Can You Still Garden With a Nomadic Lifestyle?

Yes, you can. Here's how to garden on the go.

succulents on a car dashboard

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Interest in gardening and home food production has increased over recent years. But so too has an interest in living more flexibly and more nomadically. In the developed world, through choice or necessity, an increasing number of people are finding themselves living less settled and more mobile lives.

The question is, can you still garden with a more nomadic lifestyle? How can you grow your own food when you either haven't chosen or haven't yet been able to set down roots of your own?

As a sustainability consultant and garden designer, I have come across quite a few people with a keen interest in growing their own, but who struggle with the challenges which come from not having a settled location.

The Challenges of Gardening With a Nomadic Lifestyle

Living a less settled way of life means different things to different people. For some citizens of planet Earth, living a nomadic lifestyle is a deliberate choice. For others, a nomadic existence is a choice which has been forced on them by circumstance. People may struggle to get onto the property ladder. They may have to move regularly to find work.

Recent events, such as famine and drought in the Horn of Africa and more than one million people fleeing Ukraine due to conflict with Russia, also remind us of the stark reality that many people are displaced from their homes by war and a changing climate. But regardless of the reason, gardening on the go may be more feasible than you imagined.

Van Life and Tiny Home Gardening

Those who choose to live a nomadic lifestyle in a van or tiny home on wheels can certainly grow their own—often achieving higher yields through container gardening than they may have imagined possible. 

To grow your own in a van or tiny home, there are three key considerations: space-saving, mobility, and practicality. 

Space-saving ideas like vertical gardens, hanging containers, and built-in growing spaces can all help you increase the amount of food that you could grow. 

If you're living on wheels, there are a number of issues surrounding mobility to consider. One thing is that all your plants will have to be secured during transit. They might be held securely within the van or tiny home, or towed behind in a mobile trailer garden.

van window with plants growing inside

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You also need to think about weight and make sure that you factor in the weight of containers, soil, etc. when planning your trips. Choosing lighter weight containers and growing media can be helpful if you are often on the road.

One other consideration is that, depending on where you live and where you wish to travel, there may be laws and restrictions on moving plants over state or country borders.

In terms of practicality, while it is often possible to maintain a container garden on the go, you do need to think about the basics of light, water, and fertility needs, and make sure you are as self-contained and self-sufficient as possible. Harvesting rainwater and composting, for example,  are often possible, even for small space indoor gardeners who move around. 

Gardening in a Non-Permanent Situation

Some people living a nomadic lifestyle do not have their own van, tiny home, or other base which moves with them. Many choose (or must) move from point A to point B, staying in other people's homes or in rented accommodations. 

If you live in a non-permanent situation where you don't have your own space, it can be difficult to see how to grow your own. But it is possible to garden on a small scale by choosing limited and mobile container solutions that go with you when you move on.

woman balances flowerpot on head while walking down the street

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As in vans and tiny homes, if you have access to a sunny windowsill, even temporarily, you can potentially grow many of the same small-scale crops that you can grow in a garden in containers. Of course, you will not be able to grow much. But every plant you grow—even some micro-greens or a bit of cut-and-come-again salad—can make a difference to how sustainable your lifestyle can be. 

Permaculture for Peace: Gardening for Displaced People

Those who have been uprooted from their lives will have many pressing concerns. But the ability to regain some sense of control over one's own circumstances is important, and growing food, even on the smallest scale, can represent a regaining of dignity and control over traumatic circumstances. 

As people flee war-torn Ukraine, many permaculture practitioners across Europe are forming "green roads"—safe havens for those in need and who may be seeking a route out of danger. 

A desire for a sustainable, free, and environmentally conscious future unites us all, and those who are lucky enough to have gardens, farms, or settled homes are reaching out to others and offering them opportunities for them to find safe harbor. Perhaps they'll also find some sense of peace and normality by getting their hands in the soil and spending time around nature's calming beauty. 

So, whether you are nomadic right now through choice or forced into it by undesirable circumstances, remember that there are plenty of people out there who are willing to share their land and garden alongside you. Even when you cannot grow much of your own food on the go, you may still be able to cooperate with settled people to tend a farm or garden as you pass through.