Tips For Maintaining a Garden Off the Grid
Today’s farming industry is an enormous, energy-intensive endeavor that some believe produces lower-quality food. If you want to return to a more traditional, natural way of growing food, you may be interested in building and maintaining an off-grid garden.
Now is a better time than ever to create an off-grid garden. New technology—combined with a better understanding of thousands of years of off-grid cultivation—has made it possible to develop a vibrant home garden that operates independently.
Regardless of the stage of planning or implementation you find yourself in, the following tips will help you cultivate a healthy and bountiful off-grid garden.
#1 Develop High-Quality Soil
The foundation of every successful garden is the soil. Crops take their energy and nutrients from the soil in which they grow, and we take in that energy when we eat.
When you’re maintaining a typical at-home garden in a more urban area, you have access to home and garden stores. However, if you’re cultivating your at-home garden off the grid (or if you live a fully off-grid life), you don’t have the luxury of buying rich topsoil.
To develop quality soil off the grid, you can:
- Create nutrient-rich compost – Composting is the act of recycling organic “waste” into a nutrient-rich fertilizer. You can compost everything from wood chips to food scraps, and once the process is complete, you can spread a layer of compost on the soil to promote growth.
One effective off-grid option is to grow crops known as compost crops or carbon crops, such as corn or wheat. While humans and animals can eat the grains of these crops, the remainder of the plants can go on the compost pile and contribute to future yields.
- Avoid pesticides – Harsh herbicides and insecticides can harm the organisms that contribute to a healthy soil ecosystem. Consider handpicking pests, using non-toxic pesticides for insect control, and practicing companion planting to keep pests away.
- Steer clear of tilling or digging – Your soil’s structure can be nearly as important as its contents. For that reason, you may want to take a more natural approach and avoid tilling your soil. When soil is well-structured, water penetrates better, and erosion risks decrease.
#2 Choose the Right Plants for Your Climate
Although the supermarket produce section may have convinced us otherwise, some fruits and vegetables are better suited for certain areas. Your region’s temperature, humidity levels, and precipitation patterns determine the success or failure of most crops—especially when you’re gardening off the grid.
For example, if you live in an arid region, growing a water-intensive crop like sugarcane or alfalfa will be a constant uphill battle. While you can technically grow anything with the right supplies, the relative simplicity of off-grid gardening should point you toward crops that thrive in your environment.
To determine which seeds to plant in your area, consider:
- Consulting the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
- Asking other gardeners in the area about their experience
- Experimenting with a small plot of new crops each season
#3 Set Up an Off-Grid Irrigation System
One of the most significant struggles that off-grid gardeners encounter is a lack of on-demand water. If your property has the capacity for a deep well, you have a reliable water source for irrigating your garden. However, drawing that water to the surface is energy-intensive (and therefore tiring, expensive, or both).
For an efficient, cost-effective approach to irrigation that uses minimal water, you can use a solar-powered pump to move water from a nearby stream or river to your garden. By running tubes with tiny holes from the pump to your garden, you can set up a drip irrigation system that disperses water evenly throughout your garden.
Solar-powered pumps are ideal for an off-grid lifestyle, as all power is generated by the sun—no external electricity source required. Even on cloudy days, solar pumps can draw enough energy from the sun to keep your irrigation system running.
Note that irrigation may not be necessary during some parts of the year (or at all in some climates). A pump allows you to turn your irrigation system on and off as required, making it an ideal choice for all regions.
#4 Guard Against Wildlife
You’ll no doubt enjoy the spoils of your off-grid garden—but so will deer, birds, and other local wildlife. To keep as much food as possible for yourself, you’ll want to defend your garden from the animals you share your space with.
Depending on the wildlife in your area, you can protect your garden by making use of:
- A double-layer fence
- A motion-activated sprinkler
- A fishing line fence
- A “border” of wildlife-deterring plants, such as lavender or daffodils
- A guard dog or other animal
#5 Rotate Crops
Crop rotation is essential in any garden, but it’s especially vital when you’re subsisting on home-grown crops alone. Rotating crops simply means not planting the same crop in an area year after year.
Crop rotation comes with several benefits. By rotating crops, you can:
- Improve soil health and fertility
- Reduce erosion
- Increase crop yields
- Make more water available for plants
- Keep pests away
- Avoid eating the same food day after day
Overall, crop rotation is a no-cost way to keep your off-grid garden at its best.
#6 Save Seeds
For your garden to be totally off the grid, you need to keep seeds from your harvests so you can plant the following season. To do that, you must set aside a portion of your garden for “seed crops.”
Seed crops are crops that you deliberately allow to go to seed. In other words, you refrain from harvesting a portion of your crops (roughly 10% of each planting) so that you can keep and store the seeds for the future.
To store your seeds, keep them in a dry, cool environment like a sealed glass container. Seeds should be kept between 32-41 degrees Fahrenheit; a refrigerator works well. Remember to label your seeds, as they can be hard to distinguish after the fact.
The Benefits of an Off-Grid Garden
Even if you live near a city and don’t need an off-grid garden to survive, there are various benefits to maintaining a garden off the grid, such as:
- Sustainability – Industrialized farming may be efficient, but it produces significant greenhouse gas emissions. Off-grid gardening is carbon neutral, uses minimal water, and does not pollute the environment with synthetic fertilizers or toxic pesticides.
- Affordability – Although off-grid gardens can have a steep startup cost, they eventually pay for themselves over time. Because you’re growing your own food, you’ll spend much less (if anything) at the grocery store. And, since your garden doesn’t require electricity or running water, your energy bill will drop, too.
- Control – When you grow your food, you make all the choices. You pick the crops. You control the amount of sunlight, water, and nutrients they receive. You decide when to harvest your fruits and vegetables, and when to plant again. While there’s a learning curve involved, the freedom that comes from managing your food production is like no other.
Go Off the Grid with Solar Power
Whether you do it as a hobby or for survival, off-grid gardening is a rewarding way to grow food. In many ways, it feels like returning to your roots; after all, it’s how our ancestors grew crops for thousands of years.
And while we can learn a lot from traditional agricultural methods, we can also improve upon them. One noteworthy advancement is solar power technology.
Here at Solariver, we’ve developed solar-powered pumps suitable for off-grid gardens of any scale. By harnessing the power of the sun to water your garden, you can spend more time enjoying the other perks of off-grid living.
To learn more about our different sizes of solar pumps, contact us today!