Get the Most Out of Your Acre



            Here on our homestead we have just an acre to deal with. I would just die to have 2 or 3 acres, let alone over a hundred as some people have but we are stuck with just the one acre so we have to get as much out of it as possible. I guess it is easier for me than it would be for some. In the house we had before this one we had a postage stamp sized yard with just some herbs, a few flowers, a 4�x 4� raised bed (which had trouble growing lettuce), some wild blackberries, a chicken coop with 6 chickens and a plum tree so having an acre makes me feel like I have a good bit of room now.

            There were a few things we got lucky with here. It came with a large shed split into two parts. One part of the shed is all enclosed and the other part just has the roof over it and the pens on the end. There are three chain link pens that were already here. The chickens went in one and we had room to expand so eventually we ended up with ducks, guinea, quail and rabbits, though a few smaller pens had to be built.

            However, there weren�t any edible plants here when we started unless you want to count the wild strawberries (which I have begun to count this year) dandelions and sow thistle. We started with a small garden in the front yard (the lower garden as I call it now). The first garden was kind of a flop but we did get green beans enough for a year and free food is free food and I was pretty encouraged by it.

            The next year I kind of went crazy buying fruit trees and seedlings. Some lived and some didn�t. Right now we have a fig tree, two hazelnuts, pecan seedlings, a plum tree (dwarf), cherry bushes, blackberries, grapes, blueberries, a quince and lots of strawberries. I am not much of a planner so some of these are not in their best locations but I do learn as I go along and move as I need to.

            The year after I grew a bunch of things from seed and traded for all sorts of tropical plants such as bananas. I have all sorts of bananas growing in large pots on the porch this year that I traded for last year. I also have persimmons seedlings in the greenhouse as well as key lime, Meyer lemon, grapefruit, calamondin mandarin orange, pineapple guava, strawberry guava, etc. Yes, all these things will take a lot of time to grow and produce but homesteading isn�t something you get results from right off. It takes time.

            The problem is that with a small place you often get just a few fruits or vegetables at a time and you will be tempted to eat them right off. I don�t. I freeze my little bit of strawberries or beans or whatever until I have a full meal of them in a freezer bag and then start on another bag. You will be surprised at how many bags you will have at the end of the season.

Vegetables and Fruits

            Ok, the technical part. I am not a real technical person so can only tell you what I know. 

Strawberries- My strawberries were planted in tiers on a small hill by the house. I planted Quinault and a couple other varieties. They were planted in pure red clay with rabbit manure mixed in. I left them alone, never dig up any or replace any. I just let them grow wild. Each year I add more rabbit manure. I think they grow great! No, I don�t have huge strawberries like you see in the store but the birds don�t bother my smaller strawberries much so I still tend to get more without the extra work of covering them with netting or wire. They�re also kind of a pain to pick since the patch has grown so large but exercise, stretching, etc. is just plain good for you. This year I have only been picking for a week and have a quart bag full and a small container full in the freezer with a lot more to come.

Blueberries- These need an acid soil, which mine don�t have yet so they don�t produce. I will get to them as I get time and fix their soil. Right now we have wild Highbush blueberries in the woods behind the house so I haven�t put much effort into mine yet.

Plums- My dwarf plum tree has grown great and produced for the last couple years. It also was planted directly into the red clay soil here and I don�t bother it much. I may prune some of the middle branches out this year but that is all I will do to it.

Cherries- My cherry bushes (Sugar Sweet from Burgess Plant and Seed) have grown quite large (over 5 ft.) which I didn�t expect. Since they were planted in front of the lower garden this could be a problem later. This was the first year they produced cherries and I have to watch to get them before the birds do. They are also planted directly into clay soil but may have some roots into the more fertile garden soil helping them out.

Hazelnuts- Hazelnuts can take up to 10 years to produce. Mine are only 3 years old so I have a while to wait. Planted right in the clay soil, they are growing pretty well.

Grapes- Grapes can take a while to produce too. So far I haven�t gotten any fruit from mine but hopefully we will soon.

Blackberries- I have some thornless which were planted above the strawberries until the strawberries took them over. I moved them down to the lower garden and they are doing much better. Someone sent me some blackberry seeds, which I sprinkled around, and now they are coming up in all sorts of places (not necessarily where I sprinkled them). I once had a friend ask me why I didn�t cut back the fruiting canes. Apparently she had never seen wild blackberry patches that grow great and no one ever cuts the canes on them. I believe the canes from the year before help hold up the new canes so you don�t have to have a fence for them. Sometimes nature knows best.

Lettuce- I grow in a kiddie pool behind my upper garden. It grows good as long as I add a little manure to the soil in the pool. The pool started out with my own compost and rabbit manure.

Tomatoes- My tomatoes seemed to get some blight in the lower garden. Moved to the upper garden this year and they are doing great. I did plant determinate varieties this year since they are easier for me to handle than the indeterminate, which grow so huge. Plus these seem to grow better than the heirlooms. So far this year they are doing great. The soil in the upper garden was newly dug up (by shovel) last year and only rabbit manure added. This year I added cow manure.

So you get the idea. You don�t really need to look up each one. Watch them grow and learn from it.


            We learned a lot from raising animals here. Some seemed to be worth it and some didn�t.

Rabbits: These seemed like a good idea when we got them. Easy to grow, breed like crazy, great meat but it didn�t turn out that way for us. The recommendation is to kill your rabbits from 8-10 weeks. Phil and I just can�t kill something that�s such a baby still so we waited until they were larger. We found them to be a pain to kill. If you can do that thing where you hold them and twist their necks to break them you are a better, stronger person than I am besides it makes you feel bad to do it that way, I think. So we did it the way my father taught me and hit them on the head with a club. (My father hit them between the eyes just off to one side and it just knocks the right out. I have often wondered why this method is not in books. It is better than hitting them on the back of the head as you will often hit the shoulders and bruise them.).  They were fairly easy to skin and clean but we just found that the meat was not that great. For one thing there isn�t much of it. Rabbits have no breast meat, just leg meat and that is mostly the back legs and it was fairly tough and not real tasty. We are going out of the rabbit business as soon as I can give them away.

            Chickens: Chickens are a real pain to pluck. I would love a chicken plucker but right now that is not on the priority list so we skin ours instead. Even young our chickens seem to be a bit tough, though my cousin used to raise leghorns, which he said were the only tender chickens he had found. I take my chicken, pressure cook it off the bone and then can it. It is plenty tender that way.

            Quail: I love our Cortinux quail! They take only 6 weeks to mature and are wonderfully tender. Pluck easy and clean easy. Don�t believe those sites that say you need 6 per person (Wow! Diet time!). We cook two per person and it is plenty.

            Ducks: We seldom kill the ducks. I am not sure why. They are big and kind of a pain to kill and pluck. They are however very good to eat in a duck and mushroom dish I make.

            Guinea: Haven�t eaten one of these yet. They are in with the chickens for now and have quit laying . I hope to eventually have a separate pen for them.

            Other animals: Other animals you might want to have are a dog. I just can�t say enough about the security it gives you to have a dog outside to alert you when anyone is out there at night. And cats: I have a bunch of them (and I do mean a BUNCH) but I never have problems with rabbits in my garden and there are lots and lots of rabbits around here. I also have no problem with mice in my greenhouse.

            My hope is that this will give you some idea of what you can get out of an acre of land. There is a lot more I hope to plant here. I would like another peach tree (first one died, more research on that one), a pear, an apricot, lots of vegetables I would like to try again like corn, someday we would like to raise a few pigs as well.

            You don�t need a lot of acreage to be self-sufficient, you just need some luck and a lot of hard work.


            Rebecca Whitford