Micro Farm Model: How To Be Self Reliant

This post has been a long time coming. We are going to walk through my family and I’s micro farm model! I’m going to explain how it all works, why it all works, the reasoning behind our choices, and what we hope to do in the future. I’m so excited to take you on a virtual tour of our (mostly) self reliant micro farm!

Making your micro farm self reliant is a slow, one decision at a time process. Even if you start out wanting to be self reliant, you find out quickly that you also need to value your time. When we started our micro farm in 2020, our goal was to get to the point where we didn’t have to rely on the supply chain for our food. Now in 2022, we are very close to accomplishing that goal. We are a family of 7 and we like to eat. Keep that in mind when I give you numbers.

The Infrastructure

Currently, we have two 12 by 50 greenhouses, one 14 by 50, and one 12 by 32 greenhouse, multiple small front yard beds, a partially closed in car garage, and our basement. All of these places house chickens, plants, or supplies. This has proven to be ample space for everything we want to do.

Our two largest greenhouses

The first thing we built was the smaller greenhouse. This greenhouse was built for the purpose of using Leon’s container gardening method. We actually loved this method. However, we ended up going a different, more self reliant direction with our other green houses.

The second thing we did was partially enclose the carport. One side only used chicken wire to keep chickens in and predators out. That gave them a cool breeze through the coop in the summer months. We use this structure as a chicken coop. My family calls it the chicken fortress because of it’s massive size. We chose to use a carport instead of a more traditional chicken coop for a couple reasons.

  • The chickens have more room to move around.
  • It’s easy to walk in and get eggs, fix anything that’s broken, change the litter, grab a chicken, etc.
  • We can separate them if needed.

If you can sacrifice a larger structure for your chickens I highly recommend it. Inside the chicken fortress, we put in roosting bars, automated waterers and feeders, pans full of grit, black bins full of soil for dust baths, and nesting boxes.

The three other greenhouses were built a year after the first greenhouse was built. These were not built using wood, nails, a tape measurer, and a hammer like our first one. We found it much easier to purchase kits (link to Farmer’s Friend website where we bought our kits) and build them from there. These were built so that we could plant straight into the ground.

Our basement is our latest project. It is by far the most grid dependent part of our micro farm. We have grow lights shining on bottom watered trays full of smallish plants. We mostly use this space for starting seeds before we plant them outdoors.

Our front beds thrive on total and utter neglect. Oddly, some of our best plants tend to grow in our front beds.

The chicken brooder was a long project. We went through three variations before we found exactly what worked best. We tried a large black feed trough, and a large wooden framed brooder with chicken wire as the sides. Both of these worked fine, but were not our favorite methods. Blocking off one of the bays in the chicken fortress was what ended up being our best option. We installed multiple warming lights and the chicks were perfectly fine during the summer nights!

Animals On Our Self Reliant Micro Farm

Chickens are the only animal we keep on our micro farm. We like to keep our chickens busy. We have automated all the chores that we can. The chickens are also put the work. They weed, aerate the soil, fertilize soil/make compost, and they eat insects. They really are good little workers! We will set them loose in areas that we plan on using for garden space. They will have the area pretty clear of plants and bugs after just a few days! If you put down brown material, they will also have started the process of composting right on the top layer of soil the soil. This makes a huge difference for the plants and it makes our job a lot easier.

We have both meat birds and egg layers. We currently only use Cornish Cross for meat birds and we have mainly Black Australorp as our egg layers. The egg layers do most of the work mentioned above. Cornish Cross chickens are not near as helpful.

We process all our birds on our micro farm. We have invested in the Featherman equipment (Featherman website link) to make this process easier. I cannot imagine processing without this equipment. We have the killing cones, the scalder, the plucker, and the water bath, and the stainless steel table. We process an average of 75 birds a year and that is enough to feed our family (note that we do not consume chicken as our only protein).

Another living creature we keep on our farm in abundance are black solider flies. Black solider flies make a great chicken snack (which helps us offset our feed costs). They will eat whatever your chickens won’t eat (moldy cheese or produce, fast food, candy, etc.) which helps you eliminate waste. They also make great compost over time. The only downside of black solider flies that I’ve found in my three years of owning them is the horrible smell that comes from the ProtaPod (the container they live in [link to protapod website]). I would definitely keep it away from any neighbors. Also, be sure to take precautionary steps to keep your black solider flies warm in the winter (kind of like bees). They will die in temperatures below 20 degrees F. If you can keep it above that, your colony will likely come back in the summer.

Our Self Reliant Micro Farm Garden

The bulk of our vegetable food production is done inside our four greenhouses. We chose to use greenhouses because it extends the growing season. We have harvested jalapenos, zucchini, and a bumper crop of tomatoes in December! This is ideal for us because we prefer fresh produce.

The December harvest

The plastic keeps the inside of the greenhouse 5 degrees F warmer than the outside temperature at night. In the daytime, it keeps it 20 degrees F warmer than the outside temperature. In the summer we put on shade cloth. This keeps it about 10 degrees F cooler during the day which helps plants like tomatoes in the middle of summer. We have found that the hot Oklahoma summers with temperatures of 100 degrees F and hotter can cause our tomato plants distress.

We have experimented with direct seeding in buckets outdoors, direct seeding in the ground, and sprouting indoors and transplanting to both locations. Direct seeding in the ground (or buckets) is obviously less work. Sprouting seeds indoors has worked better for us with most plants. However, certain types of plants will take to direct seeding better than others. Our lettuces do fantastic when we plant them straight in the ground. Brassicas, like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage also have a higher success rate than other plants when direct seeded. Tomatoes, pepper plants, and green bean plants have all done better when we sprout them indoors.

We always start the first batch of plants indoors. That way, we get a jump on the growing season. After that, we direct seed as much as we can. We always plant in batches a few weeks apart. This successive planting has helped us keep our harvest long and abundant.

We plant out two of our greenhouses exclusively with veggies for our consumption. A third smaller greenhouse is used for supplemental food or experimental crops (plants we haven’t grown before and aren’t sure if we’ll like). The other large greenhouse is used for chicken food production. We grow a wide variety of grains and veggies for our chickens. We will harvest some every few days to give to the chickens. This has helped us cut down even further on our chicken feed costs.

To help prevent insect damage, we use companion planting. This separates “like plants” from each other. That way if one lettuce plant gets eaten, the others are usually completely fine because they are far enough apart from each other. There are other reasons to companion plant. It helps with fertilization and helps maintain the nutrient density of the soil. If you’d like a full post on how we do companion planting, let me know in the comments down below.

The Insects On Our Self Reliant Micro Farm

Beneficial Insects

We do not purposely raise insects (except for black solider flies), but we do purposely foster a good environment for them.

This is not an extensive list, but beneficial insects include:

  • Praying Mantises
  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Dragonflies
  • Assassin Bugs
  • Ladybugs
  • Spiders (not an insect, but still beneficial)
  • Lacewings

These bugs and spiders do a number of things in your garden. Two of the most notable and popular benefits are pollination and pest control. Bees and butterflies pollinate your plants (wasps and mosquitos do this as well). The other bugs and spiders will eat the bugs that want to eat your plants. Having a good number of these guys in your garden can help you fight damaging insects without you having to lift a finger.

We have two small ponds near a couple of our greenhouses. The ponds were actually put in to help manage flooding in our basement. However, we soon discovered the wonderful ecosystem that comes from having ponds. Massive dragonflies and frogs have taken up residence in them since we put them in. Both of these help with the cricket problem we had before we put in the ponds. Crickets are now few and far between.

Spiders are inevitable in your garden. Some of them might look scary, but I would encourage you not to kill them (as much as possible). Doing some research about which spiders are truly dangerous and which are not may help you be more at ease around some spiders. Spiders are fantastic at helping you manage all sorts of different bugs from small flies to caterpillars.

Some of these beneficial insects can be purchased from insect hatcheries. However, I would encourage you to see how you can help the beneficial insects that are already in your yard thrive. Pesticides, even natural ones, usually don’t differentiate between helpful and hurtful insects. It kills them all. We do not spray conventional pesticides on our plants for health reasons. We also try to stay away from natural pesticides like dawn dish soap, neem oil, DT, etc. unless absolutely necessary because we do not wish to hurt our beneficial insects.

There is usually some insect damage on our plants, but our plants rarely die and they almost always produce food that we can eat regardless of if the bottom leaves are eaten or not. As I said above, companion planting also helps with this issue.

Reptiles like snakes, turtles, and lizards, and amphibians like frogs, toads, and salamanders are also great additions to a garden. They help with flies, mosquitoes, crickets, and some beetles. Snakes in particular are territorial. If you have one on your property that is not poisonous, it’s best to leave them alive. Otherwise, the snake that comes along next may not be as safe.

Harmful Insects

There are only three types of insects that I have had ongoing trouble with. Ants, flies, and squash bugs. It took me years to figure out how to get rid of ants. My fight with the ants actually predates my garden. My home had a huge ant problem for years and I tried everything. I sealed all my food in containers, spread cinnamon and borax throughout my home and BT in my garden. I’ve tried bait traps galore. I was even so fed up that I had professionals come and spray poison throughout my home. Some things helped, but nothing ever really worked. Then, a few years ago, I found Optigard (amazon link). This stuff is the absolute best thing I have found for ants. It’s a bait in gel form. I cannot recommend this enough. I put this in little places around my garden and the ants are gone.

House flies are attracted to chicken manure. There was a time when we had a bigger problem than the chickens could keep up with. We tried these outdoor disposable bait traps (amazon link) which work really well, but even several of these could not keep up with the problem. Then we found parasitic nematodes. Some of these tiny microscopic organisms are natural predators to flies. I purchased some of these (link to Arbico Organics where I bought my parasitic nematodes) and spread them around my chicken yard. Within a week, my fly problem was completely taken care of! As scary as “parasitic nematodes” sound, the ones you buy for your garden do not pose a threat to human life, only certain insects.

Squash bugs are the only bugs I have not been able to manage without the use of natural pesticides. If you have any wisdom to share about this, please let me know in the comments! I (and any other readers struggling with squash bugs) would greatly appreciate it!

What We Would Do Differently

There is definitely a long list of things that we’ve tried and haven’t worked for us. I plan on writing a post about what these things were and why they didn’t work for us. For now, here’s a brief overview of some things that we would do differently on our self reliant micro farm.

In the beginning, we had very strong ideas about plastic. My family and I wanted to avoid all plastic in our garden as much as possible. Because of this, we avoided things like landscape fabric and hydroponic set ups. We also spent countless hours researching different methods and supplies that allowed us to avoid plastic. The unfortunate conclusion we reached out of all this research is that avoiding plastic all together is almost impossible. At the very least, it’s more work and money than we are willing to put in.

Letting go of the idea of a plastic free garden now and embracing non leaching, safer plastics became an important step in moving our micro farm forward. We wish we had done this much sooner than we had because we would have saved ourselves a lot of time and energy.

Now, landscape fabric is in use in several places in our garden to help keep out weeds. This has been greatly helpful to us. We are also getting ready to set up a hydroponic growing area. This will allow us to consume fresh produce all year long.

We are still very excited about building soil and we plan on continuing to do that. However, the addition of hydroponics will ensure that we get good harvests every year because it completely eliminates pest issues and weather issues.

We love the idea of crafting a food producing garden that is as close to how you would find it in the wild as possible. The dream of a permaculture food forest is very much still in the back of our minds and we may work up to that someday. However, most of the food that we eat comes from annuals, not perennials. We have to be realistic about what we will actually eat.

We made the decision to let our chickens roam without a fence after we had already bought our chickens. The Black Australorp hens are docile and great around kids (which is what we originally wanted). Unfortunately, this characteristic is exactly what makes them extra susceptible to predators. We have had issues with predators and we would prefer a more aggressive breed of chicken going forward. More on this below.

Our Plans For The Future

Our plans for the future might warrant a whole other post, but here are some of the things we’re thinking about.

In an ideal world, my family and I would be able to have a balanced diet from everything we grow. We know our food supply will not last all the way through the winter. Still, we hope to be able to live completely off our land over the spring and summer months and even into the fall.

We’ve thought a lot about adding other animals but have decided to invest in hunting equipment instead. The only other two land animals we eat a lot of are pigs and cows. There’s a huge wild boar problem where I live. It seemed silly for us to buy and raise a pig when we already have access to fully grown pigs in the wild.

Cows are significantly harder to raise than chickens. Considering most of what we eat from cows is cheese and yogurt, goats would actually be a better option for us. Goats are still more work than chickens, but not as much work as cows. They also produce a lot less milk. This is good for us because we have no plans to sell milk (although we might end up selling goat milk soaps). We haven’t pulled the trigger on a goat yet, but it is a possibility in the future.

In the near future we plan in integrate aquaponics. Aquaponics is the process of raising fish and using the byproducts of the fish as fertilizer for plants. We were recently able to purchase a small aquaponic tank from a nearby school for half the original price. We plan to raise tilapia (because they are easy to raise and we eat a lot of tilapia). The fertilizer this produces will mainly be used for microgreen production. We also eat a lot of salmon, but those are much harder to raise. We will stick with tilapia for now.

Rain water catchment has been a dream of my family’s for a long time. The initial cost can be expensive for big tanks, and most larger systems use a lot of plastic (something we are personally trying to move away from). Currently, we have a Burkey water filter and we have the ponds. Our drinking water can come completely from our ponds. As for the rest of the house, we are still reliant on city water. We have yet to decide if we want to get a more involved system.

We don’t want to buy chickens every time we need new layers or eat birds. Instead, we would like to produce our own. Because we choose to let our chickens roam without a fence, a predator tolerant breed is ideal. If we want the same breed for meat birds as we do egg layers, then they would also ideally be larger. We have talked about Jersey Giants and/or Hamburgs. A decision has yet to be made.

It’s important to note that our self reliant micro farm is not completely self reliant. There are absolutely ways we could become more self reliant on our micro farm. We will work to get closer and closer to becoming completely self reliant, but we will likely never truly be completely off the grid. This is because our time is more valuable to us than being completely off the grid. My family and I really enjoy working on our farm and we love closing the loops to make things more sustainable. However, this is not our only job. As a result there are certain things we choose to buy rather than produce ourselves.

That being said, we have the ability to become completely self reliant if we are failed by the supply system (something that has rapidly become a serious possibility in the last couple of years). It would just take much more of our time than we are currently willing to give.


There are obviously some things that we do that will not be practical for other people to do. Not everybody has a carport they can dedicate to chickens and not everyone has the room in their backyard for two ponds and two large greenhouses.

The main takeaway I want this post to have is that you can farm your backyard and you can close the loops. Making your own fertilizer, composting, gardening, chickens, goats, and black solider flies are all things that don’t take a lot of room and could save you a significant amount of money. I hope this was inspiring to some of you and sparked some ideas for your own self reliant micro farm!

If you’d like any more information or if you have questions, please leave a comment down below. I’d love to tell you more!

I wish you all joyful farming!

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