Building towards a more sustainable, self sufficient lifestyle

We have lived in this property for nearly 8 years now and over this time, between various life changing events, we have been fairly successful at growing some fruit and vegetables, in an albeit ad hoc kind of way.

This year we have decided to aim towards becoming more self sufficient and making the most of the produce from our garden, especially with rising food costs, pandemics, war, climate change and so on, there is more of a push to do this from a different perspective.

In previous years we have grown sunflowers, tomatoes and cucumbers for a couple of reasons, one being that it’s great experience for the kids and they learn where food comes from and secondly to reduce costs.

But this year we realised that we could do more as we have more time to devote to developing the garden and being more resourceful with what we have.

My grandmother had a small garden where she would grow raspberries, gooseberries and all sorts of other produce and she instilled in me from a young age, that we should produce what we can and forage whatever is available to us.

I started writing this piece as a single post but decided to split into a few parts, examining what we have already and what we want add to the garden this year and probably another post on what hasn’t worked, both past and present.

Taking our first baby steps into self sufficiency gardening

Now I have to admit we are taking this project one step at a time and some of these steps have been conscious decisions and others more of an experiment.

For example, we had a whole bag of supermarket potatoes that had been in the pantry a bit too long and started sprouting, I decided to plant them in the garden. (As I did not want to waste the money we had spent in the first place when they could, in theory give us a fresh crop of potatoes later this year). Which involved reviving one of the old vegetable beds which had become overgrown. I set to work prepping the ground and my son and I planted the sprouting spuds and crossed our fingers. Within a short amount of time the potatoes we had planted started to grow leaves and are currently doing really well.

One of our more decisive crops is garlic, we’ve tried this once before and had a little success but this year we planned a bit better, planted at the right time and so far the crop is looking promising.

We are also lucky to have some existing fruit trees and our herb garden which we are planning to make use of more this year.

Taking stock of we have & making use of it

Our garden currently has:

  • 2 Redcurrant trees (from previous owners)
  • 1 Damson tree (from previous owners)
  • 2 Olive trees (we planted a few years ago
  • Various Blackberry bushes naturally popping up
  • 3 Elderflower trees (from previous owners)
  • Wild strawberries
  • Cultivated Strawberries
  • 1 Blueberry shrub (we planted three a few years ago and now only one survives)
  • 1 Rosemary shrub (planted by us)
  • 1 Bay shrub (previous owners)
  • Rampant Mint (my fault entirely!)
  • 1 Lavender bush (again my doing)


The redcurrant trees are very productive as they well are established and will soon be ready to harvest if the good weather continues. In previous years I have not had the time or skills to turn the fruit (in the region of 6 -7 kg) into anything we could consume ourselves, so I would pick the fruit and leave it out on our windowsill for passers by to help themselves to for free because I could not bear to see the fruit go to waste.

This has become a bit of a tradition and last summer, a kindly person who had taken some of the fruit anonymously left a jar of delicious redcurrant jam on the windowsill in return. The jam proved to be a hit with the children so now we know it’s going to be worthwhile making the effort to turn our fruit into jam ourselves this year.



The Elderflower trees have two uses, we can either use the flower heads for elderflower cordial or the berries have an array of uses from jams to liqueur. The tree also provide some shade and the delicate flowers are so pretty.

Elderflower in bloom


Our damson tree had a bit a trim in the spring, as it was carrying a lot of dead wood, and last year the fruit suffered a lot from Plum Sawfly or maybe Plum Moths, pests which rendered the fruit inedible. But we hope that our efforts earlier this spring have helped to reduce the pests this year.

However we expect to get less fruit this season. The fruit is already forming and I’m keeping an eye on the pest situation. In good years we have made damson and apple crumble from the fruit and it’s been enjoyed by the whole family.


Wild Strawberries

Our wild strawberries have been incredible this year. We started out with just few plants which had naturally set up home in the garden and we transplanted a few from areas where we didn’t want them to grow to a dedicated space, and now they have just covered the allotted space completely, which is what we were aiming for.

Wild strawberries

Cultivated Strawberries

We have six strawberry plants in containers that hang from our workshop wall in a really sunny spot away from ground pests like slugs and snails. We’ve had them a while now and somehow I manage to keep them alive year after year.

I didn’t manage to get around to splitting the plants in the spring because I was waiting for the cold weather to come to a close and some milder weather to appear before I disturbed the plants, but the weather just seemed to do a complete 180 degree turn this year from winter to summer and the strawberry plants had flowers on them before I got the time to split them. So they will remain as they are until next spring now.

Cultivated strawberries


Blackberries are a bit of a thorny issue in our household, my husband would prefer to rid the garden of them but I am keen to make the most of them, so I have promised to keep them under control as they have really popped up wherever they wanted to and can, if not managed, become a nuisance.

They do have added benefits though, in addition to the fruit (which the kids and I forage for around the local countryside) they seem to keep pests like slugs and snails away from more delicate plants and they deter the cats from the garden too.

The children like to eat blackberries as nature intended but we also put them in apple crumbles too. I might even make some jam if we harvest/gather enough fruit this year.

Blackberry flower


Our olives have produced fruit in previous years, but last year one of the trees suffered a lot and this spring I decided to prune it quite drastically in order to try to save it. We’ll see how this pans out, but the second tree is doing really well and I may even take some cuttings soon to propagate some new root stock for coming years.

We all enjoy olives and although they take a bit of effort to produce an edible product, they will certainly save us a few euros here and there.

Olive tree


The solitary Blueberry bush did not enjoy the long, hot and very dry summer last year, and I have to say I’m surprised it has survived. We will not get much fruit this year, maybe a handful of berries if we are very lucky but we hope for more in the years to come.

Bay Leaf (or Bay Laurel)

Our bay shrub is a bit of a mystery, we originally did not know what it was and I attempted to remove it only for it to pop up again.

It’s obviously meant to be, so this year I’m taking more care of it and will try to dry some leaves later this year when the conditions are right.


I planted a small mint specimen from the local garden centre when we first moved here and true to form it has taken over the herb garden, but this is not a problem for us. It covers the ground nicely and smells divine.


Lavender does have culinary uses but it’s a huge draw to the wildlife, it attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbird hawkmoths (as does the Rosemary) to the garden so has more than the original aesthetic benefits I had originally acquired the plant for.

Lavender bush

Reaping the rewards already

So far this this year we have already enjoyed a batch of elderflower cordial my husband made, as we used to buy this in the supermarket back in the UK and I have to say it was a success; our daughter even seems to like it and she’s quite picky.

The children have also been enjoying bowlfuls of wild and cultivated strawberries every night for desert for the last few weeks.

Our rosemary is used in homemade Focaccia breads (my husbands efforts again, not mine) and we use the mint for herbal teas.

The bay leaf is really useful for all sorts of culinary dishes.

We are using the mint in teas and recipes such a couscous salads.

Next step: what do we want to grow this year?

So now we know we have, we need to decide what we want to add to the garden which will be covered in more detail in another post but to give you a little teaser; we know what veggies we like to eat and will start with those. Then we plan to add some crops which will store well over winter and some experimental ones. We are concentrating our efforts into these main categories:

  • Lower food costs,
  • Reduce food mileage,
  • Become more self sustainable
  • Support the local wildlife

We also want to add plants/veggies/herbs that have multiple purposes, are suited to our climate and will have a long productive life.

I’m really excited at the prospect of getting more from our green space and love to see the changes every day as I make my way to the workshop and it has inspired some new products too.

à bientôt