Garden Organic Food Organic Gardening

Am I Self Sufficient? – Answering a Reader’s Questions

Rachel, a fairly new subscriber to TMG, asked me (via a comment in my last post) various questions about how I preserve my harvest. She was asking because she wanted ” to get an understanding of what it takes to become mostly self sufficient.”

Bill and I are far from self-sufficient.  “Mostly” self sufficient comes closer.  But even then when I think of the ways I’m dependent on others — I have a long way to go. But I continue to work on it.

More than anything I have a self sufficient attitude — or at least an independent attitude.

Bill and I spent a lot of years in poverty trying to do something that most everyone thought was next to impossible.  If you don’t already know what the was — you may want to read my post Tending My Garden in the News.

We never “talked” poverty but there was plenty of evidence to tell anyone that was “looking” that we had hardly a penny to our name.  But — other than just a handful — most people did not really “see” the obvious.  Which was ok — because most of the time talking about your hardships just fortifies them in your own mind.

When you experience years and years (it was nearly 25 years for us) of doing without just about everything, it changes you — as you can well imagine.  How it changes you depends a lot on you and the kind of training you’ve had on how to deal with yourself and hardships.

A lot of things I do today come from experiencing “how to do them” during those years we had to do them.  Thus, I’m more self sustaining than many.  Everything is relative of course — and as I mentioned earlier — we’re far from being really self sufficient.

That being said — here are the answers to Rachel’s questions plus some.  If you need more explanation, just let me know.

How many people my Garden Feeds

Bill and I eat almost entirely out of the garden during the growing season. Even if we add something to the menu that was purchased like rice or pasta – the meal is based on what the garden is providing.  Our garden is 2400 square feet (40 feet by 60 feet) and produces a lot.

If I have any guests for dinner, they get to enjoy the bounty also.

I use to grow for market so my garden fed more folks back then.

How Big is my Freezer?

Have a small chest freezer.  From front to back is 21 inches.  It’s 31 inches wide and is an inch short of 3 feet tall.

Have two refrigerators and use the freezer compartments of them as well.

What about Canning?

Use to can years ago.  Had all the equipment and sold it  when we moved to Virginia.

The big advantage to canning is that you’ll have some food if the power is out for a long period of time.  If anything ever happens in this country that there are mass power outages than can’t be readily be fixed —- we’ll be in trouble if we only have frozen food.

The other side of the coin is that I don’t like canned foods. By the time most things go through all the heat and processing necessary to can — all the fresh out-of-the-garden taste is gone — not to mention nutrients.  The only thing I wouldn’t mind having in jars would be my tomato sauce.  And I’m not going to re-buy all the equipment just for that.

Drying Food

Don’t have a dehydrator.  I’ve been thinking about getting one for two years.  It’d be nice to dry tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions, and various fruits.  But can’t figure out exactly where I would store all that and how well it would keep for me under the conditions I have.

Freezing is my Favorite way

My frozen food tastes so fresh and we really enjoy it.  We finally got a small generator and as long as there is not a major disaster that prevents us from obtaining gasoline — we’ll be able to keep everything frozen.  Otherwise — we’ll loose what we have.

In addition to food from my garden I try to keep a bit of grass fed organic beef and a few organic chickens in the freezer. (We don’t eat very much meat at all.  When we do — it’s organic.)

Here are my goal amounts for frozen fruits and vegetables to carry us through the winter.  Some years I don’t always make the goal amount.

  • Strawberries — 8 to 24  pints (1 to 3 gallons)  Plus we eat at least 1 cup of fresh strawberries a day during the season.
  • Blueberries – 12 to 20 quarts (3 to 5 gallons)  Plus we eat at least 2 gallons fresh in season.
  • Raspberries – 8 pints (1 gallon) Also I press out about 2 pints of raspberry essence to freeze and use for desserts.  We use the rest of the harvest in season.
  • Figs — no more than 8 pints for use in smoothies.  (Tastes like chocolate ice cream if you use frozen figs, frozen banana and frozen organic chocolate soy milk.)
  • Tomatoes – 40 to 50 pints of roasted tomato sauce. (5 to 6 gallons) Plus I use many gallons of fresh tomatoes and sauce during the 5 to 6 months of  tomato season.  I also have a couple of gallons of tomato liquid for making soup.  (This is the “clear” liquid that comes from cutting up the tomatoes before you roast them .)
  • Peas – 12 quarts (3 gallons) – In most years we also enjoy at least numerous meals with fresh peas from the garden in addition to the ones I freeze.
  • Peppers – 4 to 12 quarts of  green peppers.  We eat fresh peppers every day in season.  And when red peppers come it’s heaven.  I’ve never had enough red peppers to freeze, but if I did I’d want to fill the freezer.  🙂
  • Snap beans  8 to 16 pints — all the rest we eat fresh.
  • Spinach – 4 quarts for lasagna in the winter — if I have enough spinach
  • The squash vine borer usually kills the squash before I can get enough to put up a gallon of zucchini milk. (I use it for making bread when I’m out of milk — and it makes better bread anyway.)

Other Stuff

  • Onions – I cure enough onions to eat fresh onions through January or February
  • Potatoes – store well in the ground.  I usually have enough potatoes for about 6 months.
  • Winter squash – when I grow them I try to have at least a dozen on hand for winter. I did not grow them this year.

Everything else we eat in season — fresh from the garden

  • Summer Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Various greens
  • Carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Lima beans  (If I get enough this year I’ll freeze.)
  • Beets
  • Herbs
  • Asparagus
  • Hakurei turnips
  • Radishes

I’m going to try to save dried pinto beans for the first time this year.

Other notes:

Very seldom do we buy anything that is not organic.

In the winter I supplement our vegetables with organic cabbage, carrots, and broccoli from the store.  Basically they’re the only vegetables I buy.  Try to get potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm at least once during the off season if I can afford them.

I don’t buy any processed foods and make meals from scratch.  I’ve been making my own bread, biscuits, crusts, etc. for almost 40 years. I use whole wheat flour.

Dried foods that I use especially in the winter include whole grain rice, dried pinto beans, whole wheat pastas. When I can get them I use various nuts, peanut butter, dried raisins and apricots.

Olive oil is used for fresh use and low heat cooking. For high heat cooking — sunflower oil.  (Everything is organic — as I mentioned previously.)

I use a good quality honey to sweeten fruit cobblers, tarts, muffins and sweet breads.

I haven’t used white sugar or white flour in more than 40 years.  (I keep a little white sugar on hand for guests if they want it.)

Final Thoughts

I hope you’ll find this information helpful and encouraging.  As you can see Bill and I are far from self sufficient — but I’m always working towards that.


Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.


Additional Reading:

Never Underestimate the Power of a Little

Tending My Garden in the News

All content including photos is copyright by  All Right Reserved.


  • Years ago, when we began keeping bees and Spouse made the hives) I decided that we’d become self sufficient. It worked for a few days – until I wanted to paint a fence and couldn’t make ingredients to make paint. How are the mighty fallen!

    True self-sufficiency is impossible in industrialised countries. Even self sufficiency in food is impossible if we have to preserve our own produce. OK, you might not depend on the grid to keep a freezer going but you don’t dig for your own gasoline …

    Nor do you grow your own cotton, spin and weave it to sew (with steel needles) your own clothes. Spouse make bone needles but I only use them for sewing wool. A daughter keeps sheep, shears, spins, dyes (vegetable dyes from her own land) and knits or weaves cloth but still depend on steel shears for the sheep and her cloth.

    No matter how much we’d like to – and I WOULD – we must accept that we can’t. Self sufficiency is a myth. This is NOT a criticism of what anyone here does, I’m merely pointing out the reality of the situation.

    Still, we can try. I have some questions which I’ll ask separately.

  • This post made me hungry. I found the quantities very interesting. Made me realize that if you have kids – they eat A LOT. I read somewhere that the average American family has only 3 to 4 days supply of food in their home. We experienced grocery store shortages during the power outages of a hurricane several years ago. It was a sobering experience to see the empty shelves, the milk couldn’t be sold to us because of safety, it all had to be discarded.
    Years ago, larders were full of preserved food from the garden in all formats (Little House books) and they didn’t run to the grocery store several times a week. It was a couple of times a year, and well-planned to make the most of resources. I think that although it’s nice to have this choice, it’s even better to make steps towards being more self-sufficient as you are doing Theresa. As our family has discovered, the food being sold in stores is no where near as good as what our family grows and cooks ourselves. Have you researched dehydrators, Theresa? Do you know which one you would choose? Thanks for this interesting post. I love this topic.

  • Thanks for sharing more of your walk toward self-sufficient living, Theresa.

    I’ve learned so much from you since I found your Blog.

    I’ve realized more and more lately that if we are going to eat we must grow as much of our food as possible.

    Our last child will be leaving for college in 12 days and our money will be very, VERY tight for the next four years.

    Together we raised 8 children and he is our youngest. The only one that really wants to further his education. We always had blue-collar jobs and finances have usually been lacking in one area or another.

    We’ve been VERY BLESSED in every area of our lives, but as we age health issues have taken a toll on our finances.

    I’m so excited to be growing more and more of our food. This morning as I was making my fruit and greens shake I noticed one of the peppers I had harvested a few days ago had turned more yellow. Hmmmm… wonder how my shake would taste with a little yellow pepper in it? Answer- more Yummy!

    My immune system has been in terrible shape for years and I’m fighting to build it back up to a healthy state. I truly believe that organic food is the way to go.

    I’m sorry that I’ve written so much, but I really wanted you to know how your sharing has changed our lives for the better.

    I’m not sure you realize just how much your encouragement and teaching mean to me when I come home from work tired in the mornings (this morning with an ear-ache) and have healthy food from MY garden that will help me recover for the price of a few dollars – versus large amounts of money for enough store bought organic produce. And my home-grown is so much fresher!

    So, from the bottom of my heart I thank you and ask that you please keep sharing. It makes a difference in more lives than you know.


  • Sandra said:I read somewhere that the average American family has only 3 to 4 days supply of food in their home.

    I think the same is probably true of British homes too – but that’s because they mostly only have packet and tinned food. Brits seem to eat out a lot and have meals delivered to them too.

    We have a pantry. All the houses on this estate have or did have a pantry but most seem to be used to keep cleaning tools and other thought to be unsightly things in. Ours is crammed to the gunn’ls with food – basic food stuffs such as flour, eggs, jams, honey, pasta, spices, dried herbs (which to my mind taste better than fresh ones except for basil and mint), dried fruit and pulses and other items which don’t perish in a short time. Even that horror, dried milk. But it could be useful …

    We’ve worked out that we could live through a three month siege. We’d certainly miss our fresh fruit and vegetables but we’d live.

    That’s how people used to live until ‘convenience’ foods were invented to swell the profits of international manufacturers. They don’t make much from us …

  • Mary — it’s true that we cannot be totally contained and self-sufficient, but we can think ahead as you and your husband have done and provide for ourselves in case we do have to experience “going through a siege” as you put it.

    Sandra, you can make that sobering experience of seeing the grocery store with empty shelves work for you. It’s certainly an incentive to make sure that you don’t get caught short again.

    With things the way they are — it can happen again in a heart beat and it doesn’t have to be a hurricane that causes it.

    To answer your question about the dehydrators — I had done some research last year but never really decided on one.

    Betty — Congrats on raising 8 kids! That’s quite an accomplishment.

    And yes, organic food is the only way to go. Some of the certified organic food is not what it should be — but it’s definitely the best available — unless we can grow our own — as you mentioned.

    I’m so pleased that my writing has been of value to you and has helped you so much.

    Karen and Bearfoot Mama
    thanks for letting me know you thought the post was helpful.

  • Being without transportation 20 miles from anywhere made me appreciate being stocked, including items like toilet paper. I buy cheap when I catch a deal. Cooked for my dogs–4 large ones–for awhile, but I like brown rice & lentils myself! Did finally order dogfood online. Oddly, it’s the only convenience food I buy.

    Theresa, I am a great fan of junk (thrift) stores & have 2 dehydraters I gave $1 each for at different times. Both work well.

    I congratulate you for the service you give on this site.

  • Sounds like you got a great deal on those dehydrators Terry! Hope I’ll come across something like that.


  • Hi Theresa, very informative and entertaining post. Thank you for sharing, I am very interested in knowing how you make zucchini milk, and also, what is raspberry essence?

    Thank you for all of the great info you share.


  • Theresa, thank you for teaching me such wonderful things. I can’t wait to try the zucchini milk! I didn’t know it but I have been making berry “essence ” for years, we just didn’t call it that 🙂

    Take care,

  • If you make your own bread like I do Toni, you will love the zucchini milk. It makes a wonderfully moist bread.
    Good luck with it. And let me know how you like it.
    I called it raspberry “essence” because I didn’t what else to call it. What did you call it? I’d love to know the proper name for it.

  • Yes, I do make bread and biscuits that is why I am so excited to try it. It is so funny, I used to be so disappointed when I would let the zucchini in the garden get to big, now they aren’t getting big fast enough 🙂 oh and your name for the berry essence is far more elegant than my berry juice 🙂
    Thank you for brightening my day,

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