of your box, and then go from there.

If you rethink how and what you feed yourself and tend to yourself with you’ll discover a world of useful plants that you can fill your space with and bring yourself a step closer to food sufficiency. You’ll also become more food sufficient when you learn which plants you can use and how. It opens up new avenues of using plants as food and medicine to you. So keep hanging out here at Wortcunners Cottage and let’s keep discovering and sharing growing and knowing these amazing plants.

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