In 2005, Neil and Veronica Aldridge, stars of The Real Good Life, an ITV reality series based on their year-long effort to feed themselves, said afterwards that the best things they grew were pigs and lettuces, because they got surpluses they could trace for luxuries … and first-choice luxuries were cheese, loo roll and wine (“our homebrew was bloody awful”).
Around the same time, New Scientist ran the following question from a reader …
“I have heard that a family of four can be kept fed 365 days a year using only 8 square metres of land. Is this really possible, anywhere in the world? Could it really take only two hours a week, as was suggested, and what would be on the menu?”
Among the answers, on June 24 06, Simon Iveson wrote, from a university in Indonesia: “Energy flow is a key issue. The sun’s intensity at the Earth’s surface depends on latitude and season. The average value over a 24-hour period across the whole of the Earth’s surface is about 300 watts per square metre. Therefore each day, a 1-metre-square plot receives an average of about 26 megajoules of energy – more close to the equator. The recommended dietary intake is about 2000 kilocalories a day. So, in theory, an average 1-metre-square plot receives enough solar energy to support three people. However, photosynthesis has an efficiency of only 10 per cent so you would need more than 3 square metres per person. The figure of 2 square metres per person might just be achievable near the equator, although this seems optimistic.”
Tony Holkham in Cardiganshire, Wales, said: “I don’t weigh my garden produce, but this year I did grow enough to fill a freezer, plus the produce my family ate fresh …on two small patches of land totalling about 7 square metres. I believe I could have grown the minimum daily requirements for two, or possibly even four, if that had been my intention.
“I grow more intensively than advised by seed packets, and I start most of the outside crops in a heated greenhouse in winter. Some crops, such as beans, take up very little ground space and crop rotation makes good use of space. In addition we eat wild fare, such as rabbits, and we could have supplemented our diet in various other ways had we not preferred to encourage the wildlife rather than eat it. Two hours a week on a plot this size is plenty of time.
“But the soil in my garden has been cultivated for generations. I recently started a vegetable patch in an uncultivated part of the garden and the result was poor. And I’m not sure I could have grown enough to feed us out of season without a greenhouse or freezer.”
* See also, on this site, a review of Jack First’s book on “hot-bedding” vegetables, headlined Where There’s Muck – https://hack4hire.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/books/