Is small the new big?

We’ve got a small piece of land compared to most food growers. It has its challenges of course. The fact it’s in a residential area means that changes we make might affect our neighbours and so we need to keep them in mind. It also means that getting permissions for things such as digging a pond or putting up a greenhouse might not be quite so straight forward. And of course, the land area itself might seem restrictive in what can be grown.

But then there are all sorts of possibilities only available to a smaller plot . For example, we can see almost all the way down to the end of the land from our house and every part of it is just a quick stroll away. This makes it easier to keep track of things, like noticing if there are frost pockets, or see when something is needing attention or crops that are ready for harvesting.

A smaller area might not be considered worthwhile for a monoculture farm. However, utilising permaculture ideas helps us consider the possibilities of combining crops to create a multilayered, holistic and circular growing space, where different aspects relate to and augment each other. For example, the trees that we thinned in the winter allow more light to filter through on to the sun-loving plants we have planted around the house. The tree thinnings have been turned into wood chips, which have been used to create paths, suppress weeds, cultivate mushrooms and will ultimately feed the soil and therefore all the plants in our garden, including the trees that provided the wood in the first place.

You might think it sounds like a lot of extra work having lots of different crops to have to think about and you’d be right, but the rewards are worth it; we have access to the freshest, seasonal food money can buy and an appreciation for its value. The variety of work involved is stimulating to both mind and body.

Another aspect to the size of the land is machinery and tools. Having lots of different areas might seem to warrant more tools and machinery, (requiring more storage space, expense, maintenance etc), but instead, the variability of a small scale means that much more is done by hand. And when machinery is required, it may just be a one-off or a yearly occurrence so that non-ownership options might make more sense, like hiring or paying someone to do the job. Using less heavy duty machinery on the land maximises growing space, reducing the need for roads going through the land and means that the soil is less compacted, maintaining healthy soil structure.

Finally, being in a residential area on the outskirts of an urban centre gives us the opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint with regard to transport, for example we can deliver products to the local market/Reko Ring using our cargo bike.