Gardening Category


Wednesday, March 19, 2014


There is nothing like a renewable food source, and seeds are one way to guarantee that you have a continuing supply of food. If you don't save your seeds from year to year, you will eventually run out of stored seeds, and your garden will transform from a renewable resource to a one-harvest wonder. At the very least, seeds can make a great barter item in a post-collapse world.

At first glance, saving seeds might seem obvious and easy, but there are actually many detailed questions that arise. Some include:

  • How do you save the seeds?
  • What do they look like for different plants?
  • What conditions do you need for plants to produce seed?
  • When is the best time to harvest them?
  • How many do you get?
  • Can you eat the same plants that you get seed from, or do you have to keep food crops separate from seed crops?

To compound the problem, the answers to these and other questions tend to be either scattered in numerous sources, or overwhelming with complexity and extraneous information. There are many books and references that can be found on seed saving. However, many of them are overwhelming with family names, cross pollination, and lots and lots of information on things you're not really interested in or don't have time to memorize. It is true that saving seeds can be a challenge, if you have large crop operations or you have many varieties of each type of crop, but for the home gardener or small community operation, seed saving doesn't have to be difficult.

SurvivalBlog readers need the concise guide to seed saving, which I hope to provide with this article. My goal is to provide readers with a foundation for seed saving and tips on how to figure out on your own how to save seeds, without referencing books, or memorizing families after families of related crops.

Where to Start

The seed you start with is perhaps the most important aspect of it all.

With so many choices of seeds out there between grocery stores, catalogs, and the Internet, it's difficult to figure out where to begin. It's even more difficult to be motivated to learn to save seeds, because there is such an abundance of them available for purchase, or so it now seems. From one view, it may seem silly to waste time and energy on seed saving when it's so easy to stock up on an item that takes so little space, and with so many places offering a variety of survival seeds for a very small budget.

But truth be told, this is a huge mistake. First, not all crops will grow in your area. This may seem like common sense, but it needs to be said. If you live in an area with a short growing season, you won't be making tomato sauce every summer, and if you live in a hot climate, you won't be growing many dark leafy greens. Second, the viability of seeds reduces with time, even if kept in the best of conditions. Seeds, like all stocked food, should be rotated as time goes by.

The growing season and temperature variables are not all-inclusive in your seed selection. Your elevation will matter, along with the amount of precipitation and type of soil. Rather than getting into detail on how to amend these issues, it is much easier to grow crops that are suited for your local conditions.

Your first decision will be to decide what crops you want to grow. Let's make a pretend list, and say you want to grow the following:

  • Tomatoes,
  • Carrots,
  • Spinach,
  • Broccoli,
  • Cabbage,
  • Cucumbers,
  • Salad mix,
  • Potatoes,
  • Sweet potatoes, and
  • A nice melon to satisfy that sweet craving.

Let's start with the tomatoes. There are so many varieties out there, you can get lost in pages upon pages of choices. It can be daunting and cost a lot of money. Here's what you want to do. Find a few varieties that are known to be favorable for your climate, your elevation, and your soil. Look for disease resistance and look for non-hybrid, non-GMO, heirloom varieties. Also make sure the variety you choose does not require a second variety to pollinate. Most basic garden foods do not, but it's still good to check. You should pick several varieties to allow you to experiment to see what YOU can successfully grow in your soil and climate. However, there is a key point to this: Experiment with growing ONLY ONE seed variety at a time. Pick one, just one and only one. Plant and grow that one seed variety to start. (I will explain why later in this article.) Follow the same selection process for the other fruits and vegetables, and select only one variety of each to try growing, initially.

Next, you must find where to get your seeds. Some of the varieties might not be available locally, so you may have to settle for a variety that you can find locally. The good news is, chances are if it's grown locally, it already has most of the features you are looking for.

My first recommendation is to find a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in your area. Contact them and find out if they sell seeds from the locally grown food. If not, find out who they buy from. The reason I recommend a CSA is that it's local, which means the food is grown in your locale, your climate, your elevation, and your soil. This means that this type of food will actually grow in your area, and these seeds are worth saving.

My second recommendation would be to find local farmers in your area, and see if they offer seeds. You may have to call or drive around a lot to get what you're looking for, as many farmers specialize in mono (one crop) farming, so you may have to go to several farmers to accumulate what you want to start with.

Lastly, I recommend the Internet, but be careful. Call and ask questions. Find out where the seeds are grown, if they are genetically modified or genetically engineered (GMO/GE), and find out if they are hybrids or heirlooms.

A hybrid is a mix of two different parent plants, and its offspring will not be the same. Hybrids are great for disease resistance and temperature tolerances, but they are not good choices for saving seeds, because the seeds likely will not carry the same properties as the parent, and will not produce the fruit/vegetable you started with. Worse, some hybrids won't produce seeds at all. When thinking of a hybrid, think of a female horse mating with a male donkey. You get a mule, which is a sterile animal that is a hybrid of its parents.

There are two reasons you do not want to buy GMO seeds. First, there is a significant amount of scientific evidence that GMO "foods" can be harmful to human health. I will not go into that here, as that is beyond the scope of this article, and an entire article could be written about that subject alone. Second, much of the time, GMO seeds are patented, which means that it's illegal for you to save seeds from these crops and grow future crops using these GMO seeds. There are many situations where farmers have lost their business because their fields were accidentally contaminated by GMO crops, and because these crops were patented, they lost in court. It's best to avoid this situation, so start with a product that nature created. Finally, note that some GMO plants were designed to not produce seeds.

Some might argue that saving seeds from a watermelon (or whatever) that you purchased at a chain grocery store is fine, but unless you know for sure that watermelon is GMO free, this is not a good idea. Also note, if you try to save a potato or a related family that you purchased in the store, there's a good chance it won't sprout because the distributors commonly spray them with a chemical to suppress the hormones that occur naturally in the root, which normally would cause the root to sprout. Depending on what chemical was used, you may be able to soak the tuber root in water for an hour prior to planting, but this is not a guaranteed method. So it's really best you start off with something that is a sure thing with known qualities. Store-bought produce is a gamble. Potatoes you get from a CSA will probably sprout before you have a chance to use them. This would be a better option.

I also usually do not recommend starting with transplants. Usually, these plants have started off with ideal conditions that include a heating mat, moisture control, and whatever disease preventive spraying that took place. Unless you know exactly how that plant was treated from seed, and you can replicate these conditions for its offspring, do not buy it for seed saving.

Where the Seeds Are and How to Save Them

We are so used to buying products that are processed, that it's difficult for the inexperienced to know how a cabbage or a carrot will develop seed. Some produce is obvious. A tomato is filled with seeds when you cut into it, and potatoes sprout. Those seem easy, but what does a cabbage or a carrot do? Some crops need two years, and some crops need the right temperatures to "bolt" (go to seed).

A tomato is fairly easy. You plant the seed, your plant grows, it develops tomatoes, they mature and turn red, and you eat it. Tomatoes are one of the fruits that you can enjoy eating and still save seed. You don't need much; a few tomatoes will suffice. The tricky part is getting the seeds to store for a long period of time.

Tomatoes are special, because they're one of the few plants where you will elicit the help of fungus to help you with your seed. The tomato seeds are covered in a gelatinous concoction that keeps the seeds from germinating inside the tomato. When gardening there are many cases such as this, when it is helpful to ask yourself a very important question: What would nature do?

At one point during life on Earth, plants reproduced without the help of humans, and nature helped these plants along the way. So when thinking about how plants might spread their seeds in nature, ask yourself: if you were a tomato, what strategy would you use to spread your seeds so that you would reproduce? First, you have to get the seeds out of the tomato and then you have to break down the gelatinous concoction so that they can sprout. Next, you have to disperse the seeds. So how would you do that?

Nature, or tomatoes, developed an amazing process. Imagine an animal ate the bright red (ripe) tomato, and then the tomato would be digested in the stomach of the animal as it moved to another location. The seeds did not break down during digestion, due to their protective coating, and then the animal would defecate in another location. Fungus would then help break down the gelatinous concoction, and the seeds would be firmly planted in the perfect roll of soil. Thus, the next generation of tomato would grow.

It doesn't exactly work as simply as that, but close enough for the purpose of this article. The problem is it's highly impractical to depend on wild animals to digest your tomato seeds to meet your needs. The solution is that you place the gelatinous-covered seeds in a container of some sort, add some water, cover partially, and let stand for 24 hours. The fungus that comes with the seeds will break down the gelatinous concoction. All you have to do after 24 hours is rinse, dry on a towel or paper plate, and store. No wild animals are needed. The important part is that you do not store the seeds until they are fully dry after rinsing them. I usually allow mine to dry for a couple of weeks on a flour sack towel. As a side note, some will argue that you need to keep your tomato seeds soaked for several days. However, recent research has shown that 24 hours is ideal, and allowing the seeds to soak longer reduces viability.

Carrots are a very different produce. If you eat the carrot, you can't get seed. This is okay though, as you don't need to save many carrots to get enough seed. One carrot can produce quite a bit of seed. The trick here is time.

Carrots need two growing seasons to produce seed. The first season they will produce the root vegetable that you would eat. If you leave it in the ground, then the second season, you will have flowers, then eventually seed. Again, you have to look at nature and what strategy nature, or the carrot, has employed. When you look at the flowers of the carrot you will quickly realize that whatever seeds develop will be very susceptible to the wind. This is where you have to beat nature and collect the dry carrot seeds before the wind scatters them. You may have to check your seeds often to see if they are ready. Watch the weather to make sure you don't miss your opportunity to a windy day, and collect between rainy days, so that they are already dried on the plant. If the seeds don't fall off in your hands easily, they need more time to mature. If you pick too early, they won't germinate. It can be a bit tricky to learn when the time is right, and you may have to collect the seeds more than once from the same plant to get the most viable seeds.

Spinach requires that you learn yet a different strategy of nature. Spinach is a cool weather crop, and often times, unless you get a variety that is slow to bolt, spinach will go to seed if the temperature gets hot enough. With some varieties this can occur as low as 80 degrees Fahrenheit. With most spinach, you can harvest the leaves up until it bolts. This is nice, because you get the best of both worlds: you get to eat the spinach, and you get to save the seed. Just don't eat the leaves once they bolt, as they won't taste good, and the plant will still need to undergo photosynthesis through its leaves in order for the seeds to mature. I suppose if you have nothing else to eat, and you don't need the seed, then go ahead and eat it, but again note that the flavor becomes much different once spinach bolts.

Spinach is unique because it requires two plants: a male and female. Spinach also requires wind to pollinate. This means that when planning on saving seeds, you need to save double the plants as you would for any other plant that doesn't require both a male and female. The wind pollinates the spinach, and the seeds develop on the female once pollinated. The trick here is again time. The seeds usually turn dark brown when ready, but need to be dry. Because of the length of time to mature, some gardeners collect the spinach stalks, tie them in a bunch, and hang them upside down in a paper bag in a garage or other dry place. Then several weeks later, they shake the stalks and watch the seeds fall to the bottom of the paper bag. This method can also be used for collecting seeds from other plants, too. Exercise your judgment for when this method is appropriate.

Broccoli and cabbage are two plants that you do not get to enjoy and also save the seed. You have to pick one or the other: food or seed. I list these together because they are in fact in the same family. More on that shortly.

With broccoli, the very part that we eat (the "florets" or "crowns") if left uncut long enough, will eventually turn into flowers. These flowers would then be pollinated by small insects (such as mason bees or certain flies). Once pollinated, they turn into pods, then mature, and then dry. Inside each pod you will have a few dark brown seeds ready for planting.

With cabbage, if the "head" (the part we eat) is left without cutting, it eventually splits open and grows flowers from the opening. The flowers are pollinated, then turn into pods, then mature, dry, and again, inside each pod, you will have seeds ready for planting.

It is a more difficult question to answer what strategy nature would use to spread cabbage or broccoli seed. Any plant that produces flowers, entices bees and other flying insects to pollinate it, which is great, but once the pods are dry, what animal would want to eat it? In these cases, no animal is required. The pod will continue drying out until it splits, and the seeds will simply fall out onto the soil and grow anew. All you have to do is collect the dry pods when they crack easily in your fingers. It is best to remove the seeds from the pods before storage.

Cucumbers are another crop that you can not both eat and save the seed. The seeds in the cucumbers that people eat are nowhere near ready for planting. Cucumbers must over-ripen, and the seeds will finally develop inside the over-ripened cucumber. In the wild, or nature, or whatever you want to call it, a cucumber would mature, become heavy, then start to dry after it falls off the vine. The seeds inside would continue to mature until the cucumber rotted, and then the seeds would be able to take life again, using the mixture of rotting cucumber and soil for nutrients.

To save the cucumber seeds, you want to let your cucumber over-mature, but not rot. Cut it open, remove and wash the seeds, and then let them dry. One way to tell viability is to see if the seeds float or drown during washing. Think about it this way. If it's an empty shell, it's likely to float; if it's full of life, it's likely to sink. Dry the sinkers for a few weeks, and store away.

Everyone likes a good salad with tomatoes and cucumber, and generally, salad of any sort is easy to grow. You pick it, and it grows right back. It's a great crop to have around, and the best part, is that you can cut and cut, and still get seed. Once salad greens (most varieties) bolt, they become bitter and most gardeners stop harvesting. However, if you let them go, flowers spring up from the center stalks, the mason bees pollinate, and seeds develop over time. They produce lots of seeds, but you have to beat nature by collecting them before the wind sets them free. Just like carrots, you have to wait until they dry and fall off easily.

Potatoes can have seeds, but the viability of these seeds is usually not great. It's really better to give up a few servings of mashed potatoes, and save some tubers for planting rather than trying to save potato seed. Again, if you consider the strategy of how potatoes will reproduce in nature, the potato has to do nothing but stay in the ground.

Eventually, the eyes of the potatoes will grow sprouts, and those sprouts will then grow new potatoes. The same will occur for sweet potatoes. The flowering period is usually an indicator of when to harvest the potatoes– six weeks after flowering. The same also applies for sweet potatoes.

So here's your homework. What strategy would a honeydew melon use to spread its seed?

Too easy you say? Okay, what strategy would corn use?

What Family is What?

The best way to determine if different plants are related is by looking at two things: growth patterns and flowers. If two plants follow the same growth patterns and their flowers develop and look about the same, it might be that they are related. It's best to choose only one of the plants to go to seed at the same time. If you allow two plants, let's say broccoli and cabbage to flower at the same time, the bees just might cross pollinate. In this case, the seeds you get would produce duds, with neither the broccoli nor the cabbage producing viable seeds. This is why I recommend you start with one variety of each plant, so you reduce your chances of cross pollination, and thus seed failure.

When You're Not Sure

Always ask yourself, what would nature do? Sometimes just sitting back and studying how a plant grows, at what point it develops flowers, or how it looks, can tell you a lot about that plant and the seed it produces. You can ask yourself questions about the plant, like how fragile the seeds are, how would they be spread, and so on. These questions can help you to figure out what it will take to save the seeds from that plant.

I haven't covered cross pollination too much because I think it can be over-hyped for the simple gardener. Cross pollination only occurs if you have two plants of a related family flowering at the same time. First, if you only grow one variety at a time, as suggested above, you don't have to worry about cross pollination because a carrot won't cross with a tomato. Second, if you are set on growing two different varieties in the same family, you can prevent cross pollination simply by planting them at different times, or choosing varieties that take different lengths of time to mature. For example, if you have two tomato varieties, and one matures at 56 days, while the other matures at 80 days, AND, you pay attention to make sure they have not flowered at the same time, they will not cross. If you have two cabbage varieties that mature at the same time, but you plant them a month apart, AND, you pay attention to flowering time, again, you will not have cross pollination, as one plant will flower and produce fruit/seeds before the other plant flowers. A final way to prevent cross pollination is simply to physically isolate the plants. This could be done by separating the plants with insect netting for those that require insect pollination, or by separating in greenhouses or cold frames for those that are wind pollinated.

If you are someone who only grows one type of tomato, one type of cucumber, one type of dark leafy green, then you don't have to worry about cross pollination. This is why I suggest you start out experimenting with one variety at a time.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean that you can grow one of each kind of crop and not think at all about cross pollination; you still have to use your head. As mentioned earlier, plants in the same family can cross pollinate. For example, broccoli and cabbage are related, and to make matters more complicated, so is kale. If you were to compare seeds from all three, you would not be able to tell them apart. So if you plan to grow and save seeds from two or three plants from the same family, you will need to keep them sufficiently segregated, or schedule the planting so that they flower at different times.

So here is a rule of thumb to follow: If the flowers look alike, there's a good chance they can cross pollinate. As a matter of fact, if you were to look only at flowers of broccoli, kale and cabbage, you would not be able to tell which is which.

The solution? If you want seeds, and you see flowers on different plants that are alike or very similar in appearance, decide which crop you want to save for seeds, and eat all the others. Stick to the rule of one variety per family blooming at a time, and you won't have to worry about saved seeds growing into sterile duds or that won't germinate at all.

When Nature is Confusing

There are plants that break all the rules, and even though they might develop a seed, they won't germinate from seed, because they have found a better way to reproduce. Blackberries, strawberries, and other common berries are of this nature. Rather than going to seed, and dying, the root system throws out shoots and upon hitting soil, these shoots will develop roots, and thus you have a new berry plant. Those who swear off thorny blackberries and prune them to the bottom often realize only a short time later that the plant has found a way to beat them.

The up side to this is that we can use this method to our advantage. Let's use fruit trees as an example. A fruit tree can take years to grow from seed before it is old enough to produce fruit. So people have discovered a shortcut: rooting. In short, select a branch, cut it off the tree, place it in water (and usually also a plant growth hormone), and that branch will develop roots. The advantage here is that you take a five year old tree branch, root it, and you have a second five year old tree. This also works with other certain long-maturity plants.

Plant hormone growth stimulants are not always required. In some cases you can simply place the branch in water and see if roots develop. However, the plant hormones do help by increasing the success rate. You can try sticking the twig in water, but sometimes diseases will race with the development of roots, and the twig will die before the twig has a chance to grow. With the aid of rooting hormones, the twig usually wins the race. A small container of plant hormone powder will go a long way, store for a long time, and take up less space than a bunch of trees for which you might not yet be ready.

Another trick that nature might play on you is that your seeds might not germinate. You did everything right, you collected them at the right time, and yet, the seeds just won't grow. Again, you have to ask yourself, why would nature do this?

There are many plants, especially fruit trees, which require that their seeds be kept cool for a certain period of time before germinating. Basically the "right" conditions are required for the seeds to germinate. Though not a fruit tree, I'll use the oak tree as an example. If you collect oak nuts (acorns) and plant them, chances are they won't grow until the second year. Some seeds require a certain amount of cold or "freeze hours" before they will break dormancy and sprout. (Some berry plants and fruit trees will also not produce fruit if they do not get enough "freeze hours". So make sure you get a variety that is appropriate for your climate.) This is nature's way of making sure the seeds don't germinate before the conditions are right. The seeds stay dormant until conditions are favorable, such as after winter. In cases such as these, it is possible to trick the seeds. Just place the seeds in moist soil in a plastic bag, and place it in your refrigerator for 90 days. This is called cold stratification. After 90 days, seed dormancy should be broken. This is kind of like mimicking winter, but using your refrigerator.

Where there's a will, there's a way. And if nature can do it, rest assured, so can you (usually).

A Quick Note On Storing Your Seeds

It is best to store your dried seeds in a cool dry place. Refrigerating your seeds will increase the length of time they remain viable. Most seed articles will recommend that you freeze your seeds for the longest shelf life. However, it is important to remove as much moisture as possible before placing them in the freezer, as water crystals in larger seeds, such as peas and corn, will cause them to crack and leave the seeds unviable.

The first step to removing moisture is to allow your seeds to dry at room temperature. I recommend a minimum of a couple of weeks. You can place the seeds on dry flour sack towels or you can also use other bedding, such as paper towels or paper plates. Next, place the seeds in coin envelopes or another paper storage container. I find that storing seeds in paper helps to absorb any extra moisture and allows the seeds to breathe. Once the seeds are dry and in a paper envelope, prepare a glass jar, such as a home canning jar. Pour oxygen absorbing desiccants into the bottom of the jar. These desiccants are included in packaging for a variety of products and can be saved and reused. You can cut open the packaging and collect the desiccants, and then dry them in the oven just prior to use. Be careful not to burn or melt the desiccants with too high a temperature. You will need to experiment with your oven and your desiccants to find what works best for you. I keep the temperature below 180'F. Once the oxygen absorbing desiccants are in the bottom of the jar, place the seed envelopes in the jar, put the lid on, and leave it be for about a week. Finally, after about a week, open the jar and quickly transfer the seed envelopes to the freezer.

Additional Tips and Tricks

  1. Practice, practice, practice. I just can't stress this enough. If you think you're going to dig into your seed vault after TEOTWAWKI and grow 10 acres of food without any practice, you are in for a huge and risky disappointment. It doesn't work that way. You have to grow it, try it, and save seeds from it, based on the needs of your area.
  2. When you're just not sure, and you're not familiar with a plant, there are many things you can try. Fortunately, with produce, there are usually plenty of seeds, so you can experiment with different techniques.
  3. If the seeds won't germinate, try adding heat, or try the cold stratification described above. You can also soak the seeds in water for 24 hours, or even scab them with a sharp object to help the skin break open.
  4. If you don't have bees in your area (yep, those areas exist), invest in some q-tips, so when the time comes, you can move the q-tip from one flower to another, and hand pollinate. Or better yet, learn to raise honey bees.
  5. Seeds are usually edible. If you have so much that you will never plant it all, research if it has any nutritional value so that you can use it to supplement your diet. For example, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds, among others, are great additions to a prepper diet. Also, for those leafy greens seeds, learn how to grow micro-greens (basically sprout the seeds and eat the sprouts).
  6. Only save seeds from your best plants. This is important enough that I am going to repeat myself: Only save seeds from your best plants. The better the quality of plant from which you get your seeds this year, the better the quality of plant you will get next year. The inverse is also true: Poor quality this year will produce worse quality next year, if anything at all. If a plant produces one seed, don't waste your time, you'll have zero next time.
  7. Sometimes it can take a particular variety two or three generations to adapt to your local conditions well enough that it produces a significant quantity of seeds. You can pursue this if you have reasons for growing a particular variety. However, do not make your food supply dependent on this occurring. A much better and safer approach is to find an alternative variety that produces seeds faster and more reliably in your locale without any adaptation.
  8. Don't forget: The seed catalogs that offer many seeds often have plants grown in the best of conditions. That means that your plant won't grow very well if you're locale is anything less than that ideal condition in which those seeds were produced.
  9. Also don't forget: Seeds can make a great barter item in a post-collapse world, especially if it is food that grows well in your area.

And always remember, when in doubt, ask the question: What would nature do?

I hope this article has provided a strong foundation for your seed-saving endeavors. I would like to provide good resources where you could get additional information on this topic. However, I have not yet found any books on this topic that I fully endorse. Two books that are worth reading are “Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth, and “The Complete Guide To Saving Seeds” by Robert E. Gough and Cheryl Gough. Please note, however, that your area and seed selection will determine the success of your seed saving, so use these books as general guides only.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014


In a total grid down situation, night soil (fertilizer from human feces) will once again become a valuable trade commodity. None the less, I have estimated that a hill of corn needs about the daily output of two adults to obtain a good crop. This was based on the dried remains of one hound dog. I had to do something with the mess out in the yard, and burying it under a hill of corn grew a crop. This corn was planted on almost pure sandy ground. More of course would most likely work. NE Utah water tends to be the limiting factor. About 365 cat holes out in the patch could keep a small family alive. How you get it there, I leave to you to figure out. A 5-gallon pail with a seat is my plan. Corn still is one of the higher calorie crops that can be planted, grown, and harvested with pure hand tools. Do look up Nixtamalization using wood ash. The corn patch will not be used for root crops and would go into a legume type rotation before I plan to eat root crops or those that might come in close contact with the soil. For another aspect, look up the Three Sisters from the Native American cultures. From my reading the Natives would not use any type of manure because it affected the taste of the corn. Also Google Painted Mountain Corn. Once you taste corn bread made from Indian Corn, you say, “Yummy.” - CM

HJL Replies: Please see the many warnings in SurvivalBlog's archives on using human fertilizer (night soil) for plants that are to be used for human consumption. Also, any night soil used for ornamental plants should be thoroughly composted before using and buried at least six inches deep.


Monday, February 10, 2014


Chemical free gardening for organic food and ornamentals is no harder or more expensive than conventional growing. Remineralization by adding rock powder is perhaps the most important component, bringing the soil back up to the balance of trace elements the plants require to naturally resist pests on their own.

Long before there was agriculture, there were plants that managed to grow, thrive, reproduce, and survive to the end of their natural life. They lived and died, and anything that ate them lived and died, all in the same neighborhood. This pattern continued until the last hundred years or so. The trace minerals taken from the soil by the plants were returned to the soil through decomposition.

A potato, with help from its ecosystem, refines and carries out of the soil, potassium, iron, phoshporus, magnesium, calcium, zinc, copper, and many more minerals that we know, and likely much we don't yet know of. When modern gardeners and agriculturalists haul that potato away, with it goes a wealth of minerals, which are permanently removed from that patch of soil. The story is pretty much the same if it is broccoli, beef, or begonias. When the plant or animal is hauled away, the minerals go with it.

Readily available for replenishment of some departed elements is the air. Containing 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and smaller amounts of other gases. Ma Nature has many strategies for extracting those into organic forms to fuel more plant life. I'll discuss some of those a bit more later. The point here is that the heavy stuff those plants collected is now gone. Do this very often and subsequent generations of plants simply don't have enough of some minerals to live as designed.

Early refined-additive agriculture discovered that supplemental nitrogen pumped the plants up. Later they found phosphorus to be helpful too. Then along came added potassium, followed by calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Recently the soil chemists have discovered advantages of adding boron, iron, molybdenum, and zinc. You might notice that nearly all of these are heavy elements neither commonly found in the air, nor coming back to the land of its own accord when what grew there is hauled away.

There are two really big problems with this method of feeding the soil. One is the egotistical assumption that today's soil scientists know for certain every mineral needed and in the right balance, as if it has all been discovered at this date NOW, and nothing new will be discovered tomorrow. (If so, shall we shut down the universities and put research scientists out to pasture?) Secondly, we know quite clearly that these individual refined elements are poisonous at certain levels and must be applied in carefully metered quantities. Get the balance wrong and everything dies.

A bit more subtle, because they have no lobby, the plants and microbes of the soil don't like this system at all. "No balance" they complain. "We need gold, silver, antimony, cuprite, malachite, stibnite, halite, and so much more. You ignorant, pompous, foolish humans. How do you expect us to resist pests when we don't have the minerals we need to make ourselves complete-- the materials we use to fabricate our shields?"

They cannot be in balance because their soil is not in balance. It, in turn, has no hope no matter how long you leave it alone because the trace mineral balance has been permanently altered. So these imbalanced plants cannot be all they could be; they succumb to pests, die young, and don't deliver to their consumers all the nutrition they could have in a better world-- in a whole soil.

Ah, but the scientists have an answer. We'll prop them up on life support systems and cover their earth in chemicals to kill off anything that attacks our staggering, malnourished plants. "Cool beans" they say. "We got these things to market looking very much like the product people expected." Wash any chemical residue off the surface of the plant, and it's all good, right? 96% of the farmers agree. I have long-ago outgrown arguing against the vast majority. However, I do continue to follow my own path.

That path brought remineralization, rock powder, rock dust, and a couple of other names for it to my attention. This is not new and not mine, but also not common knowledge. At the time, I was a provider of custom tractor work for gardeners, farmers, and homeowners. I provided rock powder along with my tillage and cover crop planting; this was a great match. The problem was there were no commercial sources in my area.

Thus began an interesting journey of forming a California corporation, selling stock, building production equipment, leasing a facility, establishing, and servicing a new rock powder market. In the next several years I produced and sold hundreds of tons in pails, bags, and bulk throughout an 11-county area of Northern California. I directly and indirectly converted gardens, vinyards, and orchards to healthy, pest-free, and pesticide-free growing.

With a severely limited budget, establishing a market for an unknown product of fantastic claims was probably my best trick. (Keep in mind this was pre-Internet). I went and talked to every nursery owner in the 11 counties. "Will you run an experiment growing some plants with and others without rock powder?" Those willing to do a side-by-side experiment were given a free 50-pound bag of my rock powder, a brochure, price list, and my contact information.

My reasoning was that I couldn't be there to sell it to their customers, but they would IF they believed in it. I was right. The orders came in for an unlikely, unknown product with rather incredible claims.

I want to stop right here to point out this is exactly what I want you to do. Run a side-by-side experiment on whatever you are growing. Do not believe me. Believe what you can see and prove for yourself. Trust me and this essay only enough to try it for yourself. Then and only then will you KNOW.

I personally ran, assisted in, and supplied rock powder growing experiments all with similar results. The rock powder soil quite clearly had bigger, healthier plants that did not suffer pest problems like their counterparts did.

Luana's home was in the middle of an old, decrepit apple orchard. She hired me to mow the weeds down at the beginning of "fire season". As I putted the acreage I grabbed apples off the trees one after another. Not particularly squeemish about such, all I needed was a belmish-free mouthful regardless of the rest of the apple. I could not find ONE BITE in the whole orchard. She hired me to fix it.

Ten tons of rock powder per acre, radical pruning, rip, disc, and cover crop were the core of my prescription. Two years later I was hard-pressed to find ONE BLEMISHED APPLE in the entire orchard.

"Dad, what's wrong with this broccoli?" I knelt down to see the plant at the end of my 100-foot row completely white with a coating of aphids. Close inspection found it kinked horizontal like an old garden hose at ground level, then curving back towards the sun. Nutrients couldn't properly flow through the defective stalk. Nature sent the aphids to return the plant's components to the soil. Neither the adjacent broccoli nor any others in that row had a single aphid on them. The one had been stepped on early in its life. The rest had no problem defending themselves in spite of the presence of a reproducing swarm of aphids... not to mention total absence of interference in this dance of nature's elements.

I have a great number of examples from a 20-acre cemetery-prep lawn, grandma's rose garden, an organic high-end Sonoma County vineyard, 100-cubic-yards of amazing compost, a berry farm, and many more. I'll close with a great one:

A University of California research scientist wanted to run an experiment. I met him in a massive Central Valley commercial tomato field. Upon arrival I immediately regretted the trip. The soil was so depleted there could be nothing left alive in it to digest the minerals and grow healthy plants. I gamely spread 50 pounds in the area he had marked off for this trial. I heard nothing from him ever again in spite of his promises to keep me appraised of the progress and conclusions.

Curiousity compelled me to call him late in the summer. "Oh there was a definite improvement; significant superiority in the rock powder treated plants, but we have no way to determine WHICH ELEMENT in the rock powder was responsible for it. Therefore we gained no useful information from this experiment." Sigh.

I first began screening raw rock powder down to the finest particles in my yard. Every time it rained, I had to put a lot of time and effort into drying my pile back out before I could bag it or spread it in bulk. In that process, throughout the moist rock powder, I found lots of big, fat earthworms loving it.

This is a crucial bit of information. Try that with a pile of any refined soil additive; it will be death to earthworms and most other soil inhabitants. The rock powder has a huge variety of mineral elements in a non-toxic, harmonic balance. You cannot put too much on any soil. In practical terms there simply isn't a toxic amount.

Before I move on, I need to mention sources of rock powder. I went to every rock crushing operation within a reasonable distance and got 5-gallon samples of what quarry operators consider to be mostly a waste product they usually call "crusher fines". The more surface area (smaller pieces) the better.

It has to be crushed rock rather than screened river sand. The river dissolved and carried away all the softer minerals leaving behind mostly silica and a few hard minerals with very little microscopic surface area. Sand is cheap, plentiful, and nearly useless as a source of trace minerals. Rock powder is harder to find, but still cheap and plentiful. You just have to find someone crushing rock for gravel roads, cement plants, and such.

Get what you can get within reasonable travel distance. Try it on your plants. Make a grid with rows of plants going one direction and marked rows of rock powder enriched zones going the other. If you pay close attention, you will be surprised that you can see differences quite early in the plant growth, and it just gets better after that.

I know some will be curious. Three years into my growing rock powder business a man stopped by claiming to have multi-million dollars behind him to enter the rock powder market I had established. I had no way to judge his credibility, but was put off by his love for claiming that their rock's cosmic, geo-magnetic energies from this special place near Las Vegas made it much more magical than ordinary rock powders. I figured you couldn't ask for better performance than my plain old local minerals, and he felt like a snake-oil salesman to me. I soon found my share of the market I built too small to support my operation. Oops.

Remineralization is the key difference between my growing methods and those of many chemical-free growers. The rest of the life in the soil is extremely important and cannot be neglected. I was about to write this next bit, but found it already composed and much more thorough. North Carolina State University has done an excellent job using the same exact lead-off sentence I was going to write, so I'll post it here.

There is more life below the soil surface than there is above. This includes the burrowing animals such as moles and earthworms. Many soil creatures are not much bigger than the head of a pin. They include mites, springtails, nematodes, virus, algae, bacteria, yeast, actinomyetes, and protozoa. There are about 50 billion microbes in 1 tablespoon of soil. A typical soil may contain the following estimated number of organisms in each gram of soil:

Bacteria 3,000,000 to 500,000,000
Actinnomycetes 1,000,000 to 20,000,000
Fungi 5,000 to 1,000,000
Yeast 1,000 to 1,000,000
Protozoa 1,000 to 500,000
Algae 1,000 to 500,000
Nematodes 10 to 5,000

1 gram of soil is the approximate weight of a standard paper clip.

As soil life forms move through the soil they create channels that improve aeration and drainage. Nematodes and protozoa swim in the film of water around soil particles and feed on bacteria. Mites eat fungi; fungi decompose soil organic matter. The microorganisms' primary role is to break down organic matter to obtain energy. They help release essential nutrients and carbon dioxide, perform key roles in nitrogen fixation, the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, denitrification, immobilization, and mineralization. Microbes must have a constant supply of organic matter or their numbers will decline. Conditions that favor soil life also promotes plant growth.

When the soil is tilled and left bare, soil life can be injured by high temperatures. To promote soil organisms; incorporate organic matter, till as little as possible, minimize soil compaction, maintain favorable soil pH and fertility, and use an organic mulch on the soil surface.

Don't treat your soil like dirt.

Healthy soil is dark with organic carbon, soft when dry, spongy when wet, very easy to push a shovel deep down into, and absolutely teeming with life. Your soil is your bank account. Properly tend the soil and the plants will take care of themselves.

My mentor would tell the class that he could turn a parking lot into a healthy garden. Not that I didn't believe him, but it did seem like more of a long-term challenge than I would want. Since then I have literally done it several times, and in one season. The biggest problem is also the most common problem I faced when doing my custom farming: compacted soil.

Nature will eventually do the job starting with tough, spiney plants to break up the compaction, moving on through different tools decade-after-decade until finally whatever the climate allows could grow there. If it is your space, you can shortcut that process.

Mechanically break up the soil deep. Healthy plant roots, even annuals can go many feet deep. Help them get there with a ripper. This is the highest weight and horsepower requirement tool I had by far. Don't buy a tractor to do this as you will never need to do it again. Just hire it done at least 2-feet deep; 3-feet is better. More is nice if it is affordable, but with a good head start, plants and soil organisms can do the rest in a few years.

Before any more tilling, spread 10 tons of rock powder per acre (15 pounds per 100 square feet). I always added 1,000 pounds of oyster shell flour too as an awesome source of additional calcium, but it isn't crucial in most cases. Don't let its absence stop you, but do stay away from calcium sources your local organic growers wouldn't recommend.

Rare is the soil with plenty of organic matter. I add a 4" to 6" layer of it before pre-plant tilling. Yes, that's a LOT. You can wait and grow your own, but adding a thick layer will make it happen this year. If you have more time than money or means, cultivate and plant a deep-rooting cover crop mix.

In Northern California I used 50% oats, 25% vetch and 25% bell beans. In my orchard the three plants would grow way-deep into the ground and over 7-feet tall above. I would mulch-mow it, leaving a thick mat on the surface. Windfall fruit would land unbrused on it to be collected ready-to-eat. The next spring I would till it in, plant again and repeat. The deep decomposing annual roots were an integral part of the soil ecosystem.

I'm going to skip the where to plant, what to plant, and how to plant parts. That is local information, can easily take years of experimentation to get right and fill multiple books.

My final important point is that you must NEVER leave your soil naked. It hates sun, wind, and erosion. If you don't have a cover crop, find an affordable, local source of organic mulch. By “mulch” I mean shavings, chopped straw, compost, and such.

Stay away from tree leaves. They are mostly allelopathic; they like to keep plants from growing at the base of the tree and, thus, in your garden if used as mulch. Leaves are great for weed suppression, but the only functional difference between weeds and your desired plants are your desires.

Cover crops are a great answer. I have had vegetable gardens where I simply 'mowed whatever growed' in between my crop rows. Never naked, never muddy and quite good looking. My mentor used shortened-blade scythes to great effect keeping the cover crop plants nature put there slightly lower and disadvantaged when compared to his money crop. Organic vineyards went from dead dirt tilling to cover crops between the vines a decade or more ago.

The life of your soil is your real growers bank account.


Saturday, February 8, 2014


One of the many important problems confronting people in a SHTF situation is maintaining adequate sanitation. Clean water, soap, personal hygene, toileting, and kitchen waste will all need to be addressed. I am going to describe some of the things we do on our 1/4 acre suburban homestead to control waste and feed the plants we use for food. It seems to me that having an established system in place to deal with waste before SHTF is better that trying to cobble something together when all kinds of urgent needs have to be addressed in an emergency. A good composting program that is established before SHTF may save a few years of frustration, garbage, vermin, and despair.

I begin with a disclaimer: We live in the coastal Pacific Northwest. Winters here are cool and rainy, summers are warm and dry. Any description of how we do things may need to be adapted to work well in other climates. All biological activity in compost piles is temperature dependent. Organic matter will break down more quickly in warm weather than in cool weather, and may stop completely during very cold weather. Tailor you efforts to the environment you live in.

What is compost? My definition is that compost is organic material that is reduced by biological processes into a more stable form. By "more stable" I mean less prone to decay. Composting is a kind of directed rotting process; the end product can slowly degrade, but no longer "rots" with the associated smells and disease hazards.

What can be composted? The complete answer to this question is somewhat complicated, but generally any small, non-toxic, soft plant materials (like leaves, stalks, and kitchen wastes) can be composted without any problems. Animal products and things like paper and small tree branches can be composted too, but the process is a bit more elaborate. Simple composting of vegetable matter and animal waste is easy, clean, and safe.

How does composting work? Organic materials are arranged in a way that encourages decomposition-- a process of organic substances being broken down into simpler forms of matter with the help of insects and microorganisms. What remains after these organic materials are consumed and "broken down" is a biologically stable humus called compost.

Why would anybody want to compost? Composting reduces potentially offensive organic materials such as garbage, yard waste, and animal waste into an inoffensive soil-like substance that is a beneficial source of plant nutrition in gardens, flowerbeds, and woodlots. In a SHTF situation, waste of all sorts will need to be dealt with in a way that protects public health and reduces the unpleasant effects of rotting garbage-- disease, odors, rats, insects, and diminished morale.

How do we make compost? There is a lot written about composting, much of what I have read is unneccesarily complicated. Composting is basicially accellerating a natural process-- the breakdown and recycling of organic material. Many sources I have read specify a certain mix of ingredients; many sources recommend physically moving compost materials to "mix and aerate" them. The purpose of all that mixing is to accelerate the decomposition process and generate enough heat within the compost pile to kill weed seeds and disease. My experience is that mixing, layering, and blending are not necessary. What those activities do is speed up the composting process by the additon of muscle energy or mechanical energy, which is not needed if enough time is allowed for material to break down naturally. If you throw all your yard waste into a heap and leave it exposed to the weather, in four years it will be compost. So, we can actively manage our compost pile by shoveling and mixing and aerating, or we can let it all sit there in a dumb lump for four or five years, and it will be ready for use in the garden, orchard, woodlot, or ornamental plant bed. Leaving the heap to break down without physical mixing is called "cold composting", and it works just fine, only slower. I should add that leaves alone will pack down like pages in a book and be very slow to break down. This can be remedied by shredding the leaves, and/or adding other ingredients like twigs, grass clippings, kitchen garbage, straw, and plant stalks to the compost pile to improve aeration and reduce compaction.

The argument can be made that cold composting doesn't generate the heat necessary to kill disease organisms (collectively called "pathogens"), or weed seeds. I agree to a point, but compostable materials (including feces), are not plutonium and don't need 300,000 years to degrade. Eventually most organic materials become safe because almost everything organic is food to some living thing. Even bacteria and viruses are food for other organisms. Once a thing has been eaten and excreted, it is not the same as it was before being eaten. Obviously, do not compost materials infested with disease or parasites; burn them. If in doubt, burn.

What should be done with the finished compost? Compost is plant food. If fecal matter has been included in the compost, it may be preferable to use it on non-food crops or food crops that are neither consumed raw nor allowed to come into direct contact with the soil. Such compost would be well suited for use on woodlots or decorative plantings. If growing your own food is a life and death part of a SHTF situation, I speculate that there are far greater threats to survival than the application of properly prepared compost to food crops. In our garden, compost without fecal matter has replaced almost all fertilizer.

What are the dangers of cold composting? A properly built compost pile should not provide shelter for rodents or other nuisance animals. Kitchen waste is especially attractive to animals and should be put into the center of a hot working pile, or cold composted in containers that prevent access by rats, mice, opossums, raccoons, dogs, or any other animals. Compost that is not adequatly heated may contain viable weed seeds-- a problem for the garden, but not important for the purpose of neutralizing nuisance materials. We haven't had any weed problems with well-aged compost. Raw materials put into a compost pile may contain organisms that can cause disease to plants as well as people and animals. At our home, we do compost fecal matter from dogs, but it is isolated for three years before being added into an active cold compost pile, where it will be composted for another three years or more. Our dogs are healthy, and I believe the chance of disease is small; still, the compost containing dog feces is used for non food plants at this time.

How do we get started composting?

We have a spot (heap) about 4 x 12 feet where we toss everything compostable that has no other place to go. It is confined by wire fencing and is about 4 feet high. Leaves, grass clippings, sawdust, tree trimmings, chicken litter, and fir needles all go onto the heap. Four years into the future, the center of this heap will be ideal compost. Dog waste is composted separately in barrels for three or four years and then tossed on the bottom of the heap, where it has contact with soil for an addtional three or four years. As the heap is shoveled out from one end, the undisturbed end of the heap keeps working.

We have plastic garbage cans with holes drilled into them that we use to begin composting yard and kitchen waste before the can is dumped into the larger composting pile. Instead of hauling waste materal to one location in small loads, we have multiple cans placed around the property near where we generate and gather waste material, such as yard debris and kitchen waste.

Animal waste attracts flies. It takes a few years to establish a composting environment that limits houseflies-- another good reason to start composting before SHTF. A few years ago we started managing dog waste by putting it in above ground barrels that were aerated by holes drilled in the sides and bottom. It has worked surprisingly well. Houseflies have things that parasitize them; one being a mite that will kill houseflies in astonishing numbers. I have seen flies in our dog waste barrel so burdened by mites that they could not fly. Seeing that was like watching a 1950's horror movie. We have fewer houseflies now than we had before we started the dog barrel composting. Treating dog waste in a barrel is nearly odorless and not offensive. The waste is reduced in quantity and becomes compost-- neutral, odorless, and neighbor-friendly.

In our dog waste compost barrel, the mites that killed the houseflies were succeeded the following year by a kind of grub that is the larva of the black soldier fly. These grubs look like the mealworms that one can buy as fish or reptile food in pet stores, except that "compost maggots" are a dirty gray instead of beige with tan stripes, like mealworms.

We are fortunate to have black soldier flies colonize in our yard. Black soldier flies don't go in the house. The adult form doesn't live long and isn't a nuisance. The larvae eat amazing amounts of waste; I have fed them inedible meat scraps and waste grease from the kitchen (things normally not recommended for composting). The black soldier fly larvae eat it all, very quickly. I watched a piece of spoiled salt pork half as big as my fist disappear in three days, fat and all. Black soldier fly larvae migrate out of the compost, after they have matured, to seek a place in the soil to pupate and complete their life cycle. Our chickens love the migrating larvae!

Composting is safe and odor-free when done properly, and it creates a useful product while eliminating a potential source of odors, vermin, and disease. It would be prudent for all preppers to learn how to compost before the Schumer hits the fan, when they will be confronted with a waste problem that gets bigger every day.


Sunday, January 5, 2014


I once read a very interesting article from a survivor of the Bosnian Collapse of the late 1990s.  This was a true end of the world as they knew it event, and it was fascinating and eye opening to read. One of the things the author talked about in his extensive article was the most useful skills to possess. Medical knowledge was the highest on his list. Lacking real world medical training, people with the knowledge of the uses of herbs and plants were able to trade and use that skill to survive.
 
Most people in America can't identify even 1% of the plants that surround them. They don't know useful from poisonous or nutritious from useless plants. And yet there are dozens of plants that grow even in urban settings that are not only edible but down right lifesaving if you only can identify them. For 15 years I have been a gardener and outdoorswoman. Much of my knowledge has come from being a curious person interested in the world around me, and also from searching for natural ways to heal common ailments for myself and my children.
 
I have been amazed at the amount of plants growing near me that can be used for healing, and have compiled a small list of what I consider the important common plants that grow in the USA, things you can find right out your back door. I am sure there are thousands more! Knowledge is power, so I recommend that you should start now when it comes to identifying wild and not so wild food and medicinal sources. Once you can recognize a plant start noting where you see them, what time of year they flower in your area and when they bear fruit. I go out for drives along country roads and memorize where plants, bushes, berries, and helpful trees are growing. You can also look around your neighborhood. Rose Bushes will provide you with rose hips that are high in Vitamin C and can save you from scurvy in the winter.  Echinacea also known as Purple Coneflowers are popular in gardens can boost the immune system and also have a host of other uses. Look up color photos of plants on the internet to help you identify them, or join a wild crafting group if one is available. Having a print out of each plant with multiple  pictures and uses of them, along with how to use them and dosages, is very important in a SHTF event.  There are many books specifying every area of America for finding wild foods and they often have excellent color pictures and identification keys.  I keep a few of them in my purse when I go up to the wild and try to identify as many helpful plants as possible.  Often these books are inexpensive so picking them up is a good idea.
 
As a note I say where you can find the below plants.  We live in the dry west so most plants only grow near water sources.  However I know that in other areas of the country rain is more plentiful so the growing habitat is much different.  If you are gathering post or during SHTF remember your personal safety and weigh the possible benefits vs. danger of running into other hungry people.  Never go alone even now as accidents happen and wild animals enjoy wild foods as much as people do, running into a hungry bear is a highly unpleasant event.  When you head to any wilderness take precautions and let people know where you are going and when you are coming back. Always take a first aid kit, water, a good map, and some food with you.

Caution!  As with any wild foraging check and double check your identification before eating anything, do not take another person's word on the safety of a plant.  Some wild foods are debated on their safety as some people will have a reaction where others do not.  Also if you have food allergies be wary and careful when trying new things.  Also remember that when harvesting wild foods make sure they are not sprayed with poisons or chemicals.  I am not a doctor and am not giving medical advice.  If you want to try natural remedies do your research and also talk to your doctor.  Remember that even though these plants are natural they can still be very strong medicines and even interact with any medication you are taking!!

 Alfalfa -  Amazingly enough, this plant, a common feed for animals, is one of the most useful in a TEOTWAWKI collapse, or even just in a financial collapse where you suddenly become dirt poor. Alfalfa is highly nutritious and can be used to treat several conditions. The most important in my mind being bleeding, hemorrhaging, hemorrhaging after birth, and heavy menstrual bleeding. Blood loss is a common problem where medical care is limited and people are exposed to hard physical work or dangerous situations. Childbirth for women is the most fatal event during life in 3rd world countries, many of the deaths coming from hemorrhaging after birth. Drinking a tea made from alfalfa, or eating alfalfa in the last few weeks of pregnancy can help prevent hemorrhage or excessive bleeding due to several compounds it contains, this includes Vitamin K which is essential to blood clotting. Pregnant women should not take it until the last three weeks of pregnancy due to the fact that as it has hormone properties that could cause labor and miscarriage. Once a woman is considered full term at 37 weeks that is not such an issue. Taking too much alfalfa for longer than a month can have the opposite effect and cause bleeding to be worse!  Newborns need Vitamin K for proper development and usually receive an injection soon after birth, but during or after a SHTF event those shots may not be available and doctors recommend mothers consume foods with high Vitamin K so that it will be passed to the nursing child. Dried or fresh alfalfa can be used in the human diet and also as a compress on wounds to help them stop bleeding. In application to a wound it is essential to boil the water for 10 minutes to kill bacteria and then boil the alfalfa added for a few minutes thus killing any bacteria on the plant leaves. Alfalfa helps people who are nutritionally deficient. It helps a great deal with Vitamin C deficiency when used fresh, for it contains more Vitamin C than some citrus fruits. Scurvy is caused by a Vitamin C deficiency and is a common problem for people during famines, or when there is a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. It also has very high B Vitamin levels and Vitamin D levels which help with problems such as rickets, a common disease especially effecting children who have poor diets or are not exposed to enough sunlight.  This is a common problem when living in a war zone or an area where people must stay inside much of the time due to violence as Vitamin D cannot be manufactured by the body and is mainly created by the skins exposure to the sun. Alfalfa is also easy to store when dried and is very cheap.  It is a good item to keep on hand. Alfalfa is grown everywhere in the USA and can be found along ditch banks and country roads growing wild, in fields as well as in farm yards. It does not need to be re-seeded every year so a field that had it last year will have it this year as well.

Raspberry Leaf - Raspberries (also known as redcaps, bramble berries, dewberry, and thimbleberry)  grow wild in the USA and are even considered an invasive species.  They come in red, black, purple, and golden fruit all of which is essentially the same plant, but these other fruit colors do not generally grow in the wild like the common red does. Obviously the fruit is edible but the leaves and even roots can be used for highly effective remedies. The most well known is for aid to painful menstruation, to regulate and normalize a woman's cycle, and also to help shorten and lessen the pain of childbirth.  I am all for shortening the length of childbirth; having had four children naturally! Caution must be used however as raspberry leaf can cause uterine contractions, so it should only be used once labor has begun or a week before birth is expected. It can be used by non-pregnant women during and right before menstruation. Another equally important use of raspberry leaf is it’s use as a cure for diarrhea. More on that in the Blackberry Section.  These plants are found near water, in boggy areas, besides stream banks, in gullies, on ditch banks, or growing anywhere that gets plentiful rainfall.

Blackberry Fruits, Leaves, and Roots - Diarrhea is one of the most common killers in third world countries due to contaminated water supplies and poor water treatment facilities.  As a country collapses the infrastructure of water treatment always breaks down, and waterborne illness explodes. Preparation for such disease is essential when we plan for a SHTF event. Diarrhea is especially fatal to children and the elderly, and is frightening at how fast it kills. Soldiers in battle frequently suffer from dysentery due to bad water as well.  For centuries blackberries (and to a lesser extent any of the bramble berry varieties such a red caps, black caps, Marion berries, and raspberries) have been used for treating diarrhea, dysentery, food borne illness,  and even the more deadly waterborne illnesses. This must be remembered to be a treatment, not a cure as diarrhea is a symptom of an infection in the body which must be treated as well.  Blackberry Root Bark is the most effective remedy for diarrhea, but if you can't get to the roots the leaves are highly effective as well, even dried ones. Last is the fruit which can be eaten or a syrup or juice made from the fruit.  A syrup or juice is especially useful when treating small children.  One teaspoon of root or leaves per boiling cup of water, steeped for 20 minutes, then sweetened with honey if possible due to its healing and soothing properties is a good dosage. It is the tannins in the blackberry plant that help with diarrhea . Blackberries are even more invasive than red raspberries and grow profusely throughout the USA. If in a dry region look for them along streams or down in gullies and canyons. The leaves and root bark are easy to dry, and the leaves can be eaten and are high in nutrition.

Elderberries - I grew up eating wild elderberries, these are a round purple-ish blue fruit that grows in clusters on a bushy tree. The bush flowers in late spring depending on your area and the fruits are ripe in early fall. They are very common growing wild and like water so they grow either near bodies of water or in areas that get plenty of water.  I often see them growing in old farm yards or homesteads because the pioneers and old farmers used them not only for health but as a much needed fruit. They also can be found in gullies and draws. The fruit has a dusty powder on it, but care should be taken as the red elderberry, the stems of all elderberries that connect to the fruit, and also the unripe fruit, are poisonous. The fruit and flowers have been proven in clinical trials to help with many ailments, but especially in respiratory infections such as bronchitis and also to help thin mucus.  The fruit are very high in Vitamin C and are used to treat the flu and to boost the immune system. Elderberries would be good for an insurance against scurvy. Harvesting is easy and making juice, syrups, or tinctures from them is the best way to use them for healing.  The flowers are used to make a tea or tincture for respiratory ailments and compresses for wounds. They also are good in pies, jams, jellies, and to make wine and liquors. There is some evidence that they should be cooked before consuming as uncooked raw fruit can cause stomach upset. Elderberry syrup is safe for children.

Other Berries- Obviously there are many berries growing throughout the United states, many of them not only edible but beneficial as well.  Getting a good book on berry identification for your area is an excellent idea.

Rosehips - Wild roses grow all over the USA along roads, up in the mountains, and in forests. They are usually found as just a single flower, meaning they are a single layer of petals in a ring around the central part of the flower, maybe five petals in a ring. Roses are also grown in many yards and gardens, and there are even rose varieties grown specifically for large rosehips.  Rosehips are the main and most helpful part of the plant for use. Wild roses have small hips compared to their cultivated cousins, but size doesn't matter when it comes to food and medicinal value. They can be eaten raw in a pinch, but the most common way is to chop the hips roughly and pour 1 cup boiling water over two teaspoons of the chopped hips. Allow  them to steep for 20 minutes and sweeten with honey, or, if for a child under two years of age, sugar or syrup.  Rose hips are higher in Vitamin C than citrus fruit and not only prevent, but also treat scurvy. They are easy to identify and easy to harvest. Rose hips make a tea that is tart and pleasant to drink. They can help treat urinary tract infections and the flu, and rose hips also boost the immune system.  When fresh veggies and fruit are unavailable, rosehips can be found even in winter and still be eaten as they do not rot easily and cling to the rosebush.  Rosehips are generally a reddish color, and it is wise to look for ones that are still firm, not black or with mold or rot on them.  They can be used to make syrup, jelly, jam, wine, and juice. The flowers of roses are also edible but make sure you don't eat them if they are been sprayed with pesticide.

Bachelor Buttons - Bachelor Buttons, also known as cornflowers, are a  flower that grows wild and cultivated across the USA. They are popular in wildflower or cottage gardens and are  also drought tolerant and reseed prolifically in the wild. The common color is a cobalt blue, but especially in gardens they come in white, light pink, and purple. The flower is the part used and is most commonly utilized as an eyewash for injured or infected eyes. This is usually done by steeping the flowers in fresh boiled water, cooled, and then applied over the eyes on a moistened rag. A similar rinse for cuts and sores in the mouth aids healing. In this instance it is best to spit out after swishing around the mouth. Furthermore, they can also be used in the same form to wash cuts, scrapes and bruises. Combine one teaspoon of dried cornflower petals, or five fresh blossoms with one cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 15-20 minutes; after this you may strain and consume. If taking internally it is best for no longer than two weeks. Cornflower tea has been used to calm diarrhea, treat urinary tract infections, and for anxiety or nervousness. This flower can be found along road sides, in fields, and in clearings.  They love full sun and they are very easy to grow.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use this internally. If you have allergies to daisies or ragweed you should not use this at all.

Lambs Quarters/Wild Spinach - Lambs Quarters, also known as wild spinach, goosefoot, pigweed, good king henry, and fat hen, is considered by most gardeners as a weed, but is in fact is a highly nutritious and delicious plant that grows everywhere and is easy to identify.  It is nicer than common spinach because it is slow to bolt in the heat of summer, and because while tasting like spinach, it is even more nutritious. It can be cooked or eaten raw and the stems leaves and seeds are all edible. It can  also be frozen, canned or dried for later eating.  Lamb’s Quarters is a good survival food and can be found in yards, abandoned lots, fields, gardens, and along roads.  You can cut it off almost to the root, yet it comes up and starts leafing out again.

Dandelion-  Dandelion is another common yard weed that grows almost everywhere, including city lots and in the mountains.  I never dig up the dandelions in my yard but use them and also feed them to our rabbits.  We do not treat our yard with chemicals.  It is highly nutritious, and all parts are edible- including the roots which can be dried and used as a coffee substitute. It has been used as a diuretic and to cleanse the blood of toxins. The milk that comes when you cut the plant can be used on wounds and is highly effective to use on warts. I have used the milk on three of my children's warts and all three times it made them disappear naturally without pain or scarring.  It must be applied every day for a good month to the warts. A tea made from all parts of the dandelion is absurdly rich in nutrients and would be well utilized by those suffering from malnutrition.

Wild Onions - Wild onions are easy to identify because they smell like onions! They are considered a weed in many parts of the country, and they can be eaten like regular onions while being a healthy addition to the diet and are easy to dry for future use. They can be in yards or near places that have a constant water supply or good rain.

Pine Trees/Spruce Trees-  Pine trees are common all across the USA and several parts of the tree can be used both medicinally and nutritionally. The needles themselves are rich in Vitamin C and can be steeped in boiling water to create a tea to fight scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency), and they are also high in Vitamin A and beta carotene. Spruce tip tea or pine needle tea is useful to treat sore throat, cough, colds, and chest congestion. This is a very important survival food as it is so readily available and easy to find. The best tasting needles are young tender ones, but older needles work just the same nutritionally. Pine nuts that are found in pine cones are rich in calories, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals and are high in Vitamin K which helps stop bleeding.  The inner bark of pine trees is even edible but should only be used in an emergency because to get at it you kill the tree.

Pine Sap has many uses and is highly effective for use on wounds when mixed as a salve to prevent and treat infection. It is also used as a flu and cold treatment when mixed with honey or made into a tincture. It not only fights the infection inside but also soothes sore throats.

Chopped pine needles added to a hot bath can help with skin problems since they contain natural sulfur, they also sooth sore muscles and joints. Pine oil can be used by adding a few drops to boiling water and then breathing in the steam; there is evidence that it helps cure sinus infections, bronchitis, and breaks up mucus. Pine oil kills germs and can be used to clean surfaces during illnesses, although, it must always be diluted and never applied straight to skin. However, pine oil is a distilled product and must go through special processing and may not be easy to replicate after SHTF (although what a skill to have!) Use roughly chopped pine needles, with boiling water poured over, then cover your head with a towel over the bowl and breath deeply. Pine needles are also a natural flea and bug repellent and can be used to stuff beds and cushions to deter them.  The scent of pine is generally very calming.  Caution - Pregnant women should not use pine needle tea as there is fear it could cause miscarriage. There are three varieties of toxic pine, and it is highly recommended to learn how to identify and avoid them. They are Norfolk Island Pine, Yew, and Ponderosa Pine.

Crabapples - These are a variety of apple that are often overlooked as an edible fruit because they are unpleasant for fresh eating.  They are very good for cooking and if sweetened can be made into pies, jams, jellies, syrup, wine, pickled, and when mixed with other fruits dried in fruit leather.  They were mainly used by our forefathers as an addition to cider making as they added depth of flavor and a bit of tartness to the finished product.  There are many varieties of crabapple tree and the fruit can be quite large as they are grown for their pretty look.  They are grown in many yards and businesses as a decorative tree and the fruit is most often left to rot.  Most people I have asked are eager to let me pick off their trees since otherwise they eventually fall and have to be raked up.  They also can be found growing wild and in old orchards or farms. Crabapples are high in Vitamin C and make a pleasant tea when sweetened.  They have been used to treat urinary infections and can also be juiced to make cider vinegar which is one of the most healthy things you can make.  For the best flavor harvest after they have been frosted on.

Wild Plums - These are native to the USA and grow in all parts.  They are small and are usually a yellowish red color.  Wild Plums are a tasty fruit for fresh eating and are useful in making jam, jelly, syrup, pies, and pickles.  They are very high in Vitamin C and Iron.  Dried or fresh they are a good laxative and treat anemia.

Cattails - A well known wild food that grows in marshy or wet areas these are easy to identify.   All parts of the plant are edible in different seasons and have good food value.  The root can be pounded and applied to cuts and scrapes as a poultice.  As these always grown near or in water be careful of pollution.

Rhubarb - This is not necessarily a wild food but it is so common that noting where it grows is a good idea.  This plant comes back year after year for practically ever and you see it often in abandoned lots, old farmsteads, abandoned homes, or in peoples gardens.  Most people never use it and are happy to give away to those who will.  Harvesting in the spring is best when it is tender.  Rhubarb can be made into jam, sauce, syrup, put into pies, cakes, and breads and canned. Rhubarb is rich in B- complex vitamins such as foliates, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin B-6, thiamin, and pantothenic acid and good levels of Vitamin K.  It has been used to treat stomach problems.  The leaves are poisonous, only the stalks should be eaten.

Daylilies - These grow all over the US and in many places they grow wild or have taken over lots of land and gardens as they are hardy and invasive.  They are edible.  The shoots when young in spring can be cooked like asparagus or eaten raw, the flowers should be harvested in summer and can be fried like squash flowers, chopped and added to salads, and immature buds cooked like green beans.  The tubers can be gathered year round and cooked like corn.  They have been used to treat arsenic poisoning.

Nuts - There are so many trees that produce edible nuts that all I can recommend is that you get a good identification book and start looking around you.  Nuts are high in nutrition, healthy fats, and calories so they make an excellent survival food.  A couple of varieties that are overlooked by people are acorns and pine nuts found in pine cones.  Acorns have good food value but are bitter so most people avoid them, meaning that you will have more opportunity to gather them.  Learn how to process them to get out the bitterness.

Wild Strawberries-  Also known as Alpine strawberry, Common Strawberry, Mountain Strawberry, Pineapple Strawberry, Wild Strawberries, Wood Strawberry, Woodland strawberry. These grow prolifically all over the USA and although the fruit is very nice to eat (but tiny)  the leaves have great food value and have been used to treat diarrhea when made into a tea.  The leaves contain beneficial minerals and vitamins.  The root is also used to treat diarrhea.  These like shady places but also can grow in sunny clearings and fields..

Wild Violets -  The leaves and the flowers are edible and can be found growing in many yards and gardens where they are considered a weed.  They are purple-ish blue or white and can be found in the shade of forests or moist clearings.  They can be added to salads or cooked.  The medicinal uses are many and they make a lovely salve for irritated skin and rashes and also a tea can be made from the leaves and flowers to ease the pain of headaches and arthritis as well as to treat diarrhea. They appear early in spring and grow all summer long in the shade.  They are loaded with Vitamin A and C which makes them a good remedy for colds and flu.  The flowers can be added to jellies during the cooking stage and turn the liquid a lovely violet color.

Ferns -  Several fern varieties are edible and are often called fiddleheads, however care must be taken as there are also several non edible varieties that can cause mild to severe illness.  Invest in a good identification book or print many pictures out of edible varieties off the internet for better identification. These must be harvested in early to late spring. They are fried, steamed, sautéed, boiled, and pickled and are rich in Vitamin A and C.

Wild Greens - There are so many kinds that it would take a good sized book to describe them all and I highly recommend buying a field guide and searching them out.  Some that are common and worth investigating are mustard, watercress, stinging nettle, miners lettuce, sorrel, red clover,  and sweet coltsfoot.  Most greens are best harvested in the spring and early summer when they are tender and young.

Willow Tree - The willow tree has been used for thousands of years to treat pain. It grows in yards and woods across the United States. The bark of the tree, especially that of the White Willow tree is what as used and has the same actions of aspirin for treating pain and fever  Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of willow bark to 8 oz of boiling water and boil for 5 to 10 minutes.  Then turn off heat and allow to steep for 20 to 30 minutes more.  Drinking 3 to 4 cups throughout the day is recommended to be effective.  Gathering and drying the bark in spring summer and fall would be a good idea to have a store through winter. This is a real medication similar in its side effects to aspirin, it interacts with several drugs and can cause the same stomach problems as aspirin so research it well before use.  Pregnant and nursing women, and children under two should never use willow bark.

 Mints- Mints are not a really wild species but are so highly invasive once planted in a garden that they quickly spread and can take over vast tracts of land.  There are many varieties and just as many uses both as a food as well as medicinally. Mints are high in Vitamin A and spearmint in particular is high in minerals.  It is often used internally to treat stomach upset, headaches, body aches, reduce fever, for sore throats and cough, anti flatulence, and diarrhea.  Externally mint is an excellent insect repellent and can be use to treat lice, muscle aches, soothe insect bites, hair care, and vaginitis.  A simple tea is used internally and is quite pleasant, externally a similar tea can be made and cooled before application.

 Mushrooms -  Wild mushrooms can be very helpful both medicinally and nutritionally but great care must be taken as so many varieties are deadly.  I won't go into them here but invest in a good full color photographic field guide, and even then be careful! The only mushroom I feel very safe harvesting is morels because they are so distinctive and only have one similar species to contend with.  As my father said they look like a brain!

 Tree Saps -  There are several trees that produce edible saps that can be boiled down into sweet syrups.  Most commonly we think of the maple tree, and all maples produce sap although the sugar maple is the most well known and produces the highest volume per tree.  There are however several other trees that produce good sap for human use.  Pine trees are one but the sap is more for medicinal use than for pleasurable eating.  Birch, Walnut, and Sycamore all produce an edible sap for syrup making.  Obviously these are high in sugar content which equals calories.  As a caution only stick to the above or other documented non poisonous trees for sap.  Tree sap syrup has many vitamins and minerals making them a good survival food.

Wild Leeks Or Ramps - These are a leek or onion like bulb that are common throughout the United States in forested areas and grow often near streams or on hills.  The leaves when torn or bruised smell of onion or garlic so they are easy to identify.  The plant resembles lily of the valley.  These are found and harvested in the spring.  When harvesting only take half of what you find so they can continue to propagate.

Supplies For Harvesting - A good pair of boots and weather specific clothing, good identification books or literature, a small hand shovel, a good sturdy bucket/basket with a handle/or canvas bags, a knife for cutting, gardening gloves, a sidearm for meetings with predators of both the four-legged to two-legged kind.


Thursday, January 2, 2014


Today I have an update for you on my hydroponics adventures. The system has been up and running all season (April 20 - November 1) so there is a lot of information to be shared. The system currently includes 12 beds - 4 outdoors and 8 in a greenhouse - for a total surface area of 56 sq.ft (~ 5.5 m2). An in-depth description of the system was published last year on Survivalblog. I made only 1 substantial change since then and that is in the way the polyethylene drain pipes are connected to the beds. The connections need to be made with threaded nipples/tees otherwise the system will continually leak. You will need to put a threaded ring on the nipple before you screw it through the bottom of the bed into the tee. This allows proper stabilization of the connection. I made the ring by cutting a slice 1-1.5 threads deep off the tee which has more threads than you need anyway. If you collect the drain water in a gutter underneath the beds, you won't have this problem but then you have to clean the gutters at least once a month of algae growth.

Before I get to yield discussion and crop notes, there are a few points that I want to bring to your attention. Last year I mentioned some of my reasons for putting in a aquaponics system but I feel I should spend some more time on that. I know gardeners take pride in their craft and are trying to do the best they can under the circumstances; regardless if you are shooting for the biggest pumpkin, highest yield or favor an organic approach. I, too, have spend most of my life taking care of dirt gardens and trying something totally new and unknown can be a daunting exercise. Nevertheless as circumstances change we do well to re-evaluate our methods from time to time. Like most I have been told that survival is for fittest. This idea seems to go back to Mr. Darwin's trip to the Galapagos islands where he found lots of songbirds each of which was well adapted to a particular niche in the ecosystem. I should point out that I have reservations whether this observation justifies the 'survival of the fittest' ideas. It does if you define fittest as the best adapted individuals. If you define fittest as 'biggest bad*ss', I suggest Mr. Darwin's observations lean toward the opposite. At any rate, I decided to follow nature's lead and look for an approach to gardening that is more adaptable than a run-of-the-mill dirt garden. Hydroponics seemed to be the most promising approach because it can be adapted to almost any situation. In no particular order:

- A hydroponic or aquaponic garden has a much smaller footprint due to higher yields, longer growing season. - Easy to cover against frost or precipitation due to small footprint.

- Less work throughout the season. Once everything is growing you check the water level (add some if needed) and the fertilizer level (add some if needed). During hot weather I had to add water every day. Early summer and fall as little as once a week. Since my holding tank (which I also use to create manure tea) is located above the collection tank, most of the time that meant opening a valve and closing it again once the collection tank was full enough. - Relocating: I need about a day to dismantle the system and another two to put it back together when working alone.

- Legal problems: The desire of bureaucrats and big business is to control your life, including what you eat. As far as I know there are no laws specifically against gardening yet (use of heirloom seeds is debatable since a 1% contamination with GMO seeds could land you in legal trouble but if it gets to that point a small system is much easier to conceal.

- No decent/good land available: that's okay, I don't need any. Plants seem to thrive in just about any medium as long as its kept moist and aerated.

- Lower fertilizer usage due to no leaching by ground water / adsorption to soil.

- Decreased use of chemicals: quick growing healthy plants are better able to fend off attackers and soil borne diseases are eliminated. Plants also can't pick up chemical residue from the soil. Here you can read up on glyphosate and why you want to grow as much of your own food as you possibly can.

- Droughts/water shortages aren't a problem as the system gets by on 10-15% water usage compared to conventional crop raising methods.

- Climate warming: not an issue; might use a bit more water but plants can be easily shaded. - Climate cooling: more of an issue for me due to my location. Our growing season for a dirt garden is roughly May 20 - September 1. A drop in temperatures of 2C would probably shorten my season by several weeks and cause slower growth throughout the remainder, resulting in a number crops barely reaching maturity and definitely have lower yields. I do not have a lot of leeway as I already have to use short season varieties. Solar cycle activity and increased volcanic activity both say we are heading in this direction; recent presidential executive order notwithstanding.

- Power usage: I know there are people who believe that hydroponics takes a lot of energy but this is only true if you waste your energy in a poorly designed and/or run system. What you DO need is a reliable power supply i.e. photovoltaics. My system ran the entire season on a 60W panel and during May, June, July and early August the controller routinely disconnected the panel in the afternoon to prevent the batteries from overcharging. During October when we had cloudy weather for days on end battery voltage dropped to around 12.3V resting voltage but this is no cause for concern.

I will have more notes on the system itself later on but lets take a look at the crop results first:

Red beets - 5 lbs
Onions - 8 lbs
Turnips - 7 lbs
Potatoes - 5 lbs (mostly small tubers - lower ones showing wet rot)
Green beans - 4 lbs
Pole beans - 6 lbs (3 plants - slicing variety)
Tomatoes - 10 lbs (cherry type - 3 plants)
Tomatoes - 15 lbs (standard size - 3 plants)
Cucumbers - 48 (English cucumbers 8-10" long - 5 plants)
Soybeans - 13 oz (~ 370 gr)
Cauliflowers - 3
Cabbages - 6
Kale - 8 freezer bags
Peas - 8-10 pods/plant (mostly small peas)
Radish - 2 crops
Lettuce - May 25 - July 20 4/5 cuttings per week - October 1 cutting

All in all not too bad for 56 sq.ft but keep in mind that this year was reserved for testing. Just to find out what's possible and what doesn't work. That means I planted some crops in places where I expected them to fail - and I was right: some crops didn't thrive at all, bringing down the averages. For instance:

The red beets and lettuce were seeded besides tomato plants; as the tomato plants spread the beets and lettuce stopped growing once the canopy above them became too dense to let any light through. - onions and potatoes effectively got finished off by a mid-summer heat wave. They didn't die but stopped growing and never really looked healthy and fresh after that. For the potatoes I more or less expected this result but I had to put them inside the green house to be able to plant them early. -

Peas had similar issues with the heat though they were mostly mature by then.

Turnips spent most of their energy growing nothing but leaves until temperatures cooled down in September

The green beans were too close to the water and nearly succumbed to a fungal outbreak - growing cabbages indoors is a complete waste of space

Most of the other crops did really well (or better): direct comparisons of lettuce (before the tomatoes got too big), cauliflower, cabbages (outdoors) and soybeans suggest yields of 5x to 6x that of same variety plants in the adjacent garden. That doesn't mean that the cabbages/cauliflowers were 5x as big but they grew to normal size heads on 4x area density (1 plant/sq.ft vs 1 plant/4 sq.ft) and took a month less time to develop. Soybeans were seeded on the same day in the garden and in the system. The soybeans matured about a month later and yielded some 5.5x as much per sq.ft as the garden soybeans. For those of you familiar with soybean yields: due to our short season and low soil temperatures soybeans will mature but with rather low yields; this year's garden plot yielded the equivalent of 25 bu/acre even though they did get fertilized (but at lower rates then commercial recommendations). The hydroponics bed was seeded with roughly twice the beans per sq.ft and yielded on average larger size beans and more pods per plant. Also of note is the yield of the pole beans; a crop that I cannot grow in the garden because they usually start to bloom around the time of the first frost which leaves me with little to show for my efforts. Cucumbers do a bit better out in the open but yields are quite unpredictable because the weather needs to cooperate around the time the plants are maturing. Most years putting 5 plants in the garden will yield 10-12 cucumbers. If I want to count on more I need to start more plants. This year we had fresh cucumbers for about 6 weeks straight.

So why these big differences? I think there are a number of reasons: - water is more available to the plants and plentiful (not as much heat stress) - nutrients levels in the water are much higher - related to those: root systems are much smaller requiring fewer resources to build - average water temperature was higher than area soil temperatures

Following is a condensed version of the notes I took throughout the season. Seedlings. I had some real problems getting seeds of some crops started this spring. I now believe this was due to the seeds overheating. The top layer of the gravel beds gets much warmer than the top layer of soil when the sun hits it. Consequently the worst results came from crops seeded on sunny days. Seeds germinating in cloudy weather and in shaded areas did much better. I didn't actually bother to work smaller seeds into the 'ground'. They seem to settle into the spaces between the gravel particles well enough that they absorb whatever moisture is needed to get started.

Red Beets. Respectable crop even though even though they were put in the wrong place at the wrong time. Very sensitive to UV damage if grown under PVC panels. I will give them a better chance to strut their stuff next year.

Onions. Grow on coarse bed and limit flooding to avoid constantly wet bulbs. This leads to mold on outer skins. Should be planted in outdoor bed preferably facing north.

Radish. Very easy to grow all season. Can be seeded together with other crops between the rows since they are ready for harvest in 20-25 days.

Spinach. Plants bolted into seed before growing their 6th leaf. I may try seeding them in late August as a fall crop next year.

Cabbage/Cauliflower/Broccoli. Indoor beds: lots of leaves on long stalks but tiny or no heads. Outdoor beds: plants develop quickly with normal growth pattern.

Leek. Grows very fast - just not upright because stems can't support the weight of the leaves.

Rutabaga/Turnip. Lots of leaves all summer but no product. Roots started developing in late August as weather turned cooler. Will try again in outdoor beds next year.

Potatoes. Not a lot of potatoes produced mostly due to heat stress. However what I really wanted to know is if potatoes will grow vertically in layers or just at the base of the plant. On the internet I have seen a number of videos from people trying to grow them in enclosures with a small footprint but plenty of depth. Alas most show people building enclosures and planting crops but no harvest videos. I did come across a comment that pointed out this method only works with long season varieties of potatoes. In effect: use European varieties, not North American varieties. I managed to source a variety called 'Bintje' for my trial and indeed a number of tubers were growing directly out of the stems about 8 to 10 inches above the base of the plant. So it seems possible, though I don't see the enclosures as a useful solution in my current location because the growing season is simply too short. I put the left-over seed potatoes in my garden and got about 4 weeks worth of potatoes out of them. Bintjes are yellow fleshed and make very good tablestock potatoes.

Tomatoes. Very heavy feeders. Use lots of water when mature. I figure the 6 tomato plants consumed about half of all the water that I put into the system for the entire crop season. They also don't seem to compete well with other plants when small; once their root systems develop that disadvantage disappears. Canopies don't let any sunlight filter through.

Cucumbers. Grows along chicken wire and fence wires. Very open canopy: plants growing underneath didn't show any problems. Quick to show Mg deficiency.

Lettuce (leaf type). Very easy to grow: just put in seeds and wait for plants to grow. I did get 4-5 cuts from each plant whereas I am lucky to get 2 cuts from plants growing in the garden.

Peas. Did okay, but not better than plants in the garden. Like cucumbers its a good crop to plant along the edge of the beds because peas climb straight up along a wall and therefore take up very little space in the beds.

Pole beans. Use climbing supports. Quick to show Mg deficiency. Heat wave was rough on plants but they adapted in a few days and showed no lasting effects. I had the plants grow straight up about 20" and then spread out horizontally along a panel made of chicken wire. The three plants completely covered an area of 5 ft by 2 ft with an open canopy: didn't seem to adversely effect plants growing underneath it.

Short stemmed green beans. Yield was about the same we get in the garden. Grown in both indoor and outdoor beds with similar results though the indoor plants were more susceptible to disease: a white fungus causing both stems and beans to rot. Pole beans are much better for this environment.

Soy beans. Grown outdoors. Did very well. No diseases and excellent yield.

Hydroponics Setup

The heat exchanger panel is made from an old storm window and a piece of steel siding that I cut to the size of the window frame. The front of the steel was painted matte black and against its back I fastened a piece of 1" thick styrofoam. In between the window glass and the steel plates I put three pieces of black painted 1/2" copper pipe in parallel and running the length of the window. Tees and elbows connect these pipes to headers and water is pumped through them. This setup works surprisingly well and has no problems raising the system's water temperature into the 70s for most of the season. Water is pumped directly from the collection tank into the panel and the return line goes back into the collection tank. I am using a low volume (8 lpm / 125 gph) pump with the panel so pressure and energy use will stay low. Still this pump consumes more energy than the flood pump because it runs continually. For this reason the pump is only allowed to run if battery voltage is 12.6V or higher. The panel is also outfitted with a temperature sensor between the steel siding and the window. Its highest reading this summer was 90C (~195F). - The water temperature in the system closely tracked our soil temperatures. Though the heat exchanger would raise water temperature during the day, by the next morning it would drop again to around 60F in mid summer and lower in spring and fall. This could be due to the fact that the collection tank resides underground with just its top showing above ground. To curb heat losses I have dug up the tank this fall after the system was shut down and have insulated it with 1" thick styrofoam strips that were glued to the tank with polyurethane insulation foam. So next year I will find out if underground heat loss was really the culprit or that most losses come from low overnight air temperatures. - One thing about putting the tank underground (and painting its top black) is that it completely eliminates algae growth in the tank.

If possible put photovoltaic panel and heat exchanger panel on south side [in the Northern Hemisphere.] It is important that they can be turned to the sun early in the morning because in spring/fall there is less cloud cover at that time of the day. - Ideal slope of growth beds is slightly away from drainage hole to keep some extra water in the bed. - When using a 55 US gallon collection tank, the system should include no more than 16 beds to avoid running the pumps dry in hot weather when the most water is used. Max water use is around 10 seconds pump time per bed.

- The greenhouse is made of PVC sheets which seem to block all UV light, leaving the plants without any protection if the sun's rays happen to hit them. Exposure to the sun for about half an hour was enough to discolor leaves from green to yellowish green and stunt growth for approx. 4 weeks. The same thing happened to plants that I started indoors once they got transplanted outdoors. I have never seen this happen when starting plants behind glass. Some crops seem to be more susceptible than others and the problem can be avoided by exposing plants to direct sunlight for 15-30 minutes per day from the time they are seedlings. - Water pumps should be reliable. My main flood pump is a 12V bilge pump (1000 GPH) that has worked without a single glitch for 2 seasons now but I do have a backup pump on hand. Finding a low volume circulation pump for the heat exchanger has been more problematic as the cheaper pumps generally lasted only 6 weeks before gumming up / seizing up / burning up. I have settled on a soft start pump which has been up to the task for the second half of the season. As an added bonus the pump has built-in overload and dry-run protection.

- Underwater electrical connections need special attention because the growing solution is salty and slightly acidic and therefore very corrosive on solder joints. I found two approaches that work for more than a few weeks. A) pack the connection in a gasket forming material, slide heat shrink tubing over the connection and shrink it to create a very tight gasket around the wires. B) take a few inches of 1/4" copper tubing and squeeze it shut on one end. Put a few drops of molten wax or paraffin in the tube. Put your connection into the tube and fill it to overflowing with more molten wax. Let the wax solidify and put a piece of heat shrink tubing over the open end of the tube to protect the wax from mechanical damage. This approach works really well for sealing sensors.

Watering the plants. There are two important variables in an ebb and flow system. The quantity of water pumped into the beds each cycle and the time between floodings. The term 'flooding' should not be read as having water run over the growth medium. Plant roots are designed for moist environments - plant leaves and stems not so much. I set the valves and pump times so that you could just see the water rise between the pebbles at the time the pump shut off and this works very well. To automate the task one of the beds is outfitted with a float sensor which opens when the desired water level is reached.

Early season cycling (=time between floods) can be as long as three hours because seedlings do not seem to care for being flooded often and there will be plenty of moisture for them in the beds. Decrease cycle length to 70-90 minutes when plants start to grow. For mature plants use 30-45 minute base cycle. During cool weather (<60F) the base cycle is automatically doubled. In warm weather (heat exchanger temp. >90F) the cycle time was reduced to 20 minutes. In hot weather (heat exchanger temp. >110F) the amount of water pumped into the beds was increased by 25-30% to make sure the beds won't be sucked dry before the next cycle starts. If too much water gets pumped into the beds, the float sensor automatically shortens the next pump time to avoid overflows. At the onset of hot weather it is important to cover the roof with tarp to avoid overheating of plants because they are not yet used to high temperatures. It seems to take only 2-3 days for them to adjust though. Also provide for plenty of air circulation. Warm weather night time cycle was set to 1 hour otherwise beds can be sucked dry through evaporation causing plant wilting. Cool weather (<50F) night time cycles can be as long as 3 hours without measurable adverse effects.

As you may understand from the above, my goal is to pump as little water as possible without adversely impacting the crops. This is the key to low energy usage. Photovoltaics is an ideal fit to power the system because you need to pump lots of water on a hot summer day when the panel produces the most energy anyway. But on cold and dreary days the plants don't seem to be too interested in getting wet every 20 minutes.

It would be quite a chore to make so many adjustments but fortunately we have micro-controllers to do the dirty work. My current controller has a light sensor and a temperature sensor in the heat exchanger. From their readings it can figure out day/night and the type of weather. It adjusts the cycle times accordingly. To complete the picture: the controller uses the float sensor in the growth bed to check the main pump's operation and a water temperature sensor in the collection tank to run the heat exchanger pump. The photo-voltaic panel and battery are also actively managed (through a voltage sensor) to safeguard the crop as much as possible. And if any of the system's operating parameters goes out of bounds, the controller sounds the alarm which is rather re-assuring. Now, don't get me wrong: I understand the risks in going hi-tech. But the system can still run fine off a basic timer for the flood pump; its performance just won't be as optimized.

For most of the season I used rain water collected from the roof of the greenhouse as feedstock for the system. The water was collected into an old trashcan, tested and pumped into holding tanks if approved. Rain water quality was good most of the year. Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) levels approached those of de-ionized water (<10 ppm) and only once (end of June) did a cold front deliver elevated radiation levels. At twice background radiation it wasn't anything to worry about but I had plenty of water on hand so this got dumped.

Fertilizing. Plants need minerals to grow and the bulk of phosphorus and potassium came from 10-10-10 commercial fertilizer. Additional quantities would have come from the manure tea I used but how much is hard to quantify. 10-10-10 fertilizer was added by dissolving 3 handfuls in a pail of water and adding the solution to the collection tank. This was done once or twice a week as needed. Total quantity used for the season was about 10 lbs. As the plants got larger extra nitrogen was added in the form of 30-0-2 (golf green) - total quantity for the season about 3-4 lbs.

Since the system was started with plain tap water, I raised the fertilizer levels in the course of a few weeks to make sure the young plants' roots wouldn't get burned. Although a gradual rise is necessary when plants are used to low fertilizer concentration, it is quite a different story for seeds. In early August I put lettuce, radish and kale seeds in the beds while the system's TDS level was around 5000 ppm. Within 24 hours all of the seeds started pushing out their roots into the gravel and never looked back. Germination percentages were excellent.

This is all the more remarkable for lettuce which (according to commercial literature) has an upper limit of 800 ppm for fertilizer solutions. However in commercial operations lettuce is usually grown in beds floating on the fertilizer solution and its roots would be in constant contact with the water. I have to assume that ebb and flow systems work very differently from a plant's perspective because I have seen spikes up to 6500 ppm and the lettuce was growing very fast instead of dying off.

I was shooting for a fertilizer solution strength of around 4000-5000 ppm for most of the season. This worked well enough until the middle of July when I started to see strange readings to the point that I thought my TDS meter was broken. After a few days of more frequent testing I started to see the pattern: very high readings at sunrise that kept dropping throughout the day. For example 6470 ppm at sunrise -> 5250 ppm around 9 AM -> 4450 ppm at 7PM. Then it dawned on me that I had 2 beds of beans in the system, hosting lots of bacteria that were very busy fixing nitrogen and releasing nitrates into the water. To give you an idea of how much nitrate was added by the bacteria: if I dissolved 3 handfuls of golf green fertilizer (almost pure ammonium nitrate) in a pail and added them to the system, it would raise ppm readings by around 675-700 ppm. The large nitrate releases happened until the end of August, after which they started to get smaller (around 200 ppm swings by early October). The main thing is that the bacteria like warm water (70-75F); if the water temperature stays below that they work a lot slower.

Needless to say that some of the crops really took off at that time with tomatoes and cucumbers the biggest beneficiaries. This also resolved one of my biggest concerns: in case commercial fertilizer becomes unavailable, using manure tea will work fine for phosphorus, potassium and most other required elements but dry manure is very deficient in nitrogen; the very element that regulates plant growth. You could use fresh liquid manure which still retains a large portion of its nitrogen but that is rather messy. Instead I will just plant more beans!

Tomatoes and cucumbers showed signs of magnesium deficiency early on so this element was added to the solution from time to time and no more problems were encountered. A good source of magnesium (and sulphur) is Epsom salts (MgSO4.) Kelp extract and ocean salt were added to provide some additional trace elements, however I have no way of knowing if the system would have been deficient without the additions.

If you are interested in how well balanced your plants diet is, you should get a piece of software called Hydrobuddy. Its free to download and comes with its own database of plant nutrient requirements for many crops and chemical analysis of a lot of commercially available fertilizers. You can also add your own concoctions to the database provided you have some idea of their chemical analysis. You can tell the program how much fertilizer, manure, blood meal, etc. you use on which crop and it will tell you how well balanced your crop's diet is on all important nutrients and trace elements.

And don't forget to get your own TDS meter while you are at it. They sell for about $8 and are worth every penny if you want to get a feel for what is going on. Another thing I should mention in case you haven't already done so: it is still very easy to find good pictures of nutrient deficiencies and diseases in crops on the internet. You probably should download some for future reference.

Corn trial. I also tried growing several varieties of flour corn in the garden this year. Only the short season varieties properly matured - no surprise there. But I will highlight 2 varieties that stood out. Bloody butcher was the only variety that withstood high wind gusts without needing additional support (i.e. getting blown over). However its borderline feasible at this location as it barely reached maturity and that only thanks to warm fall weather. Mandan Red Clay stood out in two ways: the plants looked miserable all summer, barely growing to 3 ft high with lots of tillering. Nevertheless they managed to grow 6"-8" cobs with 8 rows of large kernels that fully matured. That produces a well above average yield-to-total-biomass ratio which may come in handy some day. Red Clay does not like cramped quarters; in narrowly spaced rows a high percentage of plants did not grow any cobs.

Next year's plans. With blind testing out of the way, next year's plans are taking shape. First up is to try to get the system up and running around April 1. Inside the greenhouse I will focus on growing leafy vegetables like broadleaf lettuce, swiss chard, endive and purslane. Radish and cucumbers will also be grown inside and I would like to try some pepper plants just to see what happens. Onions, turnips and red beets will move to the outdoor beds.

I also plan to add 4 more outdoor beds that are spaced farther apart then the current beds. This is not a problem: I just need to add a few extra yards of polyethylene pipe between them. The reason for this is that I think I can grow a 10ft x 12ft patch of pole beans over top of a single bed. I could let the beans grow vertically but the terrain is rather open and susceptible to wind gusts so I prefer low to the ground solutions. The same is true for my tomatoes and cucumbers, though I know the plants are willing climbers.

Pole beans and cucumbers happily grow along some baler twine, but for tomatoes I prefer something more solid like chicken wire or lattice to cope with the weight of the growing fruits. Its not that your baler twine breaks but it will cut through the stems. Tomatoes may get their own bed or I can take a panel from the side of the greenhouse and simply let them grow 'through the wall'. One of the nice things about a hydroponics system is that you don't have to worry about crop rotation so I can select the bed that is most suitably located for a specific crop and build the required infrastructure around the bed without having to change it each year.

I also plan to add strawberries to the mix. The plan is to grow them in 5" flower ports that are located in a piece of eaves-through where the water flows through. The eaves-through will be suspended about 18" above the existing beds. Of course I have to get the plants through the winter first: most of them are currently located in a hole in the ground that is covered with clear plastic and snow, so we'll see how many survive.

And finally I would like to put in a good word for our pollinators. You are probably aware that they, too, are having a tough time surviving. Not just commercial hives but the wild ones as well. For any open pollinated crop that starts out with flowers, you really need them if you want to see any harvest at all. And so there are some things you want to do that are good for both your local pollinators and your crops. - Help out the pollinators by growing nectar producing flowers in the vicinity of your vegetable garden. - Make sure that local pollinators put your garden on their map early. - Avoid use of hazardous chemicals on your veggies as much as possible.

There is quite a bit of information available on what plants attract pollinators but most of those plants are annuals (at least in this neck of the woods) that bloom rather late in the season. Which is no doubt helpful but I want flowers that bloom before my crops. That way pollinators will know where to come looking when I need them. There are plants that bloom early and that seem to provide lots of food. We have two of them around here that are not very common but work out really well. One is a small plant called a grape hyacinth. Its lavender colored flowers look like a bunch of tiny grapes growing upside-down. Time wise it blooms between crocuses and tulips, anywhere from 5 to 14 days depending on temperatures. That is just the time bees and other insects emerge from their winter quarters and they really appreciate some fresh food. These plants require no special care but you have to let the foliage die naturally in summer if you want the bulbs to grow and multiply. Replant the bulbs every third year to avoid overcrowding as they grow few flowers in that situation. The second one is called Angel Wings (Rosa chinensis). These are miniature roses that start flowering late May/early June and for a few days make your garden smell like a rose garden. They continue flowering into fall with ups-and-downs depending on the prevailing weather. Pollinators are strongly attracted to these plants: you can hear the buzz when walking past the garden. Unlike real roses the plants are disease resistant, carefree (except for yearly pruning of dead wood with leather gloves) and very hardy: ours have survived -10F without protective cover on multiple occasions.


Saturday, November 30, 2013


When I wrote my first article for SurvivalBlog back in July, I thought I covered about everything I knew or wanted to say about gardening.  As I have worked in my garden over the past few months, I’ve realized how much more there is to gardening and how a garden changes with the seasons.  Perhaps with the exception of August, something is happening every month in a Desert Southwest garden.  The salsa garden goes through many changes as it morphs from summer salsa garden to winter salad garden.  Each year there are new surprises in October and November as some vegetables are harvested and others are pulled and new plants put in their place.  Autumn temperatures have been especially warm here this year, but the evenings have finally been cooling down so the plants can rest and respirate at night. 

Last year at this time I had many ripe tomatoes, but because it stayed hot longer this year the tomatoes took longer to come back so all of the tomatoes are small and green right now.  Some of the Romas are getting big.  I hope the weather will hold long enough to let them ripen.  One surprise this fall was the green peppers.  They did well in the spring and summer, bur have really come on this fall.  Every plant has multiple, beautiful peppers, some of which I’ve used fresh and some I’ve chopped up and frozen.  Bell peppers are great in fried rice, stir fry, sweet & sour, or stuffed and steamed.  Chopped up smaller they are excellent to have on hand for egg scrambles, quiche, and omelets.  One of my favorite uses of green peppers is to slice long, thin strips and use them as dippers, along with carrots, on a veggie platter.  The jalapeno peppers have done exceptionally well this fall as well.  A little jalapeno goes a long way.  That being said, too many were planted this year.  Next year the jalapeños will be cut back to two plants only.  The Swiss chard and Chinese cabbage are doing well and will keep greens on the table until the other lettuces and spinach come on.
A new garden box (see previous post on how-to instructions) was added to the others this fall.  It’s planted entirely with onions.  A shallow, but long spinach box was also added to the others because spinach has replaced lettuce in many of our salads.  Other new plantings include garlic, elephant garlic, dill, basil, chives, carrots, beets, radishes, okra, lettuces, and Chinese cabbage.  There wasn’t room for peas or broccoli this fall since so much space is still being taken up with peppers and tomatoes.  Peas will be attempted in January.  The timing may be wrong, but it won’t hurt to try.  Okra is out of season and should be planted in the spring, but I had to try it anyway.  I only planted four plants and there are still many seeds left to be planted seriously in the spring.  I just wanted to see what the plants look like and how they come up.

One activity that was done this fall, but should have been taken care of long ago, was to sort seeds by season and store them in water proof containers in the refrigerator.  Previously seeds have been stored here and there at room temperature without any kind of inventory.  Now lists of each container are placed on the outside and spring seeds are stored in one container and fall seeds are stored in another.  There is also a separate container for herbs and flower seeds.  Seeds that can be planted in both seasons (such as radishes and carrots) are stored in both containers.  I now have a much better idea of what we have and what we need for the upcoming season.  I’ll order seeds in December from Native Seed Search (making sure that the desert seeds are ordered and not the mountain seeds!).
 In January I’ll start heirloom tomato seeds and pepper plants indoors near the south facing French doors.  My gardening friend has already started his tomato plants in his greenhouse to get nice and big before he sets them outdoors in the spring.  I’ll also root some sweet potatoes from the grocery store in canning jars using toothpicks and water.  Sweet potatoes like it warm, but shady with lots of water.  They will do well under my Elm tree.  I’ve had pretty good success with sweet potatoes in the past.  As long as they don’t get too much sun, and have plenty of room to spread out, just plant and water and leave them alone.  When it’s time to harvest, just dig them up and store in a cool, dry place.

Another autumn activity (pruning takes place in the spring as well) is to cut some branches off the large Elm tree that shades part of the garden.  The shade from this tree helped the tomatoes survive the summer heat.  During the winter (not yet, but soon) the Elm will lose its leaves so the three garden boxes shaded by it during the summer will get more sunlight.  Then, as it gets hotter in the spring, the new leaves will grow in and protect the plants from too much sun as the temperatures soar.  The other beds, which haven’t got a shade source, require sun screens later in the growing season.  Cutting some of the branches in the fall also helps to open up the garden area and give more hours of sunshine to the plants.  The pruned branches are cut into about one and a half foot lengths and stacked on pallets as a small wood pile.  These smaller branches are perfect to use in volcano and rocket stoves.  I need to make a cover for the woodpiles to protect them from our infrequent, but heavy rain storms.  This has been brought to my attention over the past two days.  More rain fell in two days than during the entire monsoon season this year.  The water for my garden has been wonderful.  Weeds will now become an issue.

One of my favorite surprises as I have gardened is to talk to and encourage other people to start gardening.  At work I told one man about my garden and he told me how much he liked fried green tomatoes.  I brought him some green tomatoes from my garden.  He got so excited about planting a garden that he took some classes and started his own.  The garden was so prolific that even being gone on vacation for a month this summer, he came back to a jungle in his backyard!  He has now surpassed me in his knowledge and success with his garden.  He brought me beautiful eggplants which I made into eggplant parmesan.  Recently, I brought jalapeños to work and asked who would like some.  Many co-workers took some home or just put them on their salads for dinner.  One man made guacamole with fresh cilantro, avocados, lime, tomatoes, onions and seasoning which he shared with all of us.  It was delicious!  Work has almost become a mini co-op with people bringing in produce to show off and share from their gardens.  As we talk of gardening and what we are going to try next, or how our plants are doing, others listen in and decide to try gardening, even if they haven’t been successful with it in the past.  I try to encourage them to do as much as they can. They should look at gardening differently than they have in the past, especially if they are from Northern states where the seasons are different. 

Any success is a step in the right direction when it comes to gardening.  The goal is to grow 25 to 35% of your own food.  A small or medium size yard just can’t produce enough grains, potatoes, etc. to completely feed a family.  A large lawn can easily be replaced with fruit trees and vegetables.  My gardening friends tell me that they produce about 10% of their total food consumption each year.  Mine is probably less than that, but even so, I relish that 7 or 8% because the things that I produce will help me ward off food fatigue in times of need.  Those peppers and onions, greens and beets will make a big impact on daily rice or soup consumption.  I can change up the menu with just a few added ingredients.  Every little bit helps.

Another important thing that I’ve thought about lately with gardening is my hands.  Taking care of your hands is very important always, but especially if a survival situation were to happen.  A small wound could be life threatening if infected.  I ripped a fingernail part way off one day while sewing and found it to be painful and annoying.  It bothered me during all my tasks whether working in the garden or around the house.  A friend taught me a neat trick if fingernails rip part way off.  Use tea bag material and super glue it to your nail/finger.  It will act almost like a silk wrap and keep your nail from falling all the way off.  Keeping fingernails short and clipped smoothly is important as well as always wearing gloves while working in the garden.  Tools should be used to make tasks easier and take the strain off your hands.  Gloves help prevent blisters, although sometimes they can’t be avoided.  Always clean and dress wounds immediately.  Another trick to deal with wounds is to super glue the edges of a cut together. This keeps germs out of the wound while it’s healing.  Two people may need to help you do this, especially if the cut is bleeding.  Calluses may begin to form on your hands or cracked skin may be a problem.  I’ve found that a product called Bag-Balm works much better than regular lotion to sooth work roughened hands and helps cracks heal faster.

In addition, a great source of information is the internet.  My gardening buddy from work said he was going to start a pallet garden.  A friend was giving him a bunch of pallets and he thought he could improve (tame) the jungle with some pallets.  I was unfamiliar with this, so I looked it up on-line.  Pallets can be taken apart and the wood used to build garden boxes such as the ones in my garden (although smaller in size because the pieces of wood are smaller), or the pallet can be put on top of loosened, rich soil and seeds planted in the spaces between the slats.  This keeps the seeds evenly spaced, gives the growing plants some support, keeps weeds down, gives the gardener a place to walk, and shades the growing plants along with keeping moisture in the ground.  Also from the internet I learned how to make my tomato plants produce more.  It has to do with pinching off the lower leaves and the small shoots that come out between the main stem and the branches.  I think I did this without knowing it to my pepper plants and that’s why they are doing so well.  I can’t wait to try it on my tomatoes next year.  If yields are low or you have a question of any kind, there is so much information out there.  Just search by topic to find the answers.

My fall garden is growing well.  Carrots, onions, beets, radishes, and garlic, which were planted the beginning of October, are all up and growing well.  Now the garden must be prepared for winter.  We do have some freezing temperatures here, but the ground has never frozen (that I’m aware of).  The greens, carrots, onions, garlic, and herbs should be fine as they are.  I will mulch them with the Elm tree leaves when they fall.  The beds with the peppers and tomatoes will need to be covered when the temperatures dip.  I’m working on some sewn covers for the garden boxes because sheets or other fabric used in the past have come off the plants and blown away. Ordering seeds, planting starts indoors, and planning next season’s additions (apple trees, grapes and raspberries, moving the artichoke plant so that it has more room to grow) are all part of winter gardening tasks.  In addition, I’ll be harvesting greens and protecting plants in the garden so they can thrive in the spring.

If you haven’t tried gardening, I encourage you to give it a try.  Plant some seeds indoors this winter in preparation for the warm weather.  Choose a space where you can grow a garden and prepare the soil.  If you already have snow on the ground and it’s too late this year, plan a garden on paper and begin in the spring.  Do everything in your power to be self-sustaining.  Talk to other gardeners and learn all you can.  It’s a worthwhile use of time and will pay off in the future as food prices continue to skyrocket or even worse…don’t procrastinate, now is the time to learn to survive.  You can do it!


Friday, November 8, 2013


Have you been thinking about leaving the crowded city and moving to a retreat? Perhaps you are weighing many factors, finances, age, leaving friends and family, and work.  But the most important factor you should weigh, is the answer to the question, “If the SHTF, can we survive here?”  If the answer is no, then take the leap and move!  We did! 

We sold our San Diego house and finally landed in Washington state, on the west side of the Cascades.  We aimed for the Redoubt, but due to work constraints we could not make that work for us.  So, last November, we closed escrow on our new 20 acre retreat in the country with rich soil, good rainfall, and a good well. It is in a farming community. 

After jumping in with both feet, I will tell you up front that if your plan is to escape to a retreat at the last minute, I strongly urge you to reconsider.  There is a big learning curve to retreat living, mistakes to make and plans to rethink.  If there is anything you take away from this article, I want it to be that message:  you need to get established first and practice your new skills. For example, this past first year I had to learn the growing season of the area, the problems with tomato blight, how to drive a tractor without killing myself, what works for purifying our water and more.  Because TEOTWAWKI has not happened yet, I have had time to sort out and buy seeds that will actually grow in my microclimate.  And when I drove my tractor under a big limb with the roll bar up, and the limb came crashing down on my neck, I was still able go to the doctor to make sure I didn’t crack my vertebrae.  Yes, I learn some things the hard way, and I am trying to learn what I can now before there is no medical care.  Mistakes made now are salvageable for the most part.  They are not so salvageable after TEOTWAWKI.  Move to your retreat soon if you decide this is for you.  Learn your sustainability skills and practice, practice, practice!

This first year, my life activities were dictated by the seasonal changes.  Almost everything I did depended on what season it was, planting, harvesting, canning, etc.  Even my indoor activities, sewing my quilts, organizing my pantry, etc, were driven by rainy days when I didn’t need to be outside.  Please keep in mind, I lived in a city all of my life.  And where I came from, it was, “Rain?  What’s that?”  I have never had to cut my own firewood, grow my own food sustainably, raise chickens or drive the aforementioned tractor ever before.  My association with seasons had to do with what kind of holiday decorations to put up. This is a big change for my husband and me.

November and December were very rainy months when we were moving in.  My husband travels quite a bit, so I spent several of those first days alone in the new house watching the rain outside and asking myself, “What have we done?”  It takes a sense of adventure and a lot of faith to take a leap like this, and you may ask yourself the same question, but take heart, it gets better.  I met one set of neighbors fairly quickly when they dropped by to say hi, and with their help I organized a housewarming for the other neighbors.  They also introduced me to a good Bible church nearby.  I got to know pretty quickly who were going to be the reliable friends, who was knowledgeable about growing a garden and canning and who knew the most about what was going on in our valley.  We also spent the winter learning what needed to be improved for our situation.  We lacked a wood burning stove, and once we installed it we learned how much firewood we used month to month in the cold months.  This first year we had to buy firewood.  The wood burning stove does a great job keeping the house warm and I think it is more comfortable than central heat.  I spent a lot of time unpacking and organizing these two months and finding out what needed to be replaced.  I had already created a modest stockpile of food, largely in part from the LDS Cannery in Reno when we were living there temporarily. (See my previous SurvivalBlog article: Visits to a LDS Cannery.)  I inventoried our supplies and went into town to stock up on many other items.  Some of those purchases included new cooking utensils, and cast iron items like a dutch oven and griddle that would fit on top of the wood burning stove.  I cooked on it a couple of times with the dutch oven just to know I could do it if needed. Referring to my own lists, I stocked up on OTC meds, toiletries, batteries, toilet paper, extra heirloom seeds and many other items. I also used this time to start buying canning jars and lids, including some of the reusable Tattler lids.  My philosophy in buying these so early was that I didn’t know when the supply line could end, and by harvest season I would still need them.  I bought more canning jars on sale later when canning season came around in July and August. Shopping was something I could do in the winter and it helped me learn my way around.

We also looked at our water situation. Our well produces drinkable water IF you close your eyes and imagine it isn’t really orange and turbid.  So we considered a plan to purify it and again after a couple of mistakes, we went with a peroxide treatment, coupled with water softening and reverse osmosis for drinking. We decided to store extra peroxide and salt for the future.  If we run out, the water is still safe to drink and can also be filtered with our Katadyn filter if it becomes too objectionable. I will discuss our well and electricity later in this article.

In January, I contacted a local nursery and had a long conversation with their expert on orchards.  I knew the bare root planting season was approaching.  Many nurseries place their orders for the next year’s trees around November so I wanted to find out what varieties they were going to carry and what was recommended.  I ordered 55 fruit trees of several varieties, paying particular attention to what trees best pollinate each other. I ordered semi-dwarfs in five varieties of apples, two varieties each of pear, Asian pear, cherries and plums. One other reason for ordering different varieties has to do with crop lost due to freeze.  If some trees bloom slightly later or earlier and a freeze hits, you may have some blossoms spared and still get fruit.  I neatly laid out the orchard to have roughly 15 feet between trees running southeast and southwest, with about 22 feet (hypotenuse) north and south.  One of my neighbors owned a tractor with a post hole digger and volunteered to start the tree holes for us.   Simultaneously, he dug post holes for the new fence. The nursery also had organic compost which they dumped into the back of my truck.  Twice I brought home a load of compost for planting and shoveled it out of the back of the truck into the orchard.  Because these weren’t muscles I was practiced in using, I developed a repetitive motion injury on one arm.  That was the last of my shovel use for a couple of months and was glad I had medical care still.  Come February and March, my husband planted the trees and we threw in a few extra varieties from the home improvement store.  The trees from the nursery did grow in very well!  Some of the trees actually produced this year to our surprise. But the home improvement store varieties had some mortality. If I was doing it again, I would buy only nursery trees. The nursery trees appeared to be older, sturdier and more suited to our area and were worth the few extra dollars.   We also took the opportunity to plant a few walnut trees strategically to lessen the view of the house when they grow up and to provide a good source of Omega 3. 

In March, we installed a six foot tall, 7-wire electric fence around the orchard.  We chose this fence configuration due to it’s success in controlling deer and elk in numerous studies.  We installed wood posts in the corners of the orchard, and between corner posts we used non conductive fence posts.  Of the seven electrified strands on the fence, five are 12.5 gauge high tensile wire, and two are white Gallagher Turbo Poly Wire strands.  The white Poly Wire placed higher on the fence improves fence visibility, which we hope will reduce the chance of an animal trying to run through it.  All strands are charged by a Parmak Magnum 12 solar fence energizer.  The battery keeps the fence charged day and night, even after weeks of clouds and rain. We were told by a local to mix molasses and peanut butter and put it on the fence to train the deer about the electricity.   Thus far, it has been 100 percent effective, and we have been able to keep out the two legged creatures as well, though I suspect in TEOTWAWKI this would not be much of a deterrent. 

April was the month for chickens, garden and a tractor.  Let’s start with the newly purchased tractor.  When it was delivered, we were taught how to operate it and I insisted on being the first to drive it!  With the instructor there, I took off with it around the yard with the brush hog going and had a little fun with it.  It was helpful to have him there to ask questions.  My husband got his turn and the rep left.  I pretty much took it as my job to use the tractor when something needed to be done as my husband isn’t always home.  For the most part, I did pretty well with it mowing around the house and in the orchard between the trees. Then there were two incidences that put a dent in my confidence.  The first incident was with the tree limb I already mentioned.  The latest incident involved me destroying the engine of the tractor.  I was removing fence posts with the bucket and mowing along side the road where the new electric fence is going for next years cattle.  I missed pulling one of the posts and not seeing it, I ran the tractor up on that post.  It went through the radiator and the oil filter.  Although I stopped the tractor after getting it off the fence post, the sudden loss of oil and coolant quickly overheated the engine and resulted in it needing a complete engine replacement.  I am lucky we bought tractor insurance, and TEOTWAWKI has not happened and I can recover from my mistake.  But I will say again, if you are planning to go to a retreat after SHTF, then you will not have the luxury of insurance or doctors being there for you while you learn from mistakes.  If you were already at your retreat, you could be learning these lessons now, not later.  My lessons learned about tractors:  (1) put the roll bar down to drive under trees, or cut the lower branches on trees, or do not mow under trees at all. (2) Back into tall weed areas with the brush hog, don’t drive over those tall weed areas engine first in case there’s something you can’t see (3) tractor tires have better traction going forward than backwards because of the [tread] design of the tires (4) wear a hard hat and hearing protection (5) don’t drive into a steep area sideways if you don’t want to roll your tractor (6) insurance can be a wonderful thing for your tractor! Yes, I will get on the tractor again, but with some added knowledge on tractor safety.  But, if you see me driving the tractor, you still might want to stand clear!

Late April, I also picked up my first chickens.  I had placed an order with a fellow who was a specialized breeder and was starting to think he wasn’t going to come through with the order.  So, I grabbed some different varieties at a co-op we had joined.  The co-ops here typically carry chicks until the end of April and I was afraid I would lose my opportunity to get chicks this year. Ok, you can laugh, I had the chicks inside in a box in a spare bedroom.  I didn’t have my coop set up yet and had to keep them warm, too.  The home improvement store sold me a shed which was constructed on our land, but I laid vinyl and my husband insulated it and finished it off inside.  He cut a small chicken sized door to the outside, where I had built the cage part of their coop with a screen door.  As my chickens got bigger, I was happy to get them out of the house.  I moved them into the coop and placed wood chips on the floor which I change out regularly.  Then I got a call from the breeder and now he had chickens for me.  It was too many chickens, but since I like to hold up my end of the bargain, I took them. Many of them were roosters, so I learned how to butcher a chicken as they got older.   If you are not too keen on butchering a lot of roosters, you may want to buy only the chickens you need from the co-op. Usually the co-op sells pullets (the females) but most likely you will get a rooster or two in the mix.  I will not go into methods of killing chickens, I’m still a little sensitive about that experience. But, for removing feathers without messing up the skin (after they are dead, of course), dunking them about four times in hot water at about 160 degrees F seemed to work best for me.  I butchered a total of eleven roosters and now have that skill in my repertoire.  What is left is what I consider a healthy number of chickens for my setup.  I have heard that you need about 4 square feet per chicken, which proved about right for me.  I do not free range my chickens because I want to protect them from predators and know where they are laying their eggs.  I’ve set aside extra food for them now that they are on a laying feed.  I have two roosters that get along well with each other in addition to my 13 hens.  One problem I nipped in the bud pretty quickly was some periodic aggression by both roosters towards me.  Each time, I grabbed the offending rooster and held him upside down by his legs for awhile to show him who’s boss.  Neither rooster attacks me anymore.

Let’s talk about the garden:  I count it a huge success to have just started a garden this year. Early April, I had started some seeds inside for transplanting into the garden.  Another neighbor came by with a tiller and cut an area 40 by 100 feet, where I had laid out tarps in advance to presumably kill the vegetation.  This was going to be the size of my garden.  We did a second tilling at the end of April. Early May, I started putting in my garden.  I planted a few rows a day and had most of the garden planted.

Then everything came to a screeching stop.

With all the recent talk about appendicitis on SurvivalBlog, my poor 56 year-old husband came down with it!  All the while, I kept thanking God for letting it happen when it wasn’t TEOTWAWKI and he wasn’t traveling. It was a very scary experience as his appendix had become gangrenous, and after surgery he was on IV antibiotics for several days.  I was terribly scared I would lose him. He is normally a very healthy, fit man.  He recovered more slowly than we anticipated, in part to his inability to sit still and rest. It was the first time I had faced the prospect of losing my husband and it still rattles me.  It also brought me to thinking about how absolutely difficult it would be to continue the work we were doing without him especially in TEOTWAWKI.

The days sitting in the hospital and then caring for him at home, the garden weeds got further ahead of me and some of my planted vegetables disappeared underneath them. The weeds looked just like the beets and spinach that was mixed in there. I didn’t fight the weeds too hard; victory was theirs.  But, I still decided to call my garden a success.  It was a big accomplishment to start a garden and have an area dug up for future gardens. I used heirloom seeds and was able to collect some seeds from the plants at the end of the season.  I did get food out of it, including green beans, cabbage, squash, corn and potatoes.  I had enough green beans for several canning sessions, and dug enough potatoes for my back to hurt.  The potatoes have gone into root storage as I have a chilly basement. I froze plenty of corn. It wasn’t the prettiest of gardens, but yes, I am calling it a success.

So in July, August and September, I did lots of canning.  Remember the big orchard we planted?  Well, we discovered we already had several mature fruit trees on the property! Surprise!  Apples, pears and plums came in and along with the garden vegetables, I was canning a lot.  I have a friend here who has canned for years, who was also gracious enough to give me lessons and recipes.  I found two canning books helpful, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, and Canning for a New Generation. The latter has some wonderful recipes (spiced pears!) Yes, this is my first year canning, too. I made sauerkraut from my cabbage, adding caraway seed to it when I transferred it to canning jars.   Learning to can has probably been the most valuable part of the year for me.  Why?  Not only have I learned how to preserve my harvest for the winter months, but in practicing it I have learned what my husband and I actually like to eat and store more of the extra ingredients needed for those recipes.  For instance, the spiced pear recipe we like uses whole cloves and whole cinnamon sticks, so I have stored more of those.  If you are planning to can food in TEOTWAWKI, wouldn’t you like to know what really tastes good and works for you?  Some people have a very common genetic trait called “geographic tongue” that makes them extra sensitive to acidic foods like pickles canned in vinegar.  Is someone in your family sensitive to hot, spicy or acidic foods? Practicing your canning now will help you to sort out preferences and store the right ingredients.

In June, I purchased a Dakota Alert system that would monitor four areas and placed the monitors around the property at access points.  I know when someone is approaching the house, and sometimes know when the deer are going through an access point.  I do not get too concerned at every alert right now and familiarization with the alert may have desensitized me somewhat for when it goes off.  I know the time may come when I will need to seriously heed every alert I receive.

It’s now the first of November.  Hunting season is in swing in our locale and I am looking for that extra meat to put away.  As I am still learning the area and not up to speed on how to hunt this location, it is yet another thing I have to learn.  The deer that used to wander into our yard previously seem to know I am ready for them.  A successful hunt will mark the end of our self-reliance cycle for this year.  I was fortunate to have experience in hunting and butchering before the move.

So to continue about our water and power, this is not a complete project yet.  On a vacation to a jungle lodge a few years back, we noticed they ran their generator two hours a day to do their essential tasks.  Then the remainder of the time, the batteries supplied power to lights and a water pump.  We decided we would like to run a generator on one hour a day or less. During that time, we could run a washer, charge batteries and refill our home water tank.  We are on liquid propane for some appliances (stove top and oven, dryer), but a small electric current is needed as part of the operation as well.  So, we calculated the loads for our essential items, and bought a generator that will accommodate those loads while providing a charge to a battery bank.  Obviously, we think our water supply is the most critical.  We get our water from a well, which pumps it to a 300 gallon water storage tank in our basement.  From there it is pumped to our house fixtures by a 240 volt Gould pump.  Without AC power, we have no water.  We watched the National Geographic movie “Blackout” earlier this week, and it was ironic that we lost our power only minutes after the movie ended, but only for about an hour.  During that time, there was some remaining water pressure in the lines, but not enough to take a shower or flush a toilet.  So in addition to the generator, inverter and deep cycle batteries, we ordered an RV water pump (powered by a deep cycle battery) and are installing it in parallel with our main house water pump.  It is a fairly simple installation, but it required adding a one way valve on the output of the house water pump to prevent back flow.  This should give us water 24 hours a day. Based on a fuel flow chart for our generator, at roughly a gallon an hour for a full load, in 365 days we can go almost a year on our 364 gallon diesel tank, if it is full.  We try to run through the fuel to keep it fresh and keep some Pri-D in it to help preserve it. Once we have our set up complete, it will be tested with others in our group to see how this works and how we can trim back use of the generator.  If during that one hour a day, tasks are assigned to start the washer, cook a meal, take showers, operate a power tool, etc. then that’s not too bad.  Perhaps we can trim the electric chores to 45 minutes a day, or even 30 minutes a day with some good choreography.  I have timed the washer cycles and can wash a speed load in 28 minutes.  A wood drying rack in the same room as my wood stove does an excellent job of drying garments.  Who knows?  With some adjustments, and the addition of solar panels to help charge our inverter batteries, we may be able to go 2 or more days between operating the generator and stretch a tank of diesel for two years. Practice will tell us what works and what needs fixing. Once fuel runs out, we can still hand wash clothes, filter water, etc.  Some fuel will be retained for the tractor use and we are considering a second diesel tank. We will be working on a rainwater collection system later on and buying a hand pump for the well.

A note for the women:  I spent many years in a nontraditional job hearing how “a woman can’t do this”and “a woman can’t do that”.  If you hear it enough times it becomes easier to believe and as a result, we may not try to do certain tasks.  Yes, we may not be as strong as a man overall, but we know how to work smarter, not harder.  Think about this:  if your husband dies before or during TEOTWAWKI and it is up to you and only you, do you think it would have been beneficial to try some of those “man” things while he was still alive just to learn how to do it? I took this as my challenge this year to step up and try those things my husband would typically do.  I decided this year to use the chainsaws, use the log splitter, work with the tractor, run wire for the electric fence, and build the chicken cage and other things.  Trust me, I am married to a talented man who makes those chores look easy and he could do it all. But after his appendectomy, I kept thinking, ‘What if?”  I know I did the best I could this year and I challenge you to do the same especially if you have youngsters who depend on you should their Dad pass away.  In addition, this year I made a point of also practicing my shooting.  I focused more on my pistol, and practiced drawing, double taps and quick clip changes.  I had taken a few lessons from an NRA instructor the previous year but I was rusty. Gals, it is worth the money to pay for a good shooting instructor.  Some instructors will let you try their different guns out to for you to see what you like.  If you haven’t already, find that favorite gun you want to carry and get some lessons in using it. Go talk to the guys behind the gun counter and take some notes.  I went with a H&K .40 S&W, one of the more recent ones that had a grip that could be downsized for my hands, and a Black Hawk CQC holster made of carbon composite.  The holster doesn’t have the friction that a leather one does on draw, and this worked better for me.  Find a gun and holster that works for you, then practice.  Try a few “hips and head” shots while practicing, in case you encounter a target wearing a bulletproof vest.  While there are many good men out there who can protect a woman, they can’t always be there.  Take some of that responsibility on yourself.  A gun is a great equalizer!

You already know that it’s important to stay up on medical and dental care.   Get caught up on health issues before moving to a new retreat.  In some places it takes up to two months to get set up with new dentists and doctors, and if one doesn’t seem like a good fit, it takes more time to switch doctors.  I had to play catch up after I moved to get a delayed root canal done.  Right, no one wants to get one but it sure was a relief to have it out of the way.  I should have done it back in San Diego.  As just a side thought, if you still have your appendix and you are scheduled for another abdominal surgery, you might ask your doctor if they could go ahead and pull that appendix for you.  I was able to get my doctor to do this for me a few years back.  I think they wanted the practice for their residents and you might have a better chance getting this done at a training hospital!  Another decision I made a few years back was to have a cardiac ablation versus going on pills for an otherwise unmanageable arrhythmia.  What if I couldn’t get pills anymore?  Not fun, but glad I did it.  You have to decide for yourself.

Final advice:  If you have decided to move to a retreat, do it now.  It took a year of retreat living to get the seasonal flow of country life.  These are only the first lessons of self reliance.  My new neighbors have been a wonderful resource for me.  Should you find yourself equally blessed with good neighbors that are willing to teach you useful self reliance skills, open your ears and close your mouth. There is much to learn and practice, and you will be making edits along the way.  We are still editing and still have more to do.  Once TEOTWAWKI happens, there will be no “do over’s” in planning.

We took the leap and we like it!  We certainly pay less in taxes and in some states you can get a reduction in property taxes by operating your retreat as a farm.  Though our bodies hurt here and there, our hearts are happy in this beautiful valley.  Goodbye city life!  Green Acres we are there!


Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Growing up in the desert southwest Grandma V always had some kind of a garden. Whether it was squash, beans, and corn in the summer, or lettuce and cabbage in the winter, there was something growing in the rocky soil. She also had a remarkable collection of aloes growing in old coffee cans around her little cottage on the ranch. It was a good time of learning from a gentle soul without feeling like being schooled. Fast forward twenty years and I’m married, living on a postage stamp size city lot and anxious to get off the industrial food merry-go-around; so I decide to plant a garden. This urge grows into a burning passion and within five years I’ve bought some land and started a small, part-time, organic farming business. Through twists, turns, and the ubiquitous government regulation of water I was forced out of business a few years later.

Frustrated and ready for a fresh start, I moved to the Pacific Northwest with the same goal of having a part-time farm. Things went well for a few years but the constant pull between work and a growing family wore thin. I retired from the farming business but not without learning many valuable skills I’ll share here.

First a little about organic farming, though some definitions have probably changed since I quit paying attention to the political discussions of it. Simply put, it is using no artificial or manmade products on the crops or land. Many are fooled into believing there are no poisons or chemicals used in organic farming; there are many. However, most of the pesticides used are not persistent in the environment and are made from plants, minerals, or natural oils so are deemed safer.

Organic fertilizers are going to come from a natural source such as manure, compost, fish byproducts, and mineral powders to name a few. These could be broken up further into categories that are acceptable or not under certain standards, but that is not my focus here. The key when looking at fertilizers is the N-P-K number which is always displayed on the package. Those letters represent nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). The simplest key is that nitrogen gives green growth, phosphorous is roots and flowers/fruit, and potassium is for vigor and disease resistance. There is a whole host of other nutrients that plants need, but are required in smaller quantities so are generally not emphasized as much in a balanced fertilizer. It is also quite possible that there is an abundant supply of these minor nutrients already present in your soil. A soil test kit is inexpensive and useful for optimum fertilization and growth of the garden.

Calcium is the next important nutrient to have strong plants, minimize disease, and balance the Ph of the soil. Most vegetable crops will thrive in soil between 6-8 on the Ph scale and closer to seven being the ideal. In the Northwest, to raise the Ph it is best to apply lime in the early spring or in the fall and allow it to work through the winter months. Again, a soil test kit will come in handy for this.

A balanced fertilizer will contain percentages of the three most common nutrients in some ratio designed to meet a need. Common formulations may look like 10-10-10, 10-0-0, 16-16-16, or 0,15,0. For the vegetable gardener, the 10-10-10 is probably going to be the best choice for general fertilization and plant health.

In my experience tilling the fertilizer into the soil has yielded the best results. Even after crops have reached a decent size the fertilizer can be worked in around the base of the plant. This brings it much closer faster to those soil microbes that are anxious to digest it. Depending on what it is, tilling it in can reduce unpleasant odors and keep cats and other wildlife at bay.
Commercially produced organic fertilizers like fish meal or fish emulsion will generally have the highest nitrogen content and the highest price. You simply have to have a good supply of this nutrient to get active growth that is healthy. This is especially true where there is a short growing season. Most of these will have traces of other nutrients as well and some may be balanced to meet all of your plants’ needs. Pelleted fertilizers offer convenience in ease of handling but also carry a higher price.

Animal manure is a good source of plant nutrients but it often has unpredictable results in the garden due to salts, weed seeds, and bacterial action in the soil. Some manure, such as chicken manure can be harmful to plants due to its high nitrogen content if it is not first composted or aged (more on composting to follow). This damage is called “burning” when the plants absorb too much nitrogen and the leaves whither and dry looking scorched.

All raw fertilizers rely on bacteria to break down the bulk product into plant available forms. This includes fish meal, fish emulsion, manures, and mineral powders. The reason ammonium nitrate makes the grass grow so fast is that it is the form of N that plants can utilize immediately; it doesn’t need to be converted. On the other hand, bovine exhaust byproducts need bacteria to break them down into these plant available forms and it takes a little time. In cold weather this takes longer as the bacteria are less active in the soil than when it is warm. Composting manure for a few months or a year shortens conversion time in the soil, homogenizes the nutrient levels, and gets the nutrients to the plants quicker.

A green manure is a crop grown for the express purpose of turning back into the soil. These will usually, but not always, have a crop that will be a nitrogen fixer. That is, some plants such as beans, peas, vetch, clover, and alfalfa “fix” nitrogen out of the atmosphere and leave it in the soil as a plant available source. Some green manures are grown for the bulk matter they produce to lighten soil and build humus. It is not uncommon to find a blend of nitrogen ‘fixers’ and some kind of a grain for bulk matter. Here in the Pacific Northwest where winters are very rainy and little grows in the garden, a cover crop is ideal to build next year’s soil when nothing else is in the ground. Another alternative to tilling the green manure before planting the garden is that livestock could be allowed to graze on it. This would give them some fresh green food and reduce the bulk before tilling.

Compost is another key to sound organic practices and I compost pretty much everything; dog dung, cooking oils, and meat scraps when there are some. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven down the road, and day after day watched a raccoon or deer simply melt back into the soil after encountering a fast moving vehicle. I do not say this as a practical method of fertilization, just as an observation of God’s creation at work. A compost pile has potentially billions of microbes working around the clock to digest whatever they encounter and breaking it down to its basic form to be reused. When I pick up after the dogs, I either throw it into the wildflower patch or put it in a separate compost pile I use for the grass and flowers. It cycles through the flowers life cycle and then they go into the kitchen compost pile in the Fall ready for Spring. Same with the few meat scraps. Old, used cooking oil goes straight to the kitchen’s pile.
Applying compost has for me been most effective when worked into the soil prior to planting. All of the nutrients in good finished compost are plant available and can be utilized immediately by the crops. It tends to be fairly low in overall nutrients, around the 3-5% range, but greatly improves soil structure and plant health. Side-dressing throughout the season can be effective and helps reduce weeds around the plants and conserves moisture. Many swear by compost “tea” and use it regularly. Simply place some finished compost in a burlap sack and submerge in a barrel of water for a few days and let it brew. The water can then be poured on or around the plants to provide the nutrients that have been leached out of the compost. The compost in the sack can be returned to the pile or added to the garden.

The backbone of good organic gardening is a crop rotation plan. Crop rotation reduces the pest and disease infestations by moving the food source to a new location and disrupting pest life cycles. Some crops like potatoes should be on a long cycle of at least three years, while others as little as three months. Setting up a crop rotation is pretty simple as most crops will occupy their space for an entire season. The exception is with the quick growing crops like lettuce, spinach, and radishes or those that will be planted successively like broccoli, carrots, and beets.
A crop rotation should be planned over a three to five year cycle. Divide the garden in blocks and sub-divide these blocks as necessary to achieve optimal use of soil. Separate crops by family, i.e. broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale, or by type such as garlic, onions, and leeks. Then there are leafy plants like lettuce, spinach, and chard. In my experience potatoes and cauliflower suffered the most from growing in the same soil in too short a time. The potatoes got scab, looked terrible making them unable to sell and the cauliflower was infested with worms. A crop rotation is also important based on the nutrient use of the previous or succeeding crop. Broccoli, cauliflower and the like use a lot of nitrogen, so planting carrots after may work well. A fall crop of broccoli could be interspersed with zucchini making use of the space. 

Bottom line from my experience and what professional say, potatoes are the most at risk when planted in the same soil year after year. This is reported to be the cause of the Irish Potato Famine where the country lost a huge percentage of the crop to disease. In a grid down eat what you can situation, potatoes will be on my list of crops to have. Worms in broccoli or cauliflower don’t look good, but they are still edible; a disease that destroys all the spuds is another story altogether.

For pest control, a healthy plant is the best defense. Keep weeds pulled and not allowed to re-seed. Keeping plants actively growing will keep most from suffering too much damage, whether its weeds or bugs. Natural oils, pepper extracts, and plant compounds are very reliable but last a short time. A powder called rotenone made from a root is a good broad spectrum insecticide, but must be applied every few days to be effective in heavy infestations. Hand picking worms and other bugs is time consuming but effective. Natural predators such as Lady Bugs can be purchased, but are generally present anyway. If all else fails, pull a few plants out and bury in the compost to save the rest from being infested.

Lastly, though not only an organic practice, using transplants in the garden can alleviate a number of concerns and ensure a bountiful harvest. With for example, planning some fall harvested broccoli, early potatoes could be dug in mid-July, the soil tilled, and transplants immediately put out the same day. A three inch tall broccoli has a huge head start on any weeds, can take advantage of any residual nutrients, and keeps the garden fully productive throughout the growing season. Transplants are also a more efficient use of seeds in some cases. Continuing with the broccoli example, rather than use a whole packet of seed in a row and then need to thin, starting seeds and placing them as plants at the appropriate spacing saves time and resources. If your seed supply is limited, this becomes even more important.

So when starting to plan your garden space consider what crops you want to grow, a rough idea of the quantity you will want, and work backwards from harvest time to estimate your planting date. Most seed packs will display a “days to maturity” table and may even list them according to the USDA regions. My experience has been that under the best conditions add about fifteen percent to the time on the packets, especially if using organic or slow release fertilizers. Remember the cold soil in early spring is not going to break down those amendments as quickly as in the heat of summer.

While I strive to follow these guidelines in my garden space, I have lost some crops to bugs and slow growth. I store some commercial fertilizers and pesticides for a SHTF situation to help ensure my ability to succeed when it is crucial. There are too many variables to not take prudent precautions when they are readily available to us.

JWR Replies: It is noble to strive for an organic approach, and I presently do in my own garden. But if it comes down to a true Crunch, where my family's very survival is at stake, then I won't hesitate to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, if they are available. In time like those, practicality will trump principle and peak health benefits.


Thursday, October 3, 2013


Thoughts on Preparedness, by Mom in the Colorado Rockies

Most of us have it down to a science on what we are going to do every morning. Wake up, grumble at the alarm clock, stagger in for coffee, etc. You know what time you need to leave to get to work on time, and maybe squeeze in a drive thru run for coffee or a breakfast biscuit. Muddle through the work day and pray for it to hurry by so you can fight traffic and get home in time for dinner, baths for the kids and vegetate in front of the television till bedtime. Our existence as the average, everyday Joe is rather simple and mindless sheep leaving the barn to graze for the day and return to  the barn to sleep. But there are a lot of folks out there that are really beginning to 'wake up' to the fact that our everyday routines need to change.

Moving to the high Rockies has given me a different perspective on what survival means. Folks out here in these small mountain towns have a true understanding of what is needed just to get by every day. There are very few drive-thrus to grab a bite to eat, if any. In fact, a lot of the restaurants communicate with each other to see who is going to be open so they can close for the day. There are not a lot of big box stores nearby so you save the gas and pay a little extra at the local, way over-priced stores if you need to fix your commode or the crack in your hammer handle finally gives way. And snow is practically a season of its own up here. It seems there is snow, summer, then back to snow. No need in putting away your winter clothes or gear as summer can mean 50 degrees one day, 85 degrees the next, then snow in September. Oh! I forgot to list 'mud' season! That's when the snow melts and you have about a month of mud to sludge through to get anywhere!

So, a lesson learned. I know I must keep all weather conditions items in my vehicle year round. I have ice melting spray in my floorboard and liquid in my windshield reservoir tank. And yes, I have already needed it three times in mid-September for ice and/or snow. I keep food and water, map and compass, a candle lantern for light and warmth, a mac-daddy first aid kit, boots and wool blankets, hunting knife and a strong, lite weight flashlight in there too. This is by no means a full listing but you get the point.

Collecting, cutting, processing wood is year round. You never really stop because, like they say, cut the amount of wood you think you will need, then triple it. Never under-estimate your wood supply. You always need more than you think you do. And, trust me, digging around in a foot of snow for those cut logs you haven't split yet is no fun. Neither is splitting them when they are wet or frozen, as you will also be wet and frozen by the time you are done. And you still can't use them because they are wet and frozen!

Most folks have wells, not a lot of city water out here. So, do you have the ability to run your pump when the power is out? Is it a generator you need gas/oil for? Do you have enough in case you can't get to town in the near future? Do you have a standby water supply tucked away? Is it enough to cook with, bathe with, flush with, wash clothes with for an indefinite amount of time? Do you have access to more? Where is the nearest creek, river, lake and how do you get it home?

Four wheel drive is not mandatory up here... but it should be. Most of us have at least one per household. With the access to trails and mountain roads, they are a lot of fun to have. Not much you can't do in the summer if you have one. But in the winter, they are pretty darn handy to have. Yes, they plow the county roads and highways. And yes, you will see the plows out 24-7 through the winter. But what about the folks that commute over the passes for work? Businesses don't shut down because of snow, schools don't shut down because of snow, government doesn't shut down because of snow. Sooo, you still have to be able to get there.  What about the folks that work the graveyard shift or have to be in at 6 am? Yes, we need four wheel drive vehicles. And you will see quite a few with small plows on the front. Not everyone lives on a well maintained street in town. In fact, very few do. And these side roads are not priority for anyone other than those of us that drive them every day. And yes, most of them are still dirt roads.

So let's discuss gardening. We have about a 60 day grow season, if you're lucky. Factor in your potting time, keeping your seedlings warm till it is safe to put them outside. Tilling is not much of an option here as our particular soil is rocky. It costs a small fortune to pay anyone to come out here and drill a new well or put in fence posts because they will spend most of their time hand pulling rocks or breaking auger/drilling bits. So you need to bring in soil to either mix in or cover over. And at almost 10,000 ft above sea level, the sun can burn up your plants if you are not careful. So what do you do? Put up a greenhouse! Oh wait, there are some of us that live in high winds areas. You know the places you drive through that have the big snow/wind breaks by the roads? But that doesn't really slow down the 40 to 60 mph winds we can have blowing over the roads and fields. Trust me and learn from my failures, a greenhouse is a task of its own. Factor in the sun's path for the two months of growing season, the normal wind path, the 'other' wind path for when we get the south to north winds and storms, the questionable soil, etc. Gardening at its finest is still a lot of hard work. Don't forget to figure in the local climate too.

Now, considering all of the above, I will cover food supply. Being gardening is tough, you don't dare want to lose any food you can produce. Be prepared to either make sure you have a heat alternative for your greenhouse or a spot inside to bring your plants. We pot in containers so it is a feasible task to bring them in. Heavy lifting, but doable. So do you have an area in your house with great sun exposure and ventilation to complete their growth and yield? Or do you do what you would do in the cities... go to the market and buy. You can definitely buy whatever fruits and vegetables you could want in the markets here, and we have a lot of option for organic produce. But you will pay for it, literally and figuratively. These local stores can be pricey so do you pay the extra in gas to go to the nearest big town or suck it up and pay for the convenience? You do what most do, buy your day to day locally and make a plan for your trip to the city and hit every store you think you might need something from. Make a list, make several lists. You will need them so you don't forget anything.

With that being said, do you have at least a 30 to 60 day food supply stored? Beans, rice, flour, sugar, and let's not forget coffee! What about that generator we talked about earlier... will it run the fridge? Or do you need adequate cooler storage space to last for several days till you can eat what is in there? Do you have plenty of canned fruits and vegetables? What about meats? Are they all frozen or do you have some canned or dehydrated put away somewhere... Let's not forget the fact that in a short time span you could get extremely bored with peanut butter sandwiches. And what happens when the bread runs out? Oh, do you have a way to actually cook any of this food you have in the pantry if the power goes out indefinitely? Consider what your options are for safely cooking indoors in inclement weather for a family and then factor in a backup. Like they say, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Gaskets dry rot, tanks leak fuel, charcoal runs out for the outdoor grill eventually. And the high winds and snow can definitely hinder your charcoal grilling on the back deck, trust me. And, as we discussed before, do you have enough water to actually cook those rice and beans and dehydrated vegetables and backpacking meals included in your water storage calculations?

Now... this was not meant to discourage anyone from moving to the country or the high country areas. This was meant to make sure you consider what it means to live in some of these more remote areas. I have always tried to have a prepper mentality when it comes to ensuring the existence and safety of my family, but I can tell you that moving from my safety net on the edge of a big city to a small mountain town in the high Rockies has truly been a learning experience and one I wouldn't trade for anything. We live on a shoestring budget week to week and do not have the funds to put into the large purchases I know a lot of preppers have. So we do the best we can with what we have. Our neighborhood barters with each other for things each house may need but doesn't own. We trade off babysitting or canning or dehydrating or water storage containers, whatever can be done to make sure we all are taken care of. We watch each other’s houses, vehicles, pets while they're away. We help each other with cutting wood, mending fences, fixing holes in the roof or moving furniture around. You learn real quick who to trust and can count on should SHTF tomorrow. And, I have to say, that is a good feeling I did not have back in the 'city'.

So for those of you wanting to move to some small town in the middle of nowhere and set up shop, consider the above. Think about it, have a plan, then have a backup plan. It took me several months to find work out here when a job back home was fairly easy to get with a good resume. Research the area, see what type of businesses are there or nearby that you can feasibly commute to in bad weather. If you are going to have neighbors, try to meet them when you look at a house you are considering buying. Are they nuts or fairly like-minded people? Find out the gun laws for the area and state, how hard or expensive is it to get a permit to add a solid greenhouse or storage shed. How many and what size can you have without a permit? Is there somewhere to obtain firewood and water should you need emergency supplies? And, most of all, can you get out of your driveway and to a main road should you have a heavy snow or rainfall? If not, either plan ahead or reconsider your housing selection. These are not frivolous things, these are your survival pitfalls. Think ahead, discuss your options with your family, can you afford it if you can't immediately find work, what do you really need for your family to survive. All the ammo in the world does you no good with a gun that breaks a piece and you have no spare parts. All the food you could possibly eat is of little comfort when you have no way to cook it or water to cook it with. Electric or propane is awesome, but with no power, no way to pump water and losing the food in your fridge and freezer is not exactly what I want to do in the middle of winter with snow on the ground and a family to take care of and a job to get to.

The true lesson here is: think smart, work hard and have a backup plan for your back up plan!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I, like so many people across the country, can't walk out of my local sporting goods store without buying the limit of ammunition. Now, before you judge me, realize that most places limit you to small boxes of ammunition, and usually one two per caliber. Is it being prudent or just being obsessed? While the firearm and ammo situation is very much a media-hyped thing,  I have even talked about things you must buy every time you are out, like my article on Things Commonly Overlooked.  But what about those items that you pick up, look at the price tag, but pass on it saying "maybe next time."

In conversations with my other prepping type friends, it would appear that ammunition and firearms are the centerpiece of all of our preparations. While all of us love to shoot and none of us want to cut a good day of shooting short because it will take us weeks to resupply. the truth of the matter is that we are making firearms and ammunition the priority, both in the money and the peace of mind spent to assure our continuation in a world gone bad. But does it really do either of those?

After a few comments from my better half, I got to thinking about how much money I have sunk into my firearms and ammunition in the last year. I have bought at least a half dozen guns. I also make it to my local Academy at least once per pay period and have never walked out without buying the 2 box limit of 9mm or .45, or the limit in .223/.22. Which means the cheapest possible trip in and out is approximately $45. Commonly I buy an additional box of .38 special or .357, which is at least an additional $25. So, let's say I do that once a pay period or twice a month. That's over $1000 a year in ammunition. Again, that's a very conservative estimate. Truth be told, i don't shoot that much and my stock had grown such that I have...well...more than I need.

It was after the crisis in Syria became front page news that I started thinking: What could I have bought instead of all this ammo. More importantly, what things could I possibly need in a split second that guns and ammo couldn't get me. The first thing that I thought of was the one thing that was all over the news. There were scenes of those killed by gas. There were scenes of those luckily to only be maimed by it, usually losing their eyesight. I don't know about you, but that's one sense I'd rather not do without. What did these people not have  that might have saved them? Gas masks.

All of the ammunition in the world couldn't help those people exposed. There was nowhere to run. Once within that poison cloud, you couldn't simply run or hide from it. You certainly couldn't fight out of it or buy/trade your way to safety. But, had those people had access to gas masks, what then? Chances are, they slip them on and escape to live another day. So, while I was on the treadmill at the gym, watching this horror, I got on Amazon to see what gas masks were selling for. In the back of my mind, I assumed that it was just another piece of equipment that I knew I might one day need, would love to buy it for piece of mind, but just couldn't afford to buy it. I'm like everyone else. I am middle class, and while I do believe in being prepared, the pragmatic part of me sets limitations.

What did I find? Amazon has Russian/Israeli/etc military surplus gas masks....to the tune of about $40 shipped to your door.

Now, I didn't forget about the kids. After all, life really isn't worth living if I can't get my whole family. So, still on Amazon, I looked for the same thing in kids sizes. To my surprise, they were also extremely affordable. I was able to buy 3 kids size military surplus masks for under $40 shipped. Not bad, eh?

So, that got me thinking....we spend all this time talking about things we may need, but can't "justify" spending the money on...even though we nickel-and-dime ourselves away prepping on other things. And while I did think of some things.

  • At home water cistern/storage. I had been talking about doing this for a long time, specifically to my dad. See, they live on top of a mountain that's actually above the local water tank. So, there is a booster pump at the bottom of the hill to provide water pressure. It goes out constantly. Well, he has chickens. And dogs. And tons of everything. Not to mention the need for water for himself. He elected to buy an off the shelf version that caught rainwater running off of his shop. I believe it's a 450 gallon unit and it filled up with the first rain. You can get pretty ingenuity with yours and do it fairly cheap (under $150) and go as far as you want to make it work for you. For example, putting it on stilts, adding a 2 way valve to your house water supply, and you can now use your house water system. 
  • Tyvek suits are something that are relatively cheap and very useful to have ready. Will they protect you against many nasty chemical weapons? Will it stop radiation? No. But, it will do an admirable job against most chemical weapons and biological ones. They are water proof. They are easy to find, easy to put on, and cheap. 
  • "Noah's Ark" seed assortments. Tons of places sell heirloom seed assortments. They are around $80-to-$100 and will come with a large variety and assortment of herbs and vegetables. If you are like me and my wife, you normally buy your seeds annually from a catalog. What if instead, you bought one of these a year. And the next year, you planted your old one when you received your new one? This would ensure maximum freshness. While I understand that most people don't have that kind of room and couldn't use a whole set, you can at least use some of them. This way you can save yourself a little money on groceries, but most importantly, get into the practice of growing your own and learning all the little pitfalls.
  • Indoor plant growing station. Even if you live in an apartment you can buy one. Sorry, I couldn't think of a better name for it. The stands and the correct lights (you can't just use standard bulbs) do cost a good amount of money, usually around $100. Maybe that's one of the reasons that I never bought one to begin with. Plus, Alabama has such a temperate climate that starting your own seedlings isn't usually necessary. This year, however, we experienced a deluge of rain that kept me from planting. Plus, a friend was moving out of town and was selling his setup. So, I bought it cheap. With a cheap bag of soil, I was able to easily grow 30 tomato plants in a 48" long tray until they were big enough to separate and grow in their own pots. So, it cost about $125 counting the lights and stand, the soil, cups, and seeds. What would 30 half grown tomato cost you at Lowe's? There you go. 
  • A dirt bike. A used dirt bike can be found easily and cheaply around here. Especially an older one that is carbureted and has a non-electronic ignition. Why would you want such a thing? Well, in the case of an EMP, it would be one of the few rides left around town that ran. You couldn't put a price on being able to ride to and fro when the lights went out. Additionally, if you didn't get out ahead of everyone in another catastrophic event.. For example, let's say that you were in gridlock traffic and you just KNEW something really bad was about to happen. You could unload your little dirt bike off the back of your truck and take off. Paved roads, dirt roads, through the trees, doesn't matter. You could ride almost anywhere. Sure, it would cost you $1,000 up front. But, like we were talking about earlier, I spent that in ammo this year. This is a much more useful tool.

Again, these are but a few things that I thought of in a short thinking session. I hope that I will hear from some of you to point out others. The point is, you simply can't let a once time price stop you from buying semi-affordable things. Especially when you are dedicated to spending the money anyway. There are certainly things that I can't afford. But, I find myself spending money on things I can afford while ignoring things I could afford. So, put things in a price-perspective. Do you need another assault rifle? Another case of MREs? Maybe. Maybe not. But think of all the other things you could do with $1,500 that could buy you precious minutes or hours.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Mr. Rawles,

Thank you for a great blog site.  I'd like to share some techniques we use every day at our off-grid homestead that would be applicable for grid-down living

With 280 watts of solar panels in the southern plains, a good Xantrex controller, three marine deep-cycle batteries and an inverter we power a 9 cubic foot freezer-turned-refrigerator fitted with an analog temperature controller, a portable dvd player used nightly for movies and documentaries, 1 to 3 small fans in summer, a netbook computer, and a couple of compact fluorescent lights along with charging cell phones and cordless tools and even running a sewing machine on sunny days.

In our experience a homemade composting bucket is the best choice for human waste disposal and if properly constructed and maintained can even be kept and used in the house.  An outhouse works but I have yet to visit one that was particularly pleasant (read – I usually come out blue in the face or gagging.)  Chemical toilets are just plain gross as well.  Separately-collected urine makes a great garden fertilizer. [JWR Adds: Readers are warned that the risks of using composted human feces for garden fertilizing far outweigh the benefits.]

We have used a bio-sand or slow sand filter for water filtration exclusively for several years.  They are used the world over and work well for biological contaminants.  One can be constructed for $100 or less.  Ours is housed in a plastic 55-gallon drum. Plans and information are available on line.  Google “bio-sand filter”

Off-grid clothes washing is much facilitated by pre-soaking clothes for an hour or so up to overnight with 1/2 cup ammonia added to the water (if adequate water supplies are available.)  Ammonia is a great clothes cleaner and really cuts grease plus it takes much less water to rinse out.  Gray water containing ammonia seems to cause no harm to garden plants.  Borax, on the other hand, can kill or damage plants.  The little pressure washers, plungers and other gimmicky laundry aids have been a waste of money for us.  A washboard, a scrub brush (for jeans) and elbow grease will get clothes clean just as easily.  In a long-term grid-down situation lye leached from wood ashes will clean clothes. One thing to remember in considering SHTF clothes washing strategies is that without adequate rinsing clothes both stay dirty and attract even more dirt from the soap trapped in the fibers.  It may be that an ammonia/water or lye water soak and one quick rinse is the best option.  Bedding can be freshened between infrequent washings by hanging it in the sun and the breeze.

Five gallons of water is easily enough for a bath even for a woman who wants to shave, condition hair, etc. For example: wet down a little, wash hair without overdoing the shampoo, wash body, rinse.  Apply conditioner (again, don't overdo it), shave and scrub feet and nails with the water that's accumulated in the bottom of the tub, rinse again.  You're done in 5 gallons and most likely will have a little water left for a final rinse of the rag.  An oval, shallow black poly stock watering tank makes a great bathtub that even a child can move and empty. - Judy B.


Thursday, August 22, 2013


Hello Mr. Rawles,
Regarding the recent blog article Rabbits for a Stable (and Staple) Protein Source, by S.F.D. in West Virginia: I too have chosen meat rabbits to be my SHTF meat source. Raising, butchering, and of course eating domestic rabbit has become a great learning experience for myself and my family. The one problem I foresee is providing food for my rabbits. But one possibility, of which I have a friend who has much success with, is growing a substantial plot of dandelion. My friend from northern Maine has a 90 foot-long plot of dandelion which he harvests and then dries for the winter. I'm thinking if space isn't an issue, for either planting or storing the dried product, this is going to be one of the easier routes to take.  
Thanks for all you do, - J.K.


Sunday, August 11, 2013


The context in which this article is written is to attempt to give guidance and provoke thought and inspiration to those determined individuals who wish to be as self sufficient as possible by growing as much of their own food as possible. Everything in this article has been tried and to varying degrees produced results for my family. Our little farm rests just below 7,000 feet in elevation with much sun, wind and deep spring snows, with temperatures in winter falling briefly to 15 or so below zero to highs in the upper 90’s and even the 100’s for at least 30 to 40 days during the summer. I mention this only as a means of encouragement – many, many parts of the country and especially parts of the Redoubt have a much more hospitable climate for producing one’s own food. This article will attempt to outline in as brief but thorough means possible from choosing a site to starting seed through tillage and tools needed, as well as other considerations for the long haul. I will not cover food preservation means and methods as volumes have covered that topic already.

The Garden Site
In choosing your garden site, assumptions will be made that at least a few acres of land are available for gardening at your retreat. Whether clearing an opening in a woodlot, fencing off a chunk of prairie or placing your garden spot in a lush valley, all gardens will need decent soil (which can be improved over time), ample amount of sunlight and water. Where I live, an old homestead had been used for a dairy farm with a huge old barn built in the 1890s with old wood stanchions . My first thought was to wonder where all that manure must have been placed. There is a flat area north of the barn of several acres that seemed to be the obvious place to haul manure. After some explorations with a shovel, this proved to be the case. The soil on the flat had nearly a foot of black humus soil atop the sand that lie beneath it (and everywhere else for that matter). Choose a spot like this if possible. Soil gets amended naturally over the previous eons in some areas. In a woodlot, look where leaves and dead trees and duff have decayed for years – this will be a good start for a garden site. If you’re lucky enough (or wise enough) to have acquired a lush valley with good topsoil, beware of low-lying areas and try to situate your garden site on a bit of a rise for drainage purposes. Once your site location is determined, you might want to consider fencing around it to protect it from the ubiquitous predators that lie in wait for freshly sown seeds, newly sprouted sprouts and the bountiful harvest that they will undoubtedly lay claim to! Choose the fence that that will be tight enough to keep out the rabbits and tall enough to keep out the deer – you’re on your own for elk, though fortunately they don’t seem to be as interested in high quality, home-grown produce as deer; and thank God for that. My favorite is 1 ½” x 3” rectangle woven wire or welded wire fence attached to well-set posts at least 5’ remaining above the ground, set 3’ deep in the ground. Deer can jump over this height; but, with some reflectors and a few Mylar balloons, don’t seem to want to risk it. Place a 10’ gate at each end if your garden is fairly large, as well as a man gate. Be sure to place the wire over your gates as well. I suggest leaving at least 10’ around the long sides of your garden beyond your intended garden plot on each side and at least 25’ on the ends. You will need gates to enter the garden and ample room to turn around tractors / horses with implements on the ends. The room along the sides is nice to have when staging gardening supplies, planting and harvesting.

If your property is hilly, try to situate your garden site on the side of the hill that faces to the south and east. Your garden will get the most amount of sunlight if situated at this angle. Also, if on hilly ground, be sure to plant your rows across the hill to avoid erosion and collect as much rainwater as you can between the rows. If you plant up and down the hillside, the water will just course rapidly down the hill between the rows doing more harm than good. If in an existing woodlot, do some studies on when the sun clears the top of the trees at daybreak and when it goes back behind the trees in the evening. You may have to clear the opening in the forest canopy a bit more so your garden spot can get full morning sun and at least a good portion of early afternoon sun. Even with sufficiently good soil and water, your garden will never reach its full potential without sun. Keep in mind that when seeding and transplanting in your garden in the spring, the days will be getting longer for a month or so, depending on your latitude and frost dates. As your plants mature throughout the summer, the days will be getting shorter and shorter.

This window from spring frost date through the first frost date of fall is a crucial measurement, which we get into later.

Water.
Obviously there is no life without water – a truth that is as constant for us as God’s creatures as it is for God’s creation that we will be stewards of, our plants. Most of us in a rural environ will obtain water by one of a few ways besides relying solely on the waters that fall from the heavens. We will either utilize a well, a cistern or tank or a ditch carrying water via gravity from a river, stream or maintained and regulated irrigation ditch. Just a note on maintained irrigation ditches. For those newly relocated to the west and part of a “water district”, spring is a wonderful time to meet your neighbors on the ditch. Each spring brush must be cut back and leaves, twigs, branches and other things that impede the flow of water must be removed prior to the ditch being “turned on”. The best way to fit in and prove yourself a productive and trustworthy member of your immediate community is to find out when the ditch cleaning work is to be done. Showing up in long sleeves, long pants, sturdy boots with work gloves, pruners, rake, shovel or chainsaw will break the ice of the most hardened of the native residents. Don’t overlook this opportunity.

If you are on a well, hopefully you can run a water line from the well to your garden area and install a frost-free hydrant rated for your area. That means that the amount of hydrant pipe buried will put your water line connection to the hydrant below the frost depth to avoid freezing and breaking your waterline. Don’t skip on this – better to be two feet too deep than two inches too shallow!  Many people choose to use 1 ½” black poly pipe as their water line material. This may or may not be a good choice. In our area, subterranean critters like to sharpen their teeth on plastic. I would suggest 1 ½” Schedule 40 PVC for a longer lasting waterline that won’t be chewed through by rodents. The other water source you may use is a cistern or a tank – some kind of collection apparatus. As a kid in Kentucky, nearly every rural home got its water from a cistern fed by all the downspouts. The frequent Kentucky rains kept the cistern full in all but the most severely dry summers – rare as they were.  In some cases, if your roof (which feeds the cistern) is a fair distance from your garden, you may end up placing a tank nearer to the garden site and pumping water to it periodically. From this point, water can be distributed by the means of a small pump, whether electric, solar or hand.

If on a well and reliant on its continual proper functioning, I highly recommend laying in or installing a hand pump. Most wells will require a deep well hand pump to deliver water from 100’ to 250’ or so. One could also use a solar water pump. Whatever you prefer, please follow the rules of JWR’s “redundant redundancy” and plan on your electric pump failing at some point – maybe for an extended period. In my own garden, I have grown quite fond of the T-tape drip flat tape connected to a header pipe on the upper end, long side of the garden, connected then to the hydrant and monitored by means of a battery powered timer. This is the most efficient use of water for me, losing none to evaporation from a sprinkler and providing a consistent means of watering. In the heat of the summer, I set my timer to water at 4:00 AM and 4:00 PM for 60 minutes each. This system of drip tape placed down each row and covered by mulch will give you a very dependable and successful watering means. With care in the fall, one can get multiple uses out of the tape. Roll it up on a coffee can and store in a dark place throughout the off-season. As another thought provoker, I suggest obtaining some good old galvanized three-gallon watering cans. If worse comes to worst, the rows can be hand watered by means of sprinkling cans drawn from your deep well hand pump. No electricity – no problem!

Seeding.
Winter always brings much anticipation to the family that looks forward to growing their own food. Seed company catalogs begin showing up around the first of the year and many hours get spent thumbing through them over and over looking for the varieties that suit your individual needs. A good place to start is to go back to the growing window previously mentioned. With help from the local county agriculture extension agent and Hardiness Zone charts, and especially neighbors in your immediate area who have experience, you can get a pretty good idea of your average first and last frost dates.  With this knowledge, you can then choose the seeds that have a maturation period that will work for your own area. Example: if your last frost of the spring normally falls around May 30 and your first fall frost normally hits around September 30, then you have a 120-day season. If you choose a tomato variety that takes 80 days to mature and you want to enjoy tomatoes in the summer, then you had better get an early start under grow lamps or greenhouse so the plants are big enough to actually produce fruit for a longer period of your season. There are lots of resources to help you in this. One of the best I’ve found is Seed Sowing and Saving, by Carole B. Turner, from the Ark Institute. This is a wonderful book that helps determine when to sow, transplant and little tips along the way for a huge selection of vegetables and herbs.

Starting seeds can be accomplished in sterilized dirt mixed with perlite in left over milk jugs cut in half or many other containers. However, for the more serious gardener who is actually going to produce enough food for an average sized family, I would suggest making an investment in the more durable trays. These will last many seasons if cared for and are large enough to germinate several hundred seeds per tray depending on the type. I would also suggest spending the money and purchasing some germination mix. Storing away half dozen bales of Pro-Mix will last most serious home gardeners a decade or more. I’ve personally been using Pro-Mix for germination soil for thirty years or better and always find it consistent. Keep in mind that you will only be using this germination soil mix for the vegetables that need to be sown early and then transplanted into pots after germination and then finally transplanted to the garden. This includes cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers and the longer maturing plants. The other direct seeded vegetables that mature more quickly like corn, beans, peas, squashes, beets, radish, spinach, lettuces and the like don’t need to be started and then transplanted – thus the “direct seed” classification. Back to starting seeds. Make a calendar of sorts once you determine your Hardiness Zone and frost dates, then add to that what your going to start, how your going to start it and when your going to transplant if needed. For instance, cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower can be started early in your germination soil under grow lamps and/or heat mats under the trays. To start seeds in trays, mix a wheelbarrow or other large open topped container of Pro-Mix and warm water thoroughly and let sit for a few hours, covered if possible to retain heat. Large plastic totes with lids works well for this and can be used for this purpose from year to year. Once mixed and rested, add this to the trays and spread out with your hands as best as you can. I like to use a piece 2” x 2” cut as long as the tray is wide and screed the soil off level about a half inch from the top. Then, once level, tamp it down a bit with the same wooden piece. Scratch some lines crossways every inch or so for rows – not deep, just enough to see a row. Then place the seeds in the rows spaced a half inch to an inch apart, careful to not let them touch each other. Then, sprinkle a fine layer of dry Pro-Mix on top, label what type of plants are in the tray with a waterproof marker and plastic label. Spray some warm water from a little pump up hand sprayer on top, cover with a sheet of plastic and place under the lights, or on top of a heat mat. In just a few short days most plants will germinate. Leave the plastic on top until all the seeds are 1” or so high. Remove the plastic but keep either under the lights or on the mat. Some seeds like light, some don’t. Some seeds like bottom heat, some don’t.

You are creating a whole cycle and you will be busy! Germinating, transplanting, tilling, direct seeding, transplanting again, setting out drip tape, mulching, staking, setting trellises, etc. I always feel like a timer is ticking away in the spring and everything has to be done at a certain time to maximize the harvest. It is a little stressful –or can be – but be sure to try to keep it fun. It is, after all, a very important part of your self-sufficiency and should be enjoyable for the family. Okay –next, direct seeding. Peas can be directly sown in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. After the cabbage and kale have germinated and have been transplanted into peat pots and have stems about as thick as a pencil, they can join the peas in an early place in the garden, as these crops can stand a light early frost or two in the spring. Then the tomatoes and peppers, started a little later than the cabbage and early starters can be transplanted into their peat pots. I mention transplanting into peat pots because I find them to be the best and most economical vessel to transplant into. As soon as your plants germinate and grow a second little leaf, carefully remove them from the tray and place in a 3” peat pot full of partial Pro-Mix and partial topsoil. These little plants will develop a strong root system while growing and waiting to be transplanted again into the garden. Just peel away the bottom of the peat pot and plant when the time is right. At this point, I feel that cooler and drier is preferable to warmer and wetter. Your transplants growing in the 3” pots will grow thicker – less spindly – if kept out of the heat. My favorite thing to do at this point is to place some of these plants in hotbeds. My hotbeds are 3’ x 12’ in size, built out of 2”x12” boards. To these I have a center 2”x4” laying flatways in the center for support. On top, I have some 8mil twin wall polycarbonate hinged on the back to allow me to open and close them. As a kid, we had boxes made of cypress that would never rot, and cypress frames with 6”x6” plate glass “shingles” between rows of tenons. But, those are gone forever, I’m afraid.  Place in these boxes a deep layer of green manure, followed by straw, topped off finally with good topsoil about the first of the year. By the time your plants in the three-inch pots are thick as pencils, plant them in the hotbeds. I assure you, these will be the hardiest and healthiest plants you have on the place. Then, once the danger of frost passes, relocate them to the main garden. As another consideration, remember those subterranean critters mentioned earlier? I would advise screwing some wire lathe or hardware cloth to the bottoms. They will burrow up into a really nice and warm buffet without it. I hate doing this because it makes cleaning the beds the next fall much more difficult, but we have to do it here.
Hopefully that is somewhat clear. Mixing soil, seeding, covering, heating, transplanting after the second leaf comes – that’s all there is to it.

Planting the garden.
Now that most everything is ready to plant outside into the garden, I’m going to skip the tillage and focus on layout and planting. There are several internet sites that discuss companion planting, so I’m just going to touch on it briefly. I typically lay out the rows at 36” apart, at least that’s the distance between my valves for the drip tape in my header pipe. Try to think of where your prevailing wind comes from. Can you use tall corn for shading the row or two next to it? Remember that corn likes to planted in blocks rather than just a long row or two. Often I will plant summer squash in four or five rows for the first fifteen feet, then corn, ending off the last fifteen feet of those 5 rows with zucchini. Then I have a block of corn rows instead of several long ones – they’ll germinate better.  Many crops can be double rowed, that is, plant a row on each side of the drip tape. Bush beans, beats, spinach, lettuce all work well in double rows and you can squeeze more into your space. I haven’t touched on potatoes, onions or garlic yet. These are easily self-propagating. That is, you might have to buy seed potatoes your first year, but then you can plant what’s left over the next - same with garlic. I usually buy onion sets each year. I have determined that a good-sized garden for a family of 6 like ours is 80’ wide x 200’ long. In that size garden, we can raise enough (5 rows) potatoes to feed us all year and have plenty left over to plant the next. We can raise enough green beans (2 double rows) to eat fresh frequently in the summer and put up 60 or so quart jars. The 5 rows of corn (most years) allow us to eat fresh corn on the cob in the summer and still put up 60 or so quart jars. Lettuce and spinach needs to be planted every week throughout the summer for a steady supply. One row of tomatoes is plenty for eating and canning salsa, while another row of a “paste” variety is plenty for canning tomato sauce and paste. One half row of jalapeños, one half row of chili’s and one row of bells gives us plenty to eat and freeze. Two rows of broccoli works well to feed us all summer and early fall and still provide enough to freeze 50 or so gallon freezer bags. One row of green cabbage provides plenty to fill at least three crock batches of kraut and slaw to freeze. One double row of beets, one double row of carrots, one double row turnips work well for us. We plant two rows of pickling cucumbers and only a half row or so of slicing cucumbers. Two rows of butternut squash, two rows of acorn squash and one row of pumpkins round things out. What a pleasure! What a blessing! Fresh food right off the place all summer. Canned and fresh frozen or stored in the root cellar the rest of the year for family and plenty for those left fortunate at our church’s food drive.

Tillage.
I skipped over this because it’s sort of the Alpha and Omega of the garden process. Caring for your soil is a big part of the health, productivity and longevity of your garden and the one that will have the longest learning curve. When to till, how to till, how deep to till, no till, cover crops, etc. all come into play and will take a lifetime of learning to reach its maximum potential for your individual seasons, crops, soil type, weed types and other factors. I’m going to refer to a very fine book on this subject – the New Horse Powered Farm, by Stephen Leslie. It covers small farming and vegetable production performed with horses, but is applicable to tilling with small garden tractors and walk behind rototillers as well. I’m partial to using horses for working the garden. I’ll be 50 next year and started cultivating my tobacco crop with a single mule and an adjustable width, walk behind cultivator in my early teens. Soil doesn’t get compacted under the weight of the tractor tires, oil doesn’t drip from the old engine, horses can get on soil earlier in the spring, just after the frost is out without wallowing in the mud and many other advantages for the retreat gardener. Maybe someday, most importantly, tractors need gas, oil, filters or spare parts, which might be hard to come by for an extended period of turmoil. I’m sure folks that haven’t spent much time around livestock might be intimidated. I will suggest a breed like the Haflinger for a retreat garden (and general work around the retreat). They are smaller than the huge draft breeds, have wonderful dispositions and their DNA contains centuries of living with their masters in high mountain small farms in the Austrian highlands. Seems like a match made in heaven for hardy Redoubters, huh?

Resources.
I feel obligated to mention some companies and products that have been an important part of my gardening for decades. I receive no compensation of any kind for mentioning them.

Harris Seeds
. While I don’t use a lot of their seeds, they do have good supplies as far as drip tape, trays, nozzles and other supplies.

Pioneer Equipment
. The Homesteader is a high quality, well-engineered horse drawn system for the small farmer/gardener. Plows, discs, harrows, hillers, etc. can be added and removed and the cost is very affordable.

Planet Jr.
These are the original walk behind seeders. I’ve personally planted uncounted miles of rows with one of these. Finding one will be difficult and replacement handles from Farmer Brown’s Plow Shop might be necessary, but it’s worth the effort. They are all steel and cast iron construction that will never, ever wear out. Be sure to find one with the different sized seed discs and the legend under the hopper cover matching the seed to the proper hole in the proper disc. This linked site features the new style seeder that replaced the old model. I’ve not used these new models but the site is worth visiting and the seeders look better than all the plastic ones I’ve seen. From time to time old ones can be found  on Ebay.

Ark Institute
. Check them out not only for the book I mentioned, but most importantly for their good selection of non-GMO seeds.

Pro-Mix.
Mentioned often, I feel this is the best germination medium out there. Try to find the big bales – they stack better.

Simple Pump
. Deep well hand water pumps that work amazingly well and are built to last.

The Small Farmers Journal
. A really good periodical that covers every angle of small farming with livestock.

American Haflinger Registry
. This web site has info on breeders and shows across the country that showcase the Haflinger breed.

I’m somewhat reluctant to mention pesticides, but even when marigolds and herbs are planted throughout the garden to drive away insects, often a little more is needed. Personally, I will have a pretty good store of Sevin Dust and Dipel stored away and suggest that you do to. I’m sure some folks will gripe, but it is extremely difficult to raise many types of vegetables without a little help from the chemistry lab - not applying too close to harvest and thorough washing of course.

I’m hopeful that all of us that are fans of this wonderful site can grow more self-sufficient for the troubled times that await us. I have strived to be self-sufficient most of my life and learn something new nearly everyday while reading SurvivalBlog. It is truly a blessing for those of us with our eyes wide open.


Friday, August 2, 2013


Dear James,
Regarding the recent contribution from S.M.: If Life Gives You Tomatoes, Make Salsa! I have to question where exactly in Arizona they are. We’ve been in the Phoenix metroplex for eight years and I have to tell you nothing survives 115+ degrees.
 
Arizona has an amazing array of climates. Most people picture Arizona as the low desert that really only takes up about 1/3 of the state. With elevations anywhere from 300 feet (Yuma area) to 7,000 feet (Flagstaff area)
the growing zones really do vary more than you’d think.
 
I do agree with S.M.’s first comment of it being a huge challenge, but examining the context of their article, my best guess would be they live closer to a 2,500-3,000 foot level. And yes, there are places in Southern Arizona that are that high and higher. Elevation definitely affects plant survivability. Those places just don’t reach the temperature peaks that the low desert does.
 
This year we grew our usual cantaloupe and watermelons, tomatoes and sweet peppers, but also some corn for the first time. Unfortunately I got things going a little later than I should have so by the time late June rolled around, most everything baked. What happens here is this, in late June, before the monsoons kick in, is usually our hottest and driest time. I don’t care how much water you give your plants, with 115-120 degree temps with single digit humidity for even 4-5 days straight, things die. I always say, “if it’s outside, it’s fried”. This year I programmed our auto sprinklers for the raised beds for three times a day to help keep the foliage cool but everything eventually succumbed. The only survivors, (just barely) are the melons.
 
I definitely agree with the whole rest of S.M.’s article and feel they offer some excellent tips and advice,…my only contention is the timing of the crops. If you’re in the lower desert, you need to have already harvested
summer crops by the first parts of June. My suggestion for that is to get them going toward the end of January. This also adds to the challenge as Phoenix could still get a cold snap. It’s been a huge challenge and a lot of experimenting over the years for us and we’re still figuring things out but in a nut shell: summer crops start in late January and winter crops start in the first part of September.
 
I have been successful with sprouting seeds outside in the raised beds but inside is usually best that way you can keep the January stuff warm and the September stuff cool until the seasons adjust,…which really doesn’t take long.
 
With all of that said, if S.M. is in the low desert, I would like to know their secret. (Other than prayer, I have no idea.) Thanks and keep up the great work. - S.N. in Phoenix


Thursday, August 1, 2013


Dear James,
Thank you to S.M. for the great article about gardening in the desert southwest (If Life Gives You Tomatoes, Make Salsa!). I've spent most of my years in the desert southwest near the metros of Tucson, Las Cruces, and Albuquerque and have grown gardens in these regions for the past decade. In 2010 a similar article was published in SurvivalBlog titled Starting Your Desert Backyard Garden. I was one of several readers that submitted some helpful comments and tips on that article.

This is my fourth season growing in the high desert of Northern New Mexico. I'm at around 5,000 feet elevation and the growing season is rather short, as compared to my experience in the Southern Arizona area. Last frost is usually mid-May and first frost early-October. I now start a number of plants indoors in trays beginning in late February for later transplanting. As S.M. mentioned, I too was growing year-round in the Tucson area, without cold frames or any frost protection even though there are some cold winter nights it's usually not enough to kill hardy plants like broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc. I never grew indoor starts because it wasn't necessary.

The growing season of 2013 is a first for me because it's the first time ever I have attempted row crops rather than raised beds. The results have been disappointing so far. Last fall I relocated to a more agricultural area that is about 1 mile from the Rio Grande River and has historically been farmed for hundreds of years. I live on a property with horses (lots of manure!) and I can hear cows and pheasants not far away. All around me are fields of crops, mostly alfalfa for livestock, but also smaller family farms. Driving or walking by neighboring properties and you will see many have at least a small garden of some kind. This area is very Hispanic, if that has any bearing on anything. My new home has enough yard space that raised beds seemed impractical for our goals and would make watering more difficult, so we prepared the space for row crops and flood irrigation from the river ditch bank.

[JWR Adds: I recommend using cow manure rather than horse manure, for garden fertilizing, eve if that means hauling it. Because cows completely digest grass and hay, any contained seeds are not viable by the time that the Schumer hits the ground. Not so for horses, which have more rudimentary digestion, and that means lots of weeds!]

Over the winter we removed what we could of the weed growth (bindweed), hauled in a bunch of dry manure, and tilled it all in with a tractor plow. Covered some areas with black plastic (this had no effect on the bindweed whatsoever). A few weeks before last frost we mapped out the growing areas and formed rows & furrows by hand. Our main space is about 1,200 sq. ft. and we have some satellite garden beds elsewhere on the property.

As spring approached, so did the weeds. The surrounding cottonwood trees dumped their fluff everywhere, it looked like snow and little seedlings popped up along with the awful Chinese elm which has infested this region. We tried out a test garden in early March by plotting out a small section of the yard and sowed some cool weather plants: snow peas, spring onion, chard, spinach. Things sprouted and grew, to a degree, but overall was disappointing...I think we got maybe 10 snow peas and a few spinach leaves out of the whole deal.

Moving on to late May, most of our indoor starts were transplanted along with random plants from local nurseries (who have the capability to start early under controlled greenhouse conditions). We also started sowing seeds into the ground at this time. About a week after we did this there was a frost warning so we frantically covered the "best" plants with our limited collection of 5 gallon buckets, but everything seemed to survive despite the frost. I even covered my one raised bed of potatoes with a sheet and everything survived. We've sowed or transplanted a variety of edibles: chile, tomato, potato, swiss chard, several types of onion, peanuts, carrots, herbs, cucumber, squash, beans, corn.

Fast forward to today, end of July. We are pretty disappointed with current yields. Despite weekly floodings and massive rainfall we got about two weeks ago (the one and only heavy rain we've gotten all season), growth is slow. Water is always a huge issue in the desert southwest and growers in this area depend on the Rio or well water. That will not always be the case as the Rio has nearly run dry over the past few weeks. All the upstream reservoirs were depleted and irrigation ditches were empty. The rain saved us along with thousands of other growers along the river...for now. A few tomatoes here and there, a few handfuls of chiles, corn is growing but is small, squash has no growth at all, onions are wispy and stunted, etc. Half of my potato plants have died - too hot. At this time last year we were already overloaded with tomatoes & cucumbers (in raised beds). Now, this is just my experience because I frequent the local growers' markets and I see impressive yields of onions, chiles, squash, and garlic...from growers who are all in my immediate area. I'm just sharing our personal experience on a patch of land that hasn't been farmed for several years. We are considering having the soil tested as we suspect it's an issue. It seems to be semi-sandy and semi-clayey and packs pretty hard in the furrows where we walk. I have dealt with clay and caliche in the past which is why I've always used raised beds. Plants just won't grow if there's too much clay and hard material.

We have been plagued by pests, something I haven't dealt with much in the past in warmer climates. The first blast were aphids, which destroyed our peach tree, followed by hornworms on the tomato & chile plants (easy to get rid of but so disgusting, we toss them over the fence to the chickens). About two weeks ago we discovered a new invasion: bagworm. They enclose themselves into a bag made of foliage, hence the name, so they blend in but they hang from and eat nearly every plant we have growing. You have to pluck them off and toss them over the fence for the chickens. It's a daily battle to look overhead and see hundreds of them hanging from the trees around our garden, then look down and see a carpet of worm poop on the ground falling from above. Not much we can do other than a daily culling once they reach our plants. Grasshoppers are also doing some damage.

We do not want to introduce chemical pesticides into the garden and have tried natural killers like neem and diatomaceous earth, with mixed results. Last year I had an infestation of squash bugs and nothing resolved it until I finally slashed & burned the entire squash patch. This year I'm trying a squash patch far from the main garden, so far no squash bugs but also no squash.

Some things we want to try for next year's growing season and some random tips:
• Introduce more soil amendments into the garden: compost, leaves, coconut coir. Till well with a gas-powered hand tiller, not tractor.
• Build some raised beds for comparison purposes. I build raised beds out of pallets. Hard to work with, but free for the taking. Raised beds don't have to cost money.
• Try drip irrigation rather than flooding. Water is so precious here. We want to look into filling some 55 gallon barrels with water, then running drip lines along the rows. If we elevate the barrel a couple feet will there be enough pressure for drip flow?
• Try plastic row covers: one, to extend the growing season and two, to help block weed growth around plants. We spend too many hours every week just pulling weeds.
• We want to get or make a small greenhouse to start seedlings in and to grow some plants all winter (spinach, kale, etc). Two winters ago I built a mini-greenhouse on a raised bed surrounded by hay bales and was growing lettuce and bok choy in February, with snow on the ground.
• There's a landscaping company here that collects food waste from a local market and composts it. Every spring they have a free compost giveaway, up to half a truckload allowed. I show up with a shovel and some buckets and load up, it's good stuff! Last year I offered a donation and they refused. Some cities also give away free compost (I know Albuquerque and Las Cruces do) but I've never tried it. I've had some people tell me it's full of cactus thorns and chunks of wood so I haven't bothered with it. Las Cruces also composts human waste and gives it away: I spoke with a nursery owner who tried it and said they didn't like it. That's not something I really want to try, either.
• Make friends with and support your local growers' markets. We signed up for one this year but now it's nearly August and we still don't have enough produce for ourselves, let alone to sell. Nevertheless, the market is a great place to see what other growers are doing, problems they encounter, and what works/what doesn't. Most of the growers I've met love to talk about their gardens. Support your local growers by buying their stuff. You may pay a bit more than you would at a store, but you get what you pay for...
• Used plastic 5 gallon buckets make fine growing containers. We found a local restaurant chain that dumps dozens and dozens of these into the dumpster every day. This system is so wasteful. Punch some holes in the bottom, fill with good soil, and start growing. Chiles and small tomatoes do well in the buckets. We've also though about using them to help keep a greenhouse warm: spray paint black, fill with water, and stack them in the greenhouse.
• I read about growing plants in burlap sacks. I bought some (they are cheap) and haven't had good luck so far. I have potatoes in two of the sacks but they just aren't growing much. I think the sacks dry out too quickly here.
• S.M. is lucky to have gotten a free compost bin from her city. When I lived in the Tucson area I didn't even have a bin, just a pile on the ground that I mixed up once a week. It's so hot there that I was getting good compost within 2-3 weeks. Last year I made a compost bin out of pallets and chicken wire, it worked fine. I keep a couple of those big Folger's coffee cans near my kitchen sink to dump food scraps in. You could also put a 3-5 gallon plastic bucket with lid under your sink, just dump it every few days because it can get kind of gross.
• Try to buy "good" organic seed. In Tucson there's a place called Native Seed Search that specializes in heirloom, indigenous seed for plant species that do better in the desert. In Albuquerque I buy seed at Plants of the Southwest; they have a huge selection and are very generous with the seed packets. I just looked at their web site yesterday to see if they sell amaranth and they carry 3 varieties of it, 1000 seeds per packet for $2.75. I also save my own seeds every year. I have enough saved seeds that I really don't need to buy any at all, but I have a bit of a 'seed fetish' and end up buying a bunch every spring just to try different things. It's so dry here I don't fuss much with seed storage: I store them in small envelopes in a plastic container. Most seeds don't stay viable for more than a few years, but I had butternut squash seed saved from 2008 that sprouted this year so you never know unless you try.
• We want to get our own chickens. I read about a setup on Mother Earth News of enclosing the entire garden with a chicken run as it really helps with controlling pests. That would be an investment and would require several big rolls of chicken wire. Maybe next year.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Gardening in the Southwestern United States is a huge challenge!  Growing a successful garden takes hard work and a commitment to never give up.  My gardening quest began in earnest in October 2010.  Prior to 2010 I had planted seeds in the ground with few, if any, results.  I had one lemon tree and aloe vera plants (part of my first aid kit, used for burns, skin irritations, etc.) that grew without much help from me.  A friend, who was a master gardener, gave a class one Saturday on how to start a garden.  He taught basic desert gardening and helped us create small square foot gardening boxes (2 x 2).  I brought home two of these (8 square feet total) and another shallow box in which to plant spinach and lettuces.  October was the perfect time to plant a fall garden.  I mostly planted greens, which are supposed to be easy to grow.  I watered and waited and hoped for a small harvest since I now had a miniature “garden” (if you could call it that).  It was a start.  Since that time, I’ve graduated to larger garden boxes that are four feet by eight feet long.  Planting in the ground here just doesn’t work due to poor soil and water loss. Garden boxes help control water usage/waste and soil quality. 
A visitor from up North was looking over a friend’s first attempts at a garden in the ground and remarked, “I had no idea what you were up against.”  People from other parts of the country can’t comprehend how difficult it is to grow a garden in the desert.  This gardener’s next attempts included raised bed boxes, bird netting and improved soil.  After a lot of hard work, he now has a garden to be proud of.

Building a garden box takes a few materials and a little bit of work.  Cedar and Douglas fir are good choices for building materials.  Four by four posts make the corners and then three two by six boards are screwed into the posts to make up the sides and ends.  The outside of the boxes are sealed with water sealer to help them endure the weather.  Once the rectangular shape is completed, an area is leveled and bricks are placed as a foundation for the box to sit on.  Place the box on top of the bricks and add ground cover cloth inside the box on the ground.  Cover the inner sides of the box with plastic sheeting to protect the boards from water damage, soil loss and water leakage.  Attach the plastic sheeting to the tops of each side with staples or secure with two by twos on the top of each side. Fill the bottom half of the boxes with sandy loam - delivered from a local company.   Next, finish filling the boxes with a mixture of vermiculite, peat moss, and two different types of compost.  Fill the boxes really full, since the soil will compact down over time.  Each planting season the boxes need to be topped off and the soil loosened.  This initial investment will last for years and grow excellent crops.  Test soil for nutrient levels with the local extension.  Very few weeds grow in these boxes, so most of that work is eliminated.

The type of seeds selected is also important.  Certain plants just won’t grow in the desert.  Look for heat resistant varieties.  The season in which a certain type of plant is planted matters also.  Zone nine has very different planting dates than other regions.  For example, tomato plants (not seeds) planted outdoors (from indoor starts) in late February will yield a nice harvest in May, June and into July.  The plants will usually stop producing and become dormant in August and part of September.  However, if they are kept alive, they will produce a nice second crop in late October, early November.  Even better, if the plants are covered and kept from freezing through the winter, then they will last for a second year.  After that, I like to grow new plants and move them to a different bed because diseases and bugs seem to overcome the plants at this point.  One friend had the same vigorous tomato plants that lasted for three years.

As of this writing, I have six garden boxes with one more in progress.  There is a permanent mountain of sandy loam on the back patio to be used in future projects.  At one point I felt that I had plenty of garden space with just four boxes, but last fall I planted half a box with carrots and the other side with onions (nice companion plants) and thought that would be plenty, but it wasn’t even close to enough.  Some onions were frozen while others were used in daily cooking (I like cooked onions) with very few left to use in making salsa, and none were left for dehydration.  The carrots were delicious and used quickly as well.  There weren’t any left to preserve.  The carrot tops went to a friend’s rabbits – a special treat.  Otherwise, the carrot tops would have been composted along with the rest of the garden leftovers to help improve the soil so we can stop buying peat moss.

The first couple of gardening years I had beautiful plants with little to actually eat.  I read somewhere that the most important part of growing a garden is the harvest.  Since then, I’ve concentrated more on production and how much we can eat from the garden.  The more the fruit or leaves are harvested, the more the plants are stimulated to produce.  This is especially true with strawberries, lettuces, spinach, and Swiss chard.

This year I have more than enough tomatoes.  Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C, and combined with the citrus fruit that’s abundant in our area, scurvy won’t be a problem during an emergency situation.  Usually, I eat tomatoes fresh from the garden on salads or as a side dish with meals and that’s all.  It’s been nice to give them to friends and have leftovers to can as well.  One garden box was planted with two Early Girl, two cherry, and two Roma plants.  Six plants are the maximum one box will hold (tomatoes are space hogs and like to have lots of room for their roots).  The plants grew over six feet tall.  They are staked (with tomato cages and PVC pipe supports because I don’t like vines in the dirt. They seem to get covered with ants and the fruit rots easily) and have sun screens and bird netting over the top for protection.  Birds don’t seem to bother the green tomatoes in June, but once they start to turn, it’s a war to see who will get to the fruit first.  As the weather gets warmer, the birds get more aggressive and the bird netting in a necessity to keep the fruit from being ruined by the pests.  After the garden was planted, a friend brought over four additional Roma plants.  Roma tomatoes are wonderful – firm and medium sized with a pleasing flavor. 

What to do with the extra tomatoes?  First, a huge batch of spaghetti sauce was made using 1 jalapeno, green peppers, onions, and garlic from the garden.  Chili powder was also used since we like our sauce spicy.  This sauce included meat and was frozen.  Next, another batch of spaghetti sauce was made without meat.  This was canned using a cold pack canner - tomatoes are acidic enough that they don’t need to be pressure canned as long as they don’t contain meat.  I started with spaghetti sauce because the tomatoes don’t need to be peeled. 

Since I had so many tomatoes, I wanted to try salsa (first time) and knew the tomatoes needed to be peeled to make it correctly.  I found a few recipes and experimented.  Slip peeling tomatoes isn’t difficult.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and set up a large bowl of ice water.  Wash tomatoes and place in boiling water for 30 seconds, for canning whole (or 3 minutes for salsa, depending on the recipe).  Remove from boiling water and place in ice water for 30 seconds.  Remove from water, core with a knife, and then slip the skin off with your finger.  The skin will slide right off.  Some of these skinned tomatoes were canned whole with ½ tsp. lemon juice and ½ tsp. salt.  Fill jars to ½ inch of top with water/juice and process as usual.  The tomatoes that were processed for three minutes were cooked somewhat (which you need for salsa).  After peeling they go into the food processor or blender.  Depending on the recipe, the chilies and onion can be cooked first or added raw to the tomatoes.  Add spices and cilantro and put salsa in the fridge to be enjoyed right away or put into canning jars and processed for use later.

Usually my garden has finished most of its summer production by mid-July, but this year, in July, it’s still going strong.  We eat cherry tomatoes as a snack and on salad almost daily.  It would be nice if all the things I tried to grow grew as well as the tomatoes.  Beans, squash, strawberries, and cucumbers still challenge me.  My zucchini plants look gorgeous, but don’t produce any squash.  My gardening friend says I have a pollinator problem and need to pollinate by hand.  I can’t tell the difference between the male and female flowers so I just go out with Q-tips and rub pollen from one flower on all the others.  It just hasn’t worked.  He may have to come over and show me exactly what to do because I’m stumped.  Meanwhile, my gardening girlfriend has bounteous zucchini – maybe she will trade for tomatoes.  Next year I may not have as many tomatoes or they may get a disease, but this year I’m thankful for my successful salsa garden and I’ll do everything I can to preserve this bounty.

As I’ve studied material on gardening and prepping, I read comments such as, “Be sure to have seeds in your preps so that in a year or so you can plant them to replenish your food supply.”  A year?  A year is too long to wait!  Other than August, gardening can be done all year long in Southern Arizona.  Cool weather vegetables need to be planted in October, citrus ripens from December to April, and spring and summer gardens can be planted from February through March.  The seeds need to be put in the ground at specific times.  Even if seeds are started indoors, they can be transplanted outdoors later.  They need less water this way and can be protected from garden “raiders”.  Most marauders/scavengers would (hopefully) overlook seeds that had just been planted and garden boxes (the big ones) are not easily moved.  My small lettuce/spinach boxes could be easily taken away.  These I would gladly give up if the other plants were left alone.  In a worst case scenario I would still try to plant a garden using armed guards, if necessary. I’m counting on desperate people, who are looking for food, to overlook plants in the garden/ground as food, since food comes from a grocery store in cans and boxes – right?  It may not be practical, but I will try planting any way I can because a garden is a symbol of hope.  Even if just a few things grow, it will have been worth it to give myself and others even a small amount of fresh produce in a stressful time.  On the other hand, if trespassers steal my produce, then I will plant again and use my indoor stored food until I can plant again.

Here are a few things I have learned about/from gardening:
1.  Gardening is a process, a journey, and not a destination.  There will always be more to learn.   The more you learn, the more you realize you need to learn.
2.  Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and to make (many) mistakes.  Spend time in the garden just enjoying it.  Touch the plants and dig your fingers into the soil.  Attempt to unravel the mystery of an artichoke or whatever new and unusual plant you are growing this season.
3.  Be patient.  Growing a garden takes time.  I used to pick and wanted to pick things before they were ripe.  Sometimes, I still pick tomatoes a day or two early, but that’s to save them from aggressive birds.  They ripen nicely on the kitchen counter and still taste superior to store bought. A garden takes time to establish and the basic learning curve is about five years.  The things I’ve learned during the first four years in my garden have been invaluable to me.  I’ve become more confident in my ability to see a project through and not give up.  I’ve seen tiny carrot seeds become beautiful plants and then have gone on to eat and enjoy the crunchy, delicious taste.  I can’t imagine going without fresh Swiss chard or green peppers that have become a part of my weekly cooking, all in season, and not before their time.
4.  Eat/Preserve locally.  I never plant corn in my garden because so much corn is available here during June.  I can get it free and eat some fresh and freeze some for later.  A quick one minute bath in boiling water starts to cook the corn, which can be cut from the cob or frozen on the cob.  It stacks nicely in freezer bags.  Watermelon is also local and free.  An extended family member raises watermelon as gifts for friends, so we always get a few.  Farmer’s markets are great places to find fresh food to can or dehydrate.  When fruit is on sale it quickly becomes jam (strawberries, raspberries) or is frozen to be made into muffins or smoothies (blueberries).  Preserve what is abundant now.  Each year will be different.  If tomato products are coming out of your ears, then barter.  My neighbor down the street brings me grapefruit during the spring (I only have a lemon tree, but will be growing a grapefruit tree this year).  She gets tomatoes in June in return.
5.  When you think you’ve watered enough, water some more!  Water is a whole topic by itself, but there is no way to water too much.
6.   Keep a garden journal.  Include dates of planting, fertilizing, garden design & the changes made each season, and pictures of plants in different stages of development, especially new plants that are experimental or causing trouble.  This will be a great resource.
7.  Pray.  The Bible tells us to pray over our flocks and fields.  I’ve prayed many times for rain and for understanding to know what my plants need (Too much nitrogen? More shade?  Less fertilizer?)  In tumultuous times, a prayer on the garden as well as a blessing on the food couldn’t go amiss.  As I search for answers regarding watering a garden when the municipal water supply isn’t up and running, I keep turning to prayer to help me find answers to this important question.  (Again, water is a whole issue on its own.)  Pray in gratitude for the abundance that you’ve been given (thank you for the tomatoes) and more will be “added unto you”.

I’ll do whatever it takes to continue to garden.  I finally feel ready to take my gardening to the next level.  This includes planting heirlooms and beginning to save seeds from the heirloom vegetables (seeds should only be saved from ripe fruits/vegetables).  I want to move away from GMO/hybrid seeds and plants and try new varieties.  I’ll plant several new trees and will experiment with grapes and raspberries.  One of my garden beds will be used to plant a “three sisters” garden (corn, beans, and squash) next year, which according to Native American lore, help each other grow better (companion planting).  The corn shades the beans and squash while the bean plants grow up the corn stalks and the nitrogen content of the soil is nicely balanced. 

Plants that weren’t successful in the past will be tried again in new and better locations (improved microclimates) with some new techniques to see if better results will ensue.  I have a new location for strawberries and will cover them with straw when the weather turns hot and continue to water, long and slow.  This may save the plants for more than one growing season and protect the delicate leaves from sunburn.  Another item will be to plant more of what we eat/like and less of other things.  Dill is an excellent herb that I use frequently in my cooking.  It goes in potato salad, egg salad, deviled eggs and almost anything else that contains potatoes.  Dill needs to be planted in full sun in order to germinate, but doesn’t like the hot days of summer.  I’ll plant more in October and dry it when it’s ready.  Dill is so expensive to buy in small containers at the store, but is very inexpensive to grow.  A few seeds turn into a lot of dill! 

Another area to be improved upon is my composting.  I need a better system to save scraps from the kitchen and then remember to take them out to the composting container.  My container came free from the city simply for the asking.  It’s nearly full.  I may call and see if they will give me another one.  Many more projects and ideas are waiting, but I’ll tackle just one at a time and continue reading and learning about southwestern gardening.

My garden is a hopeful, positive place.  I can’t imagine my life without a garden now or in the future.  Gardening in challenging in Arizona, but I like the challenge and have learned how much can be accomplished with hard work and persistence.  Just start small and take it one step at a time like I did, and if you have lots of tomatoes, make some salsa (with salsa, who needs a recipe, right?), and if your lemon tree goes nuts, then make some lemonade too. 


Thursday, July 18, 2013


Dear CPT Rawles,
My wife and I, along with our three teenage son', are now eyeball deep in prepping, and have reached that stage where we pretty much have most of everybody's personal gear needs met, with the exception of a few small items here and there.  We opted to take care of that first, as we are stuck temporarily east of the mississippi, in the southeastern US.  Our intent when we began our prepping journey a couple years ago, was first & foremost to be able to make a hasty exit from this area if the SHTF.  Thus, our decision to gear up first, was to provide what we needed for our escape from here, and our trek to the redoubt, to my folks ranch in Wyoming, by whatever means necessary. That done, last year we took your advice on relocation to the American Redoubt, and purchased a small, undeveloped ranch property in northernmost Idaho, and I do mean very northernmost.  We are now only 320 days and a wake up from moving day.  While continuing to work on other details such as retreat construction, security, etc.  We've now come to the arena of agricultural issues.  We need some help because frankly, we must not be looking in the right areas for the information we are seeking, because we keep coming up basically empty.  We could only afford 11 acres (although it is paid off), about four of which is what I guess you might call bottom land, and I would think could be used as pasture if so desired, and has a small creek running through it.  The rest is up above it, and is basically flat and timbered, except for a cleared homesite, in what I would consider to be a small meadow, looking out over the bottom land.  It backs up to BLM land. Our property is vaguely in the Bonners Ferry region.  

Now, with that as the background, here is our issue.  Our goal is to reach a reasonable level of self reliance from the standpoint of renewable food resources, i.e. gardening and livestock.  We want to grow our own produce, as well as raise our own livestock.  There are so many different opinions floating around out there about nutritional needs, and how to meet them, that it's absolutely overwhelming, and now the only thing floating around here, are my eyeballs!   We've followed your blog for these past two years, and even written you in the past, because you are always so thought out and researched in the basis for your opinions, and the readership at Survival Blog has such a wide diversity of expertise.  Thus we thought we would seek out the advice and experience of yourself and our fellow blog readers, should this get printed.

Question #1:  All members of my family are adults, physically speaking as the youngest is 15, and the oldest is, well, in the interest of domestic tranquility we better not go there, but I can safely say not yet anywhere near retirement age.  What are our actual nutritional needs.  We are all healthy and have no significant physical problems to speak of.

Question #2:  Regarding garden produce, and it is my understanding that you and your family grow produce for your own consumption, do you have any recommendations on produce that will grow well in my area of northern Idaho, and help meet those needs?  Is irrigation required?  What is the growing season like there, and is a greenhouse necessary?  How in the world do you decide how much you need to plant for a family of a given size?  Is there a problem with deer and other garden pests, if deer are a problem how high of a fence is required to keep them out We are debating if a 6' fence would keep them out?

Question #3:  Regarding livestock for consumption, my wife is familiar with cattle, more so than I am, although we are both thinking that it may be easier, more prudent, and safer to raise smaller livestock such as dairy and meat goats, pasture pigs perhaps, ducks, and perhaps even rabbits.  Things that are smaller and more easily handled, not only in interacting with, but also from the standpoint of meat processing.  Any recommendations or suggestions we should research?  How do you go about determining how much pasture is needed for this various livestock?  What about livestock predation by cats, wolves, or bears, does this pose much of an issue up there.  
We read news articles about the wolves killing the hunting dogs of the mountain lion hunters, and wonder if there are any problems they pose with livestock or people even who are out hiking, camping, hunting etc?  We were thinking of bringing two Great Pyrenees as guard dogs if that is that a common practice up there.

Thanks in advance for any input yourself, or any of the readers may be able to give us, either from personal experience. or to simply help us better focus our efforts. 

Thanks for the great service you do us all with this blog!
Highest regards, - D. & M.

JWR Replies: Self-sufficiency on just 11 acres is doable, if you have a southern or western exposure and you clear most of it for gardening and hay cutting. There is no need to maintain a wood lot on your own property, considering the abundance of timber in North Idaho. No matter where you are, there is copious wood available or firewood and fence posts available with an inexpensive annual family wood cutting permit from the US Forest service. They have a 7-foot 11-inch length limit, for haul outs, to keep people from commercially cutting trees to mill into lumber. Cedar trees are common in north Idaho, and with those you will have fence posts covered. (Seven feet is the ideal length, for fence posts.) And Western Larch (commonly called Tamarack) as well as Red Fir are both also quite common, and make fantastic firewood.

According to our family's primary gardener (my wife, "Avalanche Lily"), the vegetables that do best in north Idaho are: Celery, potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini squash, short-season variety pumpkins, onions, turnips, strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries, and most herbs. Most cold-weather tolerant varieties of vegetables and fruit trees do quite well.

Getting a good crop of melons and tomatoes and some squash can be a challenge in many years, because of the short growing season. So Lily recommends short growing season varieties such Siberian tomatoes and Blacktail watermelons. It is best to get an early start with your seedlings, through use of a window box, cold frames, or better yet a proper greenhouse if you afford to buy or build one.

As for fencing, a six-foot tall fence is just marginal to keep out deer, even on level ground. In the Inland Northwest, a eight-foot tall fence is ideal. But be advised that if an elk, moose, or bear really wants in to your garden, be prepared to re-build your fence.

You also asked about livestock predation by "...cats, wolves, or bears." Your list is incomplete! Here in the Inland Northwest, you need to beware of: coyotes, wolves, bobcat, lynx, mountain lions (pumas), black bears, grizzly bears, badgers, wolverines, skunks, raccoons, golden eagles, bald eagles, several types of hawks, several types of owls, and numerous types of small furbearers such as marten and stoats/ermine. If you have a fish pond, otters and and osprey can also be a menace.

Penning up your chickens at night is a must! And depending on the meanderings of the local wolves and mountain lions, it may be necessary to pen up your sheep and goats in an enclosed barn every night, as well. Attacks on horses and cattle by wolves or bears are less common, but when they do happen, the results are often devastating. Typically, even if an animal survives the attack, it will be beyond recovery and need to be destroyed. Great Pyrenees are an excellent choice for this climate, particularly for guarding sheep or as companion dogs when hiking or huckleberry picking. (Although you will also want to carry Pepper Spray or Lead Spray (.44 or .45 caliber.) It is important that they bond with the sheep and become accustomed to staying out with the flock. (They won't do any good if they are kept inside your house!)


Thursday, July 4, 2013


We have begun our corn harvest. We just finished canning the corn from 2 rows of hybrid sweet corn. We planted two rows 100 feet long. We made approximately 400 ears of corn. From this we ate all we wanted and canned 39 quarts and 12 pints whole kernel. We don’t can any cream style, because it doesn’t do well. Many times the corn has a musty taste. We put it in jars rather than the freezer to protect it from a grid down scenario. We gave 20 ears to a local widow, and 48 ears to a local gentleman in his mid 80’s.

I plant my corn seed in pairs about 6 to 12 inches apart and ½” deep.   They can be a little deeper, but not much closer to the surface of the soil.  I drop my seed by hand. It doesn’t take long once you develop a method. I can drop a 200 foot row in about 10 minutes. I usually plant a couple weeks before the last frost date, because it takes awhile for the seed to sprout. The frost may “bite” the young corn plant, but not kill it. A hard freeze is another matter. The soil temperature should be 55 deg. F. and rising. Corn requires a lot of fertilizer. I place 13-13-13 in the row and mix with soil and then drop my seed and cover them with soil. When the corn approaches 2 feet in height, I apply another band of 13-13-13 by the plants and cover with dirt along with any grass or weeds that escaped any previous plowing.        

We are growing 3 more types of corn, most of which is drying on the stalk in the field. We purchased some Golden Bantam heirloom variety corn from an Internet seed business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I purchased this seed because there was no local source for non-hybrid heirloom sweet corn seed. After planting and eating a little, I highly recommend it. It has a very large starchy kernel. It is unique because the kernels are extremely easy to bite off the cob when cooked due to the shape of the kernel and the spacing of the attachment points to the cob. This corn would be easy to bite with dentures. It also has two other things that I like. The stalks are very short when mature (5 feet), which makes it wind resistant and it requires a lot less moisture to grow a 5 foot stalk compared to an eight foot stalk. I’m saving all this seed for future planting. The only negative is the ears are rather small.

I’ve planted 20 rows 200 feet long of heirloom Yellow Dent corn. I purchased this at a local feed store. I was also given some by a neighbor. These corn stalks have reached a height of 8 feet and have huge ears, usually two per stalk, due to all the rain we’ve had this year. I plan to use this as feed for my geese and ducks, for grinding into corn meal, and extra feed for my herd of donkeys. I will also save at least five 5-gallon buckets for seed for the future and for barter.

I’ve planted 10 rows 200 feet long of pencil cob corn. This is an heirloom variety that is grown locally. I purchased the seed from a local feed store. I’m growing this corn as the primary feed for my donkeys in a “worst case” scenario. The cobs of this variety are only ½” in diameter. You can easily break the ears into 3 pieces by hand. My donkeys will eat the whole piece and they love it. When commercial feed is no longer available, this will be their primary feed along with grass or winter fodder. This corn also makes excellent corn meal.

Since I’m nearly 60 years old and can remember things well, I can remember the first hay baler in this area. The hay was cut with a horse-drawn mower. After it cured or dried it was pulled with a horse drawn rake to the stationary baler where it was pitch forked into the baler and hand tied. Why am I including this in a corn essay? The reason is that I want to share some information that few people remember or know. What did poor farmers do before these hay making methods came along? What did farmers do that didn’t have the land to raise hay? The answer is in the corn field. Once you have picked the ripe corn for canning, you go back and cut down the stalk, place them in small bunches until they air dry. They are then placed in a dry storage area until fed in the winter. If the corn is to be dry harvested, you cut the stalk off above the highest ear after the silk has turned completely brown. Then do the same as the above. If you want more feed, then you go back and pull the leaves from the standing stalk, twist them together in a small sheave and hang them between the ear and stalk. Once these have air dried, place them in dry storage. You then return and pull the dried ears of corn a few weeks later. The ear will be turned down and the shuck will be completely dry. All that will be left in the corn field is a short corn stalk to be removed before the next planting. The corn field will now be filled with grass and weeds by this time. This is when I turn in the cows and let them clean the field. This method requires many hours of hard labor. Right now, I’m continuing to use my diesel tractor and round baler, but I know what to do if these items are no longer available. Doing this will provide you with many tons of feed for your donkeys and milk cow thru the winter. My father used this dried corn fodder to feed his family’s plow horse and milk cows. This is how my father as a young boy and his family survived the Great Depression. My father said they never had any money during this time, but they were never hungry. He always smiled when he spoke of these times. - M.E.R.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013


 
This week we have been overrun. Not by looters, but by beans. We really look forward to our first spring green vegetables, which are green beans.  After raising green beans for generations on our farm, we have decided that "Contenders" is the very best variety for us. They come up the best, and produce the largest quantity of long slender green beans per plant. We haven't saved any seeds from this variety, until this year. If you have read one of my previous posts, you will know why. After the great drought of 2011, all the stores in our area had few seed if any. We learned to be better prepared.  We also planted pinto beans, yellow wax beans, black beans, and Anasazi beans. All the bean seeds for the pinto, black, and Anasazi came from the grocery store shelves. So, if you have a favorite bean, that you can't find at a feed store or garden center, go to the grocery store. They are usually cheaper. If you buy extra seed for the future, be sure to store with a little diatomaceous earth. The stores rotate their stock so you won't buy dried beans with weevils.

These types of plants don't require as much fertilizer as corn or potatoes. I used 13-13-13 for these. These plants can't tolerate commercial fertilizer in the row when planted, however they do well with manure when it's mixed with the soil. Commercial fertilizer must be added later during the first cultivation pass to be most effective. Here's why. When a bean sprouts, the root comes out of the center of the seed and pushes the seed halves upward thru the soil. They make the first two leaves on the plant. If these leaves are "burned" by the commercial fertilizer, they die and you have a stem with no leaves, which dies. All of these beans are planted about a week after our corn is planted. These plants like cool spring weather best. As we approach the summer solstice, these plants grow faster each day. They should be planted ¼” deep.

Our goal in planting these beans was to harvest them as dry seeds for planting or eating after boiling in water with seasoning. This would save the work of shelling and canning the beans in jars. Storing this way, rather than putting in the freezer, keeps them safe from loss of electrical power. It would also save the cost of energy to can and the cost of jars and lids plus greatly reduce the storage space.

After we picked just the dry beans from just two rows, we decided that we would need to change our harvest plans. As I’m approaching 60 years of age and currently having back issues along with my wife (except for the age), a change of plans was a must. Our solution was to pull up the beans, stack in small piles, and then load them onto a trailer to bring to our home.
I discovered some unexpected benefits during this process. (Caution: Do not pull up more than you can pick off in one or two days. The ripe beans will go thru a “heat” phase if stacked too thick and sprout in the shell. The whole stack of beans will go thru a process similar to “spontaneous combustion” as they dry. They will generate their own heat. Spread them out thinly out of direct sunlight.)
1) The beans are pulled and stacked and loaded much faster than they could be picked over several times.
2) The beans can be picked under a shade tree or barn sitting down, rather than bent over in 90 deg. heat and 95% humidity. (I live in the southern U.S.)
3) This method of harvest immediately clears the rows, where the next crop can be immediately planted. This prevents weeds and grass from taking over the row and consuming the nutrients left in the soil. This saves fuel and work and the time needed to eliminate the grass before planting the next crop. It also reduces soil compaction from discing and provides the “just planted” crop more time to grow before the coming fall or frost.
4) Elderly or incapacitated people can do the picking.
5) The largest part of the harvest can be done inside a secure perimeter and safety in a worst case scenario (your retreat fence).
6) In a worse case scenario in the future, a security escort is not needed for multiple picking times.
           

As we picked the beans, we learned to separate the beans out as “dried”, “mature, ready to shell” or “snaps”. The dry beans were spread in the sun on metal surfaces to dry. I discovered that I was not prepared for this. I remembered that my dad used burlap sacks. In the 1960’s we always had plenty because all our feed came in them. Not today, everything comes in paper or Tyvek bags. However, I have found some 23x36 bags at Amazon.com.

I believe that this item should be added to your “Lists of Lists”. They are a necessity for drying bean and pea seeds. Once the beans are placed in these sacks they are easily moved from night storage to day drying and back to night time storage. The bags have a loose weave which aids ventilation and the evaporation of moisture. There was usually a row of these lying on my father’s metal barn roof during the summer months. Once the beans are dry and start to “rattle” in the sacks they are dry enough to shell. You can then take an axe handle or broom handle and beat and rotate the sacks of beans. This will make most of the beans fall from the shells making them easy to sort or shell out the beans to store as I mentioned above,
           
We shelled the mature green beans and canned in glass jars for storage. We stir fried the “snaps” to eat fresh and bagged a few for the freezer to eat soon. We also canned many jars of green snap beans. The abundant rain in our region caused some of the plants to produce as much as 40 beans per plant. It also caused the beans that dried on the vine to sprout in the shells. This makes them unacceptable for planting, but you can still cook and eat them if they are not decayed or let your chickens eat them. We planted 9 of these 200 foot rows. This was way too many for two people to pick. We have shared many with the neighborhood widow (charity). Planting this many in the future will make our group independent of the outside world as far as beans are concerned. You will have the first of the three "B's".This is a good goal. - M.E.R.


Friday, June 21, 2013


I am a wild food author who lived it for years while homesteading in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, and I lived on wild food for many years after that during my teaching days. I still eat wild food today in retirement.

YES.  Wild food is abundant, nutritious, healthy, easy-to-use and, best of all, free! This is important to know, and it’s an important cognition to have early on the way to becoming proficient with it. Having your eyes opened to the fact that it is everywhere must, of course, come before starting the journey that ends with being starvation-proofed.

BUT . . .
I understand that many peppers and survivalists tend to think of my materials as something they can keep on the shelf right up until they need them, then take them down and use them like a road map to instantly trot off to the wilds and subsist because the world went to hell and the supermarkets are fresh out of everything. That is feasible, but that’s not what I would call practical.  Even though you could do this, it is, by far, not the best way to learn the use of wild food.  I feel the need to warn against this grab-the-book approach. True skills are only acquired over time, and your progress can be greatly accelerated by guidance, building on the experience of others as laid out in their materials.

Surely the goal of a complete educational suite about wild food would be to starvation-proof an individual, a family or a group.  Information is important, but I'm sorry to say that your success or failure in that regard is based on how much practical effort you have put into learning and practicing these skills before they are needed. Of course not everyone will be ahead of the curve, and there would be many folks that have no idea of the fact of wild food, so never tried to learn or apply them.  These could be people you would want to help keep alive.

While simple foraging could indeed be useful as you trek off-road to your retreat, you may get away with not having practiced these skills before. But if that’s the only role you’ve set aside for wild food, your are missing the bigger picture. Wild edible food, used well, will play a crucial role at your retreat, camp or homestead. All of my early years of living on wild food occurred in a homestead setting.
Yes, I know you have food stores, but they cannot last forever. Yes, if it's spring (and it probably isn’t) and you get your tomatoes, corn and zucchini started from your heirloom seeds, you might have some wonderful crops come July or August, and I hope you do. I'd love to join you if there's enough to go around!

But you are a prepper, right?  Farming can be difficult; there could be drought, early and/or late frost, hail, wind or unpredictable weather or scant sunlight, problems with deer, rabbits, or other critters, insect trouble or possibly even theft from daring people in the night who didn't take the trouble to plan ahead or think things through. When gardening graduates from a hobby to a vital necessity, the cost of failure graduates, too.  You do have a backup plan, right?

Even if you get a bumper crop, there's still the problem of storage. Unless you thought to include a freeze-drying apparatus or commercial-level canning in your preparations, your storage will be limited by the number of Ball jars you have, whether your freezer can work or not, or whether you thought ahead to build a solar food dehydrator or have the materials and time on hand to build one. Those tomatoes will be good and plentiful in their short season, but you will need to do better than give or barter the surplus- you’ll want to store them.  A question will enter your mind during your high-volume canning efforts during the heat of summer: Is there an easier, high-nutrition food solution that we can use in parallel to traditional cultivation?

Yes there is.  That’s the main reason why we use wild food. Wild edibles aren’t just something you can live off of when there is nothing better; they really start to shine when you use them as a supplement to everyday nutrition. By simply harvesting, drying, pulverizing and storing in Zip-locs or dry jars, you can add a pinch or two of dried clover, violets, lambs quarters, chicory, chickweed or amaranth to your soup or casserole, your burger or omelets—anything you want. You can sneak it into any dish, and you'll be increasing nutrition and quantity while also squeezing the most out of your food stores.  Later, when you are used to it, you’ll increase your usage, and why not?  It’s solid nutrition.

Wild food is man’s original food, so it is quite naturally your ‘backup food store’ while you’re striving to grow fancier food.  We do agree on the prudence of having food reserves, right?  Anyone who values preparation will immediately see that, as a backup plan, wild food  is undeniably the best and only viable plan for your new homesteading efforts (unless you count waiting for the supermarket to restock, that is).
Harvesting and putting up wild food gets most efficient when you do it in quantity and get used to the idea of storing it as opposed to consuming it fresh. This is a long-term, staple food we're talking about here, not having snacks with the forest creatures. It's sort of an industry so you have to approach it as such, but it’s less effort than the traditional cultivation you’ve been planning.

How can you harvest sizable quantities of wild food if you have to walk a few country miles just to find it? Well, if you're doing regular gardening, you're going to find that this food pops up all by itself. The whole concept of weeding is keeping your cultivated food from being overrun by the incredible, edible weed. “Oh no! There's food in with my food!”  Are you starting to get the idea yet?  If you're not careful you could grow five or six different waves of wild food before your tomatoes are ready, all of which could be eaten, dried or frozen long before those tomatoes have to be put up.

Another point: A vegetable garden could be almost completely camouflaged if you were to allow it to become purposely overrun by tall weeds around its border! For that matter, your separate “wild garden” would never be looked at twice while your vegetables provide a fantastic decoy to the real nutrition, making your wild patches sort of a stealth garden, if you will.
You will be making frequent trips to your wild garden, harvesting and allowing it to replenish and harvesting again, over and over until you have a winter's supply and then some. This takes the ‘wandering’ out of ‘foraging’ and bumps wild food up to a production level, where it needs to be for you to depend on it.

The transplanting and cultivation of wild edible food is actually quite easy. You can Rototill a strip to see what comes up from freshly tilled earth. This is a great exercise to see what grows naturally in your chosen patch and to see what the seedling forms of the wild edibles look like. Like most young plants, they do not look much like their later form until two or three sets of leaves form. These can then grow to full harvest maturity right where they started.

If you want to be sure your wild garden has the wild food you have identified elsewhere, just transplant it! There is nothing very exotic about transplanting wild food, but it's easiest when the plants are small. This means doing it at the right time of year, because a weed will wait for nobody. Many plants like burdock, dandelion and chicory quickly establish a deep root which would make transplanting more difficult, so transplanting in the spring is best.

I cover the transplanting and cultivation of wild edible food in my latest book, Promote Wild Food Certainty Through Plant Identification Walks, but I cover it indirectly as a means of populating the type of walk that can be used to help people learn wild food identification by taking a self-guided tour. With labels and dividers, your wild garden can be used to this end, too, and you might find yourself teaching your spouse, your children, or your community wild food identification using this simple but effective method. The idea is simple but it can be rather involved in practice, so I'll leave the details to the book.  The idea is yours now.  It is a living wild food exhibit that you must harvest from to keep under control. 

A walk works as a teaching aid very effectively, and is also one of the many activities in my new Wild Food Homeschool Teaching Guide.  This subject must be taught to many, and part of that job is yours however you choose to go about it.  I feel that God put wild food on the earth for a reason.

Wild food represents a lifestyle change — a change of mindset — and it takes some getting used to.  It is, first of all, more nutrition than your body is used to dealing with, so over-doing it is easy.  It is often a different consistency and a different taste. You will find that you have to adjust the quantity of your intake. There have been lots of instances where the men that I fed wild food to would overdo it and find themselves buzzing with energy from foods like a cattail pollen pancake or too much yarrow tea. This is why the idea of “a pinch to nutrition” is a good one. You will want to start slow and follow my Rules of Foraging as you go, reprinted below for your convenience.

You can dive in and go gung-ho, surely, but this is a journey and can’t be traveled all at once, especially on a deadline of personal starvation.  You need to start now, before you need it. The essential unit of learning this skill is learning one plant thoroughly and completely.  THIS represents one step, and that step is repeated for each and every plant until you finally have a full collection of them.  You quite probably do not have even one plant learned completely all the way from ID to storage. If so, you have not really started your journey into wild food proficiency!  Let me break down how to take that first step of one plant all the way:

  • Start by finding one edible plant.  You probably know of one already. 
  • Learn its identification with certainty.
  • Learn which parts to eat and each one’s various uses.
  • Clear the plant for your use by running it through the Rules of Foraging.
  • Learn that plant’s particular harvest and preparation.
  • Start eating it! Easy does it. Make it a part of you by eating it green when in season.
  • Start collecting it in bulk.
  • Start drying it and put it up in Zip-loc bags or glass jars.
  • Start adding it to meals, a pinch at a time and increasing over time.
  • Figure out, through use, what a winter’s supply really is.
  • Start growing it in your local surrounds.
  • Start teaching this one plant to kids, family and friends so they can start.

But I think you get the most important part of what you must do: on a real, sane, manageable gradient: Start!

The Rules of Foraging
These rules are for your own protection when investigating plants that are new to you. If followed closely, they will protect you in the field.

  • DO NOT collect plants closer than 200 feet from a car path or contaminated area.
  • NEVER collect from areas sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, or other chemicals.
  • DO NOT collect plants with RED STEMS, or red striations or stripes.
  • ALWAYS BE FAMILIAR with all dangerous plants in YOUR area of collection.
  • POSITIVELY IDENTIFY all plants you intend to use for food.
  • Take a piece off the plant and roll between your fingers.  SNIFF CAREFULLY.  Does it smell like something you would eat?  If it doesn’t, DISCARD IMMEDIATELY.  If it does, go to rule 7.
  • Take another piece off the plant and roll until juicy.  RUB the tiny piece on your gum above your teeth.
  • WAIT 20 minutes.
  • DOES YOUR GUM ITCH, BURN, TINGLE, SWELL OR STING?  If no reaction occurs, go on to rule 10.
  • Take another piece of the plant and put in a teacup.  Add boiling water and steep for 5 minutes.  SIP SLOWLY for 20 more minutes.  WATCH FOR NAUSEA, BURNING, DISCOMFORT.  If no reaction occurs, you may ingest a small amount.
  • WAIT ANOTHER 20 MINUTES and watch for any reaction.
  •  Keep all samples AWAY from children or pets.
  •  Store all seeds and bulbs AWAY from children and pets.
  •  Teach children to keep all plants AWAY from their mouths and DO NOT ALLOW children chew or suck nectar from any unknown plants.
  •  AVOID smoke from burning plants. Smoke may irritate the eyes or cause allergic reactions QUICKLY.
  •  BE AWARE of your neighbor’s habits with chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.
  •  BEWARE: heating or boiling doesn’t always destroy toxicity.

DISCLAIMER:
This is information about wild food.  The editors of SurvivalBlog nor the author make no claims as to the correctness, safety or usability of the data.

The information contained herein is intended to be an educational tool for gathering and cooking wild plants.  The information presented is for use as a supplement to a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.  The nutritional requirements of individuals may vary greatly, therefore the author and publisher take no responsibility for an individual using and ingesting wild plants.

All data is to be used at your own risk.  Using the Rules of Foraging greatly helps to reduce that risk, but even they are not foolproof.

 

About The Author:

Linda Runyon is the editor of the Of The Field web site and the author of many wild plant books and instructional materials, including:

A Survival Acre
Linda Runyon's Master Class on Wild Food Survival
Eat the Trees!
The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide (also available as an e-book.)
A Basic Middle Eastern Desert Survival Guide
Wild Food Identification Guide
Promote Wild Food Certainty through Plant Identification Walks
Wild Cards: Edible Wild Foods (A playing card deck with photos and descriptions of 52 different edible plants.)

She has set up a 10% coupon code "backupplan" for SurvivalBlog readers that is good until July 4, 2013.


Thursday, June 13, 2013


Good Morning Captain Rawles,
How would you like your potatoes this morning? We have finished digging our potatoes and stored them. We usually plant a Lasota Red type of potato. We purchase them in 50 pound sacks at the local feed store. "Planting potatoes" are different from the potatoes you buy in the store to eat. Potatoes from the store are treated with some kind of food grade additive to prevent them from sprouting for a while. If you plant these, there will usually be very few that come up. However, if you have had them for a while and the "eyes" have sprouted, they will do well. In our area some grocery stores sell planting potatoes to eat at times.

Planting time depends on the soil temperature. Without a soil thermometer, we usually plant ours when the first Redbud trees (Cercis canadensis L.) bloom in the south which is usually at the end of February. The red bud tree bloom is determined by the soil temp and amount of sunlight.

To prepare a potato for planting, you slice or cut the potato in such a way that each piece will have an eye on it. Once they are cut, the pieces need to sit a few days for the starch in the potato to form a "seal". The cut will turn darker and shrink a little. That's when they are ready to plant. They should be planted roughly 12 inches apart, 1/2" deep with the eyes up. The eye is where the potato shoot will come out and up through the soil. If they sit too long, little hair like roots will appear on the cut side. Then they need to be planted quickly.

Potatoes require a lot of fertilizer to make a crop. My father would use cow manure in the bottom of his row that he opened with a middle buster about 8 inches deep. He would shovel the cow manure into the row, then use a small sweep type plow mounted on his tractor to mix  the soil and manure so that the potato "seed" would not be in pure manure which would burn the "seed". The cow manure he used was aged and dried. He also used bagged sheep manure from big box stores if it was at a reasonable price. I use commercial 13-13-13 now with good results. This type fertilizer must be mixed with the soil also. One 50 pound bag will do about 6 rows 150 foot long. Once the potato plants get about 12 inches tall, I place a light band of fertilizer close beside the plants and then cover with dirt with a small sweep type plow. The potatoes will be blooming about this time. When store bought fertilizer is no longer available, I will go back to manure myself.

The potatoes must be checked regularly after they bloom. Potato bugs can reduce your yield and if bad enough, even kill the plants. You should see cracks in the ground between the hills of potatoes as the potatoes under the soil start reaching a size of two inches. They can continue to grow until the vines start to turn light green or yellow. You should scratch around a plant or two occasionally to check the condition of the potatoes. The potatoes you uncover will provide an early taste of things to come. You need to be looking for white spots or bumps on the potatoes. Once you find these, the potatoes must be dug because they will start rotting in the ground. The best way to do this is with a tractor and a middle buster with the tip set below the potatoes. A shovel or a potato fork can also be used if you are without a tractor. Once potatoes are dug, they should be spread out flat on a dry surface (no piles). This can be on a sheet of plywood or another surface other than concrete. There is danger of the concrete sweating which will cause the potatoes to rot or sprout. They must also be protected from freezing, blowing rain and direct sunlight. You are looking for a cool dry place. In the south, there is not a cool place outside during the summer. I have mine stored on some slotted metal racks (1/8" round wire). I have some on a layer of used paper feed sacks on a platform about three feet above a dirt floor. This lets the breezes blow across them. The metal roof of this building is about 10 feet above the racks, so they are not affected by the radiant heat from the sun. Check the potatoes regularly to remove any rotted potatoes. If they touch a good potato, it will rot also.

When I stored my potatoes, I separated the ones smaller than 1 inch diameter. I will use them to plant a fall crop in September or next spring. I planted extra to have seed for next year, if there are none to be had in the stores for whatever reason. The 50 pounds I planted yielded about 9 each 5 gallon buckets. This would be roughly a 6 month supply for four people. The yield was reduced because we had a severe attack of potato bugs. I treated the plants twice with a mild insect dust. If I had no bugs, I should have made 20 of the 5 gallon buckets. This is another problem to plan for in the future. I suppose I could make some chicken tractors and let our chickens work on the bugs. When our retreat is fully manned, I will need to plant at least 150 pounds of potatoes.

Now back to the breakfast question. I like what I call country fried potatoes for breakfast. You take some new potatoes, slice them about 1/16" to 1/8" thick. Apply salt and black pepper, then roll in flour or shake in a bag of flour. Then you fry them in oil until golden brown. Once they are done, I like to eat them with a couple of home raised yard eggs fried sunny side up on top of the potatoes.
If you have left over mashed potatoes from the night before, I like to make potato pancakes. You mix your mashed potatoes with a little chopped onion, a spoon or two of flour, and a yard egg. Fry in oil until golden brown. My kids liked them with ketchup. - M.E.R.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Dear JWR:
There is an estimated 250,000 animal-powered farmers in the U.S. doing all or part of their farming with animals. I’d recommend http://smallfarmersjournal.com/ for some good reading and information and a visit to Horse Progress Days to view the latest in modern equipment. Almost anything can be done with animals that can be done with tractors, even combining with a motorized forecart. Horse Progress Days has some interesting support equipment, including well made coal stoves and manual transplanters. If it’s in reach of you, I suggest attending for an eye-opening experience. The food is good, too. - James L.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Good Morning Captain Rawles,
With the weather warming dramatically in the south, the winter grown crops are fading due to the heat and longer days.
Our high temps are in the 80s and our lows are in the mid-70s now.  As folks notice that their turnips, mustard greens, broccoli, and collard greens start to get tough leaves that are not good to eat, they rush to pull them up and plant something else.  This is a mistake, if you are looking for seed security.  We have just finished harvesting our seed for this fall from these plants.  We have saved turnip, mustard, collard, broccoli, radish, and sage seeds.  As all of these plants age, they will put out flowers on top.  The flowers will be replaced by seed pods. These pods will fill out slowly and start to turn a light tan.  Check them daily at this point.  Once they start to turn brown and the pods start to crack open easily when you squeeze them, they are ready to harvest. I cut them from their stalks with some hand clippers and put them in a 10 quart bucket.  Then I use my hand to crunch them inside the bucket by squeezing with my hand.  I then briskly shake the bucket from side to side or up and down.  All the seeds will go to the bottom, and the husks will move to the top.  Then the husks are easily picked out with your fingers.  If you want to get the seeds really free of husks, you can pour them from one bucket to another in front of small fan.  Once the seeds are separated, be sure to put them in a sealable container with a small quantity of diatomaceous earth and label them.  Be certain that the seeds are dry and stay dry or else they will sprout or rot making them useless.  You make think reading this, "I don't want to mess with that, I'll buy mine". However, in today's world we've experienced seed shortages in our area. 

In the coming expected collapse, there may be no stores open. Also, these seeds mentioned above sell for several dollars per ounce.  They will make a very valuable barter item in desperate times. I know that some of you may not like eating these type of plants. However, in my region during the Great Depression, some folks survived the winter eating these types of greens and cornbread they made from the ground corn seeds they had saved. They are high in vitamins and there are many different ways to fix them. A well known chef on the internet has a recipe for "greens" that starts out with a half pound of bacon. I would tell my children growing up that the difference between something you would not eat or would eat was 72 hours. Regards, - M.E.R.


Saturday, June 1, 2013


Hi Capt. Rawles,
With spring gardening underway, I want to share something with your readers. If you are buying some heirloom seed packets, with the idea of being prepared, I want to warn you that most of these "packets" do not contain enough quantity to be a food source.  Most of the packets I have purchased contain only enough seed to get what I call a "start". For example, some of the Golden Bantam Sweet Corn I purchased had only 8 ounces in a pack. I planted 2 packs to get two rows 150 feet long. This would provide several meals for a family of four and some to can. However, this would be the end of your seed supply.  I plan to eat a small quantity of this to see if I like it. If I do, I will let the rest fully mature and dry on the stalk.  I will then shell it and store in packages with diatomaceous earth to protect it from bugs as seed for my next crop. Living in the deep south, I may plant two rows to eat this fall. I picked ripe corn on December 15 of last year.  We had a mild winter with few frosts and light freezes until about December 12, when the temperature dropped down to 24 degrees F. which killed the corn. We started having 4 inch rains every few days which would rot the kernels so we picked it and let it air dry a few days and then ran it in our dehydrator for two days and then stored as above.

The point I want to make is this: You must plant heirloom seed not hybrid because it won't reproduce properly.  To have seed security, you should have 5 times the seed you would use for one crop. If you want to plant 10 rows, you should have enough reserves to plant 50 rows.  Here's why.  Suppose with corn, you plant as early as possible to avoid summer heat and drought.  We have unusual record late cold coupled with a 5 inch rain like this year.   Your corn doesn't come up a good stand, then you have to replant.  You have now used up enough of your seed  to plant 20 rows, but it still hasn't come up yet. Now suppose it comes up well, but a drought comes along and you can't irrigate.  You make a marginal crop.  You have some to eat, but you can't save any seed.
Now the next year comes along and you have enough to plant 3 times.  Consider the possibilities.  I did.  I'm saving 10 times what I need.

I've been farming for 50 years. You have helped me tremendously with things I didn't know.  If I can give back to you with some of my knowledge to help you and others please let me know.- Michael


Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Over the years our lifestyle of self-production has morphed from simply producing more of our own needs into an active learning, training experience for the whole family.  Our children have grown up working alongside us in the garden, enjoying our late-night “canning parties”, and lately helping to raise and pursue large animals for our consumption.  This last year our gardening has taken on a greater academic angle with more experimentation and trying new things.  We’ve done a fair amount of foraging in the mountains around our place, and we were wondering how our ‘domestic’ garden varieties would fair in the wild.  This is how our guerrilla garden began.

We already knew from years of experience with deer and elk in our garden that corn and other vegetables are a wildlife favorite, so we decided to see how potatoes might fair in various circumstances.  The internet is full of advice and experience, but our own personal efforts have been invaluable to teach what is possible and what is successful.  We chose potatoes also because of their valuable payoff in volume and nutrition for any emergency scenario.

Last spring we decided to see how potatoes would do in various conditions.  With lots of our favorites still in cold-storage from the winter, we had plenty of our favorite seed potatoes – Purple (“All Blue”), Reds, and Yukon Golds.  We decided on three main locations: 1) normal conditions in our regular, groomed garden; 2) ‘new’ garden conditions in land we recently cleared; and 3) rustic gardening in the wild parts of the hills around us.  We hoped each of these areas could teach us new things about growing one of our favorite foods.

In our regular garden, we planted over 50 potato plants to use as a control and also to experiment with things like using straw, dirt mounds, and even bucket systems we’d read about to help increase yields.  We varied the planting distances between plants, monitored watering, and even measured the effect of damaging the main plants might have on potato yields.

Adjacent to our regular garden we recently cleared out pine and fir trees to expand the regular garden plot.  This soil had not been cultivated or fertilized in any way – we simply mowed the grass and weeds, then did a rough tilling of the soil for us to plant in.  We wanted to see how suitable our ‘native’ ground might be for growing in short notice.  In this area we planted another 50 plants.

Our third location was chosen to see how potatoes might fair in the mountains of western Oregon.  Most of the land here is accessible by logging roads, and with so much space to use we were curious how the plants would fare.  First, we contacted local county and state Agricultural resources to make sure there was no legal issue with us planting domestic plants in the wild.  Also, we scoped out where noxious weed spraying might occur.  Finally, we decided on 4 different locations in the hills near where we often target practice or roam.  We chose these locations to provide different growing conditions – on top of an exposed hillside, in a small ravine, alongside a logging road, and in a small open meadow.  Would the animals find the plants?  Would they get adequate moisture and sun?  Was the soil suitable?  Lots of questions.

Our Experimental Conditions
In our regular garden we experimented with X condition to see how they would affect yields: mounding dirt around the plants; piling straw around the plants; enclosing a plant in straw and a bucket; spacing between plants; and ‘damage’ to the main plant when it flowered.  Each of these factors was chosen based on what we had read of others doing.  We varied the spacing between plants from 12 inches to 2.5 feet.  Some plants we regularly raked up dirt up to 12 inches high around the base of the plant as it grew, while others didn’t get mounded dirt.  We piled thick straw around some plants to see if they would grow potatoes in the straw, and if that helped hold heat, moisture, etc to promote potato production.  For 2 plants, we cut the bottoms out of 5 gallon buckets and placed the bucket around the plant as it was large enough to “see out” of the bucket.  Within the bucket around the plant we filled the space with straw.  One group of plants we regularly watered, while others we left to the elements.  I had read that if a plant was damaged around the time it flowered, it would put more ‘effort’ into the tubers, so we munched up some of the plants to ‘simulate’ crushing or deer damage, to see if it produced more potatoes.  Yield results for these plants in our regular garden area were most dramatic and clear between different conditions.

In the rough “new” area we planted, we simply rototilled the ground and planted the potato starts.  Some parts of this area had many roots left from the trees we removed, and even 3 stumps of considerable size.  About half of this area started growing field grass aggressively after our planting.  We also added straw and dirt mounding to some of these plants.  We did not give extra watering to the plants in this area.  We were mainly interested in seeing how the soil and conditions would do for potatoes.  In an extended emergency, would it be possible for us to till up yard or pasture and get a suitable crop at harvest in the first year to help our family?  Without extra fertilizer or watering, is growing our own food realistic?  How important is our efforts to remove grass and weeds in land we want to garden?  Lots of questions we hoped to answer for very little effort or work.  Big ramifications though for what we might find – especially if our dinner depended on this ground.

For the potatoes we planted out in the wild, the only “experimental” factor we added was to put an old tire around one of the potato plants to see if the tire would ‘warm’ the plant and encourage any noticeable yield improvement.  We found the tire along the logging road so it was a last minute idea to try.  Using what was available to learn something new.  We planted seed in a barren, clay bank, marshy wet soil, and even in dirt with a lot of ‘riprap’ rocks from the logging road.  Interestingly, the results in the wild were all pretty much the same, though we learned a lot from it.
I should say that the best part of all of this was not eating the results, but the fun we had.  We all had a great time planting, brainstorming and researching, and of course digging up the goods.  Our many children’s ages range from 5 to 19 and each of them was eager to get out and check the plants.  When checking on the plants in the woods, we often used the occasion to target practice, look for new mushrooming areas, or scout deer – it was always a great outing.  Learning life skills and enjoying this great world God has given us is always better (and more educational) when it is a fun time.  One of my sons was quite surprised when he realized he could use our experiments as a science project – he thought it was all just for fun.

Our Results
We regularly checked on and monitored the plants – noting any early deaths, plant growth, and observations.  The weather last summer was moderate, and relatively mild with regular rainfall and no dramatic heat stretches.  Good conditions for experimentation.  We carefully made notes and when digging the potatoes weighed the results from each plant.  None of our efforts were statistically defined, though we tried to randomize as much as possible.  Not truly scientific, but close enough for us!

Most of our insights were from the regular garden area, with all its variations.  We measured the yields to the closest ounce, but I won’t bore you with the number details.  The Red potatoes yielded much higher than the Purple or Golds.  This was expected.  We also observed that mice and mold preferred Reds over the other two.  The Red potatoes were still green and vigorous into September, while both the Purple and Gold plants were dying off or dead before mid-August.  These are all considerations for emergency conditions when our dinner might be on the line.  Red potatoes produced 5.5 to 6.5 lbs of potatoes on average; Purples put out 3.2 lbs each; Golds averaged 1.8 lbs.  Most of our experimentation was on the Reds, which is part of the greater range in average.

In our regular garden, the two most significant factors affecting potato yields were sun and dirt mounding.  The amount of sun the plants received was easily seen in the yields.  Mounding dirt vs. unmounded plants was even more dramatic – more than 30% more potatoes (by weight) was produced by plants that had dirt mounded around them.  The mounding also helped keep the weeds at bay so this might have been a factor.  We will always mound our plants after this experiment!

The straw around the potatoes had no significant effect on increasing the amount of potatoes, but actually had a large NEGATIVE effect in that the potatoes grown in the straw had much more mold and losses to mice.  Most potatoes had some damage and many were lost because of the mold and rodents, whereas those plants without straw had little or no damage.  As I mentioned, the Reds were much preferred by the rodents over the Purple or Golds.

The only noticeable effect that spacing had on the plants seemed to be related to the amount of sun.  plants close together but on the south side of the patch still had high yields, as did the plants spaced out more but not on the south (sunny) side.  Greater spacing also helped us to mound and keep the weeds out.
Those plants that had the extra watering did seem to have better yields, but it was not significant or really noticeable.  Not to say watering isn’t important for the potatoes, but perhaps the mild year we had was wet enough.  We don’t think that extra watering (unless a dry season) is worth the extra effort.

The damaged plants we crushed or munched up branches on showed no real difference in potato yield than undamaged plants.  The mounding and sunlight was still the overwhelming factor on these plants.

The plants with a bucket around them had lower yields than their peers.  No rodent damage but I suspect the buckets decreased the sunlight available to the plants.  All of the potatoes were in the dirt and none of them in the straw.  With all the ideas on the internet about stacking tires or boxes around the plant as it grows, I figured there would be something too it, but it didn’t pan out for us.  This shows the value of trying it for yourself, in your own local circumstances!

One final note on the results in our regular garden area was interesting – we planted just the “eye” growth from a Gold potato to see if it would grow to a plant, and indeed it did.  This eye start was about 2 inches long and we broke it off the potato before potting, then transferred to the garden.  It grew, but only produced 0.25 lbs of potatoes whereas the other Gold plants around it were producing 1.5 to 2.8 lbs.  It did something, but not much.  At least something to consider if you don’t have enough seed potatoes to plant a large chunk of seed potato with the eye on it.

In the new, “unworked” garden area, we saw similar results, though yields were smaller than in the tended and fertilized area.  Average Purple and Gold yields were 1.5 to 2.75 lbs per plant, and the Reds averaged 3.5 lbs each.  This is about 40-60% less than the same averages from the “normal” garden, taking into account the experimental variables we were using.  This is dramatic, but still encouraging.  Two to three pounds of potatoes from a plant in native soil would be a big deal in a year of famine or emergency.  With so many of our neighbors without gardens, it would be a big help if they had this option to grow potatoes without having a couple years to cultivate the soil.

Again, the amount of sunlight and dirt mounding demonstrated a big boost to yields.  As the quality of the garden area decreases, we would recommend spacing the plants more and mounding them.  Of course, fertilizing and other factors will also have dramatic increases to yields as the resources are found.

Also, those plants we put straw around showed much more rodent and mold damage.  Maybe we had moldy straw that also encouraged these losses- something to consider.  The amount of tree roots still in the soil also showed a negative impact – the 10 plants in this area (some of which had straw) showed about 10% fewer potatoes than adjacent ones.
The last observation from this unworked garden area was the impact that field grass and weeds had.  The plants in the areas where grass and weeds were thick (and left intentionally) still grew and produced potatoes, but were ~25% lower yields than the other plants in this area.  These plants put out 0.5 to 1.5lbs each, depending on other factors (mounding, straw, etc.).  Even the kids could see the value at harvest from weeding during the season.

The results from our final area of study – the real Guerrilla arden of the mountains, was disappointing.  We had hoped to hide our little seed potatoes in the waysides and remote mountains, then later in the year find a bounty to meet out need if we ever had to flee to the hills.  But any data is valuable data, and we had fun.  None of these plants produced more than a few small potatoes, of just an ounce or two.  Each plant had a potato though!

First, we learned how tough and aggressive the native grasses and blackberries are compared to our gentile, domesticated potatoes.  The native plants shot up, took all the sunlight, and in many cases buried our poor potatoes to flounder in their shadows.  Without human help to fight off the competition, the potatoes won’t have a chance.

Next, we saw the importance of marking or mapping our plants – we were unable to find many of them!  We tried to use rocks, logs, or natural markers to help us find our plants but on return trips our success rate was low – we found less than half of the plants by the end of the year.  It is truly a jungle out there!  When the plants were green and growing they were easier to locate and identify.  In September they were shriveled enough to make it hard to find them, and more difficult to positively ID them.

That tire we tried on one of the plants?  Well, someone needed it more than we did – it just up and disappeared, and we couldn’t locate the plant it was marking.
Elk do seem to like to nibble potatoes, though they didn’t completely eat them gone.  Turns out we planted some of our potatoes on the hillside where 4-6 elk regularly bed down (we confirmed the beds several times) and while they nibbled the plants, they didn’t outright eat them.  They might have been curious and then lost interest after the taste.

Our final observation on growing potatoes in the wild – no matter how “out of the way” you think you are, someone, usually on an ATV or 4 wheel drive will find your little potatoes!  We lost a patch that was way back in a ravine to at least two ATVs – they went in there and did "cookies" [turns] on top of the potatoes!  I don’t think they saw them and did it intentionally, but it made us laugh to think of how we thought we were so inconspicuous.  People really are everywhere.

Which raises a point about us trying potatoes.  We knew corn would not do well in the wild, because of wildlife but also because it is fairly recognizable.  When considering a garden for public or wild lands, it is best to chose something inconspicuous that another gardener might recognize, but not the general public.  Other than wildlife, people are the next big threat to growing in the wild.  Potatoes are both highly nutritious and inconspicuous.

For years we have been experimenting with our fruit trees, grape vines, chicken raising, and now potatoes.  Trying new things, and trying new ideas on old things adds a great spice to gardening and enriches our fun with the children.  It stimulates their creativity and natural curiosity and keeps them in the garden working longer!  It also helped us temper our thoughts that life in the mountains under difficult conditions would be simpler by growing a garden.  If hard times come, it would be better to have food cache’ed that to hope those potatoes are out there for our stew pot.  And our personal experiences have confirmed what Abraham Lincoln said, “Don’t trust everything you read on the Internet.”

This year we’ve decided to try pole beans and zucchini in our 2013 Guerrilla Gardening.  Pole beans might stand a chance in the wild if they can climb up and out of the cover, and zucchini grows like crazy in town, maybe it will have a chance.  Both have high nutritional values, and are relatively inconspicuous.  We are excited.  Our gardening experiments have been a huge success.  Many of the results were unexpected and helpful, and the time together invaluable.  What will you try in your Guerrilla Garden this year?


Saturday, April 6, 2013


James:
I'd like to take exception to the recent article by M.S. on using augers to make plant holes. No professional would consider using an auger for planting. Augers compact and glaze the edge of the hole as they work their way down.  While this is great for post holes, it's a death sentence for the plant roots.
A far better and faster way is to use either a small backhoe  or an articulated trencher that will cut a fan shaped hole.  The spoil from the hole is broken up and now suitable for back fill. 

Post-SHTF, a good quality fiberglass handle round point shovel is all that any realistic person would need.
As a post script, if you haven't tried "Straw Bale Gardening" , it's just a great way to grow food with minimal effort and maximum results. - Loren

JWR Replies: I have witnessed the glazing that you've mentioned in heavy clay soils. But in my experience is not a big issue in light loam soil. The "best of both worlds" approach is to use an auger to start a hole, and then finish it up by significantly widening its diameter with a shovel or clamshell post hole digger. This breaks up any areas that are compacted or glazed.

The "shovel only " approach will work, but of course it is more time consuming. And by the way, good quality digging bar is a must when digging in rocky ground.


Friday, April 5, 2013


When planning to grow their own food, many people understandably focus on the plants. A plant, however, simply expresses its genetic blueprint to the extent it can based on the energy and materials available from the sun and soil. We can therefore state that a critical aspect of successful vegetable production is the quality of the soil.

Given the limitations of either the amount of warning you might have before needing to produce food for your family, or the amount of money you are able to put toward improving your soil to the point it will yield reliably, amending your entire plot all at once is often not feasible. The best short cut we have found for this situation is the use of the auger. An auger is a spiral digging blade for mechanically digging holes. These can be designed to run from a three point hitch on a farm tractor, or be handheld, motorized versions.

Rather than trying to improve the soil over the entire area of your garden plot, an auger allows you to make custom soil conditions in a 6-18 inch wide vertical tube in the ground. Much has been written about the disruption to soil structure and beneficial earthworms with standard rototilling. With this system, only the sod need be skinned off and the surface area mulched or planted with white clover. The surrounding soil structure and its inhabitants are not disturbed while the planting spots are custom made via the auger. Fencing contractors are often called in to dig holes in this manner for the planting of numerous fruit trees, and you might find that helpful if your homestead plans include trees.

Here is an example of how the system is put into practice: If you have soggy clay that will not drain, you cannot grow such things as wheat that will not tolerate ‘wet feet’. When you auger out a hole, the spiraling action of the blade will bring the soil to the surface, and deposit most of it around the edge of the hole. Within each of these holes, you can add gravel at the bottom for drainage, then mix the clay from the hole with sand and humus, compost or manure. Fill this mix back into the hole. Having added other materials, you will be left with enough clay to leave a ‘shoulder’ of subsoil around the hole, minimizing weeds from competing with your sprouting plants. You will have customized the immediate growing zone to the needs of whatever you will be growing in that spot. The important bacteria and worm population in the adjoining soil is available to move immediately into your fill. Additionally, this high fertility fill allows for very intensive plantings – making the most of any plant-able spot. A good mulching around the holes discourages weeds even more.

There is no yearlong wait for soil just turned under by a plow to have become the mature garden soil you will need to feed your family. Also, the holes can be dug right now with rented equipment or by a fencing company and you can then work away at making improved ‘fills’ as your time and money allow you to source the amendments needed by your particular soil. Sand will need humus, clay will need sand, acidic soil will need buffering, etc. If time permits, get a soil sample analysis and it will tell you just what you will require – but in a pinch you can bet that good compost will cover most needs.

Even if you already have a garden bed in place, with a used handheld auger you can over time improve the soil of your entire patch while having full use of the already amended spots to produce the healthiest plants. Intensively planted holes can produce more food than a standard plot just tilled and planted in rows, and pests often have a harder trek from planting to planting.

The 6 inch blade of the handheld augers is rather small for a planting hole. This can be remedied by making three holes close together in a cloverleaf pattern, and knocking down the soil walls between holes. If you will be doing a large number of holes, a great time saver over lying on your stomach and scooping the soil out by hand is to use a ‘clamshell’ post hole digger. The digger is two long handles hinged together, with a metal half-scoop at the end of each handle, and allows you to reach into the bottom of your augered hole and scoop out the loose soil.

The depth of each hole is determined by the length of your auger bit, the depth of your soil, the amount of amendments you can spare for each hole, and how much amending the soil actually needs. This will have to be assessed as you go, and will likely be different for each place on the property you work.

Watering needs are minimized with this system, as only the planted holes need watered – not the surrounding soil. In a period of limited water availability due to interrupted electrical service, minimal service for a well pump due to living off grid, or simply a season long drought, this is no small consideration. As each hole is surrounded by soil mass, there is less drying out than in a raised bed or mound. There is also a cost savings in protecting your garden from rabbits, as each hole can be encircled with chicken wire held in place by a few stakes or rocks. This will buy you time to finish enclosing your entire garden with proper fencing, as your budget allows. The same concept of surrounding each hole can be used to make individual small hothouse covers for protecting plants in early spring or into the fall. There is much less expense in making a greenhouse tall enough for a plant, than in making one tall enough for a person.

Most plants fit well with the system, the climbing vines utilizing a homemade teepee trellis over the hole. Our earlier example of wheat might not seem feasible – but the planting circumference allows for staking to prevent lodging from growing in rich soil (the wheat falling over in a rain storm), and the stalks from each hole make one nice shock of wheat once cut and tied.

Some final points regarding the versatility of this system:

The first pertains to the price of quality farmland. More and more of the good soil in this country is being gobbled up by large industrial agricultural corporations and/or housing developments. The options are becoming limited for those who are of modest means and/or do not want to be enslaved to a large mortgage for thirty years. By and large, the best option is to buy low priced land in the areas of poorest soil. Improving said soil can seem daunting to the most enthusiastic of homesteaders. But, even Mt. Everest is climbed one footstep at a time – and the poorest of soils can be improved one auger hole at a time, with immediate use of the holes that are finished.

Second, in the unlikely event of a long term, widespread crisis, homestead security would become an issue. This is particularly true for the women of the family, who are often in charge of the gardening. If the main garden beds are distant from the house, or near woods and/or a road, desperate individuals would have an easy time targeting the gardener(s). The auger system allows growing spots to be dug close to the house. These can be tended by an individual with less risk than a patch by the road. The main garden can then be tended at such times as numerous group members can be present for added security.

Third, the large three point hitch auger coincidentally makes a perfect space in which to cache two 5-gallon buckets on top of one another. Pack the buckets with whatever you need to keep out of sight, secure the gasket-ed lids, turn the buckets over and caulk under the rim of the lid. When the caulk is dry, the buckets can be lowered into their hiding place and covered. If you are concerned about a fencing contractor asking what the holes at the back of your yard are for (which he probably won’t), mark two holes 12 feet apart. Answer that you want to set gate posts for a future fencing project. The only thought he will have is to leave you his card, hoping you’ll hire him for the fencing job.

Last but not least, a pre-drilled hole can be in place if the need arises for a privy. In the unfortunate event that conditions deteriorate enough as to require a long term privy, the last thing you are going to have the is time on your hands to dig one. Auger the hole now, then add leaves or other material that will be easy to scoop out later but provide enough fill to prevent a small child or animal from getting stuck, and lay a scrap of plywood over the top.

No one wishes disaster to strike – and the more peace within oneself, the more peace one brings to the world. But history teaches that troubled times can and do occur, and it is prudent to be able to take care of your family. Additionally, when trouble does appear it is usually with little warning. Murphy’s Law says that if a disaster happens, it will happen just as you have settled on the homestead of your choice, have some dry provisions laid away, but have yet to have sufficiently improved your garden beds to the point they will reliably feed your group. The auger system allows for maximum production in minimum time, and a used auger and some appropriate soil amendments might well fit into the ‘must have’ items on your list.


Friday, March 29, 2013


I am seeing fruit and nut trees for sale now in the Southeast where I live so I wanted to share some thoughts on how I approach tree cultivation. I usually try to plant trees earlier in the winter in order for the roots to get a good start but retail outlets know that people start getting restless towards the end of winter and want to get their gardens and orchards going and they are only too happy to accommodate them. I am an arborist by trade and I’ve provided some guidelines I follow in raising trees. It is not all-inclusive, it is just a quick read for folks who are trying to start or tend to their trees and don’t have much experience. You could spend a lifetime growing and studying trees and still not learn all there is to know but you have to start somewhere so don’t be worried that you won’t get it right- if the location you chose doesn’t turn out to be ideal, move it. You can spend a small fortune on having a contractor put in a tree or if you have the time and the strength, you can do a little research and get a smaller, less expensive tree and do it yourself. And trees are very forgiving!

Trees are long-lived enough to have phases of productivity that include adolescence, adulthood and advanced maturity. The important thing to realize with trees (and most living things) is that their goal in life is to pass on their genetic material by producing and germinating seed. This is their sole purpose in life. How they look, what their flowers and fruit smells like- all these things contribute to the perpetuation of their species. If a tree can produce a luscious fruit, it will entice an animal (man included) to eat the fruit and spread the seed. When a once-healthy tree is nearing the natural end of its life, you will often see a one last grand effort, a flush of buds as they give up all their reserves for one final fruit/seed set, then die in the dormant season. You could call it a selfless act, if trees had a conscious, because they could otherwise limp on for a few more rather unproductive seasons. And even after death, trees provide compost and mulch. So, with that in mind, here are my few basic guidelines for growing trees to their full potential and productivity:

1. Buy healthy plants- don’t start off at a deficit. Price is not always an indicator of health so look closely at the pot- if it is in a container, is it root-bound? You probably won’t be able to pop off the pot and check (which will also show whether the root has wound its way around the pot, also bad) but you can try to wiggle your finger into the potting soil. Can you? If you cannot even penetrate more than an inch or so, pass it by. Also check the graft site (fruit and nut trees are grafted onto root stock trees) at the base of the tree for fungus or poor grafts- you don’t want that either. Some of the best pear trees I’ve ever planted came from a Big Lots store. I tend toward the older varieties because they are tried and true and I don’t have the time to experiment. The other consideration is whether to buy dwarf, semi-dwarf or standard size trees. Dwarf and semi-dwarf will produce sooner but will die sooner, too. But if you cannot manage heights, go with dwarf. A standard size tree will live a long time and produce great quantities, in general, but it takes longer for standard trees to begin producing. Your best bet is to plant a combination of dwarf, semi-dwarf and one or two standard trees.

2. Location, location, location. To plant, that is. Do a little research on your species and variety- if it needs full sun, give it full sun or it will likely not reach full potential. Be wary of planting on high spots in general- think of how water flows and wind blows. Hilltops can catch the wind and are the first areas that water flows from- if nothing else, plan for the ‘military crest’ of the hill, just below the hilltop. Giving your trees a bit of protection from the wind in their early years will give them time to grow deep roots for both stability and water uptake. Planting trees in a slightly lower area allows for the possibility of water availability longer after a rain but make sure the site drains- very few trees can tolerate wet feet! The other consideration is air flow –while protecting your trees from the wind, you also want to make sure there is adequate air flow to help combat bacterial infections such as fire blight by allowing the site to dry out after rains. Make sure there is enough spacing between trees (check the spread for your variety on the tag) to allow for good air flow- this small act of prevention can keep many diseases at bay just by naturally regulating surface moisture levels.
A quick word on pesticides- I try to avoid them whenever possible. I may lose some trees but too often, pesticides are used to make up for poor siting or bad stock. I am not able to fence in my current orchard so I spray a deer spray (which is mostly concentrated urine) to keep the deer and rabbits out and it works pretty well for me. It has a very strong urine smell so be aware of the wind direction when spraying or it will keep your ‘dears’ away from you, too!

3. Nutrition. There are three main nutrients plants need: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) - commercial fertilizer is labeled with the parts of each (N-P-K), for example, 10-10-10.  Just like your children need calcium for strong bones as they are growing, so your trees need phosphorus to develop a strong root system. I’m old school and prefer to feed my trees real food instead of chemicals- there’s debate enough about that for another forum- so for phosphorus I give them bone meal. I will sometimes toss an old sun dried bone in the planting hole if I have one. For nitrogen I have access to a Starbucks that gives me all the old coffee grounds I could want and the worms love it, too. For potassium I use wood ash and throw a few small chunks of charred wood in the there, too, for biochar. I find that the chemical nutrients release too quickly and you get peaks and valleys of fertilization whereas the bone meal and coffee grounds slowly decompose at an even rate.

4. Water. They need it, and will die without it. If you don’t get at least an inch of rain per week during the growing season, give them water. Better to use a soaker hose or apply it to the ground directly rather than spraying the leaves for a number of reasons but mainly because the roots uptake the majority of water. But remember, the leading cause of death of plants in general are water-related, either too little or too much. And that brings me to the final point…

5. Mulch. Mulch will hold in moisture around the root ball, it will help protect the roots from frost damage in the winter and dryness in the summer and hold back weed growth while slowly decomposing and providing nutrition. Use composted mulch – green chipped wood requires nitrogen to decompose and will rob your tree of it.  But, do not pile up mulch against the trunk, making the ‘volcano’ look! This actually harms the tree by promoting fungus growth around the trunk and can actually smother the roots, inhibiting respiration. So visualize a ‘crater’ instead of a volcano- always make sure the flare of tree trunk is exposed and start your mulch ring about an inch from the trunk, building a crater outward about two feet, with the edge being about 4”-6” thick. Now you have formed a bowl for water to be held in for a slow absorption. You can take the mulch ring all the way out to the tips of the limbs (called the dripline of a tree) if you wanted and reduce further the grass under the tree, which will also rob your tree of nutrients in order to feed themselves. Do be careful to change out the mulch and fallen leaves in the late fall or early winter- disease spores can over winter in the mulch!

So if you have room for a tree, make this year the year you start your orchard. You don’t need any specialized equipment or knowledge beyond what I’ve covered in order to get started. A little time investment every month or so during the growing season to keep the weeds and grass back and keep it watered will pay dividends for many years to come.


Monday, February 25, 2013


Jim,
While perusing the Costco web site, I noted that Costco is now stocking "Preparedness Storage Non-GMO Garden Seeds" -- and they're non-hybridized, which makes them good for saving seed in a true survival situation. The bucket contains 24 varieties of seeds, including the "usual suspects" like corn, peas, tomatoes, and carrots as well as some more unusual plants like eggplant, swiss chard, cabbage and kohlrabi.

Just finding it interesting that it seems like prepping has gone totally mainstream, and that Costco is leading the charge!

Best, - S.J.

JWR Replies: In my Rawles Gets You Ready Preparedness Course, I describe in detail how Big Box stores like COSTCO and Sam's Club can be used to stock up at the 11th hour. It is good to hear that they have recently stocking heirloom seeds. Up until now, they've been a specialty item.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013


What is MYDS? It’s not prepping, it’s not hoarding, it’s not a disease or even a mental condition and it certainly isn’t unpatriotic or terrorism.  What is it about, then? It is about being provident. Actually, MYDS stands for Make it Your Darn Self!  That is my Philosophy and Motto for 2013!

Provident means to prepare for the future.  Why?  Why take the time, the effort, or the expense to be provident?  Look around us.  Look at the world we live in.  Look at the economic and political climate.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to anything.  Everything from the top down – From our God to the sand beneath our feet – Everything is being questioned and demonized.  Right is wrong and wrong is right.  The freedom that we once knew as children of playing and frolicking on the streets in our community only to worry about making it home before dark or when we were hungry has given way to the fear of our children playing in front of our homes.  Progressives, Agenda 21, Socialism, Communism, Failing Schools, and having to sign up on a registry to know where sex offenders and predators live just to be able to keep our kids safe.  I wonder how to keep my kids safe in these times – both physically, spiritually and educationally.  My goodness, these are scary times on our doorstep.  The moral decay of this country is an entire topic all on its’ own and one in which I won’t get into here.
The real question should be why not?  Why not take the time to make sure you and your family has a little extra.  Why not have the knowledge and resources on hand to make it through a possible job loss, a natural or manmade disaster, a terrorist attack, the collapse of our financial system.  Why not have practical skills and knowledge to endure the “what-if” scenario that weighs heavily on your mind. To every question you have there are multiple solutions.  And, as I have found, every solution leads to another question and yet another discovery.  The most basic answer I can give is to be as provident as you can possibly be and that will ONLY come through knowledge and experience.  You must find within yourself the desire to learn and to never stop asking questions.  You should learn to ask how does that work, how would I do that if I could not run down to the local big box store, how can I make this if I didn’t have a box of prepackaged food.  You don’t have to have a property that resembles Fred Sanford's home from Sanford and Son (a sit-com from my earlier days) or a pantry that would make your local big box store envious.  Instead think of what you do and what you use every day and remember the 5 W’s from elementary school.  Who, What, Why, Where, When and I’ll go ahead and add How.  How is it made, why is it done that way, where can I get it from if it’s not available commercially, who can I learn from, from when and where will I start getting my knowledge and experience base?

That is the premise behind my 2013 motto “MYDS” and being provident is a never ending process that plays directly into my motto.  The world is always changing and as the saying goes “without change there is no growth.”  I am learning to be more provident.  I read all of the prepping web sites and have spent a massive amount of time researching and more money than I care to admit on buying this book and list or that book and list to see what I can do to be more provident.  As you will learn in your journey, not everything is contained on those lists.  Don’t get me wrong, they are all very good resources and they were well worth the investments even if I only learn one thing new from it.  Being provident (most people would say prepping), has, for the most part, been a man’s specialty area.  Their department.  Beans Bullets and Band-Aids type thing.  And, most would agree that is it rightly so.  Men are our protector’s, our muscle our anchors our braun.  We love them, we cherish them and we look to them as our rock in time of need.  However, I find the majority of publications on the market, web sites and blogs today are lacking on the subject of being provident from a woman’s point of view.  Women, just as men, have a role in preparing the future needs of a family.  After many hours of research, I am often left wondering how I am going to clean my house if I can’t go to the store or can’t afford to get what I need.  How am I going to do the laundry without laundry soap if the price is too high or it’s not available?  How are my children and family going to stay clean if we can’t get our hands on what we need?  Let’s face it.  Work isn’t picking up.  People are losing jobs.  Our dollar doesn’t get us as far as it used to.  Taxes are going through the roof from all levels of government.  The price of gas, food, household cleaners, and the cost to put our children through school are going through the roof.  Honestly, it’s getting pretty darn expensive just to be able to exist these days.  How are we as wives and mothers going to continue to manage our household without breaking the bank or the ability to just run down the corner market when we run out of something?  How are we going to take care of our families in tight or hard times?
That is the key to my article and the story behind my new motto/philosophy and I want to share with you some tidbits of knowledge from a wife and mothers perspective on being a provident housekeeper. 

For starters, you have to learn how to make your own household products.  It’s simple, it’s easy, it will save you money and is something you can start doing right away with little to no investment.  Money that you could use to start stocking up on food supplies or paying down debt.  A bottle of laundry soap is expensive, but what if I told you that you could make 10 gallons for less than what you pay for one bottle of commercial laundry soap?  Even cheaper than the generic brands!  I am here to tell you that it is possible.  You don’t need special or expensive equipment.  All you need is the desire to obtain knowledge and skills that will see your family through.  Save the space in your supply area for more meaningful supplies such as seeds for growing a garden or food preservation supplies, food, first aid and all of those other items you read about.  With ingredients that you have, or can get really inexpensively, you can clean every aspect of your home.  Adding a few more ingredients to your arsenal will allow you to make personal hygiene items such as deodorant, hair cleaners and conditioners, and bath soap.

For example, Borax, Washing Soda (not baking soda), and Castile Soap in bar form will make laundry soap.  From 1 bar of grated soap, 1 cup of washing soda and a ¼ cup of borax, and water, you can make 10 gallons of laundry soap using just a pot for melting the soap on your stovetop.  You will also need two five gallon buckets.  To show you real numbers, let’s break down the cost.  In my area, a bar of Fels-Naptha castile soap costs $.97, A 76 oz. box of Borax is $3.38 and a 55 oz. box of Washing Soda is $3.24.  Keep in mind that you are only using a few ounces of each box, not the entire box to make your liquid laundry soap.  For a mere, $1.62 you can make ten gallons of laundry soap.  WOW! That is a Savings you can’t argue with.  To eliminate those expensive dryer sheets try adding ¼ cup (or less) of vinegar to your rinse cycle and in place of dryer sheets use a ball of aluminum foil.  Yes, this does really work.  The laundry soap is safe to use for the smallest of family members.  Don’t fret; you will be able to use the borax and washing soda in making many other cleaning products for around your home. 

Let’s expand on those items to include the following items: Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Baking Soda, Liquid Castile Soap, Essential Oils (not fragrance oils), Ammonia, Bleach, Cornstarch, Olive Oil (or other neutral oils) and you will have the perfect combination to make everything you need to make a smooth running household without almost never having to rely on commercial products again.  That’s right - YOU will be able to clean your floors, windows, toilets, walls and so much more.  YOU will be able to make deodorant, hair care products and bathing products.  No more spending countless hours’ couponing to get those ridiculously great deals.  I coupon too and love the thrill of getting those free to cheap deals.  With my new knowledge to make my own products, my perspective and scope of couponing has changed to buying things that I cannot make myself – razors, toothbrushes, dental floss and of course beans (unfortunately there are no coupons for bullets) and Band-Aids! Do some research and you’ll be delighted at the amount of information available to make your homemade household products.  A word to the wise, there are items above that should NEVER be mixed together.  Ammonia and bleach is just one example – The mixture is toxic and potentially deadly.  Please air on the side of caution.  Read labels, research what can be mixed and what cannot!  Do not put yourself in harm’s way over saving money.  You and your families’ safety should always come first!

Second on the list is to learn how to manage your kitchen.  By taking the time to do some research on these topics - making your own mixes and how to make meals in a jar – you will be pleased at how simple and fun it is to learn about the multitude of options for short and long term food storage.  The concept surrounding making your own mix is to make a master mix and from there you can make almost anything.  Pancakes, cake mixes, breads and so on.  Additionally, there are recipes to making your own “cream of soup” as well as gravies, drink mixes and spices, to name a few.  I found a lady on the internet that takes separate complete meals and puts them in quart sized mason jars for a total of 52 meals in a jar, or more if you desire.  It’s a provident housekeeper’s version of fast food.  Take this idea and expand with your own recipes or scour the internet for more meals in jar recipes.  While hers are made from freeze dried (and dehydrated) food, there is a plethora of web sites and forums dedicated to canning meals in a jar.  My advice here is to start off small.  Try a loaf of bread or try starting off with sampling each recipe.  What tastes good to one person may not to another.  The absolute last thing is to get into a situation where you have stocked up on x,y, & z and not like it when you could practice, practice and practice some more to find the ones you really are going to like and use!  Get crafty and try adding your own twists to the recipes.  The possibilities are limitless.
Another aspect of kitchen management you should consider is the use of paper towels and cleaning utensils (sponges, miracle erasers, etc..).  What are you going to do when you run out of paper towels or that sponge is on its’ last cleaning leg and has to go to the trash?  Invest in cloth ones!  Rags, kitchen towels and wash cloths.  I know, I know, you like your cleaning wipes.  I do too!  Except, I make my own cleaning solution with the products listed above, soak my rags in the all-purpose cleaning solution, store them in a container with a lid and voila – I have my own homemade cleaning wipes! They are dirt cheap and ready when I need them.  When I’m done, I just pop them in the washer, dry and reuse (of course, the paper towel version goes into the trash!).  This year I am going to grow what is called a loufa gourd.  From my research, you use it the same way you do any other loufa.  The plan is to initially use it for bathing purposes and when it is outlived its’ purpose for bathing it will be relegating to cleaning tasks.  When it’s done with cleaning, it goes into a compost pile after being thoroughly cleaned.
What about feminine needs?  Are you going to stock shelves upon shelves of these products?  This is another item that is growing to be very expensive, and, if I dare, a luxury item.  I believe it is time to discuss alternate means to commercial pads and tampons.  One solution is to make your own feminine pads and another solution I found is called a Diva Cup.  It is an alternate solution to tampons.  They are washable and reusable.  A concept that our use and throwaway society would probably not take to instantly even though the rest of the world has been using for some time now.  To have them as a back-up in your arsenal is what I consider to be an invaluable asset!  There are plenty of tutorials and patterns on the internet on how to make your own feminine pads.  It’s almost the same concept as cloth diapering for babies.

While on the topic of feminine needs, let’s address a rarely discussed topic and probably one of the most embarrassing and hardest to plan for and that is “The Bathroom.”  What are you going to do in a situation where there may not be power or access to toilet paper?  This has plagued me for quite some time.  There are composting toilets, outhouses and ones that incinerate your waste.  Another solution I’ve discovered is a bidet.  They are used in other countries.  In a grid down situation or an off grid situation, I don’t see why you would not be able to use them.  Especially if you are on well and septic.  You can find portable ones and ones you can attach directly to your existing toilet for about $150.  These are supposed to attach to any two-piece toilet system without any special plumbing other than attaching to your water valve.  That would eliminate the need to stock up on toilet paper.  Of course, as my husband pointed out, it may not clean everything and you’ll be left wet.  The solution here is to make washable toileting cloths.  Scour the internet for free tutorials and patterns.  Again, think about cloth diapering of babies.  It is the same concept, just used on adults instead of babies.

You should also consider showering and not only taking a shower in general, but taking a warm shower.  How are you going to get warm water?  There are many people who would disagree with me and consider this a luxury and not a priority.  In my household, I don’t agree with them! I always tell my husband that no matter what, he has to make sure we have some way of us getting a warm shower.  It is one of the best feelings at the end of a long day of hard work.  Just to be clean makes you feel normal, it improves moral and helps you get a good night’s rest, too.  Try researching solar heaters and solar showers and other forms of heating water without relying on electricity.  You’ll be amazed at the options available as well as the interesting DIY videos.

Gardening and food are two very key provident factors.  My research has led me to a few animals of choice.  In considering my animals, I wanted those which serve many purposes.  Chickens – I can get meat, eggs and manure for my compost piles.  Goats – I can get milk and milk products like cheese, goats’ meat, and goats’ milk soap.  Rabbits – Meat, fur and manure for my compost bins.  And, a donkey for my heartstrings (yes, I’m absolutely in love with donkeys, especially miniatures).  On the practical side, they are great for protecting your livestock and you can train them to pull a cart for carrying farm and other supplies.  Children will love taking rides in the buggy too. 

Aquaponics is a relatively new concept as it takes aquaculture (fish farming) and mingles it with hydroponics (growing plants in soilless media).  This is a fascinating concept as you are able to grow fish which are a great source of protein as well as grow fruits and vegetables from the byproduct of the fish and increase your food diversity. [JWR Adds: Because modern aquaponics require circulating pumps, I recommend them only for families who have large, long-term alternative power systems--typically either a PV power system with at least 20 panels or a micro-hydro power system that runs year-round.]

Some gardening techniques you may want to consider are square foot gardening, container gardening, growing dwarf varieties of fruit trees as well as the Back to Eden gardening concept.  Search your local free classified ads.  Many people do not want to harvest their fruit and nut trees and will typically offer the bounty for free or really cheap if you come and pick it from the tree.  There are always ads of people selling off “extra” for less than what you can get at the market and grocery store.  If you do not have the ability or space to garden at your present location, why not take an add out to see if there is a local farm or land owner that will lease you a small amount of space to start growing your own food?  Even if you do not have a lot of money, try bartering some of your harvest or offer your time around their farm in exchange.  Farmers always need help and you’re more likely to walk away with a ton of useful knowledge.  You are in a win-win situation!

My final piece of advice is to research essential oils and growing your own herbs.  As a mom, I worry about the access to medical care – good quality medical care.  I have been doing some in depth research in to natural healing with herbs.  Way back when my dad had to walk 5 miles to school barefooted in the snow uphill both ways, families like his mostly relied on herbs and plants to maintain their health and to help heal them.  Mother Nature has a pharmacy all her own and many of her miracles contained within are no longer practiced and almost all but lost.  Very few herbs have side effects and actually the most common complaint comes from the user not using enough to make them effective.  Let’s take lavender for example.  Lavender can be used for its antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, and antiseptic properties as well as for its’ calming effect and it is successful in repelling fleas!  From this one herb you get all of that for cleaning, medicinal healing and for your pets too!  I love multifunction solutions such as this one!  See the trend here?  I took it from corporate America.  It’s the ol’ Do More With Less philosophy!
In closing, I hope that you will take the time to analyze what you do and use every day and then start learning about how to replicate those practices in a less than ideal situation.  As the founder of The Provident Housekeeper, it is my goal to research, develop and teach seminars that intertwine the ways of the past with the ways of today.  With just a little knowledge and a desire to DO, you can achieve anything.  Educate, Inspire, Lead and always, be Provident!


Friday, December 28, 2012


Let's say that the SHTF scenario you prepared for has happened.  You are in your bug-out location or somewhere with a bit of land and you envision a return to a normal society will take a few months or years.  You know you need to grow food and fast to prevent depletion of your stores and for a well-rounded diet.
You’ve got your survival seed bank, but now what? Hopefully in your survival seed bank you’ve given some thought to the order and priority in which you will plant, tend, grow and harvest those fruits and vegetables.

My first recommendation on seed saving is to find varieties of open pollinated or heirloom vegetables and plan to sow them continuously to enjoy an evenly spaced harvest.  This can work with many styles of gardening, from a square foot garden concept, to row gardening, and even guerilla gardening.  Basically, what you’re looking to accomplish here is to have food available continuously and not have everything ripen and need harvesting at once.  There are several reasons for this:
1.       You want to eat a variety of foods everyday for the most balance to your diet.  Proper nutrition in SHTF scenario will be difficult and fresh veggies can supply a large number of needs.
2.       Preparing the ground for and planting a large number of seeds is back-breaking labor and especially at the beginning of a TEOTWAWKI situation it’s likely you’ll be consumed with safety, shelter and other high-priority items.  It can be overwhelming to envision planting a successful 1 acre survival garden but planting a 16 square foot area daily is manageable, and for a family of four that’s about what you would need to complete on a daily basis.
3.       If pestilence, disease, excessive rain, or drought, cause damage to your crop you most likely won’t lose your entire crop.
4.       Harvesting a large amount of any crop takes many hours of daylight which you may need for other tasks.
5.       If your garden is discovered by non-friendly two-legged varmints and they steal from your survival garden, they will not be able to steal your entire crop.

So what do you plant first?  There are many factors you should take into consideration such as the availability of sunshine, water and good soil.  However, even more important to sunshine, water and soil, you should have prepped for is the time of year.  If you are in a temperate climate such as Southern California, then consider yourself extra blessed as you can successfully grow most anything year-round.  If you are in an area where the temperatures are more extreme you may not be able to grow year-round. If the SHTF in the dead of winter, you should have sprouting seeds in your survival kit and plan to sprout those and to also start seedlings indoors until they can be transplanted safely outside. If the SHTF in the middle of August then you will have a difficult time keeping seedlings watered and hydrated without wilting or scorching.

 
For this prep let’s consider two seasons: cool season and warm season.  In cool season the types of seeds you are looking to grow are grown for either their leaves or what happens below ground.  My personal list of top seven seeds you should consider for cool season survival is listed in order of their planting priority:
1.       Turnips
2.       Arugula
3.       Radish
4.       Kale
5.       Beets
6.       Rutabagas
7.       Onions

Obviously if you can store more varieties of seed in your survival seed bank, that’s great, but there’s a method to the madness above, so let’s examine my top seven cool season crops more closely:.

Turnips-Purchasing a bulk quantity of high quality turnip seeds is very inexpensive.  You can get a half pound of seeds for around $7.00.  That’s a million turnip seeds, which is plenty to plant for yourself or barter.  Additionally, you can eat the root bulb of a turnip as well as the leaves.  If left in ground, they go to seed very easily and will readily self-sow more turnips for you in the same area.  They also grow very quickly.  Some heirloom varieties grow in as few as 42 days.  Variety recommended: Purple Top Turnip.

Arugula-The Rocket variety of Arugula again grows very quickly, leaving you with an ample amount of peppery leaves that are full of vitamins and minerals. These are a great choice for guerilla gardening because they look like a weed when growing and flowering.  You can eat the leaves as soon as they start appearing and the plant will keep producing.  And just like turnips if you leave a few plants in ground they will eventually grow a flower and re-seed themselves.  In temperate climates you’ll end up with more arugula then you could ever want. Variety recommended: Rocket Arugula.

Radish-Radishes require very little space and dirt, 3-4 inches of soil depth and 25-30 days of growth will yield you mature radishes.  So again, this grows quickly and will re-seed if left alone.  This is a great choice for guerilla gardening and most pests leave it alone.  Variety recommended: Cherry Belle Radish or French White Finger Radish.

Kale-This is a well-known super-food full of Vitamin A, C and it has a ton of fiber.  It takes a little longer to grow, around 55 days, but is much hardier than a lettuce and can take more extreme temperature changes without bolting or dying.  Curly Kale especially will blend into a guerrilla gardening environment.  You can eat the leaves in any size, just harvest from the outside of each plant and let it keep growing. Kale will also readily self-sow. Variety recommended: Dwarf Blue Curled Kale.

Beets- As you can see the varieties on the bottom of the list take longer to grow.  Beets take between 55-80 days, are full of vitamins and minerals and can you can consume both their root and their leaves.  Beets are also a good item for canning or long term storage. Variety Recommended: Detroit Dark Red Beet

Rutabagas-Another root crop suitable for long term storage, Rutabagas can be eaten raw or cooked.  When cooked they resemble mashed potatoes, but they can be boiled, mashed, fried or eaten raw. They take about 90 days to mature, and are a very forgiving crop to grow. Give them a little sunshine and water and they are happy. Variety Recommended: American Purpletop Rutabaga.

Onions-When gardening in a SHTF scenario you’ll probably not spend a whole lot of time spraying pesticides or handling insect invasions, so onions are your secret weapon.  Planted around the perimeter or your vegetable garden, they will help with naturally deterring many pests from invading!  Onions are also fantastic for flavoring foods, lowering fevers and blood pressure naturally and are very suitable for long term storage if harvested correctly.  They’re also a very easy crop.  They will grow small when placed fairly close together or large if spaced out further.  Either way you get an edible onion.  You can harvest parts of the green tops as the plant is growing to use immediately without harming the plant. Varieties typically take between 90 and 180 days so this is a long term commitment in the garden. Varieties recommended include: Walla Walla and White Bunching Onion (but I haven’t met an onion seed that didn’t easily grow, so as long as it is a non-hybrid you’re good to go.)

In general, warm season crops are grown for what happens above ground or for their fruit.  You’re not growing for their leaves.  Leaf crops, like lettuce, cannot stand high temperatures and will not last for any sort of time either growing or once harvested.  Also during the height of summer, you can expect to be harvesting constantly and watering quite often.  In my experience warm season growing is more labor intensive than cool season crops.
My personal list of top 7 seeds you should consider for warm season survival are listed in order of their planting priority:
1.       Tomatoes
2.       Beans
3.       Squash
4.       Pumpkin
5.       Cucumber
6.       Watermelon
7.       Winter Squash
Let’s examine my top seven warm season crops more closely:

Tomatoes-Tomatoes can grow in almost any soil type given proper sun and water.  Tomatoes also can be sown indoors utilizing window spaces etc to get them started.  What you’re looking for here is to have a good 10-12 weeks of indoor growth, sown continuously and hardened off for use in the vegetable garden.  In this way your plant will be stronger and you will end up with ripe tomatoes several weeks earlier. There are two main types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate.  Select a variety of these types of seeds to store.  Tomatoes are useful to can, dehydrate and preserve for use throughout the cool season so plant as many tomato plants as you have room for.  Tomatoes also need to be staked and they’re not particular about how, just about anything will work to keep their leaves off the ground so tomatoes are a perfect post SHTF crop.  Also because I view tomatoes as such an important survival food item, I include several varieties in my seed bank including hybrids to plant.  (Top) Varieties recommended: Sweet 100 Hybrid Cherry Tomato, Russian Tula Heirloom, Yellow Pear Heirloom, Green Zebra Heirloom, Roma Heirloom, and Mortgage Lifter Heirloom.  Again, having multiple types of tomato seeds is important and there are hundreds of heirlooms out there .  The varieties recommended have all done well in my garden in multiple situations so I can heartily endorse them. I would have on hand a small tomato like the cherry tomato, a paste tomato (Roma) and any variety of the larger tomatoes.

Beans-The top reason to plant beans is the protein, followed closely by their ease of growth.  Now beans are very easy to grow but you need to plant many rows and feet of beans to get a decent amount to eat, and to dry and store for cool season.  So here’s my advice on beans.  Have at least 3 varietals in your survival seed bank and have at least one pound of each varietal to plant.  That may seem like overkill but trust me, even in a small home garden most gardeners are planting 40-50 beans to get back 1000 bean pods in harvest.  Keep the 1:20 ratio in mind and you can calculate just how many beans you need to plant.  Varieties Recommended: Blue Kentucky Runner Bean.

Squash-There are many varieties of squash out there but the Heirloom variety called Black Beauty Zucchini is a productive and very vigorous plant.  From a seed in the ground to food on your plate in 55 days, squash can’t be beat in the survival garden. You can eat squash when it is teensy tiny for a tender melt in your mouth vegetable or squash can double in size overnight during the warmest parts of the year so if you’re really hungry and can wait another day you will have a lot more food to bring to the table.  One squash plant in a home setting can produce enough squash to make you sick of it, so just imagine if you planted a few dozen in a survival garden.  You can grate zucchini and mix it with flour to make a bread, you can eat it raw, fry it, bake it, stuff it, dehydrate it, etc.  One other note is that in the event that the bees have died off severely it is easy to hand-pollinate a squash blossom, so this is a plant in my view that is a super prep. Variety recommended: Black Beauty Heirloom Zucchini Squash.

Pumpkin-The only reason you would grow pumpkin during the warmer months is for cool season storage.  Pumpkins require a large amount of space and time (around 120 days) to grow so if space is at a premium you won’t get very much food for the space but you will get food that can store through winter without any special process. Variety Recommended: Sugar Pumpkin Heirloom for a small variety and Connecticut Field Pumpkin Heirloom for tasty pies as well.

Cucumber-Cucumbers are great for eating fresh but they also turn into pickles.  Over the years I have grown many varieties and some varieties tend to get bitter if left on the vine too long.  The clear winner in my opinion for the best variety of cucumber in the survival garden is the National Pickling Cucumber. You can pick it when it is small but let it mature to its full size and it still doesn’t get bitter like other varieties.  It is a squat looking cucumber so it is less appealing visually but this is for survival and function over form wins hands down. At only 52 days from seed to your plate it is a vigorous addition to the survival garden. Harvesting cucumbers is easy and the more you harvest the more productive the plant is, so for that reason cucumber is not as viable in a guerilla style survival garden but if it will be tended daily then it is an excellent choice. Variety Recommended: National Pickling Cucumber.

Watermelon-Many survival seed banks out there include watermelon in their product line and I recommend it in my top seven list but only for experienced growers.  Growing a watermelon to a size of 50-100 pounds is easy, knowing when to harvest it is not.  One of the toughest parts of growing watermelon is to indeed know when the inside has ripened, and take it from someone who has gotten it wrong multiple times while learning, if you think it is ripe, it’s not.  Wait a week and come back to harvest it.  There are a few things to look for when harvesting your watermelon.  First, have enough days passed for the melon to possibly be ripe.  Keep records of when you planted the seed and do not even attempt to harvest it until those days have passed.  Has the vine started wilting around the watermelon and has the yellow spot under the melon become more white than yellow?  These are all signs the watermelon is ripe.  Watermelon will not ripen off the vine, so if you can’t practice this prep now, watch a few You Tube videos or ask someone who gardens to show you their technique.  Another thing about watermelon is that it loves heat so planting the watermelon seeds near a slab of concrete or asphalt and letting the plant vine over the concrete or asphalt will help your plant grow more vigorously and in a situation where garden space is at a premium this can ideally take up very little garden room, not to mention you don’t have to weed concrete!  Variety recommended: Black Beauty Heirloom Watermelon for large watermelon or Crimson Sweet Heirloom for a medium size watermelon.

Winter Squash-Growing a butternut squash or an acorn winter squash is also done with cool season eating in mind.  Growing a winter squash is easy; they are a vining plant and can be grown in the same technique described for watermelon above if space is at a premium.  Harvesting is simple but it does take a bit of space and you can only expect to get 3-4 squash from each plant so plan accordingly.  I have had a home grown butternut squash last for a year in a cool cupboard so once grown these can easily be stored for winter eating.  Varieties recommended: Butternut Squash Heirloom and Acorn Squash Heirloom.

Corn -Before you think I’ve forgotten about corn as being an important crop or something that you can grow with beans and a vining squash in the 3 sisters technique, just note that this is my top 7 list
but corn would make it on a top 10 list.  The reason why I did not include it in the top 7 is that it is a wind-pollinated crop that requires a very large minimum amount to be planted bunched together in hopes of successful pollination.  If that doesn’t occur then you won’t have any corn to harvest.  I find it too risky. Even with disease and pests the other vegetables in my list are always at least marginally successful and I have tried for years in a home garden various amounts of corn and it seems best suited for large field growth rather than home growing or a survival garden.  If you plan on planting an acre in corn, you’re probably going to be just fine but anything less than that seems high risk for a survival garden.

Preparing Seeds for Planting
In a survival situation preparing seeds for planting is very important, more so than in a typical day to day scenario where you can run to the store and buy extra seeds. 

Soak Seeds
Before you put a seed in the ground prepare the seed for planting by soaking it in water or in a diluted fertilizer, preferably a weak compost or manure tea.  You should soak small seeds with a soft coat for 1-4 hours and seeds with a hard coat or larger seeds can be soaked overnight.  Soaking seeds will greatly increase the rate of germination and is a small step that is made more important in a TEOTWAWKI situation.

Plant Spacing
Don’t pay attention to the seed packet space planting instructions.  Think about what size the plant will become and space the seeds according to the mature plant size and do not plant more than one seed per hole. 

Planting Depth
In a TEOTWAWKI situation you may be given or barter for additional seeds to plant that do not come with planting depth or other instructions. In this scenario, follow the rule of thumb that a seed should be planted at the depth that is 2-4 times the size of the seed.  An example would be pumpkin seeds which are very large and can be planted up 1-2 inches deep whereas a tomato seed is small and can be planted 1/4-1/2  inch deep.

Soil Preparation
Prepare the soil by tilling in compost or manure if available.  If not available break the soil up to a depth of 6 inches at a minimum and remove any large stones, wood debris, etc.  I do not plan to till the soil to any further depth than 6 inches in an area that has not been utilized for vegetable gardening because doing so can bring up more weed seeds that have been long dormant in the soil.

Protect Your Seedlings
As your seedlings begin to germinate and grow protect them by doing a few simple tricks.  Crushed eggshells around the seedling will keep soft body insects away. As the plant grows larger and develops more leaves, strip the lower leaves off the plant to remove any insect ‘on-ramps’.  You should also plant onions around your vegetable garden to deter insects.  It is very important in a survival garden to avoid mulching your seedlings.  Wait until you have a large and healthy plant then consider mulching to conserve moisture.  Adding shredded leaves, bark, straw will help conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay, but it can also harbor insects that will eat your tender seedlings.

Water
In general, seeds need to be kept moist until the second set of leaves appear, also called the ‘true leaves’.   Do your best in the given situation to keep seeds evenly moist.  As the plant matures you can reduce watering dependent upon your soil and growing conditions.  My plan will be to put a small water bottle with pinholes in the bottom down next to each seedling and pour the water directly in there.  In that way it will slowly percolate into the soil to keep the seedling evenly moist even while I am away.  However, procuring enough (100’s) of small water bottles may be difficult so a water filled zip lock bag with small pin holes would also work.  For guerilla gardening, it would appear to be trash and not bring attention to the area which is another advantage.
 
Now that you know what seeds to store and what order to plant them and why, create your own plan for your survival garden and start growing today if you can!  Practice makes perfect!


Wednesday, December 26, 2012


I am a widow of over three years whose youngest son was serving our country in the Middle East when my husband’s death happened.  My husband lost his job and was forced into early retirement before his death.  I will not go into the details of all the turmoil then and of having a child home with injuries of war.  In a SHTF situation there will be many people with war injuries in our own neighborhoods.  My other children and I are so glad he is still alive.  My income dropped further not long after this.   It was the end of the world as I knew it mixed in the downward spiraling economy. I cannot move from this area.  I live in the country near cities.  I have grandchildren and children who will no doubt come here if cities rapidly become uninhabitable.  For several it is within walking distance if they must walk, about 13 miles. I can only think of how living in a heavily populated area can work to my advantage.  Buying and storing bulk foods is not an option.  Here is how I am surviving and preparing for a future on a fixed income.

I will be doubling the size of my garden this coming spring.  Weather from the drought literally scorched the ground this past summer.  I planted lettuce over and over never to see it raise from the ground. That is just one example of what the drought did to my garden. I am sixty years old today and have never seen anything like the weather this past summer.  Horrible and truly scary but now I only see it as a lesson for future gardening and for the times when my garden may be raided. I have to think outside the box. I now have a simple irrigation system to help through another drought. My garden is located on the back of my property so I may plow for another garden closer to my house.  Two better than one.  Though I have plenty of seed for my garden needs, I will be buying extra seed for barter and trying to save more heirloom seeds than I do now.  I am using a hoe for weeding instead of a tiller.  I can plant more this way and keep in shape at the same time.  Gardening is the best summer gym!  I can barter fresh produce. For now, winter is just a stone’s throw away yet I can walk to my garden and pick greens I planted late in summer when the drought was over.  Asian greens, an onion, pepper, mushrooms with other vegetables and a chicken breast cooked in a stir fry over organic brown rice is a cheap and healthy meal, especially if the veggies come from the garden.  A chicken breast from the grocer can be replaced by a squirrel.

I have two grain mills I purchased since my husband’s passing.  One mill is a used hand mill I paid ten dollars for and the other a small electric Blendtec I purchased from Amazon.com.  Since I live in an area of corn, grain and soybean fields I hope I will be able to bargain {barter} with local farmers for grains to use in my mills.  I ordered a large bag of organic wheat from a local health food store a while back and the bread is delicious made with fresh milled grain. Trading fresh bread or produce for grains will be an option. 
 I have two woodstoves.  I heat my home with the one in the basement and the other is in my garage/workshop. Most of my 8 acres is wooded so I will not be cold in winter.   I could barter extra wood for food, gas etc.  I pile brush from cut trees to attract quail that are coming back into this area.

I can cook over a fire when I run out of fuel for Coleman Cook Stove during blackouts.  I keep two Coleman outdoor stoves plus one of their ovens to place on top the burners for baking. Coleman ovens can be purchased for around forty bucks.  Once I thought of outdoor stoves only for camping.  Several years ago the tail winds of Hurricane Ike helped me prepare for days of no electric.  That hurricane was a true wake up call!

Many homeowners in my area have ponds.  I can barter for fresh fish.  I really need to have a pond built on my place.  That is something to think about for the future.  I advise anyone with the acreage to build a pond.  There will be no fresh or frozen fish if electric is out for weeks.  A pond will provide fresh bluegill, bass, crappie, catfish etc.
I do not have chickens.  I buy eggs from a couple neighbors when they have extra eggs.  Again, I can barter for eggs. 

This area is abundant with deer.  I have deer in the freezer.   Deer would be scarce in a collapsed society but I would still have a few around my property plus other wildlife.   Again, think barter.
Double coupon for groceries and other products.  It is a pain to categorize coupons cut from newspapers but it is a must when economizing.  I use envelopes for coupons in a small folder.  My canned section of the folder has envelopes for canned soup, veggies, condiments, meats, salad dressings etc.  The health section has individual envelopes for cold medicines, band aids and salve section of drug store, shampoos, etc.  The list goes on for dairy products, frozen foods, cereal brands, ethic foods such as Italian, Chinese etc.  Sometimes you can buy food for little or it may be free after couponing. 
 Catch the sales.  Since most of the garden burned this summer I purchased canned veggies at 25 cents per can early this fall.  There was no limit so was I able to store over 200 cans in my basement until the garden comes in next summer.  By Thanksgiving canned vegetables were more than twice that price when on sale.  A vegetable stand in a nearby city sells 50 pound boxes of potatoes at half the price of 10 pound bags in the local produce section of big chain grocers.  They will store well in the garage until zero weather hits then I will bring them into the basement. 

I have a lot of designer clothes in my closet from Goodwill [thrift] stores.  I constantly receive compliments on clothes I pay little for.  I try to buy when there is a half price sale.  My hiking boots are a name brand I purchased at a Goodwill Store still in their box.  I have a juicer, DVD/VHS player, steam canner, cook books and much more at a fraction of the new price purchased from Goodwill, Salvation Army and other second hand stores.  I do not make special trips to town for shopping.  When I go to work in town I always run several errands to keep from wasting gas.  An extra trip to town for a single item is unaffordable.

Eating out is a definite no, if possible.  If I do, I use coupons or use the dollar menu at a drive-thru.  I keep snacks in my desk at work.  I make 24 pizzas at a time using a #12 can of pizza sauce, bread flour from a 25 lb bag from GFS, two 5 lb. bags of cheese, salt, yeast purchased in bulk at GFS and olive oil.  I mix the dough in four used bread machines purchased for few dollars each.  Add ingredients such as pepperoni on top before placing in oven.  Grandkids and guests love the pizzas made for less than two bucks.  It is hard work for one half day but worth it.   Three pizzas can be made with one small jar of pizza sauce if you are not up to making 24 at one time.  Beats paying fifteen bucks for a single deluxe pizza.

One of the grocers where I shop gives discounts on gas at the pump.  Some months I can save up to 30 cents per gallon.  I sold a vehicle I loved for one that is more economical to drive.  The increase in mileage per gallon has saved me.  I paid cash $3,500 for the vehicle.  This way I will not have to make payments that would amount to several hundred dollars per month for a vehicle to drive.  If I have to sell my present vehicle and drop down to a $1,000 vehicle it can be done if need be.  There are good deals out there for good used cars that have former owners with a good track record taking care of their vehicles.  It took a while for me to find one and drove my granddaughter’s car a couple weeks before finding my deal.  I borrowed her car before she got her license. 

Most important are personal relationships.  My neighbors and I have never held a meeting as a survival group.  I have been lucky through our conversations that many of us are like minded and we will be there for one another when needed.  I am a private person for the most part and so are my neighbors or we would not be living where we live.  I know by their lifestyles I can barter with them.  I have skills, they have skills.  We can complement each other.  Further on relationships, as a widow I chose not to pursue a relationship with a man.  I decided if God chose to send someone my way it would happen.  I went about my life with all its problems and I have had many the past years.  Well, God did send someone in my life most unexpectedly.  He is a widower who hunts, can fix nearly anything, has grandchildren and has not run when problems in my family have seemed overwhelming for me as when two of my children were sick.  That is important.  When a person’s world falls apart, patience for any type situation must be in order or a relationship will not survive. I was not progressing past my husband’s death as I should have.   I am healing and the new man in my life has been a big part of that process.  Again, if you find yourself single for any reason please take your time getting into a new relationship with one of the opposite sex.  You need the breathing time to catch up with knowing yourself again as single and go from there.  I would certainly have sabotaged a relationship had I started dating too soon after losing my spouse.

I also want to point out that we live in a society that falls apart after a few days without electricity.  Other traumatic events will spur post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD )in the best of us.  Part of my survival experience the past three years is with a person with PTSD in my life.  In a world spinning out of control all of us need to become well read understanding what war and a society falling apart does to the human psyche.   Please read and find out all you can about the emotional fallouts caused against individuals before, during and after war and societal unrest.  It may mean the survival of a child, grandchild or a dear friend.
Two of my grandchildren cannot play outside their condo in a nearby city because of crime.  Crime is everywhere, even in the countryside where I live but children can play on my land.  I keep a swing set, plenty of toys, bikes, games, a pool table in my basement, scissors, paper and more for children.  If I can eventually afford an above ground pool I will have one for grandchildren to enjoy.  Such things relieve stress in children and is good exercise.   There is always a small pile of brush needed burning for marshmallow roasting on my place.  I have been purchasing VHS tape movies for 50 cents to a dollar and stocking up.  Games for children help too.  I dedicated a room in my basement to sewing and crafts.  Small things costing little mean a lot to small children during times as these.

I have guns and ammo in a safe.   My family has lived in this area a long time and most around here know I have guns.  I am left alone as far as thefts go, so far.  My safe is tied into the floor joists of my house.  Presently it would take a chain saw to remove it in less than an hour’s time, not within the five or so minute time frame of local thieves.  At my husband’s death my oldest son drove in from Colorado and picked up my youngest son at the airport.  They bought the safe on their way home from the airport and installed it.  My own sons and daughters have helped me make it to today.  I do not know what I would have done without them.  Sure, we have our problems and disagreements from time to time but we are tight, regardless.

As you can see my preparedness is quite cheap and simple.  I would love to have solar panels for electric and more for the future but economics limits the extremes I would love to go with.  My small generator would run my freezer long enough to can frozen meat over a gas grill burner.  Would not want to do that but I could if need be.  Boundaries as lack of funds keep me thinking outside the box.
The best preparing is letting God be in control.  It is unbelievable at the situations I have found myself in to come up with funds to pay bills.  One time a check came in the mail within minutes I urgently needed to pay bill.  I have been humbled many times by the grace of God these past years.  No one is perfect and all of us make mistakes, some quite terrible but God is there regardless if we let him in our lives.  He helps us prepare if we let him.

Years before my husband’s death we took an extreme cut in income.  I was upset and could not understand why God was letting this happen to us.  Little did I know we were being prepared for a further loss of income.  When an economic fire storm hit the area we lived in we were a great deal more prepared to face the music than most because we had already had to live through that loss.  So the problems you have today may be God’s way of preparing you for the future. 

I have been watching the evening news more often as of late.  It is unbelievable the amount of shootings, stabbings, robberies and home invasions taking place in the area I live.  It will continue in this direction for many years to come.  I cannot move as I stated once before.  For economic and family reasons I will remain here and sit it out.  I search the web and stores like Goodwill for items that can be purchased at prices I can afford to make life more comfortable the coming years.  I know the fire storm is coming.  One of my grandfathers of many generations past was one of the first white men to come down the Ohio River to the lands of Kentucky.  I love reading the history of our country and I know we are headed for rough waters.  It cannot be stopped at this point regardless of who is in charge in Washington.  It is too late. We may remain the United States of America but it will be an entirely different landscape.  Practice preparing. Prepare as best possible with what you have, even if it is only a tomato plant in an Earth Box on your condo patio.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I started trying to grow my own food, on a small scale, about 10 years ago.  Only this year, did I really begin to see the possibility of growing most of what we need to feed our family.  I have learned to garden through a combination of books, experimentation and tips from others.  I would like to share some of my education and sources so that others can ramp up to self-sufficiency faster than the time it took me. 

Permaculture.  Previous SurvivalBlog contributors have mentioned the term "permaculture".  It is a general term that describes (mostly) self-sustaining production through diversity, recycling of waste and minimum external input.  The antonym of permaculture is monoculture, which produces a single product and requires high external input (seed, fertilizer, fuel, etc.).  We have all heard of the wonders of modern farming (mostly monoculture), but there are a number of ideas from permaculture that can be applied advantageously to the family-scale gardener.  I will provide specific examples in my garden to illustrate some of the general permaculture concepts.

Since permaculture involves different crops and maybe even animal husbandry, it is critical to learn as much as possible about all of the plants and animals in your system.   A great tool to retain your knowledge is a log book.  In it, record what species you plant at what time - in pots, in cold frames, in the greenhouse and in the garden.  Record successes and failures, note what freezes and what survives.  Once your plants are established, record when the fruit first appears and when it matures.  Note which plants can survive a minor frost and which ones can't.

The information you gain from your log can boost production and efficiency.  The seed packet instructions may say, “plant outside after last danger of frost”, but even hardened plants can be stunted by cold nighttime temperatures in the 40s or sometimes 50s.   I have learned that waiting an extra week or two for tomatoes and another week past that for pepper plants gives sturdier plants and larger harvests.    When you know there is not enough time left in the season for new fruit to reach maturity, you can pluck the new fruits to allow the plant to concentrate on the viable fruit.  Different things work in different places.  Garlic over-wintered just fine in raised bed in the mid-Atlantic region of the country, but the extreme cold in the American Redoubt knocked out half of my garlic planted in a raised bed last season. Live and learn - and write it down.

Besides the obvious benefit of retaining your knowledge from one season to the next, the log book may also help in the generational transfer of knowledge.  I have met plenty of people who grew up on a farm who went through the motions, did their chores and didn't really learn the skills and techniques.  They have told me they wish they had paid closer attention to what their parents were doing. 

Choosing your Crops.   There are a few basic criteria for choosing your crops.  First of all choose plants that feed your family.  "Grow what you eat, and eat what you grow".   I have learned to eat things that are more compatible with my "redoubt" growing climate, including kale and swiss chard.  (As far as I know, I never even tasted these plants for my first 45 years of life).  My wife has learned how to make these items tasty for the children and some of her dishes have even become the kids favorites.  I've planted currants and raspberries as alternative sources of Vitamin C, since I know I can't grow oranges.

One thing that has helped us learn to deal with new foods is a food co-op program called bountiful baskets (bountifulbaskets.org), which is available in many parts of the country.  For $15 a week you get a large selection of seasonal vegetables and fruits.  Besides being a good value, the challenge of using it all up has introduced us to new foods (some of which we now grow) and helped us develop new cooking skills.

It almost goes without saying that your chosen plants should be open-pollinated / non-hybrid.  This gives the grower a potential endless supply of seeds and independence from the tyranny of seed companies.  Then choose to grow only one variety of any species so the seed is usable the following year.  For example, pie pumpkins, zucchini and yellow crookneck are all the same squash species and will cross-pollinate and result in strange offspring.  In my case, I have chosen one variety of each of the four squash species, which allows me both variety and pure seeds for the following year.  If there is enough distance between plants, it is possible to grow multiple varieties of the same species.  However, I choose to  just alternate varieties year to year.

Some of the general concepts of permaculture are interaction and diversity, and that can extend outside of your individual garden.  Be good at something - then  you can trade with someone else.  Trade your crookneck for someone else's zucchini (everyone grows zucchini), eat multiple plant varieties and keep your seed strains pure.  Everybody wins.

In some cases, it is important to avoid interaction with your neighbors.  I am now surrounded by farms practicing large-scale monoculture.  If I do nothing special, my heirloom corn will cross-pollinate with my neighbors crop and give me some genetically modified offspring.   However, the small-scale farmer can do some things to limit cross-pollination that are not practical for the large-scale farmer.  I make small molded blocks of potting mix and jump-start corn and sunflowers in these blocks in the greenhouse 3-4 weeks ahead of my neighbors.  I can plant them under small hoops and row cover while it is still cool out.  My plants can be open-pollinated with each other before my neighbors plants develop their tassels (source of corn pollen).  If you don't have corn-growing neighbors, you can use this same technique to stagger pollination, grow different species of corn and eliminate cross-pollination of your corn varieties.

Other posters have mentioned the book "seed to seed", which is a great resource for saving seed.  I misplaced my copy in our recent move but have still found plenty of good resources on the web for saving seeds of individual plant types.  A couple of general tips:  1) For herbs, just hang the mature plant upside down in an open trash bag and the seeds will dry and fall off in the bottom.  2) For all seeds, give them plenty of drying time.  I let my seeds dry on a plate for a couple of months before I put them in a bag or jar.  Even a little moisture can cause them to sprout or mold.

Starting seeds.  For beginning gardeners, just buy some potting mix to start with.  The first year I scoffed at the idea of buying dirt and just dug some soil from the yard to start my pepper plants.  Well I ended up yanking the seedlings and growing some nice weeds.  Once you know what you're doing, then you can make your own potting soil if you want.

The seed packets tell you to plant the seeds too close together and then thin to the correct spacing.  That has always seemed wasteful to me.  Another potential problem is using old seeds - what do you do when the germination rate decreases over time?  In TEOTWAWKI, it may be important to get everything you can out of your existing seeds. 

A technique I have used for starting seeds comes from the "The new Seed Starter's Handbook".  Place the seeds on a paper towel and moisten, fold the towel up and place it in a ziploc bag.  The paper towels keep the seeds evenly moist which speeds the germination process.  To prevent the roots from crossing the folds, I have amended the technique by sandwiching the moist paper towel between two sheets of wax paper.  Once the seeds sprout, plant the sprout and the attached paper towel into potting soil.  Overall, this technique helps the seeds start faster by about a week and produces higher germination rates.  I have used it successfully on many herbs and vegetables.  It doesn't work well on peas or beans.  It does take extra labor, so I don't use it all the time. 

Companion Planting is not possible, by definition, with monoculture.  It involves planting multiple crops / plants together for mutual benefit.  I haven't found a real good book on the subject, but will give a couple of specific examples where I have found value.

Some plants are a natural repellent to harmful bugs.  It is common practice to plant marigolds with tomatoes to repel bean beetles, squash bugs and harmful nematodes.  In fact, planting marigolds the year before, and tilling them in, can kill and prevent harmful nematodes for the next year.  Non-GMO rapeseed can do the same for nematodes harmful to fruit trees.   Nasturtium is a flower which is known to repel potato and squash bugs. 

I suspect there may be other useful plant pairings for bug control that are not as commonly known.  Cilantro is extremely pungent and is never eaten by the bugs in my garden, plus it is a useful herb for mexican dishes and salsa.  Valerian is a very pungent plant which I sometimes use as a sleep aid.  I haven't done an exact controlled experiment with these pairings, but I do plant them around my tomatoes and seem to not have problems with bugs in my plants. 

Some crops also grow well together because of their physical characteristics.  Last year I tried to grow the "Three Sisters" -squash, corn and pole beans.  Ideally, the squash keeps the corn roots cool and the beans climb the corn stalks and provide nitrogen for the corn.   It was not really successful (I have really bad luck with pole beans.) 

This year I just planted my squash by themselves every 8 feet or so where I had grown some sunflowers the year before.  When a few volunteer sunflowers sprang up from last year's seeds I decided to let them grow.  The results were dramatic.  My healthiest squash plant at the start of Spring did not have any sunflowers near and withered in the heat and drought that affected the redoubt this year - in spite of regular watering.  A much weaker squash plant (that I even accidentally stepped on) thrived in the midst of a small sunflower patch and became my most productive plant.  When we experienced a mild frost on September 10th, it killed all my squash, except for those plants mixed in with the sunflowers - so the pairing helped for both heat and cold.  It dawned on me that this was a variation on the three sisters method, with sunflowers replacing the corn.  I will be doing at least "two sisters" next year on a larger scale.

Irrigation  Large-scale farming requires reliance on rainy weather or commercial irrigation.  With family-scale gardening, I have found it possible to collect much of the water needed for a small garden from roof runoff.  Even in a drought year like this one, we had a few large cloudbursts with lots of nothing in between.  The ability to store water gives additional flexibility and is the best "quality" water, with fewer dissolved salts or other contaminants.

My water collection system is a complex-looking network of inexpensive or free collection, storage and distribution elements.  I have painted them the color of my house so that they don't stick out. 

For collection, I first looked at commercial products.  I found many rain gutter collection attachments for around $70 each.  They have many nice features, but with more than 10 downspouts on my house and barn, it was more than I wanted to pay.  My solution was to use 4" PVC pipe with a screw cap on one end.  The downspouts fit completely inside the PVC pipe and fill up with water when it rains.  I occasionally unscrew the end to clean out any collected debris or to prevent freezing in the collector.

To get the water out, I attach a 3/8" hose connector near the bottom of the PVC tube.  The connector has a MNTP (male national pipe thread) on one side that can be screwed into a hole drilled into the PVC.  The other end of the connector has a ribbed connection to which hard tubing can be connected.  I use the same connector near the top of intermediate collection vessels for overflow protection.

For water storage I have different containers.  I first purchased some large water storage drums.  I have also found 55 gal round drums used for molasses at the local bakery outlet for a cost of $10 each.  I also found some large 275 gallon IBC totes from the fire station which were used to hold fire fighting foam (basically, dishwashing detergent.)  I have hooked these together with 3/8' hard plastic hose and connectors.  I put some of my smaller drums higher on my deck so I have some water at higher pressure.

For distribution, I tap the final collection drums. with larger garden hose-sized valves.  I have literally spent hours sometimes trying to figure out all the different adapters needed to make all the different connections.  In the end I have had to violate the male code of honor to occasionally ask for assistance at the hardware / plumbing store when trying to get the correct connection from (for example)  3" IBC tote outlet to a garden hose.

Fertilization  For a sustainable garden, it is important to recycle as many nutrients  as possible.   Composting is the most common method for recycling simple plant material.  "The Complete Composting Guide" was a valuable book for me, not just for the techniques, but also for ideas how to make compost piles more visually appealing. 

Vermiposting is a technique which uses worms to compost simple plant material.  The advantage of vermiposting is the intermediate product (worms) can be used to feed poultry or fish.  I have used different types of boxes to grow worms inside with kitchen waste.  Scale-up requires expanding to outside the home, and facing the challenges of a hard winter.  However, I encountered a great idea for 4-season vermiposting in a cold climate from the book "Small Scale Poultry Flock".  Vermipost bins are built into the floor of a greenhouse, to insulate it from extreme heat or cold.  I will be giving that a try for next season.

There are other permaculture techniques that mimic nature to accelerate and focus the recovery of nutrients from other sources.  Growing wood mushrooms (maitake, shiitake) is a great way to convert cellulose (wood) to something edible, and the leftover material is a great component for potting soil.  Paul Stamets is an innovator, the author of a great reference book for growing mushrooms and also sells many supplies through his web site useful for the beginning mushroomer.  I have started small with purchased mushroom plugs for culled trees in my yard.

Maggotry can be used to convert animal material into useful poultry and plant food.  Again, the book "Small Scale Poultry Flock" book describes a technique for drilling holes in plastic bucket, putting screens on the bottom and hanging rotting meat above the poultry flock.  Flies enter through the holes and lay their eggs.  Maggots burrow down, fall to the ground and are eaten by the poultry before they turn into flies.   In more moderate climates, black soldier flies can be bred for the maggots (grubs).  They quickly consume bad meat and dairy products and self-harvest by climbing up inclined tubes as part of their life cycle.

Of course you need a source to feed these various nutrient recovery mechanisms.  We collect our unused vegetable matter in a small can for composting.  I work at a 24-hour manufacturing facility and have supplied compost buckets for them to dump coffee grounds, egg shells and other wasted vegetable matter.  My children collect coffee grounds from the local coffee shops.  I have talked to a local butcher about animal waste (guts, organs).  Nanny-state regulations prevent them from disposing of animal waste through non-FDA-approved outlets, but they can get a waiver if they apply for it. 

In the end, the more that you recycle, the less you have to import.  So far, darling bride has rejected any discussion of composting human waste.  However, I entered a contest to win a free composting toilet and would have no problem using composted humanure in the orchard.

Involve Others.  The more I try to do, the more I realize I cannot do it all myself.    The children and devoted wife have helped in matters plant, animal and fungal (mushrooms) - sometimes cheerfully :-)  As they have become more adjusted to a rural lifestyle, sometimes they even come up with some of their own ideas for projects they would like to try.   I share my experiences, seeds, plants and excess produce with others who have similar interests and we all benefit from the exchange.  In the end, gardening is a skill that is learned from others, and through repetition.  Like shooting a gun or a bow, we shoot, make adjustments, and shoot again.  In gardening, when the time between "shots" is a year, I hope these tips can help your readers get their food production "on target" within a short period of time.

 

References:

Seed to Seed

New Seed Starter's Handbook

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock

Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms

Soil Block Makers


Friday, November 2, 2012


This spring I purchased Painted Mountain Corn seed from two suppliers following the stirring encouragement of New Ordinance (“Rocky Mountain Corn: The Secret Weapon”). In spring of 2012 seed was selling for around $20/lb. This fall I see it’s commonly selling for around $30/lb and up!

I’m planning on saving a lot of seed, selling a little, and experimenting with cooking this amazing field corn in a variety of ways. (Remember, it’s field corn, not sweet corn. You dry it and grind it into flour to make tortillas, tamales, chips, and much more!)

GROWING

Using a marked measuring line, I planted 200 seeds one inch deep, 1’ apart in rows 2’ apart, in an established garden area about 20’x20’ .I took a glance at each seed I planted to plant the biggest and best-looking seed, and saved the odd or broken seeds for cooking. I fertilized it with plenty of chicken manure, and supplemented with a general commercial fertilizer as my insurance against not having enough nitrogen in the soil (corn are heavy feeders and this was my very first attempt).

The fertilizer was added when the plants were knee-high (6-8 leaves), one tablespoon per plant 5” from the stem, and again when the plants were silking and ears beginning to form. (If you don’t have livestock for manure you probably should consider stashing a couple of big bags of all-purpose fertilizer!)

Basically, the drier your weather, the further apart the seeds need to be so each plant can scavenge enough moisture from the surrounding soil. Ditto for soil fertility: the less fertile the soil, the further apart the plants need to be. Corn is not normally planted only 1’ apart, but I figured that since I was supplying the water and fertilizer, the plants could be closer together. For the scoop on corn root spread, root depth, watering requirements and scheduling, and more take a look at this web page.

My first planting was done a few days after the last average frost day for Spokane, May 15. But the weather got cold and wet again and I lost all of that planting. Once the weather warmed up again I replanted in mid-June. I toyed with planting them in little pots for better germination, but I wanted a technique that I could scale up, and transplanting 2,000+ little pots in my next attempt was just absurd…

My corn patch was watered from above by an oscillating rectangular-pattern lawn sprinkler, on a 6’ post in the middle of the patch. My goal was to give the corn about 1” of water per week. I watered them in the morning so that the plants would dry off with the rising sun and we would not have mold issues. I was concerned with sprinkler-watering when the corn was in silk (releasing pollen that needs to stick to each silk to produce a kernel of corn), but I had only a few ears of corn that weren’t 100% pollinated, so that didn’t seem to be an issue.

By the way, with pollinating insects at a low in our neck of the woods you’ll be interested to know that corn is wind pollinated. So even if the bees are having a tough time you’ll still have corn! This is why you always have to plant corn in blocks, and not in single rows – the pollen needs to be blown around them.

Weeding was done with a hula-hoe and the 2’ rows were just wide enough for me to walk down the row. After the first weeding the weeds that came back just weren’t an issue so I didn’t have to do it again. Most of my weeds are pigweed and not a huge problem – in fact, the chickens and sheep like them!

The corn plants showed amazing genetic variation, which is one of the reasons it is such a robust variety. Some of the plants were more than 6’ tall, others were barely 3’. Each plant had one ear of corn, on average. The ears on shorter plants were no smaller than those on larger plants. Just a few plants “lodged” – fell over in a windstorm we had – but continued to grow and produced ears!

The kernel colors were amazing! Several ears had every color in the rainbow, as well as beautiful patterns and rays. I could have sold the entire crop just for holiday decorations!

HARVESTING

I was expecting the corn to dry on the stalk and be collected after being completely dry. Instead, the corn started to dry and we had a wave of cold weather that threatened to damage the crop. Theoretically, this corn can take a light frosting, but I didn’t want to take the chance, so I picked all the ears before the frost (mid-October). Freeze-damaged kernels can still be dried and eaten for food, but won’t germinate as seed.

It turns out that the corn was drier than I thought. While the plants were still about half-green, I had missed the clue that they were ready to pick when the corn patch sounded “rattle-y” when watered. I  should have stopped watering at that point, but I didn’t for another week and so had three or four ears with a little bit of mold on them.

I husked the ears right in the patch and then discovered that the best way to dry them is to knot two or three corn husks together (after pulling the husks back to expose the kernels) and hang them from a hook or nail in the ceiling of my house, where they wouldn’t freeze (that would be the grid-down solution, not one your wife would ordinarily endorse…).

What I ended up doing was laying them on a table in my garage with a fan blowing on them to dry them quicker and prevent molding. That would not have been an option if the power was off – hanging the drying ears is definitely the way to go.

SHELLING

Flex a few ears of corn when you first harvest them to get a baseline of how flexible they are when not yet dry. When the ear of corn stiffens up (it won’t be completely hard) and when you can’t dent the kernels with pressure from your fingernail, they are ready to shell. There’s no rush, so be sure they’re good and dry! I found about a dozen solitary moldy kernels out of all my ears of corn, and one cob that had slightly molded – just because the kernels are dry doesn’t mean the cobs are completely dry yet.

I bought one of those familiar solid aluminum hand-shellers (“Decker Corn Sheller”) but the ears of Painted Mountain corn are a lot narrower in diameter than regular corn and just pass right through the sheller. (Once shelled, the Painted Mountain cob diameter is between 5/8” and 1”.)

So, I took a 6 ounce can of tomato paste and removed both lids (the Oxo Smooth Edge can opener from Sears – and others like it – lifts the lids off and leaves NO sharp edges), and pounded the can body down into the sheller with a mallet. A little extra shaping with a screwdriver and I had a smaller-diameter sheller that worked fairly well (a lot faster than shelling with my bare hands, let me tell you!). It wouldn’t last very long, but it did the job a lot better than my bare hands!

I finally did more shopped around on the Internet and found a cast aluminum hand sheller rated for popcorn (labeled “Burrows P Pcorn”) and it was The Very One for Painted Mountain corn! It’ll last for decades, and has no sharp edges that might scratch the surface of a kernel intended for seed, though I did take a fine file to mine just to be sure!

With my new Burrows sheller I can shell an ear of corn in about 10 seconds, but there are sometimes a few kernels that I have to dislodge with my fingers. The kernels are as hard as a rock and aren’t damaged by the contact with metal - as long as there are no sharp points or edges. Some persistent kernels did get damaged by the sheller – scraped across the tops, but those were pretty rare. (Another reason to look at the seed corn when you’re planting it to make sure it’s not damaged, broken, or moldy.)

DOING THE MATH

The 200 corn plants which I raised on 400+ square feet of ground produced about 30 pounds of corn. Each ear produced, on average, about 1/6th of a pound. At this yield an acre would produce around 3,000 lbs (if I did the math right). Our season was short and I planted the seeds closer than recommended - your results may vary!

Now, my dozen or so chickens might eat about 20 pounds of scratch a month (as cracked corn combined with 20 lbs of cracked wheat) year-round, and grid-down my family might eat 4 pounds of corn a week (about 200 lbs/year), in addition to other crops. On a subsistence basis then, I would need to plant a 77’x77’ corn patch with 2 lbs of seed to raise 440 lbs.

You’d probably get better sheer food production by raising, say, potatoes. But you’d have to preserve/store your crop for an entire year and that’s a real trick without electrically controlled temperature and humidity. And potatoes cannot be frozen, whereas completely dried corn can. So raise both!

For those of you who are just starting out with corn I would like to recommend you purchase at least a year’s worth of dried GMO-free corn right now to store. Who knows if we’ll be able to grow anything the first year after a crisis?! I bought bulk organic corn from a local organic grocery in town (Huckleberry’s, if you’re in the Spokane area), but you can also buy it online. You might be interested to know that the mad scientists have not yet genetically engineered blue corn, which you can buy online in bulk from places like Honeyville (www.honeyvillegrain.com). Blue cornbread for Thanksgiving - or beautiful purple-tinted home-made Painted Mountain cornbread - with lots of butter!!

COOKING

If your corn is not going to be a large part of your diet you can just run the dry corn through your electric or crank grain mill and make flour that way.  If you plan to use corn as a substantial part of your survival diet, or it just happened that way because your other crops failed, then you should consider nixtamalizing it!

I’ve successfully made hominy (nixtamalized corn) by pre-soaking 2 lbs of dried corn in water for two hours, then bringing it to a boil with ¼ cup pickling lime in 3 quarts of water, then simmering for 60 minutes, and letting it sit overnight, covered. The hominy can then be rinsed, boiled to desired softness and eaten as hominy (warmed with butter!), or ground wet in a food processor or hand grinder (not a grain mill!) into dough and add water after grinding to make masa. I’ve stored enough pickling lime to treat all the (organic!) corn I have stored. Read up on this process for more details!

You can also nixtamalize corn with wood ash, but it takes longer. You use as much sifted wood ash as you do corn (1:1), and boil it longer depending on the type of wood burned to produce the ash. The ash gives it a bubbling mud / Yellowstone effect, but you rinse the ash off in the end (NOT down your drain!) and the result is the same – your corn will be more nutritious! Have a look at these two videos: The Derelict Epistle: Making and Cooking Traditional Hominy Part 1 and, The Derelict Epistle: Making and Cooking Traditional Hominy Part 2.

STORING

Store your corn in paper sacks or feed bags, not in sealed plastic bags. Once thoroughly, thoroughly dry, I store mine in galvanized steel trash cans with plastic drum liners, and sprinkle diatomaceous earth both in the can before I fill it and on top of the corn once it’s full. And I keep a generous supply of mouse poison in my storage area as well!

Save enough seed to replant if you get bad weather like I did, and save enough so you’ll have seed for the next year (with an emergency replant!), should your entire crop get completely skunked that year. In my case, with the larger 77’x77’ plot, I’d want to save around 8 pounds of seed. And let me recommend setting aside some corn seed for any neighbors within a 1,000 foot minimum distance who might want to raise corn after the crash. That way their corn pollen won’t contaminate yours!

Don’t forget to rotate corn between gardens or garden areas to keep corn pests in the soil to a minimum!

For a lot more information about growing corn and all the reasons why it is a superb survival crop, see the chapter on corn in Carol Deppe’s excellent book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times or read Chapter 12 online via Google Books

I do hope you’ll consider raising corn as one of your survival crops. It is a versatile and nutritious food and one you’ll enjoy growing!

Trust God. Be Prepared. We can do both!

ShepherdFarmerGeek, Trusting Jesus in Spokane


Friday, October 19, 2012


Let's just say I have a fair amount of time on my hands and not a whole lot of money. Add to that a curious mind with a bit of a preparedness mindset and you get someone who likes to experiment with produce and gardening. I wanted to share some of my experiences with growing plants straight out of my kitchen, often from produce bought at the grocery store that was meant to be eaten but didn't make it to the table, or had the seeds removed first.

If you've seen some of the propaganda out these days on our food supply, you might, like me, have become fearful about what we are feeding our children.
I saw videos about potatoes that will not grow being sold in the grocery stores and I have heard stories about the seeds in our produce somehow becoming inactive. I wanted to see for myself if the food that I feed my family is that horrific and unnatural that it cannot reproduce or grow anymore itself. I'm not saying whether the food is bad or good, obviously it would be best if we could all grow our own food supply in a healthy, sustainable manner but that's an entirely different topic. I am saying that some of the propaganda is just that, or that my produce bought at my local, inexpensive chain style grocery store is possibly not as processed, or treated as some of the other stuff that was used in the tests that I have seen or heard about. To be clear, these are my tests and results, I won't compare them with any others except for my own previous growing experience because there are just too many variables. The hope here is that you might try some of these ideas and see for yourself what might work and what won't.

You might be asking yourself "Why is this relevant?"  Well, in our dependant society we just don't know what could disrupt the fragile food supply, when it could happen or for how long. Access to fresh, viable seeds might be an issue for you when it all goes down. Not only that, availability could also be an issue, last spring I had to go to four different stores looking for seed potatoes and onions. I wondered if I couldn't find them in time, would it be that important to simply not plant those particular items? Of course, it would be not a huge issue to just buy them when I need them for now when all things are just a drive or click away, but I wanted to know if there was a way to make do without. as

Some of you might find this material interesting, some might find it educational, many of you will undoubtedly get a good laugh at my level of inexperience. That's okay, but in TEOTWAWKI there might be a whole lot of people trying to do what I am attempting to do now. In all fairness I am not a master gardener, or a soil expert, I just have an interest in gardening and seed saving.

I believe that many people would actually be less practiced and less educated (if you can believe it) then me if the food supply ran dry and we had to rely on farming.
I am certain that there are many variables and my experiments likely will not produce the same results for someone else, somewhere else, or even for myself in the same situation next year. Just a few of the many variables might include the type of produce purchased, the brand name, the growing area, the soil composition and light and water requirements for growing or for what the produce was grown in or around.

The point is to try for yourself if you have the time, space or the curiosity.

To start, I used grocery store fruit and vegetables. Everything was purchased at a regular inexpensive chain type grocery store. I used regular produce, inexpensive and not labeled organic or pesticide free with exception of the strawberries which I bought on sale that were labeled organic.
When I say that I dried the seeds, all I did was scoop them out, and lay them somewhere to dry for at least two weeks occasionally turning or shaking them. With the squash, pumpkin and melon, I rinsed the seeds off first then dried them for at least three weeks before placing them in storage. My method of storing them is to put them in an unbleached envelope labeled by type of seed and the date, and catalogued in a file system, stored in a cool and dark place.
Garlic- I left the whole garlic heads in the fridge and when I didn't use them, they eventually began to sprout. I generally prefer to overwinter my garlic but I planted the cloves in the spring anyhow. I harvested them in late August and the result was not as good as my usual crop. They were smaller with smaller cloves but they did grow and produce. Perhaps if I had been able to plant them in the fall as I usually do, they would have been the same size as my usual garlic harvest.
Watermelon- Watermelon seeds are becoming harder and harder to find in store bought fruit. I was lucky enough to find two seeds that I planted directly into the garden without drying them. Unfortunately there was no growth.

Pumpkin- I bought a pumpkin last year and dried the seeds. This summer I planted them and did get some growth. Most of the seeds did sprout and began to grow but none made it long enough to produce any larger leaves, flowers or pumpkins. I probably would have done better if I sprouted the seeds indoors and planted them earlier.

Tomato-  I bought some larger tomatoes but one or two of them didn't make it to the table. I sliced them open and scooped out the seeds to dry. In the spring I planted them and was very pleased to see them growing. Unfortunately my tomato harvest was not a large one this year probably because I just didn't plant enough of them. The plants did produce a good quality of tomato, resulting in about six or seven tomatoes per plant.

Carrot- I remembered an experiment from grade school science class when we cut off the tops of carrots and put them in water to grow. I tried to replicate that experiment with no good results.

Melon- I planted the seeds directly in the garden from a fruit bought at the store. The plants grew nicely and did finally begin to flower and produce fruit. There were a surprising amount of melons on each plant however they just didn't seem to have enough time to mature even in this years extended growing period. Next year I'll try starting them indoors early in pots that can be planted into the garden.

Potato- I bought a ten pound bag of potatoes and left a few in the dark to grow eyes. Once they did, I planted them in a pail in the hopes of creating a makeshift potato tower. Although they did try to grow, nothing much came of it. There were sprouts and leaves protruding through the soil but they soon wilted and died. I recently learned that potatoes like good drainage and the pail I used did not have holes drilled into the bottom which could certainly have contributed to my poor results. I think next year I'll try them in the garden.

Winter Squash- I just love squash. I planted the seeds in early spring and carefully tended to them. They sprouted and grew nicely for the most part with only one plant remaining small with no flowers and therefore no fruit. The others did well and the plants looked good but again, the squash seems premature and there is not enough time for them to mature. I never grew winter squash before so I have no comparison but each plant aside from the one that did not produce, gave one or two premature squash. This would be another one to be sure to plant early indoors in pots that can go directly into the garden.

Strawberry- I have never had any success with the 'grow your own' strawberry kits and I always wondered if there was another way of growing strawberries without buying any kits or seeds or plants. I bought some organic strawberries on sale and half of them were too ripe to eat. I planted them in early summer in a pot, whole, with the tops sticking out (this is when the experienced gardeners are likely shaking their heads). I took great care of them, making sure they had plenty of sun and just enough water. In the end all I got was a pot of dirt with some dried leaves sticking out.

Peppers- I tried four types of peppers this year, again all seeds from grocery store bought produce, and none had been labeled organic.
     Bell Pepper- I sowed the seeds directly from the pepper without drying. The plants were ok looking, perhaps a little on the weak side compared to the seedlings I usually    buy to plant. All of them did grow and did flower, most of them did produce nicely with good quality peppers averaging from one to four peppers on a single stalk.
     Habanero Type- Sad story here, I dried the seeds, planted them directly in the garden in the summer and had no growth.
     Cayenne-  I dried the seeds from the store bought packet of peppers. There was growth and production but not as much as I'm used to growing from seedlings that were already started. The peppers were smaller and there were perhaps a few less then usual.
     Jalapeno Type- I dried the seeds from store bought jalapeno style peppers and sowed them straight into the garden. The plants looked good and the production was good. I had never planted jalapeno peppers before so I do not have other experience to draw on, just that they produced a decent amount of about three peppers per stalk.

All in all, it was a good experience despite some of the less desirable results. Reviewing these results shows me that I do have a lot to learn but at least some were very successful. I will continue to try to grow free seeds from the produce I buy, not only does it give free, viable fresh seeds, but I can also learn along the way.
 I did recently get my hands on some good books on saving seeds. Flipping through them shows that that seed saving is not as easy as one might think. Some variables include humidity, drying time and drying temperature. Some seeds require specific treatment before they are able to germinate, and most require a steady soil temperature to sprout. Some seeds also need to be a certain temperature before they will sprout, as in freezing. There is a lot to learn in the science and miracle of seed saving and food growing. With the time honored tradition of saving seeds you are giving yourself a cushion of security regardless of what the future holds.

It is my hope that my experiments with produce, seed saving and growing will inspire you to try your own. Good luck.

JWR Adds: Be advised that much of the produce found in grocery stores comes from hybridized seed stock. Saving those seeds will sometimes result in poor yields in subsequent generations. For long term survival, open-pollinated non-hybrid seed (often called heirloom seed) is recommended.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Not Saran Wrap, I’m talking about what is commonly referred to as pallet wrap. I thought there was no way possible that something as versatile and useful as stretch wrap could have been overlooked in the survival community, but after hours of searching it certainly looks that way. I’ve only found a few vague references to other possible uses for it. Today I hope to enlighten you and further prepare you for TEOTWAWKI.

Firstly, it’s a lot of bang for your buck. You can pick up an 18 inch wide roll of stretch wrap that’s 1,500 feet long for less than $15. That’s over 2,000 square feet of material! You can also find them in 5 inch wide rolls, 12 inch wide rolls, 20 inch wide rolls and 30 inch wide rolls. Unfortunately I have yet to find 1 inch or 2 inch wide rolls which I believe would be extremely useful, but I can cut up the bigger rolls on a lathe. So now you have a 1,500 foot long roll of stretch wrap right? Well technically yes but do not forget the name, “Stretch Wrap”. Your 1,500 foot roll can almost triple its length. You actually have about 4,000 useable feet. That’s the better part of a mile out of just one roll. It is extremely compact if you consider how much you’re getting out of such a small package. 

Now let’s move on to its possible uses.

The first and most obvious use we all know.  Securing loads. Many of us wouldn’t think about using stretch wrap to do that though. We use rope, Bungee cords and tie downs most of the time. Depending on the weather we might use a tarp as well. I’ve found that stretch wrap a lot of the time does a much better job at helping secure loads, as well as keeping them weatherproof. I always keep a roll behind my seat now.

Another great use that I’ve found that’s not related to survival is use as a packing material. To be honest I have not done the math cost wise to see if it’s cheaper than regular packing material. It sure beats dealing with peanuts and packing paper though. And it does an excellent job keeping delicate items from breaking during shipping. In fact whenever pallets get delivered to my company, I save the stretch wrap for use as packing material, so a lot of the time it’s free.

Now I’ll cover its uses as a great survival tool.

One of the most important things for survival is shelter. We all know this. You can actually within a matter of minutes make a quality survival shelter with nothing but stretch wrap and whatever you can find lying around. If you’re out in the woods you can wrap it around a few trees and then make a roof by wrapping it over the walls you just made. You can find a few branches and make a teepee and wrap that. I’ll get into this later but you can make rope to secure the top of the teepee by twisting the stretch wrap up. If you’re in the city you can make a shelter out of almost anything. A bus stop, a few signs, a porch, you can even use a couple cars as supports for a shelter. Your imagination is the only limit. You’ll also get a natural greenhouse effect for warmth with a stretch wrap shelter.

One of the other most important things for survival is water. And believe it or not stretch wrap can be a very important tool in acquiring water. Firstly I did a test to see how well water clings to stretch wrap. It doesn’t. Poor a little water on some and you’ll see it shed off like water on a ducks back. This is useful if you are in an area that hits dew point a lot. You can set up a frame at an angle and wrap it. When the stretch wrap reaches dew point temperature you’ll see moisture collect much like you do on the windshield of a car. All you have to do is set up a water collection device at the lowest edge of the frame and catch it. You can also use a framework wrapped in stretch wrap to channel water that naturally drips from trees or anything else into a collection device. You can also use it for water de-salinization. With nothing more than a bucket, a cup, a rock and some shrink wrap you can de-salinize salt water. I won’t get into its design as you can easily find it on the interweb. I’d rather stay on subject.

Next is rope. I did a quick test with a 30 inch wide roll of stretch wrap to see how well it holds up as rope. I unraveled 4 feet of wrap and twisted it about once every 6 inches for a total of 8 twists. Then I stretched it out. Interestingly it will stretch to 3 times its length when twisted up and stay there. I turned a 4 foot piece of makeshift rope into a 12 foot piece. It held up to 100 pounds of force without breaking. Now think about that 1500 foot roll as rope or lashing material. That’s 4,500 feet of it.

You can use it as a makeshift poncho to protect yourself from the elements. You can even make a makeshift umbrella if needed. Wrap it around your boots to make them water resistant. And wrap it around all your gear to protect it from the rain. You can make things like 2 way radios and other electronic devices rain proof while still keeping full functionality (speaker and microphone still work through stretch wrap).

You can also use it for an extra layer of heat insulation in your sleeping bag or clothes. I’m not sure how well it would work but I’m sure it would be better than nothing. Layer it under your sleeping bag not only for heat insulation from the ground but it will work for bedding just as well as it will work for packing material. Speaking of bedding it wouldn’t be very hard at all to build a hammock with nothing but stretch wrap, a few sticks and a couple of well-placed trees.

It would also greatly aid in the making of a splint for a broken bone. And it would be perfect for isolating a burn or rash from scraping against clothing. It will seal ointment where you want it without absorbing half of it. (Warning: Use my medical ideas at your own risk. I’m by no means a medical expert. I’m just thinking out loud.)

Yet another simple use for it would be trail markers. Just stuff a bunch in your pocket and use when needed. It’s also fairly reflective so it could be used as an emergency signal. Although not ideal, it is flammable and would greatly aid in starting a fire. And when burned it produces wax like droplets that may be able to be used for making candles or waterproofing or preserving things.  
   
I’ve read that it can also repair a split radiator hose. I’ve not seen this personally but it does make sense to me. I’m not sure what kind of heat it can withstand but I’m sure it would work as a temporary repair. It would also be a great temporary fix for broken car or house windows. It’s durable enough to last a while and it will keep you separated from the elements.

In a chemical, biological, or rediological contamination situation having a quickly deployable means of sealing-off your house or shelter is of utmost importance and stretch wrap would be an invaluable tool to aid in that. It wouldn’t replace your current measures but it would definitely aid in them and probably fill some gaps.  

Now that I’ve covered defense, let’s move on to offense:

Preserving food is a necessity when the SHTF. Food grade stretch wrap could be an added barrier of protection between your food and the elements. It can also be used just like Saran Wrap to keep all those pesky bugs and critters out of your food.

Lastly (and I say that loosely since there’s a million other uses that I haven’t thought of) stretch wrap would be of great benefit for those trying to grow their own food. It is the perfect material for a greenhouse that could be constructed easily with minimal tools and supplies. And according to some guy on YouTube who built one, it is very UV resistant and will last a couple of years. You could also use it to line irrigation ditches to stop the soil from soaking up too much of your water before it gets where it need to go, etc. I could go on all day, butit is better to be brief.

Remember, it’s always better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.


Sunday, October 14, 2012


Mr. Rawles:

I just wanted to share that there is an excellent book for this, called The Incredible Edible Landscape by Joy Bossi. It is an excellent book, especially for beginners. Regards, - Elizabeth C.


Saturday, October 13, 2012


With the cost of groceries going up peppers know that being self-sufficient and creating their own garden is critical, but are you really looking at plants for the long term? Heirloom variety plants like tomatoes are essential to keep around, but if a day comes that you can no longer buy those seeds it is going to be a real pain to try and sort the seeds out from your food source. Taking a closer look at adding fruiting trees to your property and where they can fit into your landscape will make a huge difference in what your land can provide for you in the long term. For arguments sake, I’m going to focus on apple trees, because they can grow in the vast majority of climates throughout the United States, including areas that are within the American Redoubt.
Start by taking a look at what kind of fruits will grow in your area, obviously an orange tree will not grow outside in Pennsylvania, but apples would work very well in that climate. Take a look at the hardiness zone that your location is in, and then begin looking at fruit trees that will tolerate your climate. Rather than looking at older varieties of apples for example, it’s better to concentrate your search on the newer cultivars that are disease resistant; this will make a huge difference in terms of the quality of the fruit the tree will produce once it has established. Once you have a couple varieties in mind, start looking for places that will accommodate a mid-sized tree. You can build a fantastic orchard on less than a half-acre of property, but for those that are under really tough size constraints, you need to look at espalier fruit trees. Espalier trees are specially pruned to go up against the sides of walls or fences, and sit almost flat against that space, and still produce fruit. They require more pruning than a traditional orchard tree, but the compact size is definitely a plus.

| Purchasing apple trees can be a bit tricky, because you need to be aware of what you’re buying to get the most of your money. Big box stores will probably have small fruit trees in containers, but I would recommend going to an independent garden center instead, the quality of the plant material will be much higher than what you can find at a chain, and their staff will be able to offer expert advice on how to care for the plants. Depending on the size you are looking for, you will find the trees either in a plastic container or balled and burlapped. I would suggest buying the biggest size possible, because although the cost will be higher, it will decrease the amount of time you will need to have a mature fruit tree. If on the other hand you have plenty of room plant an orchard, look for trees that have been pruned properly. An apple pruned for fruit production will not have a nice oval shape, but rather will look irregular and a bit ugly. If you can’t find trees that have been pruned for fruit production, buy what you can, and as they grow they can be trimmed to produce plenty of fruit.

Once you have your trees home, you’ll need to plant them out to establish. You’re going to want to dig a hole that is going to put the top of the root ball flush with the existing soil line, and about two to three times the width of the root ball. At this point, if you have the tree in a plastic container you want to remove the container and take a look at the root system of the tree. If the roots are white, go ahead and plant the tree, if they look orange or brown, or are wrapped around the bottom of the pot, take a spade and slash the roots apart, this may seem like a bad idea, but this process helps to create healthy roots as the tree becomes established. If you have a balled and burlapped tree, do not remove the tree from the burlap, or remove the cage from the outside of the burlap if it has one. Instead, place the tree inside the hole, and then peel back the burlap until it will be below the soil level, eventually the metal cage and the burlap will decompose as the tree matures. Finally, you’ll want to backfill the area with topsoil, and mulch around the trees as you go. Keep in mind that you do not want to pile the mulch around the base of the tree, and should only be about 2 inches above the soil line, and deeper and the trunk may begin to rot. I would advise you to use processed mulch rather than wood chips or grass clippings. The microbes in wood chips will suck much needed nitrogen away from the trees to decompose the wood chips, a problem you don’t have to worry about with bark mulch.

The next step is the really important one, and that’s watering. If you’re not watering your tree at least three times a week, you better be getting a lot of heavy rain where you live. For each new tree you plant you should be watering it every other day to keep it healthy. Don’t bother using a sprinkler because they won’t get down deep to where the new roots will develop. It’s best to turn your garden hose on a low trickle and let it go for 2 hours on each tree for at least the  first 6 weeks, or until you get a good hard frost in your area.

It will take a tree anywhere from one to three years to establish, so be patient and keep a watchful eye out for any discoloration of the leaves, early leaf drop, and other signs of an unhealthy tree. After the first winter you can go ahead and apply a basic fertilizer to promote strong growth, but be careful not to over-fertilize the tree, because this will cause the leaves to burn. Small stalks may rise from the base of the tree, which are called suckers. Cut back the suckers any chance you see them; they will do no good for your trees.

Pruning your trees will need to take place during the late winter or early spring before the tree pushes flowers or leaves. Grab a basic pruning guide for the trees you have, and don’t be afraid to hack it into an irregular shape, this will promote flower and fruit production better than a tree that has a natural shape. Espalier trees are a bit easier because of their design, but will require more work because of there is a lot of small growth occurring. For an espalier removing the vertical growth from the horizontal branches will spur flowering in the spring, which will lead to fruit come fall.

If you have done alright to this point, all you need is time. Your fruit trees need to mature a bit before they will produce the fruit you desire. Fruit trees are notoriously bad for having issues with pest and diseases, and as such those disease resistant varieties you picked at the garden center will have a big impact. Those perfect apples at the supermarket? They have been sprayed with a minimum 20 applications of pesticides to get them in that good of shape. In a collapse you’ll be lucky if you can treat them at all. The point I’m trying to make is that your expectations of food need to change. There is nothing wrong with an apple that hasn’t been treated, it just won’t be pretty. Taking the skin of the apple off will reveal a near identical fruit to the one from the store, and baked into pies or other dishes will mask and of the small blemishes that are below the skin. In rare cases, you may find that the pests have overtaken your trees, and the apples are unpalatable. In those cases you can still make good of the fruit by feeding it to livestock. Pigs and poultry will devour fruit that has been destroyed by insects, providing them with additional calories, which will eventually providing your family with additional calories.

At the end of their life, apple trees can still serve a purpose even after the last leaf has fallen. Smoking meats with apple wood produces a delightful flavor, that anyone who’s ever had apple wood smoked bacon will attest to. From my experience however, a healthy fruit tree will last for decades, and can be very long lived.

Not every tree you plant needs to be a food producer. Arguments for shade, screening, and ornamental trees are all valid even in a prepper’s yard, but it would be foolish not to have some woody plants that will continuously provide fruit for your family, your livestock, or the wildlife in your area. I strongly encourage everyone to plant at least one fruit tree at their location, even if for no other reason but to say you have an apple tree.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Dear James,
In his otherwise excellent article on replacing ornamental species of plants with useful, edible species in landscaping, Matthew C. mistakenly advises getting rid of hawthorns (medium and small size perennial shrubs). Hawthorn is valuable medicinally, tactically, and nutritionally.

Hawthorn is one of the most potent heart and blood pressure medications available.  It has been extensively researched, and has been approved by the German Commission E Report.  Unlike digitalis, which is much better known, hawthorn is extremely non-toxic, and is not known to interact with any other medications.  The earliest recorded medicinal use was in ancient Greece.

In a TEOTWAWKI situation, unavailability of hawthorn could spell disaster for anyone with high blood pressure, or with heart problems, including arrhythmia, tachycardia, angina, insufficient cardiac blood flow, symptoms of congestive heart failure, and weaker heart function due to aging.  Even lesser disasters, natural, political or economic, may mean that heart medications become restricted or unavailable.

The Commission E Report recommends using the end tips of flowering leafy twigs, up to seven centimeters in length, but not longer.  In a grid-down situation it can be dried and used as a tea (2-3 teaspoons of hawthorn, 2-3 times a day), or as an alcohol-based tincture.  Stored in a cool, dry place, the dried flowering twig ends will keep up to three years.

My own experience confirms this.  I developed severe cardiac arrhythmia a few years ago.  After learning that people often don't actually die of their heart disease, but die from arrhythmia, I started taking hawthorn daily.  Just as the research says, within a few weeks the arrhythmia was almost entirely gone.

A couple years later, I found a much cheaper source, and switched.  In a few weeks, the arrhythmia returned.  Comparing the bottles, I realized I had unwittingly switched from flowers and leafy twigs to the berry form of hawthorn.  I immediately switched back, and in a few weeks, the arrhythmia again disappeared.  You better believe there will be plenty of hawthorn in my survival garden.

Do not use the berry form for arrhythmia.  The berries may be useful for blood pressure, are traditionally often used for cardiac purposes, and have some research support.  But they should never be used as a substitute for the flowering tips.  

Hawthorn is something of a miracle drug for mild to moderate cardiac problems.  It raised blood pressure that is too low, and lowers blood pressure that is too high.  It is equal to pharmaceutical drugs in controlling heart rhythm to prevent arrhythmia, but unlike drugs, has no significant side effects.  It strengthens arterial walls by promoting cross linkage of collagen, dilates arteries, increases coronary blood flow, reduces cholesterol and triglycerides, and gradually rebuilds the heart in degenerative heart disease.  Since it also strengthens capillaries, it may be helpful in capillary and small blood vessel related problems, such as bloodshot eyes, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids  (One author mentions it may possibly help with glaucoma.)

Hawthorn is easy to grow.  It likes sun, and for centuries, has been used to make dense, thorny hedges around gardens to protect them from invasive deer and humans.  Birds love eating the berries, and hawthorn branches grow at the ideal angle for supporting birds' nests (60 degrees spread), with ferocious thorns to keep predators away from their eggs.  The word for "hedge" is actually derived from "hawthorn."  One word of caution: Don't plant them near the windows of your house.  The flowers literally smell rotten!

The berries, however, can be made into jam and jellies, and eaten on your morning toast. - Johan D.

 

Mr. Rawles:
The article on transition from ornamentals to edibles is one of the better things I've seen on your site, and I've seen many good things indeed. One thing I would add is the fact that (as of a few years ago, and I haven't seen new information to contradict it) Americans spend more money per year to grow lawns and do home-based landscaping than we do on any other single crop. Corn? Lots of that. Soybeans, too. But growing grass consumes more of our money than any other crop -- and you can't eat grass or boxwood hedges.
 
My lawn frequently looks like a miniature jungle because it's a rental house and I just don't like mowing grass. My landlord has actually protested to the fact that I don't cut the grass, but has prohibited us from planting a garden. It's not the work I'm opposed to. It's the fact that I get nothing out of cutting the lawn, other than having shorter grass. I have convinced my wife that our next home purchase will include as little lawn as possible, with a goat or two to eat the grass that does exist.
 
It makes no sense to grow things that aren't useful, unless you are doing it as an art -- and as an artist, I must confess that art is rarely "useful", but is necessary in some way to the human spirit. But if you can make useful art? That's even better. Instead of the decorative wintertime cabbages and kale that are frequently planted here in the Deep South, if people planted cold-weather items like squashes, edible cabbages and kale, they could actually eat what their gardens produce.
 
Thanks, as always, for an excellent site. - J.D.C. in Mississippi


Sunday, October 7, 2012


Henri Frederic Amiel once said, “Any landscape is a condition of the spirit.”
While once standing on the kopjes of South Africa, gripped by the panoramic view of vast bushveld, scrub thorn, and columns of azure African sky, the condition of my spirit was one of breathtaking wonder at our God’s creation.  When once overlooking the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, eyeing this deep and seemingly never ending chasm of layered and painted earth, the provision of my soul was that of mute and wide-eyed awe. Twice, the state of my existence soared on the wings of angels when my own “personal” landscape was narrowed to a small sterile hospital room in the maternity ward, where I witnessed the birth of my children.  Whether on the grand scale of a vista or on the hinged moments of a few first breaths, our landscape, and our reaction to it, truly portrays the window to our soul.

After reading Mr. Amiel’s quote, the onetime energetic and youthful landscaping crew worker of my college years resurfaced.  I asked myself, “Could the same ‘condition of spirit’ hold true for the conventional sense of the word that we know of as “landscaping”?  When most Americans think of the word “landscaping”, we normally think of neatly ordered rows of flowers, shrubs, and trees aesthetically modifying the visible features of a given area.  Holding true to Mr. Amiel’s quotation above, even this type of landscaping can portray just as much about us as our reaction to the first time our own “personal” landscape moved within our spirit.  More so, if Mr. Amiel is accurate, then the condition of the American spirit today sorely lacks the want, the need, and the drive of what we should all be striving for-sufficiency.

From the age of the pondering philosophers of the Greek Empire to the fashionably emulated and manicured streets of Paris and London, landscaping has and always will be one of those unexplainable acts that just exist and continues unerringly.  Whether it is because of the familiar pang of jealousy as your own property is compared to the next, to accentuate the beauty of what already exists, or to increase the monetary value of an area, holes will be dug, plants will be placed, and sprinklers will give life to our visions or our greed.  While each new foot of growth gives us an economical or covetous grin, that which is named “sufficiency” frowns down.  What will happen when the day comes when a morsel of food far surpasses the value of our property or the nurturing of our ego?

During my tenure in the landscaping industry, I have witnessed people emulate the lawn of the White House, mimic designs of their neighbors, and even replicate the lawn of their childhood homes.  I have performed jobs barely worth the effort, and I have completed tasks that cost as much as a low income family makes in one year.  When I look back on those years with a more observing eye, there is one underlying theme that resonated throughout each job.  Either grand or demure, the premise was this: Whether it was a flower, a shrub, or a tree, in no way did it provide even minute physical sustenance.  While pleasing to the eye or the heart, it was never advantageous to the stomach or body.
As preppers, our “condition of the spirit” should be this:  If it grows on our property then it must have a legitimate purpose.  And so, like an apparition from a lost and forgotten world, in walk the concepts of “edible landscaping”.   This principle was achieved almost effortlessly by our grandparents and forefathers and is beginning its rebirth again today.  It was attained just as effortlessly from the dawn of mankind, and it is still being accomplished by a select few, either out of a like mind or out of necessity. 
Edible landscaping is defined as an approach to food production in which exotic or ornamental plants are replaced with edible or productive plants.  The concept and advancement is neither daunting nor is it unfamiliar.  It may be achieved in stages or accomplished as a complete project, and, surprisingly, you do not have to sacrifice beauty for practicality and sustainability.
As survivalists, it is our duty to appraise our current level of landscaping and to take note of the plants which could or could not supplement some form of nutrition in the event of a crisis.  I will venture to say that our lists are quite small.  I might also venture to say that we may still be holding an unmarred sheet of paper after the assessment.  By the end of this article, it is my hope that your next appraisal yields a veritable pantry and bounty.
Whether or not we are discussing “ornamental landscaping” or “edible landscaping”, there are five main components to the overall design of both-trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, and ground cover, and the keys to the transition are simple substitutions and suitable plant choices that compliment both your taste and your climate. This is not meant to be a landscape design or plant zoning thesis but rather a substitution tutorial, a nudge in the self-sufficient direction. It goes without saying that we should all take the liberty of knowing landscaping basics; correct plant zoning for the area in which we live, care, fertilizing and watering needs of our plants. Likewise, we should also understand the common pests that infect them and complement our choices with our own skill level of each component prior to undertaking such a pivotal task. 

Trees

Common tree species that are frequently selected in traditional landscaping designs are Ligustrums, Japanese Maples, Oaks, Spruces, Ornamental Pears, Hollies, and Myrtles.  These, otherwise ineffectual varieties, can easily be replaced with tree species that offer more culinary and medicinal qualities, while still retaining attractiveness.

Fruit-bearing Substitutions
:  If your substitution goal is to supplement your diet with more fruit production then your choices vary greatly and are dependent upon your taste.  Any fruit bearing tree can be substituted in the place of an ornamental tree and still maintain aesthetic value.  Examples include: Mayhaw, Juneberry (Shadbush, Saskatoon, and Serviceberry), Elderberry, Pawpaw, Guava, Crab Apple, Cherry, Apricot, Nectarine, various Citrus Varieties, Edible Banana, Apple, Kousa Dogwood, Fruiting Pear, and Plum. The choice of your species will be dependent upon sizing, spacing, shading, and practical use relative to your own needs. A family with a collection of fruit bearing trees on their property would have a tremendous advantage over that of a home that did not during a long term crisis.

Nut and Oil-bearing Substitutions
:  For those of us who prefer a more protein and fat laden diet (essential in any long-term survival scenario), then one available option is to replace an ornamental tree species with a nut or oil bearing variety.  Examples include: Almond, Filbert/Hazelnut, Gingko, Italian Stone Pine and other Pine Nut producing varieties, Chestnut, Olive, Chinquapin, Dwarf Pecan, Heart Nut, Butternut, Baurtnut, and Yellowhorn.  Nuts are of the simplest heart healthy powerhouses.  Pecans, for example, provide more antioxidant power than any other nut1, while pine nuts offer an incredible 18.5 grams of protein per cup2.

Medicinal Substitutions
: Whether your goal is to compliment your existing medicinal supplies or provide a long-term solution to a well stocked medicine cabinet, many trees provide naturally occurring compounds that have the same effectiveness as over the counter medication today. Examples include: Gingko, Birch, White Willow, Balsam Poplar, Dogwood, and Sassafras. In the absence of on-hand medical aid, having both the provision and knowledge to tend to our family’s medicinal needs will be critical.  White Willow bark (Salix alba) contains high amounts of salicin, which is the chemical forerunner of today’s most popular painkiller – aspirin3.  The inner bark of most dogwoods has a quinine-like quality effective in reducing fever and yields anti-inflammatory effects4, just to name a couple of surprising benefits.

Medium and Small Sized Shrubs (Perennial)
Common medium to low level shrub species used in traditional landscaping are Azaleas, Hawthorns, Gardenia, Heather, Oleander, Hydrangea, Roses, Thuja, Berberis, Clematis, and a variety of ornamental grasses.  In most cases, these plants are not only counterproductive but also poisonous.  As with the previously discussed tree species, we can substitute a multitude of plant varieties that are strikingly beautiful yet provide a long term resolution to caloric intake and production.  It is important to note that when selecting surrogates that only perennial varieties be used.

Daylilies, in particularly, Hemerocallis fulva, can and should be a welcome addition to any edible landscaping design.  Not only is every part of this plant edible, there are a multitude of colors and color combinations to choose from.  Nutritionally, the daylily offers an astounding 3,000 I.U. of Vitamin A, 2g of protein, and 176 mg of phosphorus per serving5.  The lost and forgotten Egyptian Walking Onion is a delectable culinary bulb.  Evergreen Huckleberries (high in Vitamin B and iron) provide gallons of wonderful fruit, while Horseradish, Thai Ginger, and Lemongrass provide a flare to both the cuisine and the view.  Landscaping “mainstays” such as Teacup, Mr. Lincoln, and Knock-Out Roses may be replaced with the Rugosa varieties.  This species offers an abundance of showy flowers and a heavy yield of winter rose hips rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and are eaten raw, steeped in tea, or made into jams or jellies.  Other great choices for substitution are Opuntia rufida (Prickly Pear), Purple Passion Asparagus, Violetta and Romanesco Artichoke, Sea Kale, Tuscan Blue Rosemary, Red Flash Orach, and various Aloe species.  Black and Red Pomegranate, particularly the dwarf varieties, could replace the redundant American Hawthorns, Boxwoods, and Yaupon and offer a superb fruit capable of fighting atherosclerosis and some cancers.  Each of these plants can be used to incorporate medicinal, aesthetic, and culinary value to any landscaped area.  To add more color and depth, potted herbs may be strategically placed around focal points. Vibrant varieties can include Barba di Cappuccino, Italian Oregano, Lady Lavender, Magic Michael Basil, Pineapple Sage, Red Leafing Amaranth (Semi-Perennial), and Spanish Tarragon.

Flowers and Ground Cover (Perennial)

The most common theme of any landscape design is color and contrast, and flowers are the easiest way to achieve this.  They serve as focal point modifiers and, in essence, they are the heart of any landscaping project.  There are literally tens of thousands of stunningly visual, yet valueless, species to choose from; however, an effortless transition between a dramatically useless landscape and an inspiringly functional scenery can be achieved quite easily by substituting Garlic Chives, Creeping Thyme, English Sorrel, Johnny Jump Ups, Bee Balm, Lady Lavender, Portulaca, Tuberous and Wax Begonia, Marigold, Carnation/Dianthus, Baby’s Breath, and Violets.  In some instances the plants may hold added medicinal values as well.  For instance, the leaves of the Bee Balm plant contain thymol, which has powerful antibacterial qualities6, and lavender tea has been used as a sedative for millennia.

Groundcover (Perennial)

Furthermore, most traditional landscape designs lack the planning and ability to withstand its biggest pest-the weed.  At one time or another, we have all been on our hands and knees, sweating profusely, determined to rid the world of their existence.  Groundcover, as opposed to mulch, can be a simple solution.  By planting such selections as Purslane, Houttuynia, Alpine Strawberry, Mint, Edible Wintergreen, Bear’s Garlic, Ramps, American Cranberry, Creeping Raspberry, Nepalese Raspberry or Creeping Oregon Grape these once weed infested areas could yield an abundance of life giving food.  All of the varieties listed above can offer sustenance, variety, medicinal value, and culinary wealth to any homestead.   Purslane yields a larger amount of carbohydrates than most plants, and all raspberry species contain potent phytonutrients (the newly discovered raspberry ketones) that have the highest “free radical” concentrations of all plant species7.

Vining Species
Finally, landscapes that incorporate trellis designs will often consists of various species of Ivy, Jasmine, Wisteria, Yellow Dot, Lantana, or Vinca Minor.  Suitable aesthetic substitutions that provide a more practical alternative include all varieties of grapes, Hardy Kiwi, Maypop, Dragon Fruit, Chayote, Muscadine, and Chinese Yam. Chayote, a member of the squash family, holds vast amounts of folates, essential in DNA synthesis, and is a great source of dietary fiber.  Likewise, the Chinese Yam (Dioscorea opposita) is a good resource to obtain essential nutrients such as thiamin, riboflavin, and folic acid.  It is an understatement that “Vertical landscaping” is the most often overlooked, yet efficient way, to maximize growing space.
 In conclusion, each one of our tales is unique and distinct. Personally, I am guided spiritually by my God and I am lead secularly by my principles. Of those standards, the one that towers above all and envelopes all of the others in its arms, is the love for my family.  From that adoration stems the belief that I must provide a self-sufficient lifestyle for them.  It isn’t an easy burden to bear when the enormity of it seems impossible, but it can, should, and will be done.  In a world in where we have traded convenience for hard work and call it progress, there are small actions we can take that draw us back to an era where wealth was once measured in love and providence rather than paper or plastic. As we trade ornamentals for edibles, the simple act of substituting our surroundings could one day provide both an abundant and visual aesthetic pantry.

References:

1 National Pecan Shellers Association. “Pecans. So good. So good for you. Nutrition in a Nutshell.” http://www.ilovepecans.org/nutrition.html, n.p., n.d.
2 Self Nutrition Data. Know what you eat. “Nuts. Pine Nuts. Dried.” http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3133/2. 3/21/2012.
3 Bisset NG. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Stuttgart, Germany: Medpharm Scientific Publishers; 2004:534-536.
4 ”Hikers Notebook: Dogwood.” http://www.sierrapotomac.org/W_Needham/Dogwood_050424.htm. n.p., n.d.
5 Only Foods. The Right Nutrition is Your Kind of Workout. Anwiksha. “Daylily (Hemerocallis).” http://www.onlyfoods.net/daylily-hemerocallis.html. n.p., n.d.
6 Mazza, G., F.A. Kiehn, and H.H. Marshall (1993), J. Janick and J.E. Simon, ed., "Monarda: A source of geraniol, linalool, thymol and carvacrol-rich essential oils", New crops (Wiley, New York): pp. 628–631, http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1993/V2-628.html
7 Park, KS (2010). "Raspberry ketone increases both lipolysis and fatty acid oxidation in 3T3-L1 adipocytes". Planta medica 76 (15): 1654–8. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1249860. PMID 20425690


Saturday, October 6, 2012


James,
You are correct about the risks of only using a wood mulch in gardening.  In his book Gardening When It Counts, Steve Solomon discusses the normal carbon/nitrogen ratio in soil -- 12:1 -- and compares that to various fertilizers.  Woody products such as tree bark can have C/N ratios in excess of 100:1, causing "nitrogen robbing": the nitrogen already in the soil is retained by soil microbes until the wood decomposes and the excess carbon is burnt off, leaving even less nitrogen for the plants in the meantime.  As you mention, it can take years for wood to decompose, leaving the garden starved of nutrients in the meantime.

Interestingly, the author of the "Back to Eden" does not use wood mulch as his only fertilizer -- he also uses chicken manure.  Though he emphasizes the wood mulch as the key to his success, I suspect that the chicken manure plays a much bigger role in fertilizing his garden, because its C/N ratio is around 6:1 -- it provides excess nitrogen, which helps counterbalance the high carbon levels in the wood.  - Nate in Pennsylvania

 

Dear James, 
I have enjoyed reading you blog nearly everyday for over three years.  I have learned so much.
 
Wood chip use as referenced in the Back to Eden Film are to be placed on top of the soil [JWR Adds: and removed in the Spring.].  Do not incorporate them into the soil as that is when they bind nitrogen.  Until the wood chips break down, the chips are to be pushed aside and the seeds planted directly into the soil below.  As the plants mature the wood chips can be tucked in around the plants to hold moisture and prevent weed growth.   As the wood chips break down, they start providing nutrients to the soil below and when fully decomposed planting can occur directly into the chip mulch.
 
I started with tilled soil two years ago and fought the weeds and grass.  Last fall I put down a layer of maple leaves, composted chicken manure and then 4-5 inches of fresh wood chips (mostly fir).  I am thrilled not to be fighting the grass and weeds.  My plants grew well with no indication of nitrogen depletion in the soil.  I also highly recommend watching the Back to Eden film. - M.R.N. in the foothills of the Central Cascades of Washington


Friday, October 5, 2012


Dear James:
Thank you for your wonderful blog - my husband and I are daily readers.  In response to C.F.B.'s excellent article dated September 30th titled Grow Your Own Nutrient Dense Fruits and Vegetables, I would like to expound on his suggestion that gardeners employ a no-till method for raising their own nutritious produce.

I humbly suggest that your many readers watch a film on the Internet from a devout Christian man who has let the Lord lead him to his current no-till method of gardening, called Back To Eden.  I found it very interesting that this man felt called by God to get the word out now to fellow gardeners about being prepared for coming hard times.  His film teaches people how to successfully grow food without tilling, fertilizing, weeding or rotating crops.  It's a truly amazing film!

I have switched from gardening like my parents and my ancestors for generations have done.  I don't turn the soil any more, I don't wrestle non-stop with weeds, I don't fertilize or rotate crops and I enjoy wonderful harvests from four small raised beds.  

As a bonus, it's a very affordable method of gardening.  You don't really need lumber for the beds (I wish that I had realized that from the beginning!) and the materials for the beds themselves are available at a very low cost or even free from most landfill/recycle sites.  The materials used are simply composted yard waste and wood mulch and - much to my husband's dismay - it can be hauled in lawn bags in a small car if you don't own a truck.  Some lucky gardeners are able to get the wood mulch delivered free from their local tree trimming company and only have to haul or make the compost.

Thank you for sharing with your readers. - Getting Ready in NC

JWR Replies: Be very cautious about using wood mulch that is less than two years old. Fresh wood mulch is high in cellulose and binds nitrogen. This usually makes the soil quite unproductive for gardening for a couple of years. (Until the cellulose decomposes.) If the wood mulch is thick, it might be three or four years!


Sunday, September 30, 2012


Let’s face it.  When we get to point that you can’t call out, use a computer, or find a stop light that is working, our stash of stored food will eventually become depleted.  We will all become more and more dependent on local produce.  Even if food is available for purchase, many people will want to grow some of their own.  For most of us, growing our own fruits and vegetables in an efficient manner will be a challenge.  How successful we are in gardening will very much depend on our individual knowledge and skills.  If you have never gardened, be aware that there is lot more to it than just planting seeds and harvesting. 

Basically, all of our gardening goals will be much the same --  to grow large quantities of fruits and vegetables that are packed with minerals for good nutrition.  When fruits and vegetables are high in minerals, we call it “nutrient-dense.”  Depending on the way a fruit or vegetable is grown, its mineral content can easily vary as much as 100 percent.   It’s the minerals we are after.   In fact, we don’t need to eat as much food if it is nutrient-dense to get the same benefit.  Gardening in ways to get nutrient-dense food is therefore a move to greater efficiency.  This is especially critical when gardening in restricted spaces.

This article is about the concepts and techniques for growing nutrient-dense produce.  It’s for beginning and experienced gardeners.   After more than 50 years of gardening experience and extensive training, I offer what I know to be the critical factors for growing nutrient-dense produce in an efficient manner.

If at all possible, I urge you to get started now with growing your own food.  Don’t wait until there is an emergency at hand.  Start small, develop a gardening community, make it an adventure, and enjoy it.  Bonding with Mother Nature serves us all well. 

Choosing the Fruits and Vegetables you will Grow 

We know that there are differences in nutritional value among the many fruit and vegetable choices that we have available to grow and consume.   That is simply the nature of the individual species.  Beans, corn, melons, broccoli, etc. are not alike in nutritional value.  It’s important that we eat a variety of foods to get a full complement of minerals.

Before you begin learning and using techniques for growing nutrient-dense produce, recognize that your selection of what you can grow is dependent on your geographic location.   Summer and winter temperatures,  length of growing season, winter chilling requirements, basic soil types,  and other factors, all influence what you can grow.  Especially if you are new at gardening, it is wise to see what is available at local Farmer’s Markets and visit with long-time local gardeners and farmers before deciding what to grow and when to plant.

The aim of this article is to help you get the most minerals/nutrients possible into whatever crops you are growing.  The more nutrients you get in all your produce, the more efficient is your gardening effort.  Besides the efficiency issue, we need to understand that the more nutrition we have in our produce, the healthier will be all the consumers.  This concept applies to your livestock and pets, as well as to people. 

Basic  Gardening Considerations

First, plan and grow mainly the amount of produce that you will actually eat fresh and store.  The exception to this is growing crops that you are using for sale, sharing, and/or for bartering.  Under “survival” conditions, produce will be in short supply, at premium prices, and a tradable commodity.  Many people will have limited gardening space, so plan, plan, plan.  Although garlic is a wonderful, easy-to-grow crop in many ways, it’s not likely you will eat several pounds of garlic each day.   On the other hand, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash might very well be a main-stay item that is eaten several times a week.  They are relatively easy to grow and can be stored for many months.  Deciding how much of each to grow will become easier, as you get gardening experience. 

For health reasons you will want to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, but be a bit cautious of trying to grow too many things.  Each crop has unique germination, transplanting, watering, and other maintenance requirements, and until you are experienced, management of a garden with 30 to 40 varieties can seem overwhelming.   Start small and grow into the more complex garden.

Everyone will not have a site for growing a garden.  If you have an big area that requires more work than you can do by yourself, consider asking others to join you in the endeavor.  Choose carefully, only those who are willing to do hard physical work under all kinds of conditions and throughout the year.  Everyone involved needs to feel “full ownership” in the project.  Work together from the beginning in planning, and in defining individual work and financial responsibilities.

Second, grow crops that store well.  Some fruits and vegetables will store fresh under the correct conditions.  Many crops can be canned, frozen, dried, or fermented and will safely last at least a year.  In areas where you can grow a spring, summer, and fall garden, it is not difficult to have a supply of produce that will last for a year or more.  Weather disasters may severely limit what you can produce in any single year.  Put considerable emphasis on drying your fruits and vegetables.  When done properly most dried produce will last for several years.  Excellent home-size, fruit and vegetable driers are available.  Under certain climatic conditions, sun drying can be used and is advised.

If you don’t know the nutritional value of the different fruits and vegetables, your best choice is to grow and eat a big variety.  Think in terms of growing and eating leafy greens (like kale, spinach, and lettuce); common vegetables (like peas, beans, tomatoes, and okra); root crops (like potatoes, beets, carrots, and turnips), and dried seeds (like the beans and grains) -- perhaps some of each every day.  A wide variety of  crops will help you in getting a broader array of minerals/nutrients.  Of course fresh produce is best, but it may not always be available.

Third, plan for year-around gardening.  While year-around gardening is relatively simple in the south, as you move north, it requires different season-extension techniques.  These techniques are available, and it is wise to become familiar with them, and be prepared to implement them when needed. Under severe “survival” conditions, growing your own vegetables may be a necessity.  Eliot Coleman’s book, Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Garden All Year Long, offers excellent advise on this topic for backyard gardeners.

Techniques for Growing Nutrient-Dense Produce 

The bottom line -- it is the soil that primarily determines the nutrient-density of fruits and vegetables.  Weather, including rainfall, is important, but the soil must be healthy if it is to perform its primary functions.   A healthy soil functions effectively in water infiltration and storage, digestion of organic matter, recycling of nutrients, and feeding the plants the needed water and nutrients.  Healthy soils must also contain major and trace minerals at the proper levels.  The techniques that help the soil fulfill these functions are explained in the 7 steps listed below.   John Jeavon’s book, How To Grow More Vegetables, is an excellent source for details on gardening (growing soil) in a sustainable manner.

If you follow these 7 steps, you will be on your way to more successful gardening.  You will be able to measure your success by growing produce with improved, intense flavors.  If you grow nutrient-dense produce, you will taste the difference.  Some folks say, “It’s like I remember vegetables tasting from my grandmother’s garden.”  I actually use a refractometer to get an index of sugar/mineral content of my fruits and vegetables, so I can monitor progress, and adjust fertilization of the garden accordingly.   The refractometer reading is called the Brix value.  Ideal Brix values vary with the individual fruit or vegetable.  See www.highbrixgardens.com for information on helping to improve your health by growing high quality produce.

1.  Select the Best Garden Site Possible.   Most people won’t have a lot of options on this, but as a rule, go with the area with the most sun.  Stay back away from the drip line of trees and find the area with the deepest top soil and fewest stones.  If the site is entirely shaded, you might have to sacrifice some trees for the sake of food production.  Ideally, you also want an area that has not had pesticides and chemical fertilizers applied in the past.

Use non-contiguous areas.  The garden can be a single plot or many small plots.  Produce can be grown right up next to buildings.   Consider replacing shrubbery with annuals and/or perennials that provide a source of food.   Some berries and vegetables, figs, and many herbs will do just fine around the periphery of buildings.

Everyone will not start out with high quality soil.  In some cases, you may need to bring in  topsoil to build up the garden.  Try to get the best topsoil possible.   While  this may seem like a very work-intensive or expensive approach, if you really have to grow most of your own food, it could turn out to be a real life-saver activity.  

2.  Use a No-Till or Minimum-Till Approach to Produce a Living Soil.   No-till makes sense from the viewpoint of reducing energy costs, but more importantly,  no-till is best for improving the soil and increasing productivity.   As a general guideline, apply the concept that all gardening activities should result in protecting and improving the soil.  Soil quality determines the productivity and nutritional quality of your produce.

Tilling can reduce the biological activity in the soil.  Soil quality depends on many factors, but on the top of the list is the soil biological activity.  Beneficial bacteria, fungi, earthworms, etc. are the organisms that are continuously digesting and relocating organic matter.  Without this workforce of micro-organisms, the soil becomes dead.  Dead soils are the result of applying toxins (chemical fertilizers and pesticides), but can be converted to healthy soils over time.   Though expediency often drives gardeners to adopt the chemical approach, it should be avoided at all cost.   Stay with the organic approach for the sake of the soil and your health. 

Tilling can negatively impact the physical properties of the soil by destroying the soil structure.   Good soil structure implies individual soil components of sand, silt and clay are held together with the natural glues secreted by soil microbes.  These soils are not subject to erosion and they have good tilth, meaning they are easily worked, and have the capacity to hold water.   

3.  Grow Diverse Crops.   Growing many different species of plants, over time and space, increases the number and varieties of soil microbial populations and is an insurance program against disease and pest problems.   Sugars, made from the diversity of plants, are released from plant roots into the soil.  In the soil, the sugars serve as food for soil microbes, which in turn decompose organic matter into nutrients that support plant growth.  It is the way the natural soil development process works. 

As part of this practice, try to rotate crops as much as possible.  Although there are crop rotation patterns in commercial agriculture, just think in terms of not growing the same vegetable in the same place year after year.  Depending on your geographic location, you may have 4 different crops on the same bed within a year. That may include a cover crop (generally a non-vegetable)designed only for improving the soil.  Cover crops (e.g. oats, Austrian winter peas, buckwheat, clover, and rye) should be an essential part of the rotation system.   The cover crops that are classified as legumes have the ability to “fix” nitrogen on the plant roots in the soil.  This can be sufficient nitrogen for the year.  Always keep a cover crop on the garden over the winter. 

4.  Grow Crops Throughout the Year.   For a healthy soil you need to be continuously feeding the soil microbes, primarily by growing plants that are providing live roots that freely exude sugars.  Providing plenty of sugars means easily accessible food for soil microbes and a plethora of benefits for plant growth.  Maintaining a suitable habitat for the myriad of soil food web creatures (the microbes) is the key in suitable soil development.  One teaspoon of healthy soil can easily contain more individual microbes than there are people on earth.  It is so clear: we need to be gentle and kind to the soil, and the soil will be good to us.  

5.  Keep the Soil Covered.  I like to tell visitors to my garden that what they can not see, is the most important aspect of my garden.  It’s my precious soil.  A garden where the soil is covered by growing plants and/or their residues is very likely a garden as nature intended.   Soil covers protect the soil aggregates from beatings by the rain, suppress weeds, keep the soil cool and moist, and promote soil microbial activity.  How can it get any better than that?

The five practices listed above are aimed at maximizing the physical and biological activity in the soil.  In essence, they are speeding up the natural soil development processes and will lead to  healthy soils, healthy plants, healthy produce and healthy consumers.   These are steps that take little or no input from outside the garden area.  While not entirely free, they are low-cost gardening techniques, that move us in the direction of being sustainable gardeners.  

6.  Mineral and Nutrient management.   Beyond the five steps described above, one major topic in gardening remains.  It’s that of adding supplements to the garden.  The kind and amount of supplements to add will depend primarily on the original rock material (e.g. sandstone, limestone, etc) and past uses.  

The degree to which you address this topic will depend on resources available.  Here are a list of things to do, all which will likely lead to improved nutrient density in your produce. 

**  Make and use compost.   Collect organic matter from the kitchen vegetable refuse, garden area, and other sites and make compost for use on the garden.  Use the compost sparingly and wisely.  Don’t use excessive amounts of compost.  Too much compost can lead to higher than needed nitrogen levels in the soil, excess nitrates in the produce, and encouragement of insects.  It’s not likely that the compost will increase minerals to the point of being in excess.  Four to five percent organic matter in the soil is sufficient.  Once at that level, and assuming you are following the five steps above, 20 to 40 gallons of compost per hundred square feet per year may be sufficient to maintain the desired nutrient level.   Bear in mind that compost derived from garden plants will be similar in nutrients to what is in the soil.

**  Increase the diversity of bacteria and fungi in your garden.  If you have some adjacent prairie and/or woodlands, collect some soil/humus from it and add it to your compost pile and/or sprinkle it directly on your garden.  This is simply an insurance program to add microbial diversity to your garden.  Natural environments will likely have new, desirable microbial species that will be helpful in the garden.   You can also find bacterial and fungal inoculants available for sale from many sources.

**  Add mined and minimally processed rock and organic minerals.  Determining what to add, and how much, goes beyond what we can specify here.  In short, this is the place for contacting a laboratory that specializes in making recommendations for organic gardeners.  There is some room for your own garden diagnostics, but only if you know the plant symptoms for deficiencies for the various nutrients.   Materials like alfalfa meal, soft rock phosphate, lime, kelp, wood ashes, epsom salts, borax, and many others may help to correct mineral shortages, but do not add them until you have some indication they are needed.  It is possible to have excess minerals in the soil system. 

Some other options can also be helpful. 

**  Raised beds are an optional, but very useful technique.  In essence, it means developing beds that are 8 to 12 inches higher than the adjacent walkway.  I use four-foot beds and two-foot walkways.  I recommend that you do not use any sideboards.  Unless you use treated material or expensive redwood, wood sideboards will rot or succumb to termites in a few years.  One exception  -- if you have a garden plot on a steep slope, sideboards on the downhill side might be needed to prevent erosion.

Raised beds have several advantages.  They drain more quickly after heavy rains and they warm up faster in the spring.  Early and more timely plantings are critical to maximizing production and nutritional quality.   As a rule, raised beds have better aeration, which promotes better microbial acuity and increased growth. 

**  Double-digging is the process of loosening the soil to a depth of 16 to 24 inches, depending on specific soil conditions.   In short, the top layer of soil is removed, a little compost is added, the lower layer is then loosened, and finally the top layer is replaced.  The top layer of the pathway is then added to the bed.  This process creates raised beds.

Double-dug beds are better aerated, more biologically active, and promote deeper plant root penetration.  All this translates into increased production and better nutritional quality. 

**  Use heirloom seeds and save seeds.  Heirloom seeds exist for all of the major garden crops.  Once you have them, take the extra effort to save seeds or vegetative starts for subsequent years.  The fruits and vegetables from the heirlooms will generally be more nutrient dense.   Work with neighbors and friends and plan for sharing seeds.  Also, consider a more general cooperative garden sharing plan.   Use the knowledge of all involved.  

Summary   

If you read this article and have the impression that all gardening techniques and processes are interrelated, then you have it read it correctly.  Everything you do in the garden and all the growing processes are all tied together.  It is the way nature has designed the system.  That may be disconcerting to you as you try to understand what is happening in your garden.  Or it may be troubling as you try to  prioritize your gardening activities.  Do not become overwhelmed with understanding all the interconnections.  Just remember that the interconnections serve as a safety or buffering system or insurance program for how your plants grow and survive.  Nature’s system is designed so that life might continue.  

When we use techniques to protect and promote that natural system, we are harmony with nature and more closely within reach of our objective of producing nutrient-dense produce.  That goal is good for us as individuals and good for us a world full of people, everyone looking or sadly  hoping for three meals a day.   Following the 7 techniques above is a good place for all of us to begin.   Work diligently, maintain patience, share with others, keep an open/positive mind and you will be blessed.  



Imagine a market place in your back yard for fresh homegrown fish, herbs, fruits and vegetables.  Best part of this is that you grew it and know what’s in it.  No pesticides or unwanted hormones and additives.  Plus the market is open 24/7.

My Hawaii Experience 
Living on an island  and having everything shipped into it makes for the worst case disaster when mother nature or human nature turns bad.  From total communications failure to coastal ports devastation, Hawaii would suffer the worst of all the states in the shortest amount of time.  A large population on island Oahu would mean all meaningful supplies would be consumed in two weeks.  If nothing else the multi-cultural mix of the islands make-up may prolong the inhumanity a month. After no resupply of goods and fuel, then the insanity begins.  But when it comes down to family needs, your best friend may become your competitor for what you may have.

Water is not far away, but clean water can still be a problem.  I have water filters for the times when questionable sources are the only available supply.  Drought in Hawaii, you betcha.  Clean water source can at time be hard to find.  Water storage is a must, but to be prepared to find renewable resources will be very challenging.  Would  be great to have a miniature desalinization plant in a box for these times.  The only alternatives will be the tried and proven, moisture capture, filters and sterilization tablets.
Climate is predictable.  Constant 80 degrees, plus or minus 10 degrees throughout the year and depending on your island location.
Aquaponics, Barrelponics, etc. by any other name is an easy low cost way to supplement your survival box of tools.
Simply put, fish excrements gets pumped out to the grow beds to fertilize the plants.  The plants convert the waste to nutrients and  the water is returned to the fish tank cleaned of the toxins.
The Aquaponics ebb and flow or constant flow systems (NFT) provide more nutrients and water to the plants than if the plants were in the ground.  But then again, you have to have a “usable” water supply.  Rain barrel collection probably the only alternative.
Ground pest are minimized.
Normal maintenance if you had an aquarium and an in-ground garden.  Feed the fish and watch for abnormal conditions to the fish and the water (pH, ammonia,etc.).  Keep the grow beds clean (no weeds in this system), remove algae build-up, pest removal and elimination with non-lethal methods (vinegar/water solution) minimally sprayed under leaves.

My Systems 1:
1 – 110 gallon tank for fish ( 20 Tilapias – Blue and Red)
4 – Grow beds 2’x3’x8” on plastic tables and PVC piping
1 – 150 gal/hr water pump
1 – Fluval 60 air pump single with 4 way gang-valve
My System 2: (under construction – 70% complete)
2 – 55 gallon barrels for fish, on concrete molded stands
4 – halved barrels for grow beds, wood stand and PVC piping
1 – Stellar 60 dual outlet
I covered the fish tank to reduce sunlight to energize algae growth.
Know your fish and plantings, expand your knowledge on fish and plant life cycles, nutrients and pest.
Disadvantages are growth time and clean water availability.  Also when it gets time to cull the fish, don’t  names them.  You can get so familiar with the fishes that killing them to eat can be hard to do.  Reproduction is the real issue, do you have the know-how to create generations.
But great a hobby turn necessity, and a good stress release when tending the fish and garden.  Makes you appreciate all the farmers out there making a living.
I have planted tomatoes (roma and beef), egg plant, green onions, basil, taro, Stevia (Sweet Herb), zucchini, lettuce, bok-choy, and oregano.
 
Fish food – Silver Cup pellets, green leaves from the garden, duckweed
 
So start now, grow in stages for continuous supply. 
Organize a group to share knowledge and food.  Like minds breed success.
Knowledge can go a very long way.  So boot up your computer and start your searching through all the great web sites that offer information on everything Survival. 
Books are great, but I prefer scanning all the things of interest specific to what I need to know and cut out as much wording as possible.  Start now and don’t stop looking up things of interest on a continuing basis.  Print all interesting pages for later referral.  Once the Internet is gone and the grid goes down, it’s too late.  Your specific library of knowledge will serve you right until the world gets back to order.
Other must additions to your survival box of tools:
Heating sources are definitely a must.  Strike and chemical fires starters, like matches and lighter have a finite life, so I like lenses and a hand or bow drill.
Parabolic metal pots and mirrors.  This is a great idea, buy mosaic mirror tiles (or if you are not superstitious, break a mirror) and glue the pieces to a Wok pot.  You can focus the suns rays to heat pots of anything.
Add live protein sources to your backyard of ducks, chickens and rabbits.  Work on this one.  You got to deal with the neighbors, predators and city ordinates for this one to work.
Add Rain barrels to your water supply (don’t forget filters and screens).  Run-off from the roof sounds good, beware contamination hazards from bird poop and just stuff landing on it. 
Jack of All Trades should be you mantra from now on.  Be a general knowledge sponge on all things.  If you know of or come upon someone that is a specialist, stop to watch what they do.  You never will know when a situation will arise and you’ll recall how you can apply what you saw.
Alcohol is a great item to have for sterilizing, medicating and trading.  Stock up and don’t drink it.
Buy a generator to meet your needs and store gas in containers (rotate them).
I have a motorcycle.  You may want to have a small one, 175cc.  Getting around quickly and in all terrains will save time and help carrying items long distances.  Unless you can get animal of burden.  But as the gas supplies dwindles, there may be items from the bike that you can use.
Stock up on canned goods and rotate there use.  Remember when the electrical grid goes out and then your generator, you’ll have to eat everything in the freezer and refrigerator first.  Cook as much as you can to prolong the ability to eat them.
Get a good book on natural ways to deal with medical emergencies.  Local plants and common man-made products can substitute for the usual meds.  Unfortunately, if you have a need for prescription drugs, then stock up knowing there is a shelf-life.  I’m sorry if you are dependent on them for you life.
Solar panels that you own or others may have on their roofs, can benefit your needs for renewable energy.  Read and learn how to utilize this option.
Abandoned cars and trucks have unlimited uses.  From gas, batteries, glass, bendable metals and tires.  Be inventive and anything can be used.
Add a Worm bin to compost all you vegetable waste.  The worm liquid and casing are great fertilizers.  I guess if it gets really lean, you could eat them, but the fish would appreciate them more.

Get a weapon.  It’ll serve you well.  Home and personal defense and hunting.  Gun(s), knives bow and arrows.  Gun – at least a handgun (I like a revolver), shotgun and rifle.  I prefer reloading and some bought ammo.  But any tool or household implement has a dual purpose. 
Get to know your neighborhood.  Walk around during the day and the night.  Get to know where the watch dogs live, which homes have fences and security.  Look for fruit trees.  Wave to all the people you meet,  a familiar face is more excepting than a stranger when you need help or advise. Become a scavenger and walk around your neighborhood.  Look for sites that you might use to replenish usable resources (water, food, energy).  It may be sad and depressing to watch your neighbors and friends died, but the opportunity for you to live on on their leftovers can not be overly emphasized.  Realize that your compassion will have a limit.  Discuss this with you love ones.
Get a loyal friend, guard and a weapon, get and dog.  Worth its weight in food and your servicing.  When you can stock up extra bags of kibble, do it and rotate them as you use them.  Secure you home.  Realize that this is your castle, work towards making it so.
My wife and friends thinks I’m nuts.  But better safe than sorry.  If the worst happens, I’m ready.  If it doesn’t happen, then we have a great supplement to the grocery list.
Bottom line, be creative and use your common sense, sounds a lot like Survival 101. 


Tuesday, September 25, 2012


When most people think of post collapse survival, one of the major topics that first comes to mind is food.  The internet is full of articles and forums dedicated to canning, hunting, gathering, and of course, gardening.  What I don't often find, are articles specifically dedicated to a particular item of food to be grown in a garden, explaining perhaps why it would be a beneficial plant to start growing now.  For me and my own gardening, I have gone from complete and utter newbie, to successful builder of soil and harvester of many delicious edibles.  Through out this period of trial and error, I just selected at random packets of seasonal and organic seeds from the local nursery, and while hoping for the best, I would continually return to the net for tips on how to deal with this pest or that fungus.

Having suffered more failures than successes, and now with several growing seasons under my belt, I have narrowed the field of which species I plant in my various garden beds.  One species stands out as a new favorite of mine, and this species will be the focus of this article.  It is a summer squash called Tatume. 

I live in Austin, Texas and basically have a year round growing season.  This past winter was mild, so by mid-March I had summer and winter squash already planted and sprouting in the garden.  Like most people, I planted the usual suspects; zucchini, yellow crookneck, acorn, and sugar sweet pumpkins.  After a nice early harvest began at the outset of summer, the dreaded squash moth arrived.  Leaves began to wilt and turn yellow, and I started spending more and more time on my hands and knees wiping the moth's small red eggs from plant stems.  Worse still, I started finding my self more and more often having to use a razor blade to cut small windows into the squash vines so I could exorcise the chubby, white grubs from within.  Of course, my chickens loved the vine borers, but I was growing frustrated with fighting a losing battle.  Even carrying a fly swatter and striking down the moths themselves when I could was not enough to prevent my entire planting from finally succumbing to the borers.  What had been a great spring where I was pulling large quantities of squash every week, became a depressing summer of empty beds where so much green had once thrived.

In conversation with a fellow gardener, I mentioned my loss, and she clued me in to the Tatume squash.  She had recently planted some herself after a similar loss of her own plants.  According to what she had read, the vines of the Tatume are thinner and denser than those of most other squash, and make traveling within them more difficult for vine borers.  She also had read that Tatume re-rooted themselves from their vines frequently, providing auxiliary points along the plant where nutrients could be drawn from the soil should the central vine be lost to pests.  I had to try growing this wonder plant for myself after she ended the discussion by stating, "I hear the problem with Tatume isn't keeping them alive, it's controlling them!"

About a week later, my seed order from Baker Creek Heirlooms came through, and I had several packs of Tatume seed.  As it was not (at the time) available at the local nursery, I figured I would make a large order for my personal seed bank, should the species prove to be as resilient as my friend claimed it to be.  I went outside and pulled together several mounds of soil in three different garden beds, and in each mound I planted three seeds.  The results have been nothing short of extraordinary. 

First, the vines do indeed grow long and fast.  Assuming an infestation of vine borers was inevitable, and knowing that they can decimate the primary vine of a plant quite quickly, I wanted to make sure these plants laid roots in several places.  I buried the nodes of each vine in several locations with rich soil, and watered these areas just as I watered the central vine.  While I believe this practice helped, it may not have been specifically necessary, as the plants seemed fairly interested in re-rooting themselves of their own volition. 

I noticed that the squash moth did still lay eggs on Tatume plants, but interestingly enough, they didn't seem to lay nearly as many eggs as they were laying on my hubbards, my acorn squash, or my remaining (and struggling!) zucchini.  Out of the fifteen Tatume seeds I planted, I still have fifteen living and healthy plants, and I only had to cut two vine borers out of the entire group.  This was early in their development when I noticed a bit of frass on the central vines.  The borers I removed were small, and had barely damaged the plants, which I believe was in fact due to the tighter, denser nature of the vine structure.  Most of the suggestions one finds on the Internet concerning how to deal with squash vine borers revolve around covering plants with netting or using some form of pesticide, including BT injections.  For anyone planning a survival garden, relying on anything that needs to be purchased from a store is unacceptable.  It makes far more sense to be finding workable solutions now, and that includes the selection of the most reliable and defensible plant species.

Of course, so many fecund and spawning squash plants in one area will draw in another pest; the squash bug.  My own garden began to attract squash bugs once my Tatume were sprawling over many square feet of space and producing fruit.  Early detection is not only key, but it's quite easy for the observant gardener.  These little insects come in droves, colored an orangish red as young nymphs, then growing into large gray stink bugs if left unattended.  Walking around with a jar of soapy water to knock them off of the plant and into, hand squishing, and a light coat of flour sifted onto the plants (and washed off three days later) was enough to rid me of their nuisance in under a week.  I also suggest keeping various insect repellant herbs planted throughout the garden as well as members of the daisy family which will attract assassin bugs to your aid.  I know of one gardener who makes a Tansy tea (Tansy is a flower in the Aster/Daisy family) which he then sprays directly onto his food plants, bringing the assassin bugs to live upon them in full force.  The only drawback is that assassin bugs can kill pollinators such as bees, so use with discretion.

The fruit of the Tatume plant has the color and flavor of a zucchini but is shaped like a small pumpkin.  Native to Mexico, the Tatume is used in a dish called "calabacitas" and is itself often referred to as "calabacita" (meaning "little squash.")  We are suffering a hard drought here in central Texas, yet my Tatume thrive.  I credit this primarily to my regular watering, but also to the possibility that being a native of Mexico has granted Tatume at least a moderate drought and heat tolerance.  As temperature zones are shifting, with warmer weather sustaining for larger portions of the year further and further north, as well as the extension of drought conditions, and even the possibility of water supply disruption due to collapse related events, having seeds in your survival arsenal that can handle such conditions is a must. 

Falling under the Curcubita Pepo grouping, this would mean that Tatume can cross pollinate with all others in this category, including zucchini and crook neck squash.  As seed saving is crucial to those planning a survival garden, this means either not growing other C. Pepo, separating them by large distances, or hand pollinating.  Personally, not wanting to deal with the pest issues associated with these other squash, I would elect to only grow Tatume as a summer squash.  It should be noted as well, that C. Pepo can in fact cross pollinate with C. Maxima (Buttercup, Hubbard) as well as C. Moschata (Butternut) requiring the above mentioned precautions.  Like all squash, the seeds are large and plentiful, so collecting, drying, and storing them for the next season's crop is extremely easy.  I would imagine preparing the seeds as one would pumpkin seeds, would also yield a tasty snack.

The summer is now waning, and I'm seeing squash moths less and less.  In the past week, I haven't had to make my regular rounds of plant inspections, obsessively removing moth eggs from the undersides of leaves.  As I walk through the garden with my watering can every morning taking in the beauty of those bright orange flowers open to the rising sun, inviting in bees and ants, I am thoroughly rewarded for such diligence.  I bend over to gently pull apart the still ever expanding network of dark green vines which are engulfing my garden beds to find softball sized, evergreen globes waiting for me.  While I still struggle at times with other food plants, these struggles are a reward as well.  While the grocery stores are still open, failure isn't critical, and these failures inform us of what plants we can reasonably expect to rely on when a crisis does arrive, and which will ultimately sap us of more energy than they will give us.  After a wonderful and productive season, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you too begin experimenting with Tatume squash in your home garden and kitchen.


Sunday, August 19, 2012


People who are interested in preparedness seem to love lists.   So, I have compiled a list of 30 steps that may be useful for average families who don’t necessarily have a hideout in the mountains (yet).  This list is by no means all-inclusive and it presumes a basic background in preparedness.  In other words, I hope you have been reading this blog for a long time already!  I am a proud military wife and mother of two grade school students.  I have a master’s degree in chemistry.  We are just an average family trying to get by in uncertain times. I am just optimistic enough to believe that there is hope for the future and just realistic enough to prepare otherwise.  
Coming from Alaska, where power outages can mean the difference between life and death at forty below zero, prepping is as mainstream as owning a TV.  Geomagnetic storms knock out power regularly and a good aurora borealis may mean you better get out the generator.  It is good to see the preparedness trend catching on in the Lower 48 states.  Alabama recently held their first tax-free weekend from July 6-8, 2012 to purchase hurricane preparedness equipment, with tax exemptions on generators, batteries, flashlights and more.  There also appears to be a massive education campaign going on throughout U.S. schools.  My kids are coming home with all sorts of flyers and papers encouraging them to get their parents involved in basic preparedness for hurricanes, tornados, ice storms and more.  Propaganda mission?  Who cares—If we want to make preparedness the norm, then asking kids to make sure their parents have flashlights is one place to start.  There is certainly an emerging capitalist market for all things survival related.  Embrace it and get the goods while you can.  These are the steps that have been useful to me so far, but it is a never-ending job to be prepared.  Good luck.
1.  Water is always number one on any survival prep list, so I have to start here.  Learn the location of the nearest source of fresh water to your home and how to walk to it with filtration equipment and water containers.  Not everyone lives near an Alaskan glacial stream, but it doesn’t matter if you are in inner city Philadelphia next to the Schuykill River (I’ve tried both places), it pays to know your drinking water source in case the taps run dry.  Try drinking it too--AFTER boiling it for ten minutes or filtering it with a Katadyn filter or adding iodine or bleach of course.  Add some Gatorade powder if you have to. If it gives you giardiasis or cholera now, at least you will be able to see a doctor now while we still have a functioning society.  Then, you will definitely know that you need to work on your water purification skills.   
2.  Learn to grow something.  Tomatoes in an upside down hanging basket, potatoes in a bucket on your rooftop, sunflowers on your back patio, or anything you can. You can do a lot with potatoes.  I have grown them from sprouted organic potatoes from the supermarket.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with seed saving techniques.  Pumpkins and watermelons are great starting points for saving seeds.  Kids can help rinse and dry those seeds easily.  A great resource on seed saving that I like is the book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth.
3.  Practice outdoor cooking.  We love our Volcano stove and use it for everything from S’mores to grilled salmon.  You can even put a Dutch oven in it.  Dutch ovens are great because you can practice using them indoors in the winter when outdoor BBQs are not as appealing.  “The Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook” by Tim and Christine Conners is an invaluable guide.   
3.  Get off the couch and get in shape now.  Walking is a great place to start.  There are elderly people who walk laps around the malls of America that are in better shape than the average high school student.
4.  Lose 5 pounds.  Stop eating all that delicious Hershey’s chocolate and start saving it for bartering.  With the price of groceries going up every day, it’s not too hard to cut back the caloric intake in an attempt to break even on food inflation.
5.  Take care of your teeth now.  Make an appointment to see the dentist for a cleaning and/or fillings now while you still can. Don’t be afraid to get your kids the braces they need just because the end of the world is near.  There are numerous articles on this blog on how to remove orthodontics in an emergency survival situation that involve little more than a wire cutter.
6.  Go to the library and check out some books.  Better yet, start your own survival library.  National Geographic’s  “Complete Survival Manual” by Michael S. Sweeney is very useful. You can get books on everything from how to make goat cheese to how to knit socks to how to can peaches in a water bath.  If the library is not your thing, go online or to Amazon Kindle or Pinterest or whatever works for you.
7.  READ the books and learn a new skill, such as how to make goat cheese or how to knit socks or how to can peaches in a water bath.  Read to your kids too.  There are great books for kids about gardening or keeping chickens for example.  One book I have found useful to get kids thinking about prepping is “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  9 year old Almonzo in 19th century upstate NY does more after school chores than you can imagine. He gets a calf yoke for a birthday present!  Happy Birthday Almonzo, now go break in the calves.  I haven’t heard any more complaints about taking out the trash after reading that with my kids.  
8. Download the Latter Day Saints Preparedness Guide for free.  The 2012 15th Anniversary Edition is available now.  You will be amazed and forever grateful for this outstanding contribution to society.
9.  On your next trip to the grocery store when you are stocking up on extra rice and toilet paper, don’t forget to throw in a bag or two of bird seed.  I’ve been known to eat a handful of those sunflower seeds myself when I’m refilling the feeders.  I’m not too sure I’d eat suet, but you never know.  Just skip the millet because most birds don’t even like that and it tends to get left uneaten by even the hungriest chickadees.  The corn cobs designed for squirrels are cheap and can attract all sorts of game in range of your gun or traps.
10.  While you are at the store, spend some time in the drug aisle and look for things beyond the usual hand sanitizer, multi-vitamins and Band-aids that preppers stockpile.  There was a sale on lice shampoo the other day and we picked some up. It even came with two nit combs, which we didn’t have on hand. We also grabbed some pinworm medicine.  It seems like there are OTC meds for everything these days.  Take advantage of it while you can.
11.  Take a quick stop at the pet store or online and while you are getting an extra bag or two of dog or cat food, grab up some FishMox, FishFlex and Bird Sulfa.  Vetdepot.com sells FishMox 250 mg, 30 tablets for $8.87.  Yes, these are identical to human antibiotics.  Ever taken amoxicillin for strep throat?  In a true emergency with no hospitals, I will not hesitate to take 250 mg of Fishmox three times a day for strep throat even if it were 10 years after the expiration date.  It’s best to store them in the fridge though.  Just please consult one of the many useful survival preparedness antibiotic guides if you have no medical training, or better yet, get medical training now while you can.
12.  Prepping supplies cost money, I know! Budget and get your financial house in order now.  Get out of bad debt and don’t rack up credit card debt. If the SHTF or not, you do not want credit card debt.
13.  De-clutter your life.  Get and eBay account.  Learn to sell stuff lying around your house.  Supplement your income. It is really so easy my school age kids can do it.  They are accustomed to helping me scour their drawers and toy boxes for things they no longer need.  You would be absolutely amazed at the things people will buy.  I have sold half-used bottles of perfume that I didn’t like. Get rid of all that useless stuff around your house to make room for more useful supplies.
14.   While you are thinking about used stuff, take a trip to your local thrift shop.  Do it regularly. Volunteer there if you can so you can get first dibs on incoming items.  I have found some great preps at thrift shops from cast iron pans to down parkas.
15.  Get organized now.   With all the material stuff people deal with, it pays to stay on top of your game and be organized.  My WaterBOB to fill up the bathtub with drinking water is useless in a hurricane if I can’t find it.
16.  Don’t let your bug out bags sit in a corner collecting dust.  Unpack and repack them regularly to stay familiar with what you have.  That is an easy task for us with kids because we have to constantly re-evaluate kids’ clothing to account for their rapid growth.
17.  Take a camping trip this weekend and pack nothing but your bug out bags and see how you do. Try to start a fire with that fancy flint tool you have.
18.  Include kids in prepping.  Start them young.  I’m sure it’s not easy trying to talk to a thirteen year old plugged constantly into Facebook about potential life without power.  Little kids feel more empowered and less anxious when they have confidence that they can do some useful things.  Start small with where they are, and include them as much as you can. It could be as simple as making sure you have extra foods on hand that they like, such as macaroni and cheese, or it could be a more involved task like teaching them to swim.  Be open with them about the reality of our times, but help build their confidence to alleviate some of their fears.   
19.  Invest in a good pair of hiking shoes and break them in. Don’t forget the kids.  Do you really expect junior to haul water with flip flops?  You get what you pay for and that goes for clothes too.  You may not need a new North Face Gortex rain jacket for everyone in your family, but don’t expect to thrive in the tissue thin cotton T-shirts from Old Navy.
20.  Find a good old fashioned washboard.  They have been selling nice American-made ones at Columbus Washboard Company since 1895.  I love this company because they send donations to our troops overseas that include a washtub, washboard and supplies.  Just make sure you get stainless steel.  After you buy it, make sure you stain it with several coats of waterproof stain.  I’m not sure why they even sell galvanized ones (they rust) and I sure don’t know why the wood doesn’t come pre-stained, but I guess most people just buy them for decoration.  Try using it in your bathtub with a bucket of water and see what a pain it is to do laundry in third world countries like Afghanistan.
21.  Learn how to make a honey bucket.  No, I’m not talking about a bucket of the delicious golden stuff, but that is good to have on hand also.  Having lived in Alaska for many years, where many people still voluntarily live in cabins with outhouses and no running water, I learned that a honey bucket is not so sweet.  In the remote Alaskan bush, people just don’t have the amenities that you know and love down in the Lower 48.  In Alaska, a honey bucket is defined as a place where you go to the bathroom like a chamber pot that you fill up and then go dump.  It basically consists of a 5 gallon Home Depot bucket lined with a trash bag and an adult-size potty chair insert.  You don’t need to buy the fancy camp toilets that they sell at Cabela’s.   
22.  Practice using one weapon or help train someone in your family to use one.  Have a “Take-Your-Wife-To-The-Range-Day”.  Get her a pink gun if you have to: they do make them.  Our daughter has a pink Ruger 10/22.  There is something for everyone.  Slingshots for squirrels are great for kids.  Just be sure and protect their eyes and teach them basic safety rules.  Don’t overlook axes and knives.  I know I am preaching to the choir when I lament about how many American children have never helped butcher a chicken or a deer.  Make it a point to train others if you have skills.
23.  Convert some of your assets to silver and/or gold and have it on hand, not in a safe deposit box or ETF.  Junk silver coins (pre-1965 quarters, dimes and half-dollars) are available for sale at such places as Northwest Territorial Mint.  It is worth buying now while you can.  You may experience a three month wait to receive your package since it is so popular.  In this economy with the dollar’s value rapidly sinking, yesterday was the time to convert your hard earned savings to tangible assets such as silver, gold, food, ammo, medication, chainsaws, or whatever preps are on your list.  The general rule of thumb in the investment portfolio brochures is that you should have at least 20% of your savings in the form of gold or silver.  Just don’t stick it under the mattress.  Buy yourself a good safe.
24. However worthless the dollar is, it is still good to have some cold hard cash on hand in small bills.  Even nickels are worth stashing around since they are worth more in metal content than face value.
25.  Get a passport for yourself and everyone in your family.  If things get really bad, you can always head for New Zealand, Northwest Territory or central Patagonia with all that silver for a while.
27.  A supportive community is key.  Choose your allies well and always have backup plans.
28.  Practice, practice, practice.  Everything from cooking rice over a camp fire like they do on the Survivor television show to composting with your morning tea bags or coffee grinds.
29.  Have faith in yourself and confidence in your abilities.  Just don’t get overconfident.  Confidence with humility is essential to a prepper’s lifestyle.
30.  Pray.  I’ll be praying for you all if things get as bad as some of the National Geographic Doomsday Preppers think it’s going to get. Lord have mercy on us all! Amen.


Thursday, August 9, 2012


When people stockpile food they like to stick to the basics; beans, rice, and pasta. The one crop I would like to include to this list is corn. The corn I will be talking about is fresh corn and not the canned corn you can buy all year round. Unlike rice and pasta, many people have the ability to grow more corn if they run out. With beans you have limited ways to prepare it. Corn on the other hand can be used in many different ways.  From one ear of corn you can collect enough seeds to grow enough corn to feed a family.  Corn is not only a lifeline for the Navajo people but a sacred plant that is part of us.  We use every part of the plant as we would an animal. The two varieties of corn that are used are white and blue corn. White corn can be found in your local supermarket in the summers as well as grown at home. Blue corn never sold in super markets and would need to be grown at home. Seeds can be found online and I would suggest Hopi heirloom seeds.  I would like to share a few of our traditional recipes and uses of this wonderful plant with everyone who reads.

Steamed corn
Possibly one of the most common preservation methods we have is steaming and drying corn. This is a delicacy because of the amount of work involved.  As a plus, the corn can last years in storage.   White or yellow corn is best used for this method.  In order to do this you must first build an oven. Our ovens are usually made out of sandstone blocks arranged into an igloo shape and stand 3 ½ feet high and 4 feet across.  The roof is formed by metal pipes that are placed side by side and stacked until they form a corbelled dome.  A door and an opening on top will need to be left opened. The door will later be closed off with another large sandstone slab. The roof opening will need a round metal barrel lid that is big enough to cover the opening.  The exterior is then covered by 2-3 inches of mud and left to dry.  The end result will look somewhat like a Navajo Hogan or pueblo oven.  Before starting your fire it is best estimate how much corn will fill your oven.  Our oven usually takes 4-5 wheel barrels to fill our oven. Hard wood is burned inside the oven until it becomes coals and is spread out evenly. While the fire burns down get a mud pit ready with mud soaked potato sacs and a gallon of clean water ready.  The water will be used to steam the corn.  The potatoes sacs are needed to plug holes and seal the doorway once the oven is filled.    You will then need to collect and stack your corn. When stacking your corn pile it helps to place the tops with the silk side facing your oven.  That way you will be grabbing the top and tossing and flipping it in, so the tops point towards the exit door.  This makes it easier to pull out and prevents the bottom and back corn from catching on fire while the rest are being thrown in.  Once everything is in place, line the roof with mud around the edge of the opening. This mud will be used to seal up any holes on the roof once the round metal lid is dropped.  It is best to have 3 or more people helping out because speed is important if you do not want to burn the corn on the bottom of the oven.  Then start to quickly toss the corn into the oven through the door.  Seal the door with the stone slab when you cannot toss anymore corn in. Then plug the edges with the potatoes sacs and cover with mud to trap in the steam. Keep filling the oven through the opening on the roof until it is full.  Prepare to finish by having one person hold the metal lid at an angle on top so it can be quickly dropped once the gallon of water is dumped into the oven.  Quickly dump the water and drop the lid closed.  Push the mud onto the lid and the surrounding area to close off all holes where steam may escape.  It helps to spot the small openings by dumping some water and wetting the outside if the oven.  The corn is left to steam for 10 hours or overnight to cook.  The corn will be hot and steam can quickly escape when opening the oven, so use caution.  A shovel or hoe can be used to take the corn out safely.  The freshly steamed corn can be eaten or dried.  To dry simply husk the corn leaving two or three leaves on the ear of corn.  Tie the two ears together using the left over leaves and hang to dry. Once dried, the kernels can be taken off the cobs and stored to be used in stews. The following are some recipes:

Roasted corn
A simpler alternative to steam corn is dried roasted corn. This can be done by husking fresh corn and roasting it on a wood fire to infuse more flavors into the corn. It is then left out to dry. Once dried it is ready to be stored or to be used in stews
Cornmeal
Cornmeal is uncooked dried corn that has been ground into a fine texture. Once in this state it can be prepared different ways such as corn bread or used as a creamer in coffee.  If you have a favorite pancake recipe you can substitute the flour for corn meal to have corn pancakes.

Blue corn mush
One popular way of using corn meal is to make a blue corn mush. To make this, start by straining a tablespoon of juniper ash to 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.  The ash is there to provide both coloring and vitamins and minerals.  Then slowly whisk in 3-4 cups of blue corn meal.  Continue stirring until you have a texture similar to running cream of wheat.  Eat just as you would cream of wheat.

Blue corn dumplings
Making blue corn dumplings is very similar to blue corn mush. Start by boiling a tablespoon of juniper ash in 3 cups of water.  Stir in 6 cups of corn meal and continue to stir until all lumps are removed and corn becomes dough like consistency.   Once the corn is cooked remove from the heat and kneed the dough. Shape the dough into little balls and dropped into a stew or boiling water to create dumplings. The dumplings will make its own gravy and add flavoring to the stew and water
Blue corn bread
Blue corn bread is a simple corn bread recipe which resembles a hard flat tortilla.  Similar to hardtack once it hardens, it becomes difficult to eat without soaking in liquids.  To make blue corn bread boil 3 cups of water with a tablespoon of ash and a tablespoon of salt.  Stir in 6 cups of corn meal with a whisk until the cooked corn becomes a dough consistency.  Remove from heat and kneed the dough into a flat bread loaf.  Place on a skillet and brown on both sides or bake in the oven.

Kneel down bread
Kneel down bread is another delicacy.  It requires a lot of fresh corn to have decent size bread. Start by first getting a pit dug in the ground about 3 feet wide and 10 inches deep. Start a fire inside the pit and until the wood becomes coals.  The recipe is easy because all it asks for is fresh corn and nothing else.  The corn you can buy at a grocery store or pick from your garden if you have one.  You start off by cutting the kernels off the cobs.  Then grind by hand or with a blender into a mush consistency.  If you will be eating the bread right away with no intention to dry, you can add small bits of meat, green chili, or other vegetables to the corn mixture. Rinse the husks that originally wrapped your corn with water and air dry.  Place your mush mixture inside a husk and wrap with additional husk as you would with tamales. Remove the coals from the fire pit and place on the side.  Place your kneel down bread into the pit and cover with the left over husks.  Cover the husks with enough dirt to prevent the husks from catching on fire from the coals.  Place the coals on top of the dirt, like you would with a Dutch oven.    After baking for an hour you can dig your bread out.  To dry your bread simply cut it into small 1/2 inch cubes and dried. The dried kneel down bread can be rehydrated with stews, milk, or other liquids. 

Once the ears of corn have been picked the rest of the stalk can he used to feed animals. The cobs themselves can he dried and used as fuel for your fire or pellet stove. I hope you enjoy these recipes and choose to add this wonderful vegetable to your dry storage. 


Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Aquaponic Gardening, by D.P.

This submission is about gardening (tips on what to grow and why) and how and why I am switching from outdoor to indoor gardening. I have been gardening since age 3 - much to the chagrin of my parents who, once they realized what was going on, quickly gave me my own 10 square feet with some lettuce and radish seeds and told me to tend to that in the future. I did get to take care of their garden as I grew older though. I also have had gardens on various soil types as my family moved about and so in many respects I am better prepped to grow (part of) my own food than most.

For many generations my ancestors, who lived in Europe, had small businesses and/or farms. In those days the grocery stores didn't sell vegetables but just what we would call 'dry goods' today. People didn't have much money so whatever they could grow themselves, they did in their own garden. They also didn't have much in the way of weather forecasts beyond the type of clouds they happened to see and whether air pressure was rising or falling. To be successful in those days you needed to have a very different skill set than what most of us possess today. With respect to gardening it really came down to this: grow a wide variety of vegetable crops.

This tactic solved a number of problems:
- regardless of the weather there would always be a few crops that did well, so there was always something to eat.
- disease and pest control were iffy or non-existent, but again the chance that all crops failed due to them was small so there was always something
to eat.
- a lot of vegetables are high in specific minerals and/or vitamins.
Eating a variety of them was the best way to avoid deficiencies and stay healthy. I am sure that most of my ancestors had no clue about the science behind what they were doing but they just knew what worked. I consider myself lucky that a good chunk of this knowledge was passed on to me and apparently it still works: I haven't been to a doctor in more than 30 years except for a painful episode with a kidney stone. And, no, I have
not taken additional vitamins or other supplements during those years.

So here is what kept us going for at least 4 generations:
Food staples:
- bread (white - though it wouldn't be as refined or bleached as today's flour).
- potatoes (peeled, washed, boiled, mashed)
- before potatoes where introduced in Europe their role would have been filled by dry beans, peas, lentils, etc.
- sometimes a meal would be based on rice but this was seen as a luxury

Vegetables (summer season):
- lettuce (can't beat a cool salad on a hot day)
- spinach (early crop high in iron and vitamins - usually cooked but can be used as salad)
- purslane (high in omega3 fatty acids and vitamin E - usually cooked but can be used as salad)
- swiss chard (used mid summer when spinach tends to bolt - always cooked)
- endive (either cooked or as salad)
- radish (said to 'cleanse your system' - used in salads or sliced on bread)
- rhubarb (maintenance free perennial - cook stems and sweeten to use as vegetable or in jams) [use in moderation because rhubarb is high in oxalic acid, which is nasty stuff if you get too much of it]
- strawberries (used fresh or in jams)
- tomatoes (high in vitamin C - used fresh in salads or on bread; canned as base for soup, meat tenderizer)
- cucumbers (high in vitamin A,C, phosphorous, magnesium and other minerals)

Vegetables (rest of the year):
Most of these would be stored throughout at least part of the winter season and therefore be used as cooked vegetables, in stews, etc. They tend to be more filling then summer vegetables and would rarely be used raw in salads.
- cabbage species (good source of Vitamin C, amino acids)
white cabbage (is really just meant for sauerkraut production folks)
red cabbage (served with enough vinegar to change its color)
savoy cabbage (tastes much better than white cabbage)
- cauliflower
- kale (high in vitamin C and various minerals)
- brussels sprouts (high in vitamins A,C and folic acid)
- leeks
- onions
- rutabagas (high in calcium)
- broccoli (high in vitamins A,B,C and phosphorus and potassium)
- peas (moderate amounts of vitamins A,C, calcium, iron, phosphorus - used as vegetable or as soup)
- green beans (high in vitamin A,C, dietary fiber - used fresh or canned)
- carrots (excellent source of vitamin A and beta-carotene)
- red beets (good source of carbohydrates)

This is a very complete list and not all crops were grown each year or by each family but finding 10-15 crops in a garden in the course of the year was the rule rather than the exception. Most of these crops grow best in temperate climates, so if you live in a warm or hot climate: forget about summer and grow them in the winter.

To round out the picture: the farmers usually had some apple and pear trees and sometimes plum trees in their yard. Then there were red and black currants, raspberry, blackberry and alderberry bushes. Most had at least a few chickens to turn food scraps into eggs and were fattening 1 or 2 pigs per year for personal use. Not much beef was consumed because dairy cows were supposed to be milked (some of that milk was for personal use). And a 10 year old cow can give you some really tough meat. If goats and/or sheep were kept their milk was used for cheese making. Fish might be consumed once a week because it had to be purchased even though it was readily available. Some crops (potatoes, onions, peas, beans) would mostly be grown in the fields for marketing purposes, but part of the crop was kept for personal use.

Food storage.
I won't bother to tell you about canning; many articles have been written about it already. Actually my preferred way to preserve vegetables is to freeze them because, if you do it right, frozen is hard to distinguish from freshly harvested. And, barring power outages, nothing spoils. With the exception of lettuce, radish and cucumber, all vegetables mentioned above can be frozen. Kale, leek, peas and beans can be frozen raw if needed, all others should be cooked first. Onions and rutabagas are usually stored dry, but if there are quality concerns or your onions won't dry properly, there is no harm in processing/freezing them. Cabbages, brussels sprouts and cauliflower can be stored from 2 to 6 weeks depending on temperature and quality of the crop. If their outer leaves turn yellow you should process or eat them. Carrots and beets can be kept several months in a cool somewhat moist area. In cold (not frozen), damp soil they will keep till spring without much deterioration. Cabbages, brussels sprouts and kale can be kept in the garden as long as temperatures don't drop much below freezing. To keep them from growing too large in the fall, you can lift them. This means you pull them straight up until you hear some roots break but leave the plant in the ground. This will keep your plants fresh but prevents additional growth. Leek will survive a light frost as well but its leaves become less appetizing once the plant stops growing.

Food preparation.
There's plenty of recipes on the internet so I am sure you can find something you like. However preparing your food correctly is very important because if you do it the wrong way you will loose all your nutrients to the drain or the kitchen sink. Here are the important steps: - Cook your veggies with salt: about 1 teaspoon (meal) to 1 tablespoon (large batches for freezing) depending on the size of your pots and pans. The reason is that you want to prevent the cells from bursting open during the cooking process (think salt water fish in fresh water). Don't worry about your salt intake because most of that salt will disappear down the drain again. I you get it right, it won't even alter the taste of the food.
- Do not overcook your veggies. If you can stick a fork into the stems (beets, carrots, etc.) without much effort then they are done. Again you do not want the plant's cells to spill their guts any more than you have to.
- When freezing your vegetables, you really only want to blanch them:
- Cook them a few minutes less then you would otherwise.
- Immediately pour the boiling water out of your pan and fill to the rim with cold water
- Immediately pour the hot water out of your pan and fill to the rim with cold water
- This water should stay cold or only get luke warm: pour it out
- Put the food in plastic bags or boxes and put it in the freezer
- When serving frozen foods you only need to heat them to the proper serving temperature; no need to cook them again. A microwave works great for this purpose.

I have read advice on gardening ranging from: 'here's a list, just get those seeds' to 'just eat what you like'. I agree with neither. Getting seeds if you don't know how to grow them or refuse to eat them afterwards is a waste of your efforts. Just eating what you like increases the chances you will develop some kind of deficiency (unless you happen to like broccoli, kale and cabbage - or follow Victory garden which uses a very well rounded subset of the list above).

My advice is: variety, variety, variety. Your body knows exactly what it needs and, given the opportunity, will pick those things in the right quantities from the food you give it. It doesn't get much easier than that! Your body is also capable of storing most minerals and vitamins in one form or another (sometimes as precursor molecules) for up to a few months. So there's no need to worry about what you eat on any given day. Tastes are acquired. I heard from my parents that kids in the old days didn't want to eat certain foods anymore than kids do today. However they weren't given much of a choice. Their own parents knew from experience that without the (vitamins and minerals from) vegetables, sickness and mortality skyrocketed. In Europe this situation persisted until around 1950. If you are serious about prepping you should know by now that we can get back to such a situation in a hurry.

Part 2: Why I am switching to an indoor setup:
Last year I read a primer on aquaponics on Survivalblog.com and deep inside there was the conviction that I too had to pursue this angle. Having had the time to reflect on that conviction I believe it has something to do what is coming our way. As of today I can think of two primary reasons:
- Fukushima-type reactor melt-downs
- Climate change

I am sure most of you know what Fukushima stands for. After matching atmospheric particle dispersion maps generated in Europe to systematic denials of North-American governments, I had quickly seen enough and got hold of a geiger counter. Even this summer, if we get rain after a dry spell the unit shows elevated readings when put it up against my rain gauge. The levels are not worrisome at this point in time in so far as many people on this planet live in areas with higher radiation without suffering noticeable negative effects. Having said that, the pattern is repeatable so there must be something raining down on my food. I am afraid that Fukushima will turn out to be just a warning of future nuclear disasters. Given that in many aspects it was a fairly standard type plant (albeit in an unfortunate spot), we need to seriously consider the possibility that we will see a dozen or more Fukushimas in the northern hemisphere due to grid down and/or extensive coastal flooding scenarios. Unfortunately both of these have a probability of happening this decade that is too high for my taste. So its time to prepare for that eventuality. My personal attitude on this one is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

When I mention climate change, I am not referring to the mainstream media (MSM) angle which blames everything on man-made carbon dioxide emissions and so it wants to tax them. Which is very convenient for MSM's owners who seem to be trying hard to get global weather patterns under control. Trying to control a complex system is a tough job because it doesn't necessarily react the way you expect. It is also an expensive proposition, so if you can use your mishaps to get taxpayers to fund your research, that's an added bonus. [One's got to admire that business model.] Now I know that this sounds a lot like some conspiracy theory. I have no interest in promoting those, however the weight of historical evidence (check the adventures of the vikings in Canada, for example) suggests that MSM is blowing another smoke screen. Which leads me to follow the money instead.

An even bigger influence on earth's climate is our solar system. On the one hand sunspot data suggests we should expect a cooling trend for the next 20 years. On the other hand satellite images from other planets suggest they are actually warming up. There is rampant speculation in some circles on the internet as to what would cause this but I haven't seen anything conclusive that's worth mentioning. Whatever may happen, physical evidence and the written records of our ancestors suggest that drastic climate change can come very quick. Think frozen mammoth with palm leaves between his teeth. I do not believe that I will join that mammoth otherwise I wouldn't need to prep. All I am saying is that to blindly assume all things will continue to be the way they always have been during my (relatively) short life is dangerous at best.

While working on this article, SurvivalBlog.com had a link to an article by Kellene Bishop that asserts we may be entering a seven year famine. It points out several more reasons why you may want to get your garden out of sight and an aquaponic garden would fill that bill rather nicely; it can also be used by people who have no access to a land area.

Of course, it doesn't help is that my outdoor vegetable garden isn't doing all that great this year. The weather events we have had since the start of the growing season aren't too extreme in and of themselves. Its just that the continued sequence of alternating high rainfall, high heat, baking sunshine and high winds is starting to stress the plants. They look like the big rains we have had are stunting their root systems and so the plants are unable to properly cope with the other events.

Alas, if our climate is really shifting gears, this situation will be the norm for coming years. And so its prudent for me to shift gears as well and I have started by building a small test setup this year with just 4 grow beds to try a bit of everything and whatever it yields is fine with me. Because it is a setup so very different from traditional soil based gardening, I have done some comparative tests on germination, fertilizing and growth medium particle size. So far I am quite pleased with the results and plan to go with 16 grow beds next summer. That should allow me to grow everything except my corn under a roof. I will relate some of my observations later but will first discuss my setup.

My choice of setup:
There are a variety of ponics systems and about the only thing they have in common is that they don't use soil. The so-called hydroponics system only uses water and no growth medium. It is mostly used in commercial operations. I wouldn't recommend it as a home based system because you will have to content with algae and fungal problems. Apparently algae will quite happily interfere with a plant's root system and need to be controlled at all cost. It also has a higher startup cost than other types of ponics systems due to required electronic control systems.

A complete aquaponics system is the most elegant because the plants live from the waste that the fish create, while in due time you can harvest both fish and vegetables. You can even grow your own fish food in the form of duckweed, making for an almost closed system that just needs sunlight and some minerals. I do not have a real aquaponics setup because the fish are missing. The reasons I chose not to use fish are of a practical nature. My growing season is too short (200 days at best) and temperatures vary too much day to day for the fish to really thrive. I have had a few aquariums over the years which worked fine but those were electronically controlled environments which I cannot hope to replicate with a solar powered aquaponics system at my current location.

In an aquaponics system you do need a growth medium to act as a biological filter that turns the fish waste into nitrates for the plants. I chose to keep the growth medium because it is a more natural environment for plant roots since they can grow in the dark, meaning no algae problems around the plant roots. It also means that I can run the system on manure tea if other forms of fertilizer are not available since the growth medium will act as a biological filter as well. Thirdly, nature abhors a vacuum and if you do not put your plants in an environment with lots of good microbes, the bad ones WILL move in. Again a growth medium is ideal to get the proper environment.

How I created a grow bed:
I started by cutting a plastic 55 gallon drum in half lengthwise to give me two grow beds. Clean them out really good and leave them outside in the sun for a few days so UV radiation can break down any leftover chemicals. If at all possible use drums that were used for food ingredients or chemicals that are approved for use in food factories. The grow beds lay side by side on a pair of 2x6's, supported by a small piece of 2x4 on each side so they don't slide around. You can find good pictures of how to build the supports in this document, which is where I got my first ideas. You will also see that my setup uses far fewer parts than the one in the document though. In the lowest part of each grow bed's bottom I cut a 1" hole using a hole saw. From the outside I put 1 leg of a 1" poly tee through the hole. This leg has a male pipe thread on it. Inside the grow bed I screwed a 1" female adapter onto this MPT leg. Make sure to put a liberal amount of silicone caulking around the MPT leg so your grow bed won't leak. You may want to test this before you put the growth medium in your beds.

Then I put a 8" piece of 1" poly pipe on the female adapter. This allows the end of the pipe to reach above the growth medium in the bed. Which means that you can always reach the bed's drain hole in case it gets plugged (one of my cucumbers decided to put a root through it ...). On the side of the hose/female adapter, about 2" above the bottom of the grow bed, I drilled a 1/4" drain hole. This hole determines the speed at which the water drains out of your grow bed. Putting it a few inches off the bottom leaves the plants a small emergency water supply should there be a pump problem. Over top of this drain assembly I put a piece of perforated plastic drain pipe to keep the growth medium from blocking the drain hole. This drain pipe is 4" diameter and can be cut lengthwise so it lays flat on the bottom of the grow bed. A length of 1 feet will do just fine. The drainpipe is shown in figure 25 in the above mentioned pdf document.

On top and around the drain pipe I put small rocks to act as fillers so I don't need as much growth medium. In a true aquaponics system you will want as much growth medium as possible because you need a large biofilter to buffer against quick changes in water quality. However plants can handle a wider variety of circumstances so I can get by with a lot less growth medium. My beds are filled with about 6" of medium at the center of the bed and spread out horizontally. This will fill the drum halves until the point where their walls are vertical. That gives me maximum growth space for minimum growth medium.

Growth medium:
Aquaponics people mostly seem to use expanded clay or pea sized gravel. I read about one setup in South America that used white sand. I couldn't find expanded clay at my local garden center but did try pea sized gravel along with much finer gravel that I got from a brook on our property. Based on my test results I have to say that the plants definitely prefer the finer gravel from the brook. Germination is better and initial growth is faster; as the plants mature the differences tend to get smaller. Presumably because finer material has a much larger surface area per cubic inch, creating a more even moisture/air environment for plant roots. As a result I am going to fill my beds with gravel from our brook. Since its consistency is close to that of coarse sand, you could use that instead of pea size gravel. If you decide to use sand you may need to put a layer of pea sized gravel over the drainpipe to prevent the sand from dropping into it. Do not be tempted to go cheap and use garden soil. It contains way too much silt and possibly clay. Both particles are microscopic in size and under an ebb and flow situation they will collect in low flow rate areas and form a layer that won't be appreciated by you or your plants.

How to create a system:
Creating a functioning system from the grow beds you made (doesn't matter how many) is fairly straight forward. Remember that every bed is outfitted with a tee. I use the two legs that are open on the outside of the bed to connect the beds together with 1" poly pipe (potable water rating), no hose clamps needed. One piece of poly pipe has a tee in it which is located above an opening in the collection tank. And that is the entire system for collecting the water that I pump into the beds and returning it to the collection tank.
The collection tank itself is simply a 55 gallon drum laying on its side (you want to keep the distance the pump has to lift the water as short as possible) with a few access holes for hoses and to add manure tea/fertilizer, made at its highest point. My collection tank is white which means I have some algae growth in it that I need to clean every once in a while. If you can: get a black drum or paint it black or put it in a hole in the ground to avoid sunlight from entering the tank. This greatly reduces algae growth in the tank.

To pump water into the grow beds I use a 1,000 GPH bilge pump (located at the bottom of the collection tank) with a 1" outlet that is connected to a poly pipe (with hose clamps) that runs to the top of the grow beds. [Because the return lines are gravity fed the bottom of the grow beds are located above the top of the collection tank.] At the top of the beds the poly pipe connects to a 1" PVC pipe. This PVC pipe runs across all 4 beds. In the middle of each bed there is a tee in the PVC pipe and connected to that tee is a PVC ball valve with a 1/2" opening. I found that I have to be able to adjust the amount of water going into each bed individually because of the variety of crops (and the different growth stages they are in) in the system at a given point in time. I have outfitted each valve with a splash guard (made from a 1 quart plastic bag) because plants do not like to be wet 24/7.

The waterpump operates on 12V so I can run it directly off a 12V battery that is charged by a solar panel. Operation has turned out to be very simple. I start a cycle by running the pump for 20 seconds. Then it is off for 30 minutes; this drains the grow beds to the point where water is just dripping into the collection tank. At that point you should start the next cycle. The actual length of the cycle will vary with the way you construct your grow beds. I have seen reports from people with larger beds that had a 2 hour cycle. You may be able to find an electronic timer that allows you to fine tune your cycle.

What I have described so far is your basic system. You can now let your imagination run wild to improve on it. For instance I built my own timer using a microcontroller that controls the bilge pump through an automotive type 40A relay. But the microcontroller had unused pins. That is an eyesore for any DIYer. So the system has been expanded with a voltage sensor, temperature sensors and float switches. This allows the microcontroller to actively manage water temperature via a second water pump and an external heat exchanger. It can monitor battery charge levels and stretch the flooding cycle if voltage drops too much. That will slow down the plants but at least it keeps them alive. It also monitors water levels and pump action to prevent pump damage. If it finds an issue that needs my attention it will signal this by turning on a red LED instead of a green one.

Housing:
As I mentioned way back when, one of my goals is to grow my veggies under a roof. I haven't build the housing yet but its on the drawing board and I have pretty much settled on the design. It will be a cross between a cold frame and a greenhouse. 2 units of 8' x 8' x 4' each. An 8' x 8' footprint holds 8 grow beds with a walkway in between. Each 4' high side panel will have a 2' translucent clear pvc panel at the top and white siding below. A unit's roof will be made of 2 4'x8' translucent clear pvc panels that can be easily removed. Putting the grow beds on the floor will leave the plants with about 3' of headroom which is enough for 2 tiers. For instance tomatoes, cucumbers and pole beans can be easily made to grow to a second story made from a horizontal sheet of lattice with lettuce, spinach, etc growing below. Similarly peas love to climb a wall of chicken wire. If I start the system early I should be able to get 2 crops or multiple harvests out of most beds, improving production considerably.

First impressions on germination:
This is what really blew me away. You basically throw your seeds on the rocks, barely cover them and walk away ... just to see the plants pop up in record time. Due to our short frost free season there are a number of crops that need to be started indoors. This year I divided those seeds in two portions and put half of them in trays with potting soil (mini greenhouses) to start them in the living room as I have done for many years. At the same time the other seeds were put in an aquaponic grow bed whose temperature ranged from high 40s in the morning to about 55 degrees at the end of the day. All crops emerged 1 to 2 days quicker in the grow bed than in the mini greenhouses and then simply kept outgrowing them.

Two striking examples:
- I planted 18 red cabbage seeds, 9 in each medium. In the aquaponics grow bed all 9 emerged and grew into healthy plants; in the mini greenhouse 1 cabbage plant emerged which died after 2 days.
- I had done a germination test of my tomato seeds in the living room to see how viable they were. I just kept them there until I saw a root come out of the seeds. No longer needing them I threw them on one of the aquaponics beds without bothering to cover them. Two days later I found a bunch of 1" high healthy tomato plants some of which are now setting fruit.

On fertilization:
I started the system out with using just manure tea. Apparently you can make tea from pretty much any type of manure as well as from compost. Your mileage will vary because each type of tea will have different amounts of NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) in it, chicken manure being the highest rated.

Using just manure tea, the plants grew okay but not as I expected. They looked pale green and spindly as in suffering from nitrogen deficiency. After letting them muddle on for about a month, I decided to add some commercial fertilizer (10-10-10) that I use in my outdoor garden. Took a 2 handfuls of it, put it in a bottle with two quarts of water, shook for a minute and dumped it in the aquaponic system's collection tank which held about 40 gallons of water. [Repeat once a week when plants are small and increase frequency as required during the season.]

Once again the system did not let me down. The plants turned noticeably darker pretty much overnight and took off. Growth rates easily match the best performances I have seen in any outdoor garden. Because the commercial fertilizer only supplies NPK I still feed the system a pail of manure tea once or twice a week along with a few tablespoons of sea salt once a week to make sure there are enough trace minerals in the system. Kelp is supposed to work really well too but for me it is expensive to get and as long as I see no deficiencies in the plants I see no need to use it.

On water issues:
The water I use comes from a 150 ft deep well we use for drinking water so I am not worried about its quality or contents. Water usage is minimal when the plants are small. Now that all beds are filled with more or less fully grown plants setting fruit and seeds, they use up to 8 gallons per day. Tomatoes and cucumbers seem to be the biggest users. Unless your water is very hard, you may need to add some lime or other pH booster to your system because the water will get more acidic as the season goes on. This is due to bacterial activity in the grow beds. My setup has come down from around pH=6.8 to pH=6 which is about the minimum I want to see. With the exception of red beets the plants don't seem to mind at all though. I did buy nitrate and pH test kits so I could see what goes on in the system. I never see any measurable free nitrates so I guess I could put more fertilizer in the system but the plants look healthy so I won't over do it.

On bugs/diseases:
I haven't noticed any real problems yet. As expected there have been some caterpillars showing up on the cabbages. I tried to get rid of them with diatomaceous earth. It killed some but not all. Since I am a bit pressed for time this summer I sprayed the cabbages with a systemic chemical (same as you use for corn borer) which takes care of the problem in a day or two. An easy way to avoid them is to put screening over the beds where you grow these crops as it keeps out the butterflies. But make sure not to keep the bees away from your tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and peas. I didn't expect to see any soil borne diseases in the beds and to-date they haven't shown up. Nor have I seen any other signs of trouble.

If there are readers that are venting steam from their ears by now because I have broken all the rules of aquaponics and organic gardening: that's okay, I understand. But I am rather pragmatic about it. My goal is to grow food; lots of it in a small space, with minimal inputs. I need to know what I can and cannot do. I won't put stuff that I know is bad for me on my food, but if it is not bad and fixes a problem for me, I have no problem putting it on. Do I think fertilizer and chemicals will always be readily available? No, that is why I am trying to find the best alternatives while I have the opportunity.

Well, I think I have covered just about all aspects by now. I hope this will give you enough information to determine if (modified) aquaponics is something that fits your preparation needs. My garden is fairly large as I grow veggies for a few families. The goal with 16 grow beds is to match that output. Your system could be much smaller. For instance I still have 4 unused (20"x4"x4") planters laying around. I plan on sealing their drainage holes and turning them into a small indoor system to grow herbs and start seedlings indoors. Together with a 5 gallon pail, an old aquarium pump and a timer they should do the trick. Happy gardening.

JWR Adds: I only recommend hydroponic gardening for families that have very copious and continuous power such as that provided by micro-hydro, photovoltaics, or an on-site natural gas well with redundant generators. Without a stable power supply, electric pumps don't pump, and you'll be back to traditional dirt gardening, very quickly.


Monday, August 6, 2012


Dear Mr. Rawles,
I've been an organic farmer in Ontario Canada for 12 years, and thought Chris S made some excellent points regarding underestimating the amount of fresh food required to sustain life.  I've 'done the math' myself, and found that a subsistence garden consisting of potatoes, corn, winter squash and beans would require a minimum of 5,000 square feet per person to provide 2,000 calories per day over the course of a year.
 
These crops were chosen with consideration for yield, nutrition, and storability. Another consideration is repeatability i.e. the ability to replant from your own stores.
 
Assuming you wanted 25% of calories from each crop, expected yield from this garden would need to be 90 lbs beans (dried), 100 lbs dried corn, 400 lbs potatoes, and 700 lbs squash. This is achievable on good land and with good farming practice, but you are only one crop failure away from starvation. Even experienced growers can have crop failures. For example, this summer very few of my winter squash set fruit because of excessive hot/dry conditions. If I was depending on this crop for survival, I would be in trouble. So I would want to increase the planting of all crops by at least half, and have some 'cushion'.
 
By the way, the same tendency to underestimate applies to livestock as well. My in-laws were recently visiting, and were surprised to find I was raising 75 roaster chickens just for the two of us. I explained this was only 3 chickens every two weeks over the course of a year, certainly not excessive even if I get two meals from each bird (I usually get more than that because I make soup and stock as well).
 
By the way, I raise my meat birds in outdoor portable pens, and rotate them and my pigs through the garden area. This seems to benefit both vegetable and livestock crops.
 
Chris S is providing a valuable 'reality check' in his article, to which I hope I've contributed. Not to say a smaller plot of land can't contribute, but self-sufficiency in food takes a lot of space and skill.
 
Scott K. - Ontario, Canada


Thursday, August 2, 2012


History is our best teacher and we can learn a lot about human survival strategies of the past. Our ancestors somehow survived famine, drought and a host of natural disasters. Some used brute force to take what they wanted; others were skillful thieves or were just lucky. A few of these ancestral survivors actually thrived. They thrived because they used their wits and prepared for any unforeseen disaster.        

Beyond natural disasters there has always been the most un-natural of all disasters, war. War is arguably the most difficult of all conditions to survive, soldier and civilian alike. We can learn survival lessons from the survivors of war.   
During World War 1 and again in World War II American civilians were encouraged to grow what was called, a victory garden. In 1943 the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a pamphlet titled, Victory Garden: Leader’s Handbook which suggested 14 home grown crops.

Here is the list from 1943;
Greens: (Spinach, Chard or Kale)
Lettuce: (Leaf or Head), Cabbage
Tomatoes, Soy Beans, Snap Beans
Lima Beans, Peas (shelled)
Asparagus, Carrots and/or Beets
Turnips and/or Parsnips, Onions
Strawberries and/or Raspberries

The list also mentioned radishes, peppers, onions and pole beans.

Take note that the suggested vegetable list for planting a Victory Garden did not contain: Corn, Potatoes, Squash, Broccoli, Yams (Sweet Potatoes), Cauliflower, 
Eggplant, Artichokes, Spinach,
Leeks, Brussel Sprouts, Celery,
Collard Greens, Garlic, Cucumbers,
Pumpkin, Zucchini or Okra. Also absent were Grains, Herbs and Spice Plants. It must be noted that some of the un-listed crops have a low yield to grow space ratio or insect and disease vulnerability, require special care and handling, high water requirements, specialized fertilizer needs or seasonal pollinators, among others. 
What is most surprising was the amount of each vegetable needed to feed one person. You needed to multiply the number in your family plus one extra for an emergency and/or charity. Example: Tomatoes-Amount to be used fresh, stored and canned for one person is 120 lbs. For a family of four, plus one for an emergency and/or charity, you need to grow 600 lbs of tomatoes.
For snap beans-Amount to be used fresh, stored and canned for one person is 56 lbs of pole beans. For a family of four, plus one for an emergency and/or charity, you need to grow 280 lbs of snap beans.
It will require the planting of 25 tomato seedlings per person to harvest 120 lbs of tomatoes. For a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, it will require the planting of 125 tomato seedlings.       
It will require the planting 1.5 lbs of snap bean seeds per person to harvest 56 lbs of snap beans. For a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, it will require the planting of 7.5 lbs of snap bean seeds.
For a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, it will require 375 linear feet of rows to grow the tomatoes. For a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, it will require 750 linear feet of rows to grow the snap beans.
So, to grow enough tomatoes and snap beans for a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, you will need to cultivate 1,125 linear feet of soil.
To grow a crop for a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, planting all 14 of the suggested vegetables listed in the Victory Garden: Leader’s Handbook you will need 5,605 linear feet of rows.
Maybe they should have called it a Victory Farm not a Victory Garden.

If you intend to plant a Survival Garden that is capable of supplying an adequate amount of vegetables, it is obvious that you will need a very large piece of land. You must also keep in mind that if you are forced to flee, you will have to leave your crops behind. You can take your crops with you if they are growing in containers. But, unless you are fleeing in a semi-tractor trailer truck or towing a huge, double decked trailer, taking your crops with you is not an option.   

There is an alternative that you can consider, something learned from the survivors of the past. Perhaps above all, in 1943 the most difficult circumstance to be in was that of a prisoner of war.
The Allied prisoners of World War II tell of the four most valuable possessions a POW could have, nicotine (tobacco), ethanol (alcohol) caffeine (tea), and sugar. Any POW that possessed or could get his hands on any of these four items could thrive during captivity.

There are stories of some POWs who died from hunger and malnutrition because they traded away their meager rations of food for tobacco and alcohol. Here the statements, “I am dying for a smoke” and “I am dying for a drink” are literally true.   A survival garden full of delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables will help you and your family to survive. But, if you want to thrive there are a few plants you need to add to your survival garden, no matter its size.

Using the lesson from the POWs you should grow tobacco plants, tea plants and sugarcane. All of these valuable “cash” crops are hardy, easy to grow almost anywhere and they are well suited for propagation in portable containers. Additionally, these cash crops have multiple uses.

Tobacco has uses beyond the obvious smoking or chewing. Tobacco can be used as an insecticide, a pest, rodent and insect repellent, among others.
Tea leaves are even more functional with more than 40 common uses.

Sugarcane has been a valued commodity for thousands of years. Sweet cane, as it was called, is mentioned three times in the Bible as a prized burnt offering. Sugarcane can be used to make crystallized sugar with all of its usefulness but, the other priceless article of trade from sugar cane juice is the production of high proof alcohol. Ethyl alcohol has many uses beyond drinking, such as a fuel source, a disinfectant, a preservative and an anesthetic, to name just a few. These three plants can be extremely precious possessions for trade and barter. Maybe pound for pound and space for space, tobacco, tea and sugarcane are the most prized of all legally grown plants. The seeds of all three of these prized plants are available online at very low cost. 

Now, I come to the final and arguably the most valuable plant in the Survival Garden. Most people call it a scourge and a curse. I call it The Doomsday Plant. It is a plant that has helped ancestral survivors thrive in the most difficult of times. The Doomsday Plant is one of the fastest growing, hardiest, pest and disease resistant plants on Earth and can be propagated in almost every state, including Alaska. It can be grown in portable containers filled with poor quality soil and needs little water and little or no fertilizer. Once the Doomsday Plant is established, it is actually difficult to kill.  

The Doomsday Plant will feed you and your family breakfast, lunch and diner. The Doomsday Plant is highly nutritious and is one of only a few plants that are high in protein. It is sold in health food stores as a dietary supplement.
You can grind and dry the root and seeds into a flour to make pancakes, bread, pastries and other baked goods. Use the leaves in place of lettuce for salads and sandwiches.
Boil the young leaves and eat them like spinach and use them as an ingredient in soups and stews.
Fry the large older leaves in oil and snack on them, just like potato chips.
The flowers can be made into jelly, preserves and an ingredient for candy.
The Doomsday Plant can be made into strong rope and string, it can be used to weave baskets, hats and even be made into furniture, kindling and firewood.
You can turn the Doomsday Plant into Bio-Fuel, both ethyl and grain alcohol.
It will feed goats, cattle, horses, rabbits and most other grazing animals.  
What is the common name of this miracle plant? It is called Kudzu, the bane and blight of the southeastern states.
Warning: Growing Kudzu is only for the most dire of all survival situations.
Kudzu is one of the most invasive species of all plants. If left unchecked and not controlled it will grow like a mindless monster, covering everything that doesn’t move. One single seed can create a nightmare. To contain Kudzu it must be handled diligently. Grow Kudzu only in a container whose drain holes are screened or covered in such a way that the roots cannot escape into the surrounding ground and as added insurance, place the container on a slab of cement or other ground barrier. You must also cut off the seeds before they mature. If you want to save the seeds, trap the immature seeds inside a secured plastic bag and carefully cut off the mature seed stem to safely remove them.
Kudzu seeds are by their very nature, self-preserving. They can be stored in a cool, dry and dark place for many years. The wise survivalist who strives to thrive will either collect wild Kudzu seeds or buy them on-line and store them until needed.
So, I recommend that you grow a few containerized tobacco, tea, sugarcane and kudzu plants. If you are forced to flee from your survival garden, you can take them with you and trade some of your cash crop for food and other items.   

Look to the past and start thinking about ways to thrive and not just survive.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I keep coming across misinformation on some of the prep sites I’ve encountered and thought it would be helpful to set some things straight with regard to seeds, seed storage and growing food and other useful plants. Here are some myths I’ve encountered and my attempts at clarification. While the misinformation may not endanger you, it can prevent you from using all resources available or create some false expectations.

Myth 1: If you save seeds from hybrid plants (commercial seeds, not heirloom), you’ll starve.
Seeds from hybrid plants, in my experience, will not fail to grow – they’re just not likely to produce what you expected. Hybrids do not breed true because a certain proportion of the off-spring will revert to the type of the parents. What you get will depend somewhat on what parent plants were used to produce the hybrid and what pollen your plant encountered when it was blooming. The resulting plants may not be hearty or continue to prosper after a few generations, but some will do just fine. It’s a bit of a crap shoot what you’ll end up with. I’ve had volunteer plants of various kinds grow in my compost heap, and it’s always amusing to see what strange and interesting produce appears from the seeds of hybrids I grew the year before. I got what looked like a white acorn squash one year and another volunteer was a particularly weird kind of melon of uncertain origin. They were still very tasty. You can pollinate your plants by hand (with a little paint brush substituting for a bee to carry the pollen) if you want to control what your plants encounter, or you can trust nature to find a stable strain that works for you. Open pollination encourages genetic diversity, and that’s a good thing in the plant world. 

Myth 2: You should keep fruit seeds and nuts for growing trees.
Fruit trees can produce wildly different types of fruit from the same tree’s seeds. Fruit trees for sale from your nursery are not produced from hybrid seeds. Fruit trees and some other fruits like grapes are made to produce consistent fruit by grafting the desired plant from a single source onto a hearty root stock. All the trees are exact clones of the original. You can grow fruit plants from seeds, but there’s no telling what the fruit will be like. If you have a tree that has fruit you really like, you can perpetuate it by grafting. Grafting isn’t very difficult, but may require a little practice. A sturdy, disease resistant base plant is essential (in the 1870s France’s vineyards were saved from near total destruction from a parasite infestation by grafting their plants onto resistant grape vine root stocks from Missouri). Another thing about fruits: some will not self pollinate (apples, for example) and a second plant of a different variety (called a cultivar) may be required within a specified area to allow you to have fruit. Of course, you will also need pollinating insects to carry the pollen between trees, and ideally the trees shouldn’t be further than 300 feet apart. Mulberry and olive trees are wind pollinated, but for mulberries you need a male tree to pollinate your female, fruit bearing trees. Nut trees aren’t as much of a problem with regard to breeding true, but nut trees that grow here in Missouri must be about 10 years old before they begin to produce useful nuts. It’s best to have mature trees scoped out on or near your property or to plant them now to get them started before you need them. Nut trees are wind and self pollinating and should be within 50 feet of each other to allow good pollination for successful production.

Myth 3: You have to have a garden to produce fresh food.
The quickest way to get something fresh into your diet, especially in the dead of winter, is by sprouting. Seeds and beans sprout within days and are loaded with nutrition -- far more than the seeds alone. Sprouting requires a little water, a tiny bit of daily attention, and a container that lets you wet the seeds without allowing them to mold. I use a large glass honey jar with a bit of fine mesh (a scrap from a wedding veil) held in place with a rubber band. Spicy sprouts like radish can add snap to bland preserved food. You can even sprout seeds while you’re bugging out by using a mesh bag to carry the sprouts (hikers sometimes do this -- a sort of garden on your back).

Myth 4: You have to buy seeds.
If your plants are heirloom varieties or you’re sprouting potatoes from your existing harvest or you’re growing herbs, you can perpetuate your plants nearly indefinitely. As I said before, if you’re willing to take some risks, you can get seeds from hybrids as well. Annuals like mint grow almost like perennials because they reseed themselves so readily. Herbs grow happily from seeds you gather or from the ones the plants themselves drop. Perennials like asparagus, rhubarb, garlic and cane berries such as raspberries only require a bed and occasional fertilizer like manure (human will do) to keep feeding you for years. Some perennial herbs don’t even need fertilizer and are hearty and drought resistant – you’re more likely to be beating them into submission to prevent them taking over your garden than worrying about how to keep them growing. Many plants can be grown from cuttings, runners, tubers and other asexual reproductive processes making plants that are genetically identical to their parent source. This has a bit of danger in that if all your plants are only one variety and a disease hits them, your whole crop will be wiped out (as happened during the Irish potato famine). Diversity is never a bad idea. Having at least two varieties of any kind of plant you like is preferable.

Myth 5: You can’t store seeds forever.
Well, this isn’t quite a myth, but seeds that are dry and stored away from moisture, excessive heat and light in air tight containers can last years. The germination rate may go down a bit after a few years so you might want to plant a few seeds per pot when getting them started, then transplant when you know what you’ve got. You can always check your germination rate by wetting seeds and sprouting them to see what percentage will be successful. I’ve had years old seeds that looked dead germinate a week after they would ordinarily been expected to. I guess they just took longer to wake up than fresher seeds. While seeds can germinate after years in storage, it’s ideal to periodically grow some new plants from your old seeds and save a fresh batch of seeds from the resulting produce. Always label the seeds with the date and rotate out your seed stores periodically if you can, but don’t panic if the only seeds you can find are from five or ten years ago. Chances are pretty good some of those will germinate and even one successful plant can produce many new seeds with good germination rates. After all, the oldest seeds to germinate have been 1300 (lotus) and 2000 (date palm) years old.

Myth 6: You should have seeds for these plants: (someone’s list follows)
Maybe, but if it includes things you and your family would never eat, that list is not very useful. Some things may not grow in your area or in your soil. If all you can grow is a container garden, some varieties of plants won’t work for you at all. Your personal list should be plants you can use and you have experience with. Add a few new plants to your garden each year if you can, or if your space is limited, rotate in new plants and retire out previous successes. Experiment, let things go to seed, learn as much as you can about the life cycle of your plants so you’ll know what to expect. A few years with a variety can teach you a lot about what changes in temperature and water can do to your harvest. Like me, one year you may be dumping cucumbers on anyone who’ll stand, still then begging for the favor returned the next year. On the other hand, my tomatoes and herbs never fail, my eggplants never succeed.
Having said that one list will not serve for all, I believe some plants are incredibly versatile and really deserve your consideration. Radishes make great sprouts, both the greens and the roots are good to eat, and the seed pods are a spicy treat that can be used like snow peas or other pod vegetables. Flax seeds can be sprouted or used for oil (linseed oil) for cooking, burning in lamps, or in wood finishing; and the fibers from the plant can be used for lamp wicks, rope and cloth; and an added bonus, flax flowers are quite pretty.
There aren’t too many things that corn hasn’t been used for including as a vegetable, a source of oil, and for meal and flour; but other grains and plants can be equally versatile and are often less resource intensive. Nuts can provide butters for eating, and the oil that separates out can be used for cooking or burning in oil lamps just as the ancient Romans used olive oil. These lamps are not as bright as kerosene but burn with little or no smoke or odor. If you remove enough of the oil from a nut, the flour remaining is high in protein and can be used to supplement grain flours.

If one final myth you believe is (Myth 7) you must grow domestic garden plants, let me say a few words in praise of the more nontraditional garden.  I need not mention the “weeds” growing in your yard that are good to eat as this has been handled by other writers, but don’t forget dandelions, wood sorrel, violets, and other edibles. You can also have mushrooms in your basement, a key lime tree on your sun porch and pots of herbs on your kitchen window ledge. But there are other plants that might be in your yard that are sources of food, too. Day lilies are grown as an ornamental, but you should experiment with eating them as a vegetable. They require no attention and come back every year. All parts of the plant are edible, as are all parts of the cattails that are growing in your pond or water feature – just make sure the water they are growing in is not contaminated. Rose hips, the red fruit on the rose bushes after the flowers have gone, are loaded with vitamin C, an essential nutrient that can be in short supply in some preserved foods. Redbud tree blossoms and seed pods are edible, and the trees are hearty and self sustaining. Many plants that are grown as ornamentals are good food, as long as you’re careful to identify them correctly and not confuse them with the sometimes toxic things that also can grow in yards and gardens. Experimenting with edible landscaping can increase your available resources without much added effort to your gardening as well as helping to disguise your supplies to protect them from thieves. There’s no reason why food can’t be beautiful, sustainable and very nearly free.


Friday, July 20, 2012


JWR,
First of all thank you for your blog.  I have been reading it every day for the last year. J.D. in Texas offers some good information regarding Concrete Masonry Units(CMUs), however I may be able to share some more details.  I have also been in the concrete masonry business for about 22 years.  The first thing to consider when using concrete masonry is to avoid breathing any dust from the units, such as when a unit is cut, split, or ground.  At the very least use a N95 or N99 dust mask.  If you are cutting a CMU then use a wet saw if you can.  The concern of the previous article was with Fly Ash which is a product derived from the scrubbers from coal fired power plants.  It can contain some potentially dangerous chemicals such as mercury, antimony, barium, and strontium to name a few.  It is used as a partial replacement for regular cement to actually produce a better finished product.  Fly Ash can increase the long term strength, durability, freeze-thaw resistance, permeability, and road salt resistance.  Many State D.O.T.’s have requirements to use Fly Ash at certain concentrations to improve bridges and roadways. 

An important concept to understand about concrete is that it gets stronger with age due to a reaction with water called hydration.  Most concrete is considered cured at 28 days, Fly Ash concrete is generally considered cured at 56 days, although the curing process never truly ends.  One hundred year old concrete has been tested and it was found to still be curing.  The other important concept to know is that the ingredients of concrete are generally bound within the matrix (internal structure) of the concrete.  There is likely only one pound or less of Fly Ash in a typical 8”x 8”x 16” CMU, which would only contain a very small percentage of potentially toxic materials that will not likely be released from the concrete. 

Considering other building materials for a raised bed?  Pressure treated lumber contains toxic materials, Railroad ties? - don’t even think about it [because they are permeated with toxic creosote, copper naphthenate, and other chemicals] Brick? - Clay brick can also contain fly ash.  I would not hesitate to build a raised bed with concrete masonry units; in fact I have one in the works.  If you are concerned I would just allow a little extra distance between your plantings and the sides of the CMUs.  You could also paint the units with a low-volatile organic compounds (VOC) latex based paint to seal the units if you like.  Also not all units will necessarily contain Fly Ash; if you have concerns you need to express them to your local concrete masonry producer.  Some CMU manufactures use standard cement and or Slag Cement as a partial replacement for traditional cement and there are not any known contamination concerns with these products.  Slag cement is derived from steel production and has some of the same benefits to concrete as Fly Ash without the negatives. - M.L. in Kentucky


Thursday, July 19, 2012


When it comes to food storage, people that I have talked with have almost always made the comment that they can barely afford to feed their family now much less afford to have food storage.  I am currently working with a few people and teaching them how to feed their family and still put food up for TEOTWAWKI.  There are three things that I tell people to always do, (1) gardening, (2) couponing, and (3) food co-ops.

(1) Gardening.  When TSHTF, you don’t want to be changing the way that your family eats because then you could be facing worse problems.  So the number 1 thing to do is to start a garden.  You are going to want to already know how to grow your own food to be able to replenish your food storage and maintain a constant supply of food.  I always tell people to both feed your family from your garden as well as preserve what you grow.  Start with heirloom seeds so that you can also learn how to save the seeds from what you grow.  Your startup will be more with getting the proper seeds and tools to do the work.  When you grow and preserve your own food storage, you have the ability to learn the art of gardening, seed saving, and know that your family will eat and already be adjusted to the foods that you grow as well as save money.  Fresh fruits and vegetables from your home garden are healthier for you because you are able to control the pesticides and environment that they are grown in.  Once you have all that fresh fruits and vegetables, you need to preserve them before they go bad.  You can dehydrate and can them.  Look at thrift stores and yard/garage sales for canning equipment including canning jars as well as dehydrators.  You would be surprised at what people get rid of, especially in the times that we are in.  Get creative with this, there are so many things that you can do with all those fruits and vegetables.  Tomato’s for examples, you can dehydrate them and then eat them as a snack or put through a blender for tomato powder.  When you can them, you can make spaghetti sauce, chili sauce, tomato sauce, ketchup, barbeque sauce, et cetera.

(2) Couponing.  There are so many coupons out there that no one uses.  Ask around and I’m sure you can find people that will give you theirs that they aren’t going to use.  Check the local library, they usually have a box for people to drop off coupons, and join a couponing group where you can swap ones you will not use for ones that you will.  I was just at the store and had been able to get a total of 28 Heinz Vinegar coupons for $1 off any one.  They were priced at Wal-Mart for $1.12, so after the coupon I only paid out of pocket 12 cents each.  You can get a lot of stuff for storage fast using your local stores sales and combining a coupon.  Not only can you get the coupons from the Sunday papers, but there are lots of sites online that you can print coupons as well such as coupons.com, as well as being able to download coupons on your store saving card.  Watch at the stores, there are always displays that have coupons attached to.  You can either use them then or save them for a sale.  I got some coupons in the Sunday paper for Ball or Kerr canning jars, when I went to the store and bought them, there was coupons on the side of the packages and inside were coupons for the lids, pectin, produce protector, and more.  There are also times when there are coupons put out for items that will give you an overage.  There was a $3 off any Bayer aspirin coupon and at Wal-Mart the regular price for the low dose is $2.22 resulting in a 78 cent per bottle overage.  I had 10 coupons so I bought 10 of them and all of them were free and I got a total of $7.80 off of my shopping trip.  There are times when you don’t have to wait for a sale, but for the most part you are going to want to hold on to your coupons to combine with a sale and if possible a store coupon.  Always remember to check your expiration dates, you don’t want to stock up on a bunch of items that will be expiring in a month. Coupons are everywhere you just have to keep your eyes open for them.

(3) Food co-ops.  My favorite is Bountiful Baskets.  Check their web site as see if they have a page for your state.  I go on and get my basket as well as being able to get fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk at discounted prices as an add on to bring home and preserve.  I have gotten wheat, fruits, and vegetables from there.  Co-ops also give you more of a variety of new things to try and see if your family likes or not.  You can also find food co-ops through any local farmers in your area.  When it comes to co-ops, the sky’s the limit.  My father-in-law has apple trees and my kids and I will go over there during harvest time and pick as many as we can hold.  My father-in-law provides his own canning jars and in exchange, when I am making apple butter, apple sauce, jelly, apple pie in a jar, etc., I can up extra jars for him and get my apples for free all it takes is my time.  Ask around to people that you know that fruit trees and see if you can come over when they are ripe and pick some, most of the time they will let you because they don’t want what they won’t use to go to waste.  I always offer to can some extra for them if they supply their own jars and lids.  It doesn’t take any longer to do up a couple more jars for them and then they will be happy that you are offering to do something for what you are wanting from them.  When people see that you are offering to do all of the work they are willing to let you take as much as you want.  Another place to look is your local farmer’s market.  You can find lots of good prices there as well as being able to get an idea on what items grow good in your area.  You don’t want to stock up on a bunch of seeds that will not grow in the region that you live in.

Go out and talk to people and see what they have and what they do.  Talked to the people that work at your local nurseries, they know what will grow and what not to waste your time on for the area that you live in.  A good rule of thumb is try it yourself.  Everyone told me that you couldn’t grow peanuts where I live and I decided to try it myself.  They are growing good in my garden, I just have to wait and see if they produce.  If they do, then I will be glad that I tried it out for myself.  Listen to what people have to say but also try it for yourself.  It is best to find out now then when it’s too late and you are counting on your garden to be able to feed yourself and family when there is no grocery store to go to.  You don’t have to tell them what you are doing, from my experience when I ask questions people seem to like to show off how much they know they don’t seem to ask to many questions.

If you have a group together that you will be with WTSHTF, working together as a group now will enable you to work together as a group better when it is really needed.  I concentrate more on food storage then I do anything, don’t get me wrong, anything can happen and it is always best to make sure that everyone in the group has everything that they will need to sustain life should you all not be able to make it to your suggested location, however, working as a team to find the best deals will enable you all to get a better variety of food storage then working alone and not as a team.  There are people that I know that know people that I don’t and have access to different fruit trees then I do and just by putting the work out there sometimes you can get more then if you worked by yourself.  A word of caution though, is be careful with whom you talk to.  I don’t go around announcing to people that I am a prepper, because there are too many people that do see a need for it, and those are the people that WTSHTF are going to be either knocking on your door for help or worse yet, trying to by force take what you have worked so hard to get. 

Pay attention to all of the resources out there on how to get yourself your food storage and save money at the same time.  With using the techniques I have described, I have been able to not only feed my family, have a good variety of food storage, but also cut our grocery bill down by half each month.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012


JWR:
I have read plenty of entries on your site about people using concrete block ("cinder block") for square foot gardening and raised bed gardening.  I didn't know how to post this so, I thought I would just email you this information.
 
I have been in the Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) (Concrete Block) industry for almost 11 years.  I started as a yard hand and have recently worked my way up to Plant Manager and Site Safety Manager (two hats due to downsizing and the economy).  I see many people write about using these CMUs or cinder blocks to build raised beds and also to plant directly inside the cells of this block.  I am offering a warning of the possibility of poisons in this product and stressing that I would never grow my food in it.  The product Fly Ash is used as a Portland Cement replacement for up to 30% of the cement used to manufacture these products.  For those of you unaware, Fly Ash is a by product of burning coal.  The EPA is and has for the last year been doing a study to decide whether or not to label Fly Ash as a Hazardous Waste due to the high levels of mercury, arsenic, and lead; leaving some "Industry Folk" to refer to concrete as the "New Asbestos" or the "New Lead Paint".  Though there is no definite date set for a decision the ball has started rolling.  The EPA knows this product is unhealthy, I know this product is unhealthy (and wouldn't dare chance putting it into my children's mouth), and now you can make an informed decision on how you feel about it.  Just google "Is Fly Ash Toxic" and you will see all the information available on this material allowing you to make an informed decision of your own.  With all the trials and tribulations we face I would hate to know that I was poisoning myself with the very food I prepped to save me.
 
Blessings, - J.D. in Texas


Sunday, July 15, 2012


Well I must say after prayer and a heart to heart with the Almighty and many undisputable news about our economy I have felt the need to start prepping.  Oh and where to start? Wow was I ever overwhelmed at the prospect of starting prepping for an economic collapse or other unfortunate event.

First, telling the hubby. I got laughed at. Yes, I was down. But I found SurvivalBlog.com, where I got started with baby steps. So off to the grocery store I went. I started a little bit at a time, buying rice and canned items on sale.  Then the adventure begins!

Storage
- Now in Texas most of us do not have basements or root cellars. The weather is ever changing. The hot humid weather just doesn’t allow for good conditions. Basements flood out, have seepage or root cement cellars crack due to the ground that shifts constantly in our area especially. We suffer from heat, extreme humidity and we mildew and mold a lot. If you do decide to purchase a pre-made one, you must have a dehumidifier. Your best bet would be to have a good, dark cool closet in your house.  Some people have put there root veggies under the house wrapped in newspaper with chicken wire to keep varmints away. It will keep the potatoes fresher longer (unless your house is on a slab, then find a good cool, dark spot in the house away from everything, do not store on carpet--use cardboard, or cardboard boxes,etc). So I have designated space in a closet or two.  I also purchased some extra shelving, etc.

Canning-
You must practice your canning before TSHTF. Believe me, don’t wait till it happens to decide to get the pressure cooker out and learn how. Get it out now. Practice, just like anything else, you have got to learn it. It is not easy at first. Enlist help in the older generation, a grandma, aunt, etc. Make sure your stove can use the pressure cooker. Mine was a smooth top. Not all smooth top ranges can use all pressure cookers.  You can also purchase a separate burner or use the Coleman Stove. Make sure you check the cans after a couple of months and see if they show signs of mold or anything. Make sure you did them correctly. Taste test some.  Practice making meals with some of the food you have stored.

Grains-
Storing grains won’t be hard if done correctly. Remember Texas is humid, all year long, even in winter.  Make sure area is cool.  Use those O2 absorbers, they will be very helpful. If you don’t you prepare well you will have rancid grain and weevils (nasty pests). Make sure you plan for possible rats or mice too (sticky traps or regular traps). From my experience flour doesn’t store well. Wheat stores much better. Best get a good grinder. Storing rolled oats for oatmeal is also excellent.

Water-
There are many lakes and tanks (ponds) to fish or gather water on, but these are usually on someone’s land. So be careful or you could have the barrel of a gun pointed at you if you trespass. Most Texans band together in a crisis. If you have something to trade or barter and are friendly, most likely you will find a friend. Also, if you are storing water, be careful of the containers. The cheap plastic milk like containers don’t last long if not stored properly. They leak and make a mess! Buy water storage barrels or water storage tanks if possible.

Power-
So far, we have bought a wind up flashlight that will charge our cell phones. It also has an AM/FM radio. We are also installing solar panels for energy. In Texas, we get plenty of sunlight so that will not be a problem.

Security
- Guns and Ammo.  In, Texas of course Guns. But with that knowing how to use them properly. So we are all taking a gun safety course. [JWR Adds: For those in humid climates I recommend buying as many stainless steel guns as possible, and frequently cleaning and inspecting your guns for any signs of rust. (Mark your calendar if you are the forgetful sort.) Your gun vault or hidden firearms wall cache should be equipped with a Golden Rod dehumidifier. That small investment will save you much grief, later!]

Weather
- in Texas, you need to be prepared for all types of weather.  Sometimes in December you get 80 degree days and in April you may get snow. The old saying “Yup, if you don't like the weather in Texas, wait five minutes -- it'll change!” Our weather is definitely one of a kind. In the summer it is very hot. The difference in our heat as compared to other I think is the humidity. You could get a heat stroke very easily. So without air conditioning to which we are all accustomed, it would be quite a change. In the summer, in Texas it gets very hot. Do not cook indoors.  Consider installing heat reflective film on your windows or get them tinted before TSHTF. This will cut down on your electric bill and save money right now! We did it and it really does help.  Use shelters like overhangs, patio overheads and awnings to prevent the stream of sunlight through the windows on the sides of your home that face south and west.  Ice down or soak a bandana in cold water and wear around your neck. Keep hydrated. Avoid tea, caffeine and alcohol. You don’t want to end up with a heat stroke. Okay, winter time. Good thing is we don’t have too many really cold days but we do have some. The best thing would be to have a wood stove in the winter to heat the house.  Our roads are not made for ice. Have extra chains for your truck or SUV in case of those rare icy/snowy days. Be able to cover plants and/or bring them in.

Gardening
- Gardening in Texas can be a challenge, but can be done all year because of our mild winter.     We have never been able to grow potatoes in our area due to fire ants. But now with the new container gardening, potato gardening is so much easier! Texas A&M has terrific information on container gardening for Texans. Another good site for Texas container gardening and hot climates is: CentralTexasGardening.info

I have also been doing the square foot garden method using cider blocks as I have a bad back and this method has proven to be easier to maintain. I use the holes in the cinder blocks to plant herbs.  An excellent site is Raised-bed-gardening.org. There are also tons of YouTube videos that show different ways people have done their cinder block gardens.  I had difficulty getting seeds going at first. So I consulted with some masters of gardening, and they told me to use seed starting system, which is no more than a little divided tray. You use a soilless growing mixture, pre-made you can buy. I bought a tray at Wal-Mart with directions on it, also Gardeners.com has directions. It gets your seedlings up and going then you can transplant.  You see ours kept getting eaten up by grasshoppers or bunnies. So really watch them after transplanting.  July-September grasshoppers are bad in Texas. They strip everything. You may even want to purchase something to drape over them.  Trees are also a good investment.  Peach, plum, and apricot trees grow really good around here. You will need several to cross pollinate with each other.  Grasshoppers love these too. The best thing to do is to stock up on Demon pesticide. If you would see how these little pests strip everything, you would be wise to do so, it is worth gold. 

Mosquitoes -   Bug bites bleh…mosquitoes.  They are bad here.  We all have our jokes about our mosquitoes as big as birds.  If you have Off or bug repellant, use it. If you have failed to and are eaten up by the little bloodsuckers, then take cotton balls dipped in witch hazel and rub over affected area. Calamine lotion will help some too. Try not to scratch! (Texas-raised kids like me heard that a lot!) a good plant for repelling those nasty buggers is lemon grass.  This grass is rich in a substance called citral, the active ingredient in lemon peel. This substance is said to aid in digestion as well as relieve spasms, muscle cramps, rheumatism and headaches. Lemon grass is also used commercially as the lemon scent in many products including soaps, perfumes and candles. A related plant, (Cymbopogon nardus) is the ingredient in citronella candles sold to ward off mosquitoes and other insects

Also people put up Purple Martin bird houses to attract Purple Martins. They love some mosquitoes and it’s a Texas tradition of sorts for people to put up Purple Martin houses to get rid of the little buggers.

Remember to always to do lists. Check and recheck that you got everything on it. Talk to family members that are not prepping, but don’t get the Bible out and preach, yet. Just tell them everything that is going on. Let them know it’s better to be prepared and if nothing happens will at least you are ready for when something does. Pray for them. Ask the Lord to put it on your heart what to say.


Friday, July 6, 2012


JWR:
Just a couple of ideas/notes on gardening, inspired by the recent article on New England Gardening:

Land that was previously "Forested" and cleared is usually poor soil initially for vegetable gardening, even when adding compost and manure.  Forested land is fertile when many years of plant residue build up naturally, and then fertile for more trees and brush only usually, but lacking in desired nutrients for vegetable crops. Without the natural "compost" layer the trees provide the soil will become barren quickly from erosion etc. Essential nutrients/minerals to provide a balanced diet for both the vegetable plants one wants to grow to be able to grow "well" will either be lacking or "unavailable" in the form their in for the plant to "use". The human consumption for sustenance of vegetables grown in these soils frequently will be lacking  desirable/necessary nutrients, especially for young children.  Local manures and compost will often not add these nutrients (though soil tilth will be much improved) as the manure and compost that come from the "same" soils (local area) so to speak will be lacking in these nutrients as well, unless the animals diets have been supplemented. The quality of the feed the manure producing animal gets in turn affects the quality of the manure you get.  Same for plant compost.

This is the case generally all around the country.  Even on many "organic" farms unless soil amendments are added. This is not a criticism of organic farming, but rather something every organic farmer already (hopefully) knows are adjusts for.  Accurate soil testing at various points throughout the land/garden/orchard is necessary to determine mineral content of soil, and to know what amendments will need to be added.  Test your soils now if possible. These amendments can often be "natural/organic" but will often need to be brought in from elsewhere and stockpiled (whether its bone meal or seaweed, fish emulsion, etc.)

Tests done on "farm boys" entering the military years ago showed many deficiencies in minerals/nutrients.  These guys worked hard on the farm, ate local produce, and meats, used manures heavily,  and still were found to have skeletal problems, bad teeth, etc due to minerals lacking in their soils where they grew up.  But they ate "healthy and natural" to a point.  I mention this only to make people aware, not to criticize anything in this fine letter George H wrote which I liked, (or to raise anyone's dander that grew up on a farm!)  I hope to simply allow people who are planning ahead to incorporate the need for "good soil" in their planning now before they rely on a subsistence source. 

If one is planning ahead for long term survival these nutrient deficiencies must be planned in and compensated for, especially for the children.  While a lot of our modern supermarket produce leaves much to be desired, access to diverse food sources is easy now and we can supplement our nutrients through diverse foodstuffs (organic or otherwise) from other locals where nutrients lacking in our local soils are more abundant or have been added, and vice a versa..  This may not be the case in the future, so proper soil preparation and stockpiling now those amendments needed is necessary.

I would avoid weed killers as much as possible as soon as possible (or preferably not use them at all if possible time allowing).  Deposits are left in the soil, and the micro-organisms needed to build and maintain soil fertility are destroyed, along with earthworms, beneficial nematodes and fungi, etc.  Perennial weeds are hard to contain but judicious limited application of more natural foliage killers and heavy, thick mulching with shallow hoeing  will eventually keep weeds down and deplete their roots.  This takes years.  The point is not to unearth new weed seeds that exist by the thousands in the top layer of soil.  For a vegetable garden there is a strong argument to be made for not ever turning the soil at all. See this web page, as deep digging is non productive and destroys natural soil structure and micro-organisms, while bringing up less desirable soils and weed seeds to the surface. 

Let leaves compost by themselves for many years and then use selectively as a water holding leaf mold mulch so as not to deplete your soil of nitrogen during the leaf decomposition process (same goes for fresh wood chips).  I would where possible cover a desired future gardening plot soil with tarps (or use the cardboard lasagna gardening method)  to prepare new areas for gardening the following year- removing some/many trees depending on the intended soil use, composting in place as much deciduous matter as possible (ideally before mature weed seed heads are formed).  Also, planting a dense cover group early (be it rye grass, oats, mustard etc depending on your area etc) in the season before planning to use the area for food groups can and will help with noxious weed control as the "cover" crop will smother many weeds and stop them from germinating.  Then mulch with the cover crop. And rotate your plot, even if small, and cover crop for the winter again  (you can find the best varieties of cover crops for your area by searching the web, and/or going to local feed stores to buy).

I also prefer to have several years of hybrid seeds stored, along with heirloom varieties for the longer run. Why?  Many varieties of hybrid seeds were bred for their resilience/adaptability to soil type, weather, and fast growth rates.  Under stressful conditions, be it weather, plant diseases, insects, or the "golden hordes", these hybrid seeds will allow a garden to be planted and produce relatively quickly (F1 hybrids will also give seed that will germinate and reproduce, many not true to their parent stock, but with edible produce nonetheless.)

As an aside, many Internet pundits state that F1 hybrids are sterile, and while some are, many are not, through the efforts of the large seed companies. (The detestable Monsanto GMO company and others have developed terminator seeds.) This audio explains OP seeds, Heirloom seeds, and Hybrids rather well and is a good introduction to plant breeding/seed saving. The woman is from Seed Savers Exchange. 

You can read a great forum post at Seed Savers Exchange by 'caroyn137' for a brief explanation of F1 and F2 . She explains: "About 90 % of our OP family heirlooms first arose by cross pollination, and then someone had to save the F2 seeds if they liked what they saw, and then plant out those F2 seeds looking for plants and fruits that looked like the initial hybrid they saw and tasted and liked. And that process of selecting the best you see at each generation goes on and on until all seeds sowed give rise to the same plants and fruits, at which time it's called open pollinated (OP)."

Heirloom plants/seeds are great, I plant them and love them, they are better tasting in many cases, and desirable in the long run for saving seed true to parent stock.  However, if you haven't yet gotten into seed saving, you should do it now, even small scale. And read up on the distances required to maintain general seed stock purity for different vegetables.  Learn how to hand pollinate.  Build isolation cages/towers to keep pollen away from specific plants/flowers (whether wind-borne or insect-borne.) Also realize that even heirloom varieties may not do well in your area, or your micro-climate. See this site and this site for more information on microclimates.

The best way to really prepare is to plant many varieties of seeds now, heirloom and F1, and see what varieties grow best in your area each year and under different conditions.  Find local "heirloom" seeds from local gardeners/neighbors.  These will usually already be adapted to your micro-climate. The same goes for berry bushes and fruit trees.

Common sense tells us that what has been growing well nearest you already will do best.  Develop your own local climate adapted, "heirloom" varieties. So, I  suggest keeping 2-to-3 years of hybrid seed stored as well, especially if you don't have a garden yet,  as well as local heirloom seeds from neighbors, and you can probably always barter the F1 hybrids to others whose heirloom seeds they bought and grew well in the part of the country those seeds were "produced" in,  fail to be as productive where they live.  

If I may, respectfully, I would suggest watching these videos on YouTube or researching the concepts on the web, (some videos start slow, but give them a few minutes, all very informative):

Emilia Hazelip

Sepp Holzer Permaculture

Masanobu Fukuoka

Robert Hart's forest garden

Lasagna garden Video 1 and Video 2 (good idea, don't care for the music though myself)

 

In my opinion one of the best vegetable gardening sites on the web, especially for northern climates (check the links and older posts too) can be found here.

Basic seed saving: here, here, here, and info on seed isolation distances here.

Isolation distances in Organic Seed Production

Another on seed isolation distances.

DIY Isolation cages for seed saving from plants in the garden.

Saving Vegetable Seeds in an Urban Garden. (Read online or contact author to buy)

 

I would recommend finding, buying, or making a broadfork, for personal vegetable gardens.

No-til farming. (Also see this site.)

Also read Elliot Coleman's books, such as Four-Season Harvest.

Respectfully, - Pierre M.

Mr. Rawles:
After reading about this gentleman's (and many other's, on this site) back breaking adventures in gardening, I would like to direct your reader's attention to a less labor intensive and more sustainable way of gardening put forth by Paul Gautschi in a film titled Back to Eden.   Although it is hardly a new concept in gardening, the easy to follow principles have been, in my opinion, long forgotten.  Gardeners, new and old, will benefit tremendously by watching and learning from this film. 

Happy Gardening, - Jill N.


Thursday, July 5, 2012


If you are not gardening now, those long term seeds you are saving is giving you a false sense of hope. We bought two acres on what was years ago farmland, sounds like it should be easy to return to farmland, Right? I discovered later what was raised on our property was the only thing which made sense after experience - Goats.
Gardening in New England presents many challenges and unless you are prepared and have experience dealing with them you are out of luck. Even if you have gardening experience in the past, if you have moved you will discover new challenges. Challenges you might easily face in any part of the country. Challenges such as:

  1. Rocks, Rocks, Rocks! I have two acres to grow on, all covered in rocks! The rock walls you see everywhere throughout New England are the tip of the iceberg for what you will see in the fields. I have cleared ½ an acre in six years, first year I fixed the existing rock walls and built a new wall. Since then I have built rock wall borders for all sections of my garden and have more for a Root cellar foundation. And each year I find more large rocks in areas which have been dug up for the past six years. I was gardening for 3 years prior to our move on backfilled land, all I needed was a shovel and rake. It was a shock when I went to prepare my garden the first year! I used the shovel to help pry up rocks but my pickaxe was what I used most until getting a 48” steel bull bar. Now I use the pickaxe to find rocks, the bull bar to move them! And it is not just my 2 acres, I have seen many more areas where farmers decided to only grow maple trees for Syrup or sheep/goat fields after building many rock walls.
  2. Trees - first year I cut down around 20-30 trees to clear the area for my garden leaving the stumps to rot for a year prior to breaking them up. Within a year the surrounding trees started to extend their branches to cover more of my garden. By the second year it was effecting my harvest! I trimmed the trees back but the trees really needed to come down. Fortunately, keeping a positive outlook on events, last year we had an ice storm which aided in the removal of the offending trees. Cut down another 20-30 trees to open everything back up for now. This will be a constant maintenance item every winter until the area is totally cleared.
  3. Animals - Raccoons, skunks, deer, woodchucks turkeys and smaller birds each have their own favorite food. And each have the potential to destroy a garden harvest overnight. Coyotes can be your friend for protecting your garden! As long as you protect your livestock. In the event of an actual TEOTWAWKI there is an additional meat supply.
  4. Weather - Each year has different patterns which will benefit one crop or another. One year my berries and pumpkins had a bumper yield, but little corn, apples or squash. Next year the exact opposite. But if your mix of crops is good then you fewer worries. We have more then adequate rainfall every year but some plants prefer drier weather or they begin to rot, others wetter weather to thrive. Early Blizzards and ice storms may destroy trees and bushes and ruin late crops. Early warm weather may cause fruit trees to bloom early just to lose their fruit when it gets seasonally cold again. There is no predicting the weather. But you can mix your crops for any weather you might get.
  5. Weeds - Some vegetables I struggle with to get to grow, start inside early in the season water, fence off, use clotches, row covers, everything to help. And every year weeds which are sprayed, hoed, and pulled out keep coming back! Certain weeds are very resilient, news reports blame this on Global warming personally I think it is more the limitations on the weed killer people can obtain. Older weed killer worked with one application new ones take multiple applications with a greater time for the weeds to build up a resistance.
  6. New vegetables - Planting new seeds in the garden I do not know if there are weeds coming up there or are those my peanuts? The next year I know but the first year the plants have to fight with the weeds until I recognize them.
  7. When to plant? Do you know when plants will be safe from Frost? What plants can tolerate a frost or will not rot in a wet cold garden? When will you be safe from May flies? Some insects can be brutal in the early spring and drive you mad with their biting. If you have protection you are okay but you need to test it out. You can only be prepared if you know it might be a problem.
  8. What can be your “safe” staple crops? The first year I planted I would have said Corn, in the next 9 years I have never had the same yield. My staple crops are Snap peas, potatoes, some squash/pumpkins and tomatoes. Everything else is hit or miss depending on the weather.
  9. How much compost can you generate? From our composed food we get about 50 pounds, no where near enough. Add leaves and garden waste and you will get closer. Nothing beats livestock for producing enough composted fertilizer. I get mine from a farm down the street, typically two tons a year for fertilizer and to fill gaps from removing rocks. Again I find many rocks in cultivated areas, more as I expand my garden.

What has worked out very well in aiding my Garden:

  1. Rain barrels - I am up to three now, two of which can be hooked up to a hose and will gravity feed to water my lower garden.
  2. Two separate gardens for different corn varieties, squash vs pumpkins and other plants I do not want to cross pollinate.
  3. Fencing helps keep animals to a minimum but is something I need to work on after clearing more trees. I do not want to crush the fence I just put up or spend more time taking it down every year.
  4. Square tomato cages, these stay standing much better then to round style and they fold for storage.
  5. Getting more varieties for cross pollination and as back up harvest. Again one year one fruit tree will do better than another. This year the apples will be fewer but I will have many more pears!
  6. Ooze tube watering system - I fill these 25 gallon tubes from my rain barrels and they slowly drip irrigate my blueberries while keeping down the weeds.
  7. Bull bar 48” steel bar for prying up rocks. Using this bar I can get a 200 pound boulder out by gradually lifting the boulder 1-2” and slipping smaller rocks underneath. One the boulder is at ground level this bar is often used to roll the boulder to the rock wall.
  8. Pick axe to remove smaller rocks or break up boulders too big for the bull bar.
  9. Two of everything, except for the bull bar. Everything else will break with constant use.
  10. Books - Self sufficient living by John Seymour was the biggest help. Many useful tips and instructions from someone who lives what he teaches.
  11. Certain types of weed killer acceptable for garden preparation, this cuts down on weeding and with several applications will kill poison ivy.
  12. Gloves 5-6 pairs, get vibration dampening style if at all possible. Swinging a pickaxe into a boulder will hurt much less, trust me on this! Gloves protect your hands from drying out, insects, thorns and poison ivy/sumac. Gloves wear out even faster then tools and will need to be washed often. Better to damage the gloves then your hands, I buy the mechanics brand gloves at $6-8 a pair at a local store when they are on sale. I never used to use gloves but listening to experienced mechanics and farmers plus my own scarred hands convinced me otherwise.
  13. Safety glasses, both tinted and untinted. These are a good idea in general, never know when something will kick up into your face and required if swinging a pickaxe. Move enough brush, cut enough trees and you will quickly realize that these are required.
  14. Every fall dig up a new location and fill with leaves then toss the dug up dirt on top this will provide brown gold in two years.
  15. Wild berries - my lawn is covered in wild strawberries, the forest has many wild blueberries and the edges are filled with blackberries!
  16. Large timber wood saws, maul and axe, easier to use for quick one or two  tree clearing, good exercise and quiet!
  17. A Come-along, wedges and Hi-Lift jacks with tow straps to encourage trees to fall in the direction you prefer.
  18. Food mill and apple peeler/corer saves a huge amount of time processing apples for storage. Experience with canning and how many lids and tools you need helps as well. The first year I cut all the apples by hand and used a food strainer. that took two weekends vs one day with the correct tools and I had better yields.

Unless you are gardening the area you will be raising food in in case of a crisis you will likely be setting yourself up for failure and at the worst possible time. Once you understand the basics of gardening you get the best yields possible and you know what to expect. I know at best I can get 2-3 months of food for my family with my current set-up. Under less than ideal closer to one month maybe two but it is still fresh food and will be a desired add on to any stored food. I only know that from experience, not what a spreadsheet or book will tell me. Books and other information has helped quite a bit but the actual doing is dependent on you. If it takes year to clear a lot and grow food it takes a year, even more time if you are out of shape, you are lacking the correct tools for the job or are under fed.
Have the long term seeds and know how and when to use them! Again any less will cost you when you can least afford it! Better yet have the long term seeds plus what heirloom seeds you have saved from last years harvest. Practical Knowledge is good, book knowledge is good but both combined is ideal.

 


Wednesday, July 4, 2012


In a true TEOTWAWKI situation, many people will naturally resort to hunting and fishing to procure food. The increased hunting pressure will make many animals nocturnal and quickly deplete the populations of wild game. There is, however, one overlooked source of food that flies completely under the radar by even the most seasoned survivalists.  It tastes delicious, lasts forever,  replenishes itself to be harvested again and again, is a phenomenal barter item,  and can be found in every state in America.  I am talking about wild honey! The Bible says that this is the food that sustained John the Baptist during his time in the wilderness and that’s all the endorsement I need.

Allow me to give you a quick primer on honey.  Honey has roughly 1,376 calories per pound. It is not uncommon for a healthy colony of bees to produce 60 to 80 pounds of surplus honey in a good season. That equates to 60-80 days of life sustainment for one person from one hive.  Honey has an indefinite shelf life. Honey found in the tombs of Egyptian kings was found to be perfectly edible. Honey also has multiple uses. Besides its obvious value as a food item, honey can be fermented to make mead (honey wine) which can be further distilled to make ethanol fuel.   Honey also has antibacterial qualities since it contains trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide and it was reportedly used by Roman Soldiers to pack sword wounds.  Honey can and will crystallize over time since it is a super saturated solution but you can easily restore it back to liquid form by gently heating it. Did I mention that Winnie the Pooh loves the stuff?

I think it’s safe to say that John the Baptist didn’t get his honey from the local food co-op or Piggly Wiggly. Our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of buying bees from the Internet and having them shipped in a tidy box via UPS, instead they used an ancient technique known as “bee lining”.  Locusts may not travel in a straight line but fortunately for us, the honey bee generally does.  It is this straight-line behavior that we can utilize to lead us back to the proverbial “honey-hole”.  There are numerous techniques for bee lining and although I doubt John the Baptist used trigonometry to locate his wild bees, we can.  Do you remember the days back in high school when you were plodding with contempt through trigonometry homework and thinking to yourself “I will never use this”?  Personally, I would rather have watched paint dry as I was never very adept at math. I don’t think I could count all my protruding body parts and get the same number twice. I am now man enough to admit that I was wrong.  A little simple math can reveal the bee’s secret location.

Bees predominantly forage when the weather is nice so do not waste your time trying to do this in the rain. It takes honey to make honey! You need to start with a sweet solution of sugar or honey and water (dissolved 1:1).  Put this solution on a small piece of sponge in the center of a bowl.  Set the bowl with sugar baited sponge in an open area and wait. The wind will carry the scent to foraging bees.  The first time a honey bee takes her fill, she will fly up in ever widening circles trying to remember the landmarks so she can lead her sisters back to the source.  It helps them if you wear brightly colored clothes as they will use you as a landmark. The exception to this is the color red as bees cannot see the color red. You can get a very rough estimate of the distance to the hive by timing the round trip time between the first bees departure to its return. 3-5 minutes is generally indicative of a quarter-mile, 5-10 minutes a half-mile, and 15 minutes or more indicates a distance of at least one mile. Once the bee communicates the source of food to the hive, the whole family will join in and you should see an ever increasing volume of bees visiting your bowl. Take out a compass and note the direction that the bees are flying in between the dish and the hive. Shoot an azimuth and note the azimuth (in degrees) on a map. Write a line from your current position out a few miles indicating the bee’s current flight path. (We will call this line SIDE “A”) The hive is obviously somewhere along this line. Once you have 15 or 20 bees in your bowl you can place a cover on the bowl thus capturing the bees. Take your captured bees and walk 50 yards in a line that is exactly perpendicular to the bee’s line of flight. (It is very important that you are exactly 50 yards as this will figure into our equation later)  Jotting this line down on the same map as the bee’s azimuth would now form an “L” with your new position now being at the bottom right edge of the “L”. (We will call this bottom line SIDE “B”).  Now do your best to release just a few bees at a time from your new position and again shoot an azimuth with your compass.  Writing this line down on the map should now give you a right triangle with the right angle being in the base of the “L”. This last line SIDE “C” is the hypotenuse of our right triangle. The angle that you need to figure out is in the bottom inside right corner of your triangle (where you are now standing). We will call this angle “a”.  You can use a protractor on the map to determine this angle (angle “a”).  Once we have the bottom right inside angle of our triangle, we need to do a little math to determine where our new line (SIDE “C”) intersects with our very first line (SIDE “A”). This intersection will be the exact location of the hive.  The formula to figure this is:
SIDE “C”= SIDE “B” / cosine (angle “a”)
So let’s say that we used our protractor on the map and determined that SIDE “C” made a 47 degree angle with SIDE “B”. This means that angle “a” is 47 degrees. We also know that SIDE “B” equals 50 yards. 
SIDE “C” = 50 yards / cos (47)
SIDE “C” = 73 yards

Our wild bees are approximately 73 yards from our current position at the point where our last azimuth intersects with our first azimuth.  Now we can bring our bowl to that spot and use our ears and eyes to look for the entrance to the hive. Many old time bee liners claim to hear the hive before they see it.  Now finding the cosine of an angle usually requires a scientific calculator (solar powered scientific calculators are available for five or six dollars). To make life easier, I have created a lookup table that automatically converts the degrees of angle “a” into the exact distance to the hive so no cosine calculation is necessary. This table will only be accurate if you walk exactly 50 yards (150 feet) to form SIDE “B”. I have printed a small version of this table and laminated it to keep in my wallet. The table follows:

 

Once we find our bees we need to don our protective gear. It might be a good time to mention that this should not to be done by anyone with bee sting allergies and I always carry two Epi-Pens with me just in case. A simple Tyvek painter’s suit sold for a few dollars at Home Depot will provide protection that is comparable to most commercial bee suits. Be sure to get the suit with the built in hood. Purchase some nitrile gloves as they are more puncture resistant than either latex or vinyl and are the choice of medical professionals to prevent needle sticks. A simple mosquito head net worn over a ball cap completes the outfit. Many beekeepers remove hives with no protective gear whatsoever but this is not recommended for the novice.  Tie some dry grass together tightly and light it on fire. Extinguish the flames so that it makes smoke. Fan this smoke into the hive entrance. This will trick the bees into thinking their home is on fire and they will immediately gorge themselves with honey in preparation of seeking a new home. This causes the bees to become very docile. Would you want to get into a fistfight after eating Thanksgiving dinner?  At this point, you may need to enlarge the access hole to reach the comb. It is preferable to only remove a portion of the honey and to do it without destroying the colony so that we can come back for more later. Remember that the bees need honey to survive throughout the winter and without sufficient stocks, they will die. This is the equivalent to shooting your cash cow.

Take the honey comb back to process the honey. You can eat it right in the comb or you can employ the crush and strain method. Whichever you do, do it indoors otherwise you will create a swarm of bees all looking to rob your honey.  Crush the comb and strain it through a paint strainer or cheese cloth. Make sure that at least three quarters of your honeycomb is capped. The bees cap the comb once they have the moisture content down to 18% or less. The uncapped portion is still nectar but with a much higher moisture content. Uncapped nectar can be eaten if done right away but it does not store as it will ferment from the natural yeasts that are present. The wax can then be utilized to make everything from candles to lip balm (again, outside the scope of this article).

Some people see the face of God in the clouds.  I see Him in the bees.  They are an amazing gift to us and they have been sustaining man for thousands of years.  God’s Manna from heaven was reputed to have honey in it and the best land was referred to “the land of milk and honey”.  When you realize that one out of every three bites of food you eat is a byproduct of honey bee pollination, you get a picture for how important they are to our sustainment.  Mr. Rawles, please forgive the unabashed plug but if you are interested in learning more about honey bees or about purchasing wild honey you can visit my web site, The Bee Shepherds.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


With the end of season sales starting for garden seeds, it’s a good time to be buying heirloom or open pollinated seeds. Unfortunately, the big name seed companies aren’t always very good at labeling their product as hybrids or heirlooms. The aim of this article is to try to list the commonly seen varieties of non-hybrid vegetables, so that preppers can pick up seeds for their stockpile during the sale season.

First, some definitions: heirloom seeds are usually those varieties that were in existence prior to 1951, when the first hybrids appeared on the American market for home gardeners. An open pollinated seed is often, but not necessarily, an heirloom. Open pollinated just means that they are not a hybrid, and that the seeds will breed true if saved and planted in the next year. Obviously, in a SHTF situation, open pollinated (or "heirloom") seeds are your best bet for long term survival. This does not mean that hybrid seeds won’t have a (small) place in your plans. There are a number of vegetables that are difficult to grow and that have long storage lives, where stockpiling some hybrid seeds as insurance wouldn’t be a bad thing, as long as this is alongside open pollinated varieties also.

I’ve only listed vegetables (and one flower) that are considered easy or moderate to grow. Difficult vegetables or less-commonly grown vegetables aren’t listed. Along with the varieties, I’ve also given the usual storage life of the seed in normal storage conditions (cool, dry, out of sunlight, stored in correct containers). Information on the need to protect from cross-pollination as well as the general hardiness range of the vegetables is also given. This should not be considered a good introduction to the art of seed saving, but merely something to help folks get started. The best book I’ve found for saving seeds is Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth. It is definitely worth getting a copy for your home library.

The listing isn’t complete by any means, I compiled it by comparing the online catalogs for a couple of big name seed companies and noting the open pollinated or heirloom varieties that weren’t necessarily being marketed as such. There are probably ones I missed that are available in retail stores. As always, if you want the best selection of heirloom seeds, check out the various online retailers of heirloom seeds. Nor should this listing be considered as advice on which seeds to get – you need to consider your growing conditions, your families own desires, and your climate before finalizing selections.

Bear in mind that there are often slight name variations between seed companies. The most common change is word order with something like “Purple Podded Pole” becoming “Pole Purple Podded” or the like. Sometimes the spelling is off a bit such as “Dicicco” or “DeCicco”. These are usually fairly easy to determine that the varieties are the same. More difficult are ones that add or subtract a word or add a number at the end. Those you would need to use your best judgment on, but my advice would be to not depend on anything you had to take a flyer like that on. They might be good to purchase and test out, but depending on it being open pollinated might not be a good idea.

Beans: Easy difficulty. Annuals that store seed for 3 years, 4 years with 50% viability. They are best grown in zones 3-10, and rarely cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Bountiful, Cherokee Trail of Tears, Kentucky Wonder, Ideal Market, Lima Fordhook 242, Rattlesnake Snap, Roma II, Dragon’s Tongue, Contender, Gold of Bacau, Painted Pony, Purple Podded Pole, Red Swan, Romano Pole.

Beets: Moderate difficulty. Biennials that store seed for 4 years, 6 years with 50% viability. They are best grown in zones 2-10. They cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Chioggia, Burpee’s Golden, Detroit Dark Red, Bull’s Blood, Albino, Cylindra, Early Wonder, Ruby Queen.

Broccoli: Moderate difficulty. Biennials that store seed for 5 years. They are best grown in zones 3-10, and will cross-pollinate, not only with other broccolis, but with other vegetables such as cabbage.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Dicicco, Romanesco, Green Sprouting Calabrese, Purple Sprouting.

Brussels Sprouts: Moderate difficulty. Biennial that stores seed for 3 years. Will cross-pollinate with itself and other members of its family.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Long Island and Catskill.

Cabbage: Fairly easy difficulty. Biennial that store seed for 5 years. They are best grown in zones 1-9 and they will cross-pollinate with other vegetables such as broccoli.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Early Jersey Wakefield, Late Flat Dutch, Brunswick, Mammoth Red Rock, Charleston Wakefield, Copenhagen Early Market, Golden Acre, and Red Acre.

Cantaloupe: Moderate difficulty. Annual that store seed for 5 years. They are best grown in zones 4-11 and they will cross-pollinate with themselves and with other melons.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Hale’s Best and Hearts of Gold.

Carrots: Moderate difficulty. Biennial that store seed for 3 years. They are best grown in zones 4-10 and they cross-pollinate, even with Queen Anne’s Lace.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Nantes (with many variations on the name), Touchon, and Danvers (also commonly found with many variations in the name).

Corn: Annuals. Sweet corn seed stores for 1-3 years, field corn seed stores for 3-5 years. They are wind pollinated so will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Golden Bantam (sometimes you see Golden Bantam Improved) and Country Gentlemen. Both of these are sweet corn varieties. Field corn is rarely encountered in garden centers, but you can occasionally find popcorn.

Cucumbers: Easy difficulty. Annual that store seed for 5 years. They are best grown in zones 4-11 and they will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: White Wonder, Straight Eight, Crystal Apple, Lemon, Marketmore 76, Parisian, and Boston Pickling.

Eggplant: Moderate difficulty. Perennials grown as annuals. Seed will store for 4 years, but the seeds have a poor germination rate, usually about 60%. Self-pollinating and for safety needs a small distance of separation. Usually grown in zones 4-10.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Black Beauty, Long Purple, Rosa Bianca, Turkish Orange, and Louisiana Long Green.

Kale: Easy difficulty. Seeds store for 4-6 years. Kale will cross with itself and with some other members of its family.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Red Russian, Lacinato, Dwarf Blue Curled, and Dwarf Blue Scotch.

Leeks: Easy difficulty. Biennial that stores seed for 2 years. Will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: American Flag and Blue Solaise.

Lettuce: Easy difficulty. Annual with stores seed for 6 years. They are best grown in zones 4-9 and they will cross-pollinate, but 20’ of distance is usually safe enough to prevent crossbreeding.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Black Seeded Simpson, Tom Thumb, Cimmaron, Lolla Rossa, Parris Island Cos (sometimes Parris Island Romaine or spelled Paris), Rouge d’Hiver, Deer Tongue, and Forellenschluss.

Mustard greens: Easy difficulty. Seeds store for 4 years. These come in annuals, biennials, and perennials and will cross-pollinate with itself and other members of its family.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Tendergreen, Southern Giant Curled, Florida Broadleaf, and Giant Red.

Onion: Moderate difficulty. Biennial that store seed for 1 to 2 years. They will cross-pollinate and are best grown in zones 3-9.
Commonly found heirloom varieties are: Walla Walla and Sweet Spanish Utah for globe onions and White Lisbon Bunching for green onions. Onions are vegetables that are difficult to find heirloom varieties outside of the various specialty stores.

Parsnips: Easy difficulty. Biennial that store seed for 1 year. Will cross-pollinate.
There aren’t many varieties of parsnips floating around, but handily the Hollow Crown variety is an heirloom.

Peas: Easy difficulty. Annual that store seed for 3 years. Best grown in zones 3-11. They will cross-pollinate but 50’ distance is enough to prevent crossbreeding.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Green Arrow, Lincoln, Mammoth Melting Sugar (snow pea), Oregon Sugar Pod (snow pea), Oregon Sugar Pod II (snow pea), Wando, Thomas Laxton, Alaska, and Little Marvel.

Peppers: Moderate difficulty. Seeds will store for 2 years. Will cross-pollinate and grows in zones 1-11, although some places will need to start seed indoors.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include (hot varieties marked): Hungarian Hot Wax (hot), Long Red Slim Cayenne (hot), Jalapeno M (hot), Serrano (hot), Santa Fe Grande (hot), Serrano Tanpiqueno (hot), Tabasco (hot), Thai Hot (hot), Pepperoncini, Sweet Banana, Sweet California Wonder (aka California Wonder or CalWonder), Chinese Giant, Bull Nosed Bell, Emerald Giant, Marconi Golden, Golden California Wonder (aka Golden CalWonder), Jimmy Nardello, Sheepnose Pimento.

Pumpkins: Easy difficulty. Annual that store seed for 4 years. Will cross-pollinate and grows in zones 3-9.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Connecticut Field, Small Sugar, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Big Max, Atlantic Giant, Long Island Cheese, Spookie, Casper.

Radish: Easy difficulty. Annual or biennial that stores seed for 5 years. Will cross-pollinate and grows best in zones 2-10.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Early Scarlet Globe, Black Spanish Round, Scarlet Turnip White Tip, Cherry Belle, China Rose, Crimson Giant, Daikon, French Breakfast, German Giant, Philadelphia White Box, Pink Beauty, Watermelon, White Icicle, White Hailstone Globe, Champion, Easter Egg.

Rutabaga: Easy difficulty. Biennial that stores seed for 2-5 years. Will cross-pollinate with itself and other members of its family.
The only commonly found heirloom variety I found was Purple Top.

Squash: Easy difficulty. Annual that stores for 4 years. Will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Boston Marrow, Delecata, Early Golden Crookneck Squash, Fordhook Acorn, Marina di Chioggia, Red Kurl, Ronde de Nice, Waltham Butternut, Acorn Table Queen, Buttercup, Lakota.

Sunflowers: Easy difficulty. Seeds store 2-3 years for this annual. Will cross-pollinate. Note that most sunflowers from the major seed companies appear to be hybrids; I was only able to find the heirloom variety Lemon Queen offered.

Swiss Chard: Easy difficulty. Biennial that stores for 5 years. Will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include Fordhook Giant, Bright Lights, Five Color Silverbeet, and Lucullus.

Tomatoes: Easy difficulty. Perennial grown as an annual that stores seed for 4 years. Does not normally cross-pollinate, but some of the potato leaf varieties may. Grows in zones 2-10.
There are a gazillion varieties of tomatoes available, and many of them are heirlooms. Among them are the many varieties of Brandywine, some of which come in potato leaf varieties, some of which aren’t. There are about as many varieties of Brandywine tomato out there as there are of some whole vegetable families!
Other commonly found heirloom varieties include: Bloody Butcher, Mortgage Lifter, Tigerella/Mr. Stripey, Amana Orange, Amish Paste, Arkansas Traveler, Beefsteak, Big Rainbow, Black Krim, Burpee Long Keeper, Chadwick Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Druzba, Delicious, Gardener’s Delight, Giant Pink Belgian, Green Zebra, Mariglobe, Principe Borghese, Red Zebra, Riesentraube, Rutgers, San Marzano, Stupice, Super Italian Paste, Yellow Pear, Big Red, Jubilee.

Turnips: Easy difficulty. Biennial that stores seed for 4 years. Grows in zones 3-9 and will cross-pollinate.
The only commonly found heirloom variety is Purple Top White Globe, but there aren’t that many different turnip varieties in general.

Watermelons: Easy difficulty. Annual that stores seed for 4 years. Grows in zones 3-11 and will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include: Moon and Stars, Allsweet, Bush Sugar Baby, Congo, Crimson Sweet, Georgia Rattlesnake, Orange Tendersweet.

Zucchini: Easy difficulty. Annual that stores seed for 4 years. Will cross-pollinate.
Commonly found heirloom varieties include Black Beauty and Cocozelle.

For ease of reference, I’ve listed the storage lives of the seeds for the above-listed vegetables in order below, in order from longest life to shortest life. Note that these storage estimates are for the “normal” storage conditions. They can be stored for longer periods with some preparation and care. This list will help decide if buying a big stash of seeds is really effective.
6 years: Lettuce
5 years: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Cucumbers, Radish, Squash, Swiss Chard
4 years: Beets, Eggplant, Kale, Mustard greens, Pumpkin, Tomatoes, Turnips, Watermelons, Zucchini
3 years: Beans, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Corn (Field), Peas
2 years: Leeks, Peppers, Rutabagas, Sunflowers
1 year: Corn (Sweet), Onions, Parsnips


Sunday, June 17, 2012


Dear Editor:
When I was younger we were poor, as in no running water poor. We had many meals consisting of potatoes. What my dad did to keep them was dig holes about 3-4 foot deep and about 2 foot around. We put straw in the bottom then potatoes and another layer of straw. This ended up with around fours layers. Our yard typically had about six of these.

Now we didn't have whole potatoes in every one of these. About four or so had the eyes in the hole. (eyes are the seeds of the potato.) When you buy potatoes at Wal-mart or wherever the eyes are on the outside they are little nubs. We got ours at a farmer's store and we ate the potatoes and planted the eyes. To prepare them when we peeled the first few and canned several we would cut the eye off and a bit of the meat of the potato. All the peels and the bits went into the hole with the eyes. The same method was used to plant them. A layer of straw a good amount of peelings eyes with a chuck of the meat connected to the eye. Another layer of straw on top of it. and again we used about four layers.

None of these had fertilizers or anything. They were just planted in the aforementioned manner. We dug holes in different spots every year, not reusing the same place for a couple years. I would say that if you had access to a wooded area or large open areas this method would work fine. Thinking about it you could also use this method in a couple places in your garden. Digging the hole and adding the straw would make for an extra bit of tillage and fertilizer for the garden as well.

I've also heard of growing them in burlap or similar bags. That method works the same way except instead of planting them they get put in a warm garage in the bag. Some things I've read say to plant about a 2" chunk but I'd expect that you could use the peel and a smaller chunk.

I am not in a situation to put it to the test but while there isn't anything major hitting at this exact moment you might try this method out to see if you could do it. Let us know how the experiment works. - Willie Pete


Friday, June 15, 2012


Dear Mr Rawles,
Further to the recent excellent Food Forest Gardens article, I would like to add my support of Martin Crawford's book Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops. I would also add that his web site is absolutely fascinating for reading through the varied types (and breeds) of fruit  and nuts. Though it is of UK bias, there are a lot of North American types included and as a source of information on types of trees it is the most extensive  source I have found.
 
On a personal note I have bought upwards of 250 fruit, nut, berry trees from Martin over the years I when I have spoken to him he is pleasant and knowledgeable.
 
Basically the web site is a valuable source of plant information for those interested. Keep up the good work. Regards, Bill C.


Thursday, June 14, 2012


Author's Introductory Note: As I read through page after page of food items and materials that preppers should stock up on, I have to wonder, “Have people really thought out what is coming?” I believe we are heading for at least a collapse of the US dollar, if not all fiat currencies. We are looking at a financial collapse greater in magnitude than the Great Depression. I have spent the last four years studying economics in my spare time, and though I understand that my sources can be (and are) biased, I have looked at a lot of writings from a lot of very smart people, and none of them have given me a way out. Our economic future ranges from really ugly to apocalyptic.
For the last three years, I have sought and prayed for a way out of what I see coming. This is not a one off event that a few years of stored food will see us through, this is a collapse of such a magnitude that our concept of “normal” is going to undergo a radical adjustment. How do you deal with such an event? How do you plan to deal with decades, even generational time frames? Storing food is not enough. Every supply you can stock will be exhausted long before we see “normal” again, if ever. After three years of looking and praying, this is the best answer I have found.

An Australian, Bill Mollison, coined the term permaculture over two decades ago. His work is almost unknown inside the U.S. (Go ahead, talk to your local land grant college and see what they can tell you about permaculture and food forests. Outside of the Northwest and possibly North Carolina you will probably just get blank looks.) Permaculture is a concept that encompasses many ideas about culture, sustainability, and agriculture. One of its big ideas is using perennial plants as in a forest setting, rather than the annual plants that provide most of our food today.

Think about the amount of energy that is required to produce a crop of corn or wheat. The fields are cultivated before planting to kill the weeds, then the seeds are drilled into the soil. You may cultivate a few more times before the plants are up to kill weeds and add fertilizer, then you spray pesticides throughout the growing season to kill insects and herbicides to reduce weed competition. Finally, you harvest the crop and send it to be dried down, sorted, graded, and finally sold for a profit, generally a very small profit. Do you think this method of agriculture will survive a currency collapse? Farmers will likely have priority for fuel in a financial crisis, if they are big enough. How will you be able to afford their crop?

A food forest attempts to create an early succession ecosystem comprised of a wide variety of edible plants, nitrogen fixing plants, bio-accumulators, fiber plants, and other plants useful to humans and animals. A forest ecosystem is the natural state of the environment in most temperate regions. It requires no fertilizer or pesticide, it takes care of itself. A forest garden attempts to mimic the natural environment, in doing so, all the inputs and energy that modern agriculture requires are eliminated.

Where do you begin?

The first thing you need is land that is owned outright. My wife's family has a piece of property that has been in the family for 70 years. It is six acres of mostly pasture with about two acres of pine woodlands. In a failing economy, it is entirely possible that the land will eventually be taxed out from under us, but that is a concern for another article.

How much can you put into six acres of land?

Here is what I have done over the last two years. I presently have:

8 apple trees

3 peach trees

2 pear trees

2 sweet cherry trees

2 mulberry trees

2 pawpaw trees

3 chinese chestnut trees

4 pecan trees

2 hazelnut trees

15 blackberry bushes

5 raspberry bushes

1 goji berry

1 gooseberry

1 aronia berry

50 strawberries

2 fig trees

6 grape vines

2 muscadine vines

8 blueberry plants

8 varieties of edible bamboo

 

I can expect a yield somewhere in the vicinity of 3,000 pounds of fruits and nuts, based on what I have in the ground right now. I will have just under an acre planted when my current plants are mature, most of that will be bamboo. I am only about 1/3 of the way done. I have a list of 63 edible plants that I plan to incorporate into my food forest. The most practical guide to creating a food forest I have found is Martin Crawford's book Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops . There are a number of other books available, but Martin's book provides an extensive list of edible plants and detailed descriptions of each of them. His book is a practical how-to guide for creating your food forest. He lists over 500 species of plants in his book, most suitable for zones 9 through 5.

What do you do first?

Plan. Plan your forest canopy before you start putting trees in the ground. You want an open canopy with light or dappled shade. I started putting plants into the ground before I had Martin's book in hand. I have planted my nitrogen fixing trees to close to my fruit trees. I will end up coppicing the nitrogen fixers every few years because of this mistake. Plan for your nitrogen fixers and accumulator plants before you put your trees into the ground. Plan for your tall trees to be behind your smaller trees in relation to the sun's direction. Plan for your shrubs to grow up and interact with your trees. Plan your ground cover layers and how you will implement them.

I have Mimosa trees (Chinese silk trees) all around the property. These are nitrogen fixing trees that will grow to 40 feet. Since these trees were already present and growing, I did not feel the need to seek out additional nitrogen fixing trees. Also, when I tilled an area, seedlings sprang up in great abundance. I have used my crop of nitrogen fixing seedlings by interplanting them with my fruit trees. I still have a great abundance of them which I will disperse throughout my bamboo groves. In his book, Martin calculates that you want about 40% of your forest canopy to be comprised of some sort of nitrogen fixing plant. Mimosa trees grow to a very open canopy which is perfect for a forest garden. Other climate zones would probably do better with some type of locust tree or acacia. I believe in using what I have first, it costs less.

I will add comfrey as a bio-accumulator sometime this year. Martin discusses comfrey in his book and comes up with roughly six plants per semi-dwarf fruit tree. Comfrey is a chop and drop plant. Several times during the year, you cut the plant down and spread the leaves and stems around the base of your fruit trees as a sort of fertilizer/compost. There are other accumulator plants, but comfrey is the most well known, and will readily sprout from roots and re-grow.

How do you clear the land?

I have used cardboard to smother and kill off grass, I have tilled areas, and I am trying tall cover crops of buckwheat, all in an attempt to clear an area for planting. As an area is cleared, first your trees and shrubs are put in place, then the ground cover of choice is seeded into the newly opened area. An area might be mulched for a year before your ground cover is planted. Oregano, wild strawberries, mustard greens, creeping brambles, and others are mentioned as effective, edible, ground covers. Mostly what I have right now is white clover as a nitrogen fixer to help prepare the ground for a more desirable crop. I am eager to see how my buckwheat area develops this year. I have seeded with buckwheat in the hope that it will out-compete the grass without any additional inputs.

Putting your shrubs in place

I have numerous blueberry bushes interspersed with my fruit trees. I have planted the blueberry bushes to close to my fruit trees and in some locations, I have placed them in the shadow of the trees. These will need to be moved at some point in the future. I have only recently added gooseberry and aronia; these will tolerate much more shade than my blueberries. In fact, many shrub species are able to tolerate a decent amount of shade, which allows them to be planted more densely inside a forest garden. Saskatoon, sea buckthorn, currants, goji berries, and many others can be planted into the shade of your forest garden. Sea buckthorn will actually do double duty as a fruit bearing plant and a nitrogen fixer.

Things you learn along the way

There are many ways to create a forest garden. I have started out in a systematic way by clearing ground and planting first my trees, then my shrubs, and finally ground cover plants. I am planting one variety at a time. Martin walks you through each of these phases in his book, but I have since learned that there are other ways to accomplish your objective.

Sepp Holtzer and other people doing permaculture and forest gardens often put together a large and diverse collection of seeds and plant everything all at once. I believe they mostly do this with ground covers and shrubs. They start out with an entire ecosystem growing competitively in the lower layers. You will get a lot of nitrogen fixing and carbon sequestering going on all at once. I think you will have a difficult time harvesting until the plants have sorted themselves out, but I think you will get establishment much more quickly. I have only just learned about this approach, and I will likely give it a try on some corner of our property.

Conclusion

After almost four years of searching for a way to deal with the coming tidal wave of debt and destruction approaching us all, a food forest garden is the best idea I have found. The idea is to build a complete ecosystem, that is geared toward producing food for you and your family, and sustaining its own fertility. You can incorporate whatever you need into your food forest. There are plants that will produce fiber, plants that will produce dyes, medicinal plants that I didn't even mention, food, timber, whatever you need can be incorporated into your forest garden design; if it will grow in your climate.

My goals are maximum sustainability and maximum self-reliance. To achieve these goals in a world of limited fuel and money, I had to look outside the box of conventional thinking. There will be no more runs to home depot for bags of mulch and compost. There may be very few runs anywhere in the future. What we have on our own property is what we will have to work with. A close community of like-minded individuals will/may offset our own shortcomings, but being as prepared as we can possibly imagine is the best way to achieve optimal results.

JWR Adds: I recommend planting bamboo and other invasive plants only in the most secure planters with solid bottoms. (Preferably cast concrete!) Letting bamboo find its own limits on your property is an invitation to expending countless hours of toil and gallons of sweat. The same can be said for some berry bushes, especially in damp climates. Plan ahead!


Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Mr. Rawles,
Regarding the letter Finding Virtue in Potatoes, by Anatoly, after reading the book, One Second After by W. R. Forstchen, in which the State of Florida sustains 100% casualties, with the inability to grow sustainable food as a major cause, I began researching viable crops to prevent such a catastrophe.

After talking to locals, Ag Agents, and gardeners, the most recommended staple crops for Florida were corn, potatoes, and Seminole Pumpkins, in addition to the regular garden crops. But, it was also recommended to store as much wheat as possible, now, while the opportunity is there.

Historically, corn has sustained the populations of Florida over the centuries. A lot of corn is produced commercially and just about every garden you see has at least one row of corn in it. However, given the huge population increases since the 1960s and the fact the corn production uses a lot of mechanization and fuel, it may not sustain the population as in past years. Most folks that grow a row or two of corn admit that it wouldn't sustain them for very long. As for back yard production, I have tried to grow corn using the square foot gardening methodology, but have yet to harvest any. That methodology seems to be susceptible to thunderstorms and tropical storms, which knock the corn flat, but, I have high hopes.

Potatoes are grown commercially in the State of Florida, but back yard production is what has the potential to make the state sustainable. This article, Grow 100 lbs. Of Potatoes In 4 Square Feet: {How To},http://tipnut.com/grow-potatoes/, describes how to grow enough food to sustain a person for a whole year in a small space. With most of the population living in urban and suburban areas, the ability to produce 100 pounds of potatoes in a 4x4 space, four times a year, is very important. I do know of at least three locals that have done this, but it takes dedication and diligence. The local Ag Agents could be more help, but they seem to concentrate on the commercial production of potatoes. I used to eat potatoes with every meal, but now only eat them about three or four times a week, as recommended. However, if I had to, I could go back to eating them every day, I miss them.

A Master Gardener in Tallahassee, recommended the Seminole Pumpkin, which was named after the Seminole Indians. The Seminoles were able to get the pumpkins to grow in trees, which enabled them to hide their villages from U.S. Army scouts and patrols during the Seminole Wars, and other Indian tribes before that. The pumpkins are climbers, have a high nutritional value, and will keep for up to a year after harvesting, even in Florida's harsh environment. There are two kinds of pumpkins, a green striped and a tan, but I am not sure what the difference is.

As stated before in SurvivalBlog, this concept of storing seeds to plant if the need arises is not viable. There are a lot of issues that need to be worked out beforehand, so it is best to start now and gather the knowledge needed for growing sustainable crops.


Sunday, June 3, 2012


Hello Mr. Rawles,
About two years ago, there were letters in SurvivalBlog discussing the virtues of wheat and the deficiencies of potatoes as survival food. The common mood was that the potatoes were too bulky and fragile food needing special conditions for storage and not allowing to keep seeds for two or more years so the single bad year will be disaster.

I live in Russia. Here, there were lots of periods of hunger during first years of Soviet power. The Ukraine, Volga region, and so on. The NKVD reported of mass executions of cannibalism, and deaths due to hunger were commonplace. But this mass starvation was not so severe in Belorussia.

Some time ago I met the explanation of this Belorussian anomaly: While the Ukraine and other hunger regions were growing wheat, Belorussians were growing potatoes. This food was too bulky and fragile and needing special conditions for storage, so it was impossible or at least too expensive for Bolsheviks to transport and store the confiscated food. It was much easier to confiscate wheat.

I believe that future governments will confiscate anything needed for their (not our) survival. Sapienti sat, - Anatoly


Thursday, May 31, 2012


Hi Jim,
I wanted to let you know about an interesting visit I had last week.  Part of my job is to evaluate start-up companies for potential early-stage investments.    Ran across an interesting one last week.  Located in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, they have embarked on a totally sustainable commercial scale organic farming/ranching enterprise.  They have about 1,000 acres in Oregon and another 1,000 acres in California in the Central Valley.  Here's their process to convert regular farmland to sustainable organic agriculture and ranching:

1.  First, they acquire standard farmland, usually tilled.
2.  They convert it to pasture ensuring that there is irrigation and planting it with a robust mixture of grasses, clover, grains, hairy vetch, and other sturdy broadleaf plants.  It takes 3 years to be certified as organic so from this point on, they do not apply pesticides [herbicides,] or non-organic approved fertilizers.
3.  They then run sheep on the pasture land, moving them from segment to segment every 3-5 days. They sell the lambs yearly and keep the breeding ewes for about 5-7 years when they are also sold. They also harvest hay to feed the ewes over the winter.  Volunteer weeds are favorites of the sheep and very little land maintenance is required beyond irrigation.
4.  Sheep are alternated with very large chicken tractors that move on winches about 1 foot/hour.  Eggs and meat are harvested.
5.  Cows are run on the land occasionally.
6.  After three years of this production, the pasture foliage has filled in and is very dense.  The biomass has also been completely re-established in the ground.  The ground has rebuilt its nitrogen content and is now ready for crops.
7.  After several additional years of production (optional), pigs are allowed on the pasture.  The pigs rip up the soil and add natural fertilizer.
8.  After a partial season of pig use, the land is tilled and organic crops are grown for two years.
9.  After cropping, the land is re-planted in pasture and the process repeats.

As you can see, this requires substantial farm land in order to rotate the different utilizations at the proper time.  What is interesting is the financial dynamics of this process.  Typical farmland produces about a 4% return on investment (ROI) annually.  Margins have decreased since ethanol production and other factors have driven up the cost of fertilizers, additives and animal feed.  With their process, they are getting 8% ROI and it is indefinitely sustainable.  Plus, the meat, eggs, and crops are all organic commanding premium prices for the farmers.  I should note that their business model is to be simply owners/managers of the land.  They lease out the land to other commercial enterprise who raise sheep, cows, chickens, pigs and crops and sell them into the organic marketplace.  They lease the land on the schedule noted above.

I thought that this may have some value to homesteaders and people setting up their retreat.  Perhaps this could work on a smaller scale; say five acres or so with small numbers of sheep, pigs and chickens.  You would need ongoing access to grass seed to re-seed pastures if you chose to grow crops. - Sid L.


Monday, May 28, 2012


Sir:
The recent SurvivalBlog article recommending Painted Mountain Corn as a valuable addition to survival gardens, as well as the stirring article at Rocky Mountain Corn by “New Ordinance” entitled “The Secret Weapon,” encouraged me to purchase this amazing variety for planting this spring.

I already raise the usual potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, squash, beans and a smattering of other vegetables and fruits, and wanted to add robust, non-GMO corn to help protect against crop failures and diversify the nutrition of my hobby-farm crops. For most of my life I’ve only eaten whole corn as boiled ears (with butter, y-e-s!) and the occasional frozen or canned corn (not-so-yes). And of course lots of corn processed into chips, tortillas, etc.

Now however, I want to raise corn in bulk that can be preserved by drying and prepared by grinding into flour. I have a grinder specifically designed to crack grains for chicken feed, and a separate grinder for making flours. However, in researching this topic I’ve run across something interesting that SurvivalBlog readers who are raising flour corn should probably consider.

Chris A. from Maryland hinted at it, and R.J.’s article “Healthy Food Storage” hit it on the head with the million dollar word “nixtamalization”: “Corn has spread all over the world but the proper preparation has not.  Nixtamalization [nista’ mal ization] is the process that enhances the nutritional quality of corn.  This process helps make the amino acids more like a complete protein and making niacin more easily absorbed.” Not only that, but according to Wikipedia, the process also “significantly reduces (by 90-94%) mycotoxins produced by Fusarium verticillioides and Fusarium proliferatum, molds that commonly infect maize and the toxins of which are putative carcinogens.” The article “Nixtamalization: Nutritional Benefits” at Nourishing Traditions states, “This traditional practice really has a huge impact in the nutritional status of the humble corn.  Through it, we can take a very frugal food, and make it nutritionally superior.

According to http://corn.askdefine.com/  “When maize was first introduced outside of the Americas it was generally welcomed with enthusiasm by farmers everywhere for its productivity. However, a widespread problem of malnutrition soon arose wherever maize was introduced… Since maize had been introduced into the diet of non-indigenous Americans [settlers] without the necessary cultural knowledge acquired over thousands of years [by native Americans], the reliance on maize elsewhere was often tragic. In the late 19th century pellagra reached endemic proportions in parts of the deep southern U.S.” (According to The Nourishing Gourmet, Pellagra causes “sore skin and mouths, makes you thin, listless and could cause depression, hallucinations, irritability” and more.)

And that’s why you’ll see modern Masa flour and corn tortilla packaging (for example) specifically mention that the corn in their products has been treated with lime (not the fruit, but food grade saturated calcium hydroxide, also known as “cal”).

It is important to mention that the lime used to treat corn for nixtamalization is not garden or agricultural lime (if you bought it in a hardware store, don’t cook with it!), it’s most often marketed in grocery stores as “pickling lime” and is safe to use in food (Native Americans used wood ash as their source for alkalizing the corn solution).

The process is simple, but it does take time to properly treat the corn. Dave Arnold at Cooking Issues waxes poetic about the process and the flavorful (and nutritious) results. Significantly condensed (but nowhere near as entertaining) variations of the directions can also be found here and here.

If you’re going to make corn a significant portion of your survival rations and gardening plan you’ll quickly appreciate the convenience of what we can still purchase pre-treated in stores. Nixtamalization is labor-intensive and time-consuming, but well worth the nutritional advantages. Get the most nutritional “bang for your buck” and nixtamalize that corn!
Trust God. Be Prepared. The time is now! - ShepherdFarmerGeek


Saturday, May 19, 2012


JWR:
The last posted letter correctly pointed out that Japanese Knotweed can be very invasive, although as a local farmer showed me, regular lawn mowing from the beginning of the season will keep it corralled within its allotted plot.

It's too invasive to just plant as a miscellaneous vegetable; its real value lies in a post-TEOTWAWKI world where powerful mediations are hard to come by.  Knotweed is the actual source of reversatrol, the natural phenol in red wine that adds years to your life despite lousy eating habits, keeps brain function sharp, and prevents all the nasty, chronic degenerative diseases of old age that we can no longer expect to have treatment for.  Pick up a bottle of reversatrol at the health food store and look at the main ingredient:  its  Knotweed.

This stuff really works.  There was a strain of skinny, healthy brown mice, who had plump blonde siblings separated by only a single different gene.  The plump blondes died young of degenerative diseases similar to those of elderly humans: cancer, stroke, etc.  Scientists then give both groups reversatrol, added to their mouse chow.

The fat, unhealthy blonde mice stayed as plump as ever, but now lived just as long and healthy lives as their skinny siblings.

Frenchmen from the Bordeaux region of France, famous for its black-red wines have the highest percentage of 100 year olds in Europe.  They drink reversatrol every day.

So yes, planting Japanese knotweed is vital for long term survival in a grid-down situation.  However, as others have aptly said, THINK FIRST!  I'm planting mine near a water drainage swale along a driveway.  They have their beloved sun and water, but have no place to go from there.  The driveway blocks two sides, the forest blocks a third (too dark, they need at least partial sun), and a granite cliff blocks off the fourth side. 

The medicinal part is in the roots, which are dug up and dried in the spring and the fall.  The dose is one ounce of pulverized dried root boiled into a tea.

So make sure you grow them in an area you can access.  I've got another perfect spot:  a sunny, well watered pocket surrounded by deep forest and a road.  But it's too steep, and grubbing out roots on a steep hillside is my idea of how to get hurt.  Roadsides with forest behind are the best, since they have nowhere to spread.  In a TEOTWAWKI situation, you don't have to worry much about car pollutants. 

I believe that God allowed Japanese knotweed to spread all over the world as quickly as it has against the day our government medical systems fail us, to give us the medical care we need.  Some herbs are taken to cure disease, others are to prevent disease and give you a long, healthy life. 

To explore this yourself, read up on reversatrol.

May God lead each of you to those people and things He knows you and your family will need. - Johan D.

JWR Replies: Because Japanese Knotweed roots are so invasive, I would only feel safe growing the plant in a stout planting container such as a concrete or steel stock tank.


Friday, May 18, 2012


Sir,
No one should ever plant Japanese Knotweed, even for survival purposes.  The stuff is so aggressive that it can tear a house off its foundation in a matter of months.  I've read of at least one case in England that required the top ten feet of soil be dug out and hauled away to keep it from sprouting again.  If your readers find this invader someplace and can eat it, wonderful.  But  I pray they don't make the mistake of thinking this would be a great addition to their survival garden. - Kathryn D.


Monday, May 14, 2012


Dear SurvivalBloggers:
For all who are called to the American Redoubt: Secure your food and preserve your freedom of action!

If you don't have a place to grow your own healthy food, support those who do. Go in for shares. Help them every way you can. Growing all your own food now may not be economically viable, but secure sources of food are your lifeline in the future. Our goal should be not only to survive, but to thrive!

My brother and I were born and raised in the American Redoubt and grew up living the life of “preppers” and “survivalists” out of financial and environmental necessity. We did not realize our lifestyle was unusual until going off on scholarships to boarding school on the east coast and college in the south. In these uncertain times, we have come back home to our wild mountains, to make the preparations that need to be made. As our father, New Ordinance, says, “I want to turn the lights back on. As I see it, we are here not only to survive the approaching vicissitudes but to preserve the ‘arts of civilization’ and pass the torch to the next generation so that a new civilization can emerge from the detritus of the old to fulfill the original promise and destiny of America.” (From “The Secret Weapon,” Copyright © 2012 New Ordinance)

Speaking as a member of my generation, this is a daunting responsibility. How does one take that first step in the fabled journey of a thousand miles? Our family has begun with the foundation of all civilizations, a reliable food supply. “Food is the sine qua non of all weapons, for he who controls the food supply controls the fate of nations and individuals…. Come what may, a long-term food supply allows the development of the resistance and foments new strategies that are outside the control mechanism. We play our own game, not the adversary's game.” (From “The Secret Weapon,” Copyright © 2012 New Ordinance)

We have been engaged in small scale agriculture for a number of years, searching for crops and agricultural methods that can feed communities across the American Redoubt without a descent into subsistence farming and feudal agriculture. Corn is the easiest grain to cultivate and harvest by hand, easier by far than the cereal grains. Our family has discovered this from real, personal experience. In a world of increasing gluten intolerance and fatal health consequences, corn is also one of the best alternatives for gluten intolerant preppers, like myself and my father. But almost all strains of corn have been contaminated by the genetically engineered Franken-corn that dominates the bread-basket of America. All, that is, except Painted Mountain Corn. What is Painted Mountain Corn?

Simply put, it’s a corn that grows where no other corn can survive. Bred to withstand the harsh climate and short growing season of southwestern Montana, we’ve found that it’s the only corn that will grow and reliably produce at elevations above 5,000 feet in the northern Rocky Mountains. Bred from a variety of semi-extinct western Indian corns, Painted Mountain Corn represents a gene pool with 1,000 years of selection for reliable production in the arid and nutrient-poor soils of the western United States. It is high in anti-oxidants and soft starches and has been tested with protein as high as 13%, which is comparable to hard red winter wheat.

Painted Mountain Corn is GMO-free, open pollinated, and non-hybrid, so you can save your own seed. It is the life’s work of Dave Christensen and the Seed We Need project. Consider giving a donation to his work.

Our family discovered Painted Mountain Corn three years ago and realized that this is the perfect grain for small-scale, independent farmers in the American Redoubt. However, the seed is expensive and difficult to find, and the few seed companies who carry it have very limited supplies and sell out quickly. That is what led us to start growing our family’s crop for seed, and to begin what we call The Painted Mountain Corn Project.

The Painted Mountain Corn Project has two goals. First, to spread Painted Mountain Corn across the inter-mountain west. Second, to feed the American Redoubt.

Grow your own organic GMO-free corn as a basic component of your food storage program, an annual component of your daily food consumption plan and as a source of income in sharing the seed with your neighbors and your community.

Disclosure: We are a small family Painted Mountain Corn seed business, growing and selling the seed online and at gun shows across Montana. We have a small supply of Painted Mountain Corn seed still available for planting this spring. While we love and grow Painted Mountain Corn, we have no affiliation or endorsement from Dave Christensen or the Seed We Need project.

For more about our family and our experiences with small scale grain raising in the American Redoubt, visit our web site.

- Chief (A 23 year-old female physicist, farmer and writer)


Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Nature is amazing, I love plants. Not only does just looking at them produce a calming effect, they are beneficial to us in every way. From food, to medicine, glue and rope, plants give us everything we need. These are my top five favorite plants because they are amazing, easy to grow or find and have many uses which are especially valid in TEOTWAWKI. Here are my favorite plants found in the wild, and in the garden, and the reasons why.

1. Garlic
 Garlic is great for two reasons, it is a food and a medicine. All parts are edible except for the skin and woody stalk among the cloves. It is the easiest thing to grow and cheap to do so as one clove produces one head. In the garden, it also is said to repel rabbits and moles.
The health benefits are numerous to using garlic as it is reputed to have antibacterial, antimicrobial, diuretic, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Not only is it flavorful, but beneficial in the prevention and treatment of many common ailments.

There are many miracles in the world to be celebrated and, for me, garlic is the most deserving.”  - Leo Buscaglia

Here are some uses for garlic:
 -insect repellent when ingested in larger amounts or when rubbed on topically, treatment for bee and wasp stings
-high blood pressure treatment/ management
-remedy sore throats, cold hands and feet, earache, tight headaches
-treat fungal skin infections like thrush
-treat and prevent bacterial and viral infections, urinary tract infections, bronchial and lung infections
-treatment for pinworms, roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, warts
-reduce nasal congestion, coughs, respiratory problems
-boost resistance to candida infections
-flu, cold, stye, prevention
-effective against a wide range of pathogenic bacteria, influenza, meningitis
-boost immunity, circulation
-poultice for aches, pains, sprains
-help with poor digestion, help regulate blood sugar
-prevent scurvy, prevent gangrene
-boost testosterone with a high protein diet (suggested in a study with rats)
-enhance thiamine absorption
-garlic juice used as an adhesive when mending glass, porcelain
-natural antibiotic, 1 milligram of allicin is the estimated equivalent of 15 standard units of penicillin
-inhibit clotting

2. Cayenne Pepper
We love our food spicy. Cayenne is the easiest 'go to' to spice it up a little, or a lot. Again I'm a fan of multi purpose and cayenne is not only a staple in the kitchen but a great thing to have in a medical kit, and as personal protection. Cayenne contains capsaicin, vitamin A, B6, C, E, riboflavin, potassium, and manganese.
"If you master only one herb in your life, master cayenne pepper. It is more powerful than any other." - Dr. Schulze
"In 35 years of practice, and working with the people and teaching, I have never on house calls lost one heart attack patient and the reason is, whenever I go in--if they are still breathing--I pour down them a cup of cayenne tea (a teaspoon of cayenne in a cup of hot water, and within minutes they are up and around)." - Dr. Christopher
Uses:
-aphrodisiac in males
-ant repellent
-topical anti-inflammatory for joint pain, back pain, arthritis, and nerve pain (Do not use on broken skin)
-remedy cold hands and feet
-soothe chilblains with ointment containing cayenne
-prevent gas when used in meals
-stop a heart attack with cayenne tea, 1 tsp cayenne dissolved in 1 cup hot water
-ease dyspepsia symptoms
-rebuild tissue in the stomach and peristalic action in the intestines
-aids elimination and assimilation
-aids the body in creating hydrochloric acid
-boost circulation, increase heart action, arrest shock symptoms
-lower blood pressure
-overcome fatigue, restore stamina, vigor
-stop hemmoraging
-improve itching of psoriasis
-fight pancreatic cancer
-headache relief
-pepper spray main ingredient...cayenne

3. Dandelion
I used to hate seeing all those yellow flowers infiltrating my green lawn, now it almost pains me to mow them down. Dandelions are higher in beta carotene than carrots and higher in iron and calcium than spinach. They contain the vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, bitter glycosides, inositol, terpenoids, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.
"Suppose your doctor tells you, on your next visit, that he has just discovered a miracle drug which, when eaten as a part of your daily diet or taken as a beverage, could, depending on the peculiarities of your body chemistry: prevent or cure liver diseases, such as hepatitis or jaundice; act as a tonic and gentle diuretic to purify your blood, cleanse your system, dissolve kidney stones, and otherwise improve gastro-intestinal health; assist in weight reduction; cleanse your skin and eliminate acne; improve your bowel function, working equally well to relieve both constipation and diarrhea; prevent or lower high blood pressure; prevent or cure anemia; lower your serum cholesterol by as much as half; eliminate or drastically reduce acid indigestion and gas buildup by cutting the heaviness of fatty foods; prevent or cure various forms of cancer; prevent or control diabetes mellitus; and, at the same time, have no negative side effects and selectively act on only what ails you. If he gave you a prescription for this miracle medicine, would you use it religiously at first to solve whatever the problem is and then consistently for preventative body maintenance?"-Peter Gail
Uses:
-plentiful emergency food
-used to make dandelion wine
-coffee substitute, gotta love that
-strengthen the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder
-promote the flow of bile, reduces inflammation in the bile duct, helps eliminate gallstones
-reduces liver swelling, and jaundice
-help indigestion caused by insufficient bile
-gentle diuretic
-good for pancreas, bladder, spleen, stomach and intestines
-helps with mature onset diabetes, hypoglycemia
-encourages production of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes
-milky sap removes warts, pimples, moles, callouses, sores
-sap soothes bee stings
-help with hypertension
-aids in night vision
-detoxification agent
-therapeutic benefits in the treatment of persistent constipation, acne, eczema, psoriasis
-aids in the treatment of gout, arthritic conditions and osteoarthritis
-recommended for weight loss
-prevent or cure anemia
-appetite stimulant
-use the white juice in the flower stems as glue.

4. Cattail
 Cattails are beautiful, and one of the most useful plants I have have ever encountered. It contains beta carotene, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, potassium, phosphorous, vitamin C, protein, unsaturated fats and calories. From food, to rafts to insect repellent, this plant seems to do it all.
" Although now relatively unused in the United States, where four species thrive, cattails are deliciously edible both raw and cooked from their starchy roots to their cornlike spikes, making them prime emergency foods." from 'Survival Wisdom and Know-How Everything You Need to Know to Subsist in the Wilderness'.
Uses:
-soothes wounds, sores, boils, inflammations, burns and carbuncles
-excellent food source
-weaving material for mats, backs of chairs,
-great stuffing for pillows, great insulation
-used internally to quell diarrhea, kill and expel worms, also used for gonorrhea
-fluff used as tinder
-stalks are great for use as an emergency raft  
-pounded, soaked leaves make good improvised cordage
-used in construction of thatch roofing
-burn as insect repellent
-use brown head of stalk dipped in animal fat as a torch
-pollen is hemostatic and astringent, used to control bleeding
-sticky substance at the base of the green leaf is antiseptic

5. Nettles
Nettles have a bad name due to their special stinging defenses, I find that handy in terms of defense. No one in their right mind would tramp through a nettle patch just to see what's on the other side. Nettles contain very high levels of minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, silica, iodine, silicon, sodium, and sulphur. They also contain chlorophyll, tannen, vitamin C, beta carotene, B complex vitamins, and are high in protein. Yes, they can sting, but the sting is easily remedied with jewelweed, plantain, or dock.
"Sitting here writing this book, I frequently sip on warm nettle tea. It's one of my favorites. It does not taste like a normal tea- not bitter, spicy, minty, or lemony. It's more like a strong stock of a rich, deep, green plant essence, and it's one of the most nourishing drinks of all."- Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean in 'Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places'.
Uses:
-food and tea (always cook nettles)
-ward off iron deficiency anemia
-effective in treating allergies and hay fever
-expectorant, recommended for asthma, mucus of the lungs, and chronic coughs
-tincture used for flu, colds, bronchitis, and pneumonia
-infusion is a safe diuretic
-recommended for weight loss
-tea compress good for wounds, cuts, stings, and burns
-used internally to stop excessive menstruation, bleeding from hemmorages, bloody coughs, nosebleeds, and bloody urine
-helps blood clot
-helps treat gout, glandular diseases, poor circulation, diarrhea, dysentery, worms and hemorrhoids
-makes your hair brighter, thicker, shinier
-makes your skin clearer and healthier
-good for eczema and other skin conditions
-cleansing and antiseptic properties
-stems used for weaving, cordage, cloth and paper making

NOTICE: Please be cautious when attempting to prevent, treat or cure any health issues. Be sure to talk to your Doctor before considering any type of health related changes. Also it is important to note that although these suggested uses are easily found in books and on the internet, some may not work for you. Each body is different and some react in adverse ways. Always be sure you know what you are doing before trying any of these ideas. Some of these plants may have 'look a likes' that at best, won't do what you expect, at worst, will kill you.

Sources:
The Doctors Book Of Home Remedies II
Reader's Digest Curing Everyday Ailments the Natural Way
Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places
Survival Wisdom and Know-How
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garlic
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cayenne_pepper
http://www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com/cayenne.htm
http://www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_dandelion.htm
http://www.leaflady.org/health_benefits_of_dandelions.htm
http://www.the-ultralight-site.com/dandelion.html
http://ghostprepper.blogspot.ca/2011/11/onahwe-ta-preppers-pal.html
http://www.gwenshealinggarden.ca/Quotes.Garlic.htm


Saturday, April 7, 2012


Long before the days of supermarkets and organized agriculture, people lived.  We are the evidence.  They lived in small groups and even alone as hunter gatherers.  And remember, this was in the days before language!  How did we do it?  Trial and error?  Instinct?  If so, the instinct has been lost, but with some simple rules, it may be regained.

The good news is we don't have to watch Uncle Ogg keel over in agony after grazing on a patch of poison hemlock to know that it's something to stay away from. Solutions to common problems such as what to eat from your immediate environment can now be had through books, pictures, video and the spoken word.

I am here to tell you that your body can be sustained for long periods of time by taking advantage of the wild edible food that grows from the ground everywhere.  I know because I did it, and I practiced what I preach exclusively for many years.

I lived in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York in a homesteading situation for many years without electricity and indoor plumbing and the modern conveniences that come with those things.  Town was miles away and visits to civilization were few.  The hardships were many, but so were the lessons learned.  By degrees, I came to know that abundance is given by design.  Believe it or not, we already live in the Garden of Eden, but being "civilized" keeps us from knowing it, and the high pitched whine of man-gone-crazy keeps us from knowing its peace and its gifts.

Some of these foods are known to us already, perhaps instinctively. What child hasn't blown the little parachute seeds from a dandelion's puff-ball while laying in the clover?  Girls pull the petals from a daisy saying "Loves me, loves me not..." and collect tiny bouquets of violets while boys brave sharp barbs to collect raspberries and blackberries.  The helicopters from Maple trees, the burrs from burdock, the fluff from a dried milkweed pod on the wind or the bark of the birch tree have all been child's playthings at one time or another.  Perhaps these warm associations come from a lost knowledge that these are all sources of food?

The average lawn contains many, many food sources. I once published a book called The Lawn Food Cookbook, Groceries in the Backyard due to the sheer amount of material there.  This is without taking a walk around the block or going to local fields and waste areas.  Needless to say, if you're trekking from hither to yon, you'll be passing through many of nature's supermarkets. Will you know how to use their assets?

All it takes to get started is the will to do so. Take a trip to the library or the Internet for tons of free information.  I have found, however, that while many resources are strong on the identification and uses, they can be short on practicalities such as harvesting tips, preparation and especially storage for the long winter months. I have sought out the methods of the early Native Americans to cope with many of these issues, and I've used them to great benefit.  While many of these foods freeze beautifully, I found that much can be done with drying foods and making flour from the dried material for a concentrated nutritional benefit.  This has immediate appeal to people who are on foot.

What if you could make yourself "starvation proof"?  What if you knew you could be dropped off anywhere, even on a desert, and not only survive but have all the nourishment a body could need?  Well, I'm here to tell you that not only is it possible, but it's relatively easy for a person of average intelligence to attain.  It certainly might be hard on your system to begin to eat wild food after steady diet of sugar filled fast foods and processed grains, but those problems largely come from the sheer amount of nutrition you would be confronted with.

It's no secret that modern agriculture techniques have depleted nutrients from the soil when they've been grown in the same place for a long time ago, but this is not true for wild food and the places where it grows.  The very weeds that are giving Big Agriculture problems by becoming resistant to the herbicides that are used to "cultivate" today's GMO crops tend to be the very same foods that we could utterly live on for centuries to come.  Ironic, isn't it?  The "troublesome" amaranth, horseweed, waterhemp and lambsquarters all have edible uses.  It's almost as if Mother Nature is trying to tell us something!

While I am not a “prepper", I have found over the years that these folks are my best audience.  The similarities between my chosen situation in the Adirondacks and the scenario where there is some sort of disaster disrupting the food supply as we know it are too striking to dismiss.  The intent might be different, but the techniques remain the same.  The truly prudent know that this knowledge is not won overnight.  Foraging is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced in one's everyday life before one could depend on it in an emergency.  If you feel that disaster is imminent, my advice to you is "start now."  There is a learning curve, but that curve could begin in troubled times if it had to, assuming you had the information in hand.  You could be up to speed in time to stretch your food supplies and be expert by the time they run out.

One note here-- if you have a family during troubling times, foraging together has the excellent benefit of reducing fear.  As you learn and look around and see that a high percentage of the vegetation around you is edible, you will find that this automatically lessens the worry you may be experiencing while ensuring your family's survival.

To start with wild food, concentrate on finding one plant that grows in your area.  The one's I teach grow almost everywhere.  Identify it and test it using the rules of foraging to be sure that it will not produce a reaction for you or anyone that will be eating it.  This means that they, too, should learn and apply the rules of foraging, as stated below.  This is important, especially if you are reaching outside the bounds of the plants that are known to you.

Then, having passed the tests, harvest some, process it and try some.

To recap, select one plant and bring it from the field to the kitchen.  Learn that one thoroughly.  Work it into your menu, but take a gradient approach to learning and using wild food.  You would first use a pinch to bolster the nutrition of a stew, for instance.  What you'll be doing is adapting your body to the pure nutrition that is wild food.  Realize that it's 5-7 times the nutrition of any vegetable we have, so going too fast could have a strong effect, such as the runs.

First a few pinches mixed in, later, perhaps, a whole meal of nothing but wild food.

As you forage around, you'll become aware of other plants that you can work into your diet in a similar fashion.  You'll will become adept and marvel at the ease of harvesting large amounts quickly, taking it and drying it for storage and future use.  Remember not to pick an area clean of something, because you could wipe it out for the next time.  Leaving some will actually give the plant a chance to resurge and grow like a weed — which of course, they are.

Go slow and have fun while you learn the skill that kept all of humanity alive in the eons before recorded history.

The Rules of Foraging

These rules are for your own protection when investigating plants that are new to you. If followed closely, they will protect you in the field.

1. DO NOT collect plants closer than 200 feet from a car path or contaminated area.
2. NEVER collect from areas sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, or other chemicals.
3. DO NOT collect plants with RED STEMS, or red striations or stripes.
4. ALWAYS BE FAMILIAR with all dangerous plants in YOUR area of collection.
5. POSITIVELY IDENTIFY all plants you intend to use for food.
6. Take a piece off the plant and roll between your fingers.  SNIFF CAREFULLY.  Does it smell like something you would eat?  If it doesn’t, DISCARD IMMEDIATELY.  If it does, go to rule 7.
7. Take another piece off the plant and roll until juicy.  RUB the tiny piece on your gum above your teeth.
8. WAIT 20 minutes.
9. DOES YOUR GUM ITCH, BURN, TINGLE, SWELL OR STING?  If no reaction occurs, go on to rule 10.
10. Take another piece of the plant and put in a teacup.  Add boiling water and steep for 5 minutes.  SIP SLOWLY for 20 more minutes.  WATCH FOR NAUSEA, BURNING, DISCOMFORT.  If no reaction occurs, you may ingest a small amount.
11. WAIT ANOTHER 20 MINUTES and watch for any reaction.
12. Keep all samples AWAY from children or pets.
13. Store all seeds and bulbs AWAY from children and pets.
14. Teach children to keep all plants AWAY from their mouths and DO NOT ALLOW children chew or suck nectar from any unknown plants.
15. AVOID smoke from burning plants. Smoke may irritate the eyes or cause allergic reactions QUICKLY.
16. BE AWARE of your neighbor’s habits with chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.
17. BEWARE: heating or boiling doesn’t always destroy toxicity.

 

After emerging from the woods, I dedicated myself to teaching the lessons that I had learned.  In the early 1980s I set up a wild food walk, sort of a museum of plants so people could learn them without having to seek them out first.  My first Xeroxed flyer for the walk was eventually to become my first book, A Survival Acre.  My materials have evolved over the years to what you can see on my webs ite, OfTheField.com.  Nothing makes me madder than hearing about people starving to death when they're sitting in Nature's Supermarket!  People are always blown away with the knowledge and awareness that comes from discovering the abundance right under their feet.  It is my sincerest hope that you will learn these skills.

DISCLAIMER:
This is information about wild food.  The editors of SurvivalBlog nor the author make no claims as to the correctness, safety or usability of the data.

The information contained herein is intended to be an educational tool for gathering and cooking wild plants.  The information presented is for use as a supplement to a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.  The nutritional requirements of individuals may vary greatly, therefore the author and publisher take no responsibility for an individual using and ingesting wild plants.

All data is to be used at your own risk.  Using the Rules of Foraging, above, greatly helps to reduce that risk, but they are not fool-proof.

JWR Adds: SurvivalBlog readers will likely recognize the author's name. She is the author of the excellent Linda Runyon's Master Class On Wild Food Survival.Her books, DVDs, and flash cards all have a well-deserved positive reputation.


Thursday, April 5, 2012


Although I had a front-row financial services seat for the market collapse in 2008, it wasn’t until fall 2010 that I was stuck by an awakening that “something wicked this way comes.” With a master’s degree in Medieval Literature (it’s not as useless as it sounds, really) two things I have studied are the ravages of war and famine over the centuries, both of which desperately scare me as the mother of two young children.

I have paid particular attention to the many SurvivalBlog entries on gardening, one of my few practical skills. Most are either submitted by seasoned vegetable gardeners who have had a large garden for years, or about lessons learned by beginners.

Gardening is in my blood, passed down from generations of German farmers and English gardeners. My grandparents all moved off the farm, but they continued to garden extensively, as did my parents back in the 1970s. I watched my mother and grandmothers can their harvest. In turn, I have a couple decades’ experience with English perennial gardens, but little experience with vegetables.

I have put off submitting an article for a year in order to try and provide a unique slant on the topic of survival gardening: what happens when an experienced perennial gardener actually makes a serious attempt to grow real food, for the first time ever? And thereby hangs a tale.

We live in a small, conservative Midwestern city, in a solid brick farmhouse that is well over 100 years old, and that was encompassed by the suburbs in the 1930s. If the worst comes, we plan to bug in, as our foot-thick brick walls seem defensible. An old brick carriage house, 1,000-gallon koi pond, sealed-off well, and a rainwater-filled cistern are also on our quarter-acre lot. The perimeter of our property is in perennial beds, with an oval of lawn maintained in the center for our two young children to play upon. We also have a livestock watering trough and 250 square foot strip of vegetable garden in the undeveloped alley, portions of which receive less than 6 hours of sunlight a day. After clearing out some perennials toward the back of the yard, my total space dedicated to vegetables is 500 square feet. We even have an old dirt-floor root cellar. And of course we have a large (72 cu. ft.) compost bin. We garden as organically as possible, although I (very infrequently) cheat with a systemic on some of my more disease-prone roses. We have duplicates of all the gardening hand tools that we need.

My husband and I are both hard workers, still fairly young and strong, with good backs and a love for working with our hands. But we both work full time, so I garden in the few spare hours I can find.

Over the past year I have taken careful notes on my food project. So, as appropriate for a gardener’s tale, I have divided my experience into the four seasons, beginning late last fall.

Winter: Root Cellaring

“More than an hundred thousand persons, of all ages, perished of famine in this district. ‘It was a frightful spectacle,’ says an old annalist, ‘to behold, in the roads and streets, at the doors of houses, human bodies devoured by the worms, for none remained to scatter a little earth over them, all being destroyed by famine or the sword’….often, for the remains of the repast of a groom in the Norman army, the Saxon, once illustrious among his countrymen, in order to sustain his miserable life, came to sell himself and his whole family to perpetual slavery.” (Augustine Thierry, on the Norman Harrowing of Yorkshire)

Root vegetables were the hidden treasure of the medieval peasant—marauding armies might raze your village, burn your barn and steal your cow, but it was hard for them to root out all the turnips and parsnips.

In the fall of 2010 it was too late to put in any new vegetables for this project, but I had some vegetables I had planted for “fun,” including beets, carrots, and some heirloom potatoes that were misplaced in our cellar and rediscovered, sprouting, in time to plant for the spring. I harvested a good 10+ lbs. of potatoes from 6 potatoes planted, for somewhere around a 9:1 yield. I stored these in the root cellar for the full winter; they stayed firm and didn’t begin sprouting till the early spring.

I also stored a sampling of apples, which lasted a long time in the root cellar, but started reaching different stages of mushiness by late winter. I picked out the most perfect apples to keep and wrapped them individually in newspaper. Most were Empire apples, which I had used for making applesauce, and they have a very delicate white flesh; however, not the best choice for a “keeper” apple. In the spring, I planted two late-producing, disease-resistant Goldrush apple trees for my keepers down the road. This past fall we harvested many pounds of paw paws, which make a delightful cream pie, and have kept very well in the root cellar, and I have been experimenting with making sauerkraut and pickles the old-timey way, fermenting them in crocks.

I also had a row of carrots and beets that I “root cellared” in the ground. I just heaped dirt and mulch around them, and they lasted well in the protected, sunken alley. When I dug them out the following spring, they were still beautiful and tasty. This is kind of a lazy man’s clamp, which is an ancient form of root cellar. You dig a pit a couple feet deep, line it with straw, put in your potatoes, apples, carrots, cabbages, and other “keepers,” pile on more straw, and then cover it with a pile of dirt with some “chimneys” of bundled burlap or straw to provide some ventilation.

Finally, my Christmas present to my husband last year was a beer-making set. Although he currently has to brew from kits (we don’t have the room for barley, but perhaps we could put by some seeds, and I read with great interest the recent article on making cider) it has been an entertaining and very rewarding hobby.

 

Spring: Starving with Wild Edibles

“…three children huddled together, lying there because they were too weak to rise, pale and ghastly, their little limbs ... perfectly emaciated, eyes sunk, voice gone, and evidently in the last stages of actual starvation.” (English Quaker William Bennet, on the English-inflicted starvation of the Irish)

The February full moon is called the Hunger Moon. This always sends a chill down my spine, since it’s a reminder that even when spring is around the corner, your winter stores are giving out and won’t be replaced any time soon.

As I started my vegetable seeds in our basement and set the tiny plants out in cold frames built by my husband, I realized it would still be a long time before they would become productive (our last frost date is May 15th). The problem is, even if your stores last till the spring, and you are a skillful forager, there is still very little for you to live off of, as wild edibles offer scant calories.

We took a wild edibles course at a local nature preserve, and learned quite a bit about the fungi, fruits and greens available in our local woodlands. I started throwing a handful of violet, sorrel, plantain and dandelion leaves into our salads, dressed with herbs and a simple balsamic vinaigrette, which provides a lovely counterpoint to storage foods—but it can’t replace them. We also found at least 5 lbs. of morel mushrooms—truly the feast of a feral king, but unfortunately offering just 340 calories for the whole lot. On the bright side, wild edibles can provide incredible amounts of vitamins A and C, as shown below. On the not-so-bright side, a vitamin powerhouse like Poke Sallet can kill you if you don’t prepare it properly or you eat the wrong part of the plant at the wrong time of year.

Here is a sampling of the food values of some common edibles (per 100 grams):

Chicory greens: 7 calories, 33% vitamin A, 12% vitamin C
Chicory roots: 66 calories, 6% vitamin C
Dandelion greens: 25 calories, 112% vitamin A, 32% vitamin C, 19% calcium, 17% iron
Lamb’s quarters: 32 calories, 156% vitamin A, 62% vitamin C
Poke shoots: 23 calories, 174% vitamin A, 227% vitamin C
Purslane: 16 calories, 26% vitamin A, 35% vitamin C

With such a low calorie count, you obviously would have to forage a huge bag of these items every day for them to make a significant contribution to keeping you alive.

Summer: Praying for Growth

“To eat your own children is a barbarian act.” Soviet propaganda posters during the Soviet-inflicted Holodomor in Ukraine

I started several trays of heirloom seeds indoors on a sunny windowsill, before moving them to a cold frame, and direct-sowed many more seeds. Here are my results for some vegetables that can be harvested over the summer. Cucumbers, mesclun, green beans, snap peas, and tomatillos were also grown, but the results were a thousand calories or less.

Carrots: the heirloom and Danvers-type carrots were a semi-fail, the salsify was a complete fail, and the parsnips didn’t even bother showing up. I am estimating 7 lbs total usable carrots; more went to the guinea pig. Part of the problem may be that they were in partial shade, but a major problem appears to be root nematodes, as they were freakishly misshapen. This was in an area that had never had a crop before. Total calories: 930

Corn: 25 seeds of a miniature heirloom yielded 1 pint of shelled dry corn grown in a 4 x 4 ft. space. Not much, but corn is such an energy powerhouse (365 calories per 100g) that it is worthwhile to keep seed on hand. This year I will be experimenting with several heirloom Indian corn varieties. Total calories: 1,656

Eggplant: 4 heirloom plants produced 16 lbs in 4 sq. ft. of space. Although prolific producers, they offer few calories. Total calories: 1,742

Melons: 4 Asian melon plants produced 15 lbs. The melons were the size of softballs, so I could grow them on a trellis, which is a very efficient use of space in such a small garden. Total calories: 2,449

Peppers: Including sweet peppers, banana peppers, ancho peppers, and an assortment of smaller hot peppers, they produced prolifically in the intense heat and dryness we had over the summer. They are also vitamin C powerhouses (green and red bells offer 134% and 213% daily vitamin C, respectively), and the hot peppers can easily be dried and stored through the winter. I noticed a huge difference between the peppers in the ground and the peppers I grew in pots, which were not terribly happy. Total calories: 1,995

Tomatoes: We harvested 130 lbs of tomatoes off of 20 plants (some of which bore heavily, others which never successfully ripened due to our weird weather). This tally includes 33 lbs. of green tomatoes and 20 lbs of ruined tomatoes, which we included as they would not have gone to waste in a survival situation. Not included are the many tomatoes that went straight into our compost bin over the course of the summer—again, closer monitoring would prevent the ruined tomatoes, and if we had livestock they could always be given to the chickens or pigs. Total calories: 11,700.

One big mistake that we made was, rather than planting roma-type tomatoes, we focused on delicious old heirlooms like Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, etc. that are great for eating out of hand, but they make a watery and flavorless sauce for canning, and are not as prolific as a roma plant.

Fall: When the Harvest Fails

“I saw the helpless Cherokees arrested and dragged from their homes, and driven at the bayonet point into the stockades. And in the chill of a drizzling rain on an October morning I saw them loaded like cattle or sheep into six hundred and forty-five wagons and started toward the west.” (Private John G. Burnett, on the Cherokee Trail of Tears)

The crops planted for the fall harvest would be the heavy hitters we would depend on to get us through the winter, so a heavy production of calorie-rich food would be crucial to survival.

Beans: I planted 3 different types of heirloom beans in the partially shady portion of the garden and got about a pint of shelled dry beans for 30 seeds planted. This is not a good yield. Possible problems are the shadiness, letting the bean beetles get out of control before tackling them with diatomaceous earth, and planting the beans too closely together. In addition to spacing, another trade-off that one needs to consider is the length of time it takes to grow them to the dry-bean stage (all season) rather than harvesting them as snap beans. Total calories: 6,115

Cabbages: This provided a good comparison lesson for sun vs. shade. I planted several cabbages in late spring in a very fertile, yet partially shaded area of the garden (6 hours of sun)….and later in the summer, I found some leftover cabbage seedlings on the sale rack, completely pot-bound and leggy, and I planted them in an area of scruffy grass in some waste space along a very sunny fence. The sunny cabbages were 3-5 lbs a head, while the shady cabbages were 1- 2 lbs a head. Total calories: 1,742

Kale: With five plants of Red Russian kale, not only is this a lovely, ornamental-looking plant, but I have been able to harvest leaves all winter long in order to have fresh greens and Portuguese Kale Soup. Kale provides 50 calories per 100 g, as opposed to 16 for your average lettuce, and this amount provides 308% of your vitamin A and 200% of your vitamin C. The Irish would cook kale with potatoes for colcannon. Total calories: 3,402

Leeks: We grew 50 or so leeks, half of which are still in the garden, having survived the winter in fine style. I am estimating 10 lbs. Total calories: 2,766

Potatoes: Our potatoes were one of our scandalous failures this year. I planted 5 lbs of (very expensive) seed potatoes and harvested 13 lbs, when a good average should have been maybe 20 lbs for the type I planted. I made a number of mistakes: planting fancy types rather than prolific bearers; not combating flea beetles quickly enough; not hilling them up; not giving them enough space. All this combined with a bad, wet spring and a relentlessly hot, dry summer. In my defense, one of our local farmer’s market vendors, a seasoned farmer, had an even worse crop…but the potatoes should have been the backbone of our garden. As I dug up clump after measly clump, I thought about how devastating it would have been if we were actually counting on the crop. It likely would have been a death sentence. And I was shocked because I thought I was doing a very good job with them. Total calories: 4,541

Squash: With so little room, I planted two Victoria Blue squash in my perennial bed and let them fight it out. One vine died, and off the other vine, which was planted way too late from a seedling that sat in its little pot for way too long, I got two smallish squash—surprising, considering the neglect and mistreatment the poor little vine suffered. To do them right, squash require a generous amount of room (spacing of 6 to 10 feet), but since they keep so well, they are one of the fundamental cops for winter. Next year I will give them more room, very fertile soil, and cover the soil with black plastic, and they really prefer some heat. Since I wanted to test the keeping abilities of squash, I bought 15 assorted pumpkins and squash for Halloween decorations, protected them from frost, and then moved them to our dry basement. They have continued to last well over the winter, and, with some onions, carrots and cream, make a fabulous, savory soup. Total calories (grown): 1,234 calories

Some Hard Lessons Learned

If, like me, you have ever had the thought, “Hey, I’m a good gardener—if things collapse I can just live off the land”…well, think again. Growing vegetables to keep yourself alive is a lot more difficult than growing some fresh tomatoes and pretty roses, even if you already have the compost bin, all the hand tools, the basic knowledge, the fertile soil, the strong back, and a love for growing things.

I have to be able to feed, at a minimum, my husband and my two babies. That’s 4,500 calories a day at a starvation level. Although I did not list all the details here, when I add everything up, including the odds and ends, and calculate it against the number of calories we need, at this level, we would only have 9 days worth of food. (!!!) Our 130 lbs of tomatoes, for example, account for 2.6 days. If we picked our crabapple tree clean, that might provide us for another week or so.

So, this project was definitely a reality check, but I am grateful that I could learn my hard lessons in easy times. Here are a few general things I am planning to do in the coming planting season:

  • Approach gardening with humility. Nature is fully capable of kicking your butt, and it can be a struggle even for seasoned gardeners and farmers. Never stop practicing and learn from your failures as well as your successes.
  • I will continue to rotate crops and build the soil with compost and manure, and will be trying the organic fertilizer Steve Solomon describes in his Gardening in Hard Times, but I am also going to stock a good amount of time-release conventional fertilizer for if we ever have to live off our garden.
  • The bugs will find your crops, immediately, even though you live in the middle of town and have never before grown beans or cabbages. I need to research some gentle, preferably organic, pesticides beyond diatomaceous earth and stock up. 
  • I need to better plan out adequate spacing and thoughtful use of land, rather than cramming too many things together. For example, lettuce and leeks can be grown in the partially shady areas, while the rows of corn can be intercropped with rows of early radishes and carrots.
  • Ultimately, you can’t get the calories you need to live off of vegetables grown on 500 sq. ft. of land—even if we tripled the garden area and tripled the harvest, it would still provide just 22% of our annual need. We need more land and a way to convert “lost” calories (grass trimmings, vegetables we can’t eat, etc.) into animal calories. We need to consider some contraband city chickens or rabbits. And like Proverbs’ Wife of Noble Character, who “considers a field and buys it,” I am already actively searching for a few acres in the nearby Amish community where we can get started with some fruit trees and a laissez-faire garden.
  • I have arranged with some family members to grow some of my corn, squash and other space-hogging veggies on their very large property. This will allow me to practice my skills, give the “three sisters” concept a whirl, test the seeds and potatoes I saved from this year, just to see what comes up from open-pollinated seeds that may have crossed, and better fill my larder and canning jars next fall.
  • Grow plants from open-pollinated heirloom seeds. There’s nothing wrong with hybrids, but Monsanto (a creepy company if there ever was one) controls 20% of the world’s vegetable seeds (40% in the US), including the patents on Early Girl tomatoes. Do you trust them?
  • Finally, as my selection of quotations shows, all governments are fully capable of starving and “liquidating” their inconvenient citizenry in pursuit of political, monetary or ideological ends. The US has its share of blood on its hands, from the death marches of Indian tribes to the Indian Territory and reservations that were little more than big concentration camps, or the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II, and once again there is a rumbling of a distant thunder. Like the Scots, my first inclination is to run for the hills. But for me, joining the American Redoubt is not an option. My roots run deep in this Midwestern city and state, and I will stand my ground and be the “salt of the earth” here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Planting a garden is a sure way to find out about yourself.  Are you impatient and reckless?  Are you detail-oriented and methodical?  If you haven’t figured it out yet, you will when you till up some soil.  Three years ago at this time, I hadn’t ever planted a garden.  The last time I was even in a garden was when I was 10 years old at my grandma’s house many seasons ago.  I found out that year that I didn’t like gardening as my experience with it was mostly weeding.  Sure, I got to eat some carrots or turnips out of that garden, but they sure weren’t worth all the time spent scorching in the sun crawling around in the dirt.  Looking back, I should have learned all I could from my grandma about gardening—right or wrong. 

Many years later I began to enjoy cooking and one thing I learned was, if you had some quality spices, you could take some mediocre food and make it really good.  I would plant an herb garden!  But as often is the case, the best laid plans…  I never did plant an herb garden, but a few years ago I decided it was time to try my hand at growing my own food. 
What prompted me to start this journey?  A lot of things really.  One, I thought it was a good outdoor activity for me and my family.  I want my kids growing up doing outdoor activities that are productive to them and beneficial later in their lives, not wasting time with video games and television like I did as a child.  Each year I look forward to more of their contributions in the garden—even a two year old can help by retrieving something for me while I work. 

Another reason to plant a garden was the economy.  Things aren’t getting any better out there.  I could save a bundle by growing a lot of things myself.  I was without work for almost a year and the garden really helped out a lot during that time.  And, if things get really ugly, it will help me feed my family or possibly help others by teaching them what I have learned. 

However, the biggest reason for me to start a garden was that I know what is in a lot of the food we buy in grocery stores.  One of my hobbies is fitness and nutrition and when it comes to nutrition, ignorance is bliss.  If you knew exactly what it was you were eating, you may not eat that particular item ever again.  Not only is processed food terrible for you from a macronutrient standpoint, but the chemicals and processes used to create it are downright evil.  We have an epidemic in this country with fat children and diabetes.  I wonder if it is because everything has corn syrup in it…  There isn’t enough money in Obamacare to fix all of the problems these kids are going to have down the line.  My rule is, the further away the final product is from its initial state (the more processed it is), the less I want to eat it. 

The first year I wanted to start a garden I didn’t really know what I was doing.  Fortunately, I had a good friend that was an expert in gardening and he had recently moved into a condo, so he had no space to garden himself.  He gladly showed me the ropes.  He ordered seeds for me and even started them in planters.  After laying out the plot, we used a sod cutter to remove what we could and then tilled the mostly clay soil with some peat moss, chicken droppings, bone meal and blood meal.  I rented a big 8.5 horsepower tiller since it was the first time the soil had been disturbed and the clay made for a real mess.  I put in the contractors edging (deeper than standard edging) around the garden to keep the burrowing pests out.  Then I put up some wooden posts and a plastic fencing.  After smoothing soil, we planted a raised bed down the middle and a few mounds for the vine vegetables. 

I watered ever day waiting for some green sprouts to pop out of the ground.  When they did I was like a kid in a candy store.  I was amazed that you could take a tiny seed, put it into the earth, water it and watch as God made a plant emerge from the dirt.  Sure, I had to weed plenty—I did it every day in the morning before work.  And I had to check the broccoli leaves for green cabbage worms twice daily.  These worms were tiny but had ravenous appetites.  They would wreak havoc later on if not eliminated immediately.  I even started a compost pile and religiously put every appropriate scrap, no matter how small in the pile. 

The harvest was amazing.  I remember that first spinach salad.  What was that funny taste?  I don’t use any chemicals so it couldn’t be that.  I triple washed it, so it couldn’t be dirt.  Then we figured it out—it was the lack of any kind of processing.  No sprays applied by the harvester or at the grocery store to keep it looking fresh.  The funny taste was nothing at all. It was natural food.  It’s what spinach should taste like.  I was amazed.  And hooked.  That summer we ate like kings.  We canned dozens of jars of tomatoes, froze a years supply of shredded zucchinis and peppers and ate enough salad to feed a herd of cattle.  As fall came and went, I looked forward to the next growing season.  I remember feeling a tinge of depression as my green slice of paradise, dried up and blew away with the winter wind.  I also learned that using wood posts was a fools errant—they mostly rotted out and the plastic fencing was eaten through by varmints. 

I planned the next season’s garden and ordered my seeds.  This time, I would attempt to do my own “starts” and I would expand my garden size.  This turned out to be a season of learning and errors.  The first error was that I waited until the spring to till the soil.  I am sure the worms weren’t too happy about it.  The next group of errors centers around my potted plant starters.  Since I left heat pad on them after they sprouted, they become gangly and moved towards the sun.  I wasn’t smart enough to remember my 6th grade biology class and rotate the plants so they wouldn’t be at a 45° angle from the ground. 

Another mistake I made was not using fish emulsion to feed the plants the proper nutrients—they were not very green and the stems were not thick at all.  When I transferred the starts to bigger pots, I suddenly became economical and decided not to fill the new pots to the top with dirt.  That was brilliant as I shrunk the available space for the roots to grow—this was not helpful for making the plants stronger.  Not sufficiently hardening the plants to outdoor conditions before planting was another blunder.  I put them out for a few hours each day, but should have kept them out a lot longer.  Maybe start with an hour or two and by the end of the week keep them out there during all daylight hours.  Finally, when I went to plan the starts in the ground, I failed to wet the pots beforehand and likely damaged some of the roots when I transplanted them into the garden. 

After a particularly windy night, almost all of my tomatoes and my eggplant and broccoli were wiped out.  I had to do the unthinkable—go to Lowe's to buy my plants.  I was amazed at the difference between their thick stemmed plants and the spindly “weeds” I had planted.  The new plants took off and things seemed to be going well.  But then more problems arose.  This gardening was tough!

I had used a section of the garden as the dumping ground for bad produce or produce that had fallen off and started to rot.  I just piled it up the summer before and then it got tiled under that spring.  Well, I was answering for that mistake now.  Volunteers started popping up all over the garden.  At first I didn’t know what I had, but over time, dozens of tomato and other plants were everywhere.  I also had a lot of weeds that I didn’t have the previous season and didn’t recognize at all.  My curiosity got the better of me on this one and I learned that anything that isn’t planted by me needed to go—they basically ruined my raised bed.  I must have had five or six dozen tomato volunteers.  As a side note, a friend of mine didn’t have a chance to plan anything so he took 4 of the volunteers and they produced well for him!  I suppose in certain situations, I could sell the volunteers to people that needed them for food, but as long as my garden is just for me, I will not let them grow in the future.  It was interesting that hybrid seeds from one season’s vegetables produced actual usable vegetables the next season. 

Some of the other lessons I learned, include: 
1)      My red onions did poorly—they need more sun and were partially shaded.  I need to move them to a north side of the garden.
2)      I need to stake my pepper plants immediately after planting.  It seems every year there is a wind storm that ruins some plants and we are in an area that has no shield from wind.
3)      I need to kill the grass on the outside of the edging to protect the onions and other “weaker crops.”  The grass is mixing in with the onions and taking away nutrients and water from them.   My onions seem to get a lot of their water from the surface, so they don’t have deep roots. 
4)     
I need to strengthen my chicken cage fence around my garden with a few more posts. 
5)      Here’s an obvious one—I can’t have a tall plant, like tomatoes near my underground sprinkler head in the garden.  The tall plant blocks the water flow and prevents other things from getting watered later in the season.  Plus it gets soaked and over watered as it is basically blocking the water flow. 

This was a hard season of learning, but I still managed a healthy crop of produce and even increased my volume on a few vegetables.  Most importantly, I have acquired a “book of knowledge” which I can use to help me not repeat the same mistakes this season again.  I’ve noticed that as the summer goes on, I get a bit lazy and don’t weed as diligently as I do early on.  Also, I need to plant a second crop of vegetables later in the spring to have a late summer crop and a third planting in the summer to have a fall crop.  I might as well squeeze every calorie out the garden that I can! 

As I desire to become more self-sufficient with my food, I also planted four fruit trees, some garlic, some blueberries and a few other things.  I plan on expanding that more with an herb garden and possibly a raspberry patch in the next season.  I will also enlarge my garden both in terms of size and types of produce.  I am starting to get a feel for what grows well and what doesn’t as well as what I like out of my garden and what is more cost/time effective for me to get at a store.  I will rotate my crops once again and add a few new items to keep things fresh.  I need to do a soil exchange with a friend that has sandy soil to get better balance in my clay dominated soil.  I am hoping more sand will help with my root and vine vegetables. 

I am glad to be learning these hard lessons now, when I can recover, rather than later on, when making these mistakes can be the difference between feeding your children or watching them starve.  There is a lot of start-up work expended in a garden, but not a lot to do day-to-day.  I recommend everyone try their hand at it to see how they do.  Even with all the challenges I encountered, it is still a great hobby and very enjoyable for me.  I just started my peppers and tomato seeds this year with my 2 year old's help and can’t wait to see them sprout! 


Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. I was raised by a single mother who didn’t have time for much besides working to pay bills. I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up on a farm or learn canning or learn any useful survival/life skills besides how to cook Hamburger Helper and I was doing that at the ripe old age of 10. I did become a pro at making stew though and I could probably tell you 101 ways to use pasta. And thanks to my grandmother I could even crochet you a scarf if you’re lucky and if I have the spare time between working as a realtor and raising six kids, who are now ages 10-to-22.
 
Getting married, moving away from home at the age of 18 and becoming a military wife introduced me to a lot of new people, new ideas and I was able to learn things along the way that have prepared me for almost any event that may occur in the future that would take most of us out of our comfort zones, be it a job loss, world financial crash, hurricane, government collapse or any disaster that may hit my area. When your husband is out of town for sometimes as long as a year at a time, you have lots of time for reading, television watching and experimenting and that is what I did and continue to do with my current husband who also works long hours. I didn’t think of it as prepping or hoarding or whatever terminology you want to give it. I didn’t have a book that was specifically about a SHTF (I really don’t like that acronym but it is one most people understand so I’ll use it) scenario and there was no Internet back when I started down this path in the 1980s. I just felt in my gut this instinct that I should always be ready for “something”. Maybe that was a result of being so close to the fire so to speak because my husband was in the military and his whole career revolved around preparing for what might one day happen, maybe it was from listening to my grandparents talk about the Great Depression or maybe it was a higher being and verses I had read in my Bible about what one day might happen to this world but regardless I started preparing for something that may never happen in my lifetime but if it does…I’m ready and I want to teach my children to be ready and hopefully these skills and knowledge will be passed on from generation to generation so if “it” ever does happen my loved ones will not only survive but prosper.
 
I don’t talk about survival skills or preparing for any cataclysmic event with my extended family or my friends because I know they’d just think I was crazy and I don’t ever want to worry my children or have them live in a constant state of fear but I do want them to learn so in our house we call the preparations “getting ready for hurricane season.” Most of the people I know have the proverbial “it will never happen here or it will never happen to me” mindset. That is fine for them but not for me and mine. They know we live in the country and we grow a garden and we have a lot of animals. They make fun of us, ask us how we can live so far out and why we don’t just buy our veggies at a Kroger's supermarket. That’s fine, but one day if the SHTF scenario happens then whose door do you think they will show up at? Exactly, mine. Because they will remember that Mrs. S. grows her own veggies and has guns and ammo and raises her own chickens and has cows at her back door. Only problem with that is the part we aren’t telling anyone and that is that we have another even more remote place that we are stocking and getting ready so that if the SHTF event ever occurs we will be leaving here because we feel that every hungry soul in Houston is going to head outside of the city limits and end up on our doorstep and we don’t want to be here when that happens.
 
When Hurricane Rita was due to hit in 2005 we got a taste of what would happen in the event of a disaster. We had nowhere to go so I sat on my deck and watched the farm to market road close to me turn into a parking lot. Several vehicles ran out of gas and there were no gas stations open because those people were evacuating too. There were no bathrooms so the street was littered with whatever people could find to relieve themselves on the side of the road. And I’ve never seen so much trash on my road. We were afraid to go to bed that night because those people might break into our house. One of my kids suggested we open a lemonade stand on the corner. We’d have probably made a fortune!  Regardless, that storm didn’t even blow away a plastic bottle that I’d left out off of the deck railing but it did teach a lot of people a valuable lesson, that they weren’t ready.
 
When Hurricane Ike hit in 2008 we thought we were ready. We weren’t going to evacuate after seeing the results of Rita, we were going to stay home and ride it out. I’d made sure that our above ground pool was emptied and cleaned and then filled it with clean well water and a little chlorine bleach straight from the bottle. I’d gone to the store and bought supplies and we’d battened down the hatches. My uncle had come over to wait out the storm with us and he and I stood in the garage and watched the storm blow by. Once again it didn’t do much damage at our house. Just a few fallen limbs. Then my current husband who was 42 at the time started feeling sick within minutes of the storm passing. He got dizzy and couldn’t walk. The phones, both land lines and cell had all stopped working a few hours earlier so I couldn’t call 911 but I knew he needed help and none of my skills as a Realtor were going to help at this point even though I had learned CPR as a Girl Scout Leader for my daughter’s troop. We loaded him into the car and headed into town 10 miles away. The storm hadn’t done much damage at my house but the streetlights were out and some were hanging so low one nearly hit my windshield. There were trees down everywhere and I had to navigate carefully around them. I had my hazard lights on the whole time. When we got to town I needed to make a left at what was once a light but was now just wires dangling down to the ground to get to the ER and no one [in the oncoming lane] would let me turn. The traffic lights weren’t working so why should they stop? I got a glimpse of how humanity becomes under stress. My uncle had to get out to stop cars and I pulled my Suburban out in front of them with a “you will let me turn into the ER or we’ll both get killed” mentality. I have raised six kids, so you can’t bully me and get away with it because I’ll push back! I got him safely to the ER which was packed with people and later learned that he’d had a stroke due a blocked carotid artery. Yes, even 42 year olds can and do have strokes, especially when they are out of shape, they dip tobacco and are under severe stress. Luckily for him he survived it and has very little residual damage except for poor vision and vertigo. We learned a valuable lesson that day. We still weren’t ready.
 
So that is the who and why of Mrs. S. in a nutshell. The whole point of this however is for you to learn something. So the following bullet points are my suggestions on what you should know, do or start learning now and what you should have on hand or stored so that if a SHTF scenario occurs you won’t have to show up on Mrs. S’s empty doorstep. There isn’t enough room here for me to list everything so I suggest you go online and order some books on surviving under tough situations. Do web searches on “prepper books, survival books, first aid books, Amish books, canning, homesteading, animal husbandry, gardening, etc” because there is a lot of information out there. You can go to Netflix and watch a television series called “The Colony”, it gives you an eye opening view of life in a post collapse situation although not everyone is going to be living with an engineer a doctor and a handyman who can build cars out of toothpicks MacGyver style, ha ha. There’s another show we watched called Survivors which was a post flu pandemic scenario. (Not to be confused with the television show Survivor where you outwit your fellow Survivor opponent on a pretty tropical island somewhere.) There’s also the Out of the Wild series on The Discovery Channel which I enjoyed. The old episodes are on Netflix. It will really open your eyes if they aren’t opened already. So, here’s the list and remember….this just touches the surface of what you need to know to be ready for a life changing event.

  1. Have a safe place to go in the event you need to leave and if you plan to go to someone else’s house, make sure you have permission or you might get met at the end of a shotgun. Don’t wait for evacuation orders. Leave at the first sign of trouble. If nothing else, think of it as a little vacation and if you leave a little to late, take the roads less traveled. Learn them now so that if your GPS isn’t working you can navigate your way safely out of town. Buy maps and keep them in your car. Most states have web sites where you can order them for free or go to a State’s travel welcome center and get one there.
  2. Volunteer with the Boy or Girl scouts so you can start learning basic survival skills. It’s amazing how many people in this world don’t even know how to start a fire. Speaking of fire, have lots of water proof matches, lighters and a magnesium fire starter. Having a fire can mean the difference between life and death. You can also make fire kindling using Gulf wax, an egg carton and lint from your dryer. Google it. It’s a Girl Scout trick I learned (I learned to cook on the bottom of a coffee can too!). Learn how to make candles or buy cheap ones at the dollar store. I prefer beeswax ones myself. [JWR Adds: All those new open flame sources around your home will make fire fighting skills just as important as fire starting skills. Buy several fire extinguishers or your house, and one for each vehicle. Study how to use them.]
  3. Take a CPR class and learn basic first aid then stock up on first aid supplies. Watch videos online about first aid. My current favorite is Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy. I learned to do stitches that way recently. Join your local volunteer fire department so you can use those skills you are learning.
  4. Start buying extra non-perishables and canned goods now because once the SHTF you can forget it. I like to buy freeze dried products because they can last for many years without expiring. There are several online companies to order from. Google “freeze dried foods”. I like the #10 cans but I have a large family. Regardless, most of those last 20+ years sealed and two more years even after being opened but read the labels. If you don’t know how to can foods, find someone who does and learn. Look at it this way, you can always give some homemade stuff away at Christmas time. My family loved last year's Pumpkin butter when I planted too many pumpkins in my garden.
  5. If you have the space and live in an unrestricted area, buy some chickens and start your own flock. Contrary to popular brainwashed opinion the eggs are safe to eat. We’ve been eating eggs from our chickens for nearly 10 years and we aren’t dead yet. I read Storey’s guide to raising chickens and that and trial and error taught me all I need to know about raising this food source. Hint: stop using ant poison granules in your yard our you’ll lose a lot of chickens. I like to order my chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery online but they sell them at feed stores and some farmers will sell to the public as well. You can also check with your local 4H club and go to livestock auctions. We don’t eat our chickens, just their eggs but if we had to we could. I keep a minimum of 12 but that is a lot of eggs per week even for my large family!
  6. Get a generator or alternative energy source now. Plain and simple. Personally, I like to have more than one source because generators run on gas and you could run out of gas and then what? My two choices are solar panels as a back up to the generator but I live in Texas where we have a lot of sun so maybe wind power could be your alternative power source.
  7. If you need to buy some land go to your local Realtor or do your own search online. One of my favorite web sites is Landsofamerica.com. There I was able to find lots of good deals. 50 acres for under $50,000, yes it’s on there! Hint: look in states like Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma if you are in or close to any of those states.  Don’t buy land that is a two day's drive away from your main home though. You want to be able to get there safely, not run out of gas trying to get out of Dodge. If you are lucky enough to not need to live close to town then you can live at your remote location and that isn’t an issue but for us we have to still live close to town so my husband can work. My job as a realtor allows me to work from anywhere. 
  8. Get a gun and learn how to use it. As a woman I prefer lighter guns with little recoil. Recoil is what a gun does when you fire it and it jerks your arm up. Not including the guns my husband has I have my own .25 handgun, .380 handgun (I wanted a pink one but they didn’t have any!) and .22 rifle. I’m your average sized woman at 5’5” and I can handle those guns easily even if I would need to use more bullets to take down my target. The important thing is that I be comfortable with the gun I am using and relying on to feed me and keep me safe. I used that .22 rifle to run off a cougar in my back yard once. I didn’t kill it, but it decided it didn’t want to stick around and eat any more of my chickens. I sure wish I had gotten a picture of that cat. My hunting family still thinks I was seeing things and just shot at bobcat!
  9. Have some sort of water storage set up or be near a water source like a creek, lake, river with year round water. A seasonal creek is great except when you have no water in the winter! I don’t mean “near” like a mile near. Carrying buckets of water from a mile away or more would be too much even for my football playing sons! I mentioned earlier that I have an above ground pool. I bought it at Wal-Mart for about $300. I keep it filled year around “just in case”. The week that my husband was in the hospital after Hurricane Ike passed through I was very thankful for that pool water. I used our huge Cajun turkey fryer pots to boil water on a Coleman propane stove for drinking, cleaning and cooking and used unheated water for flushing toilets even though we followed the “if it’s yellow let it mellow” philosophy that week because mom was not toting water all day. I was alone here with my kids and I was easily (I use that term lightly at my age) able to carry water in from the back yard as we needed it. I took showers at the hospital when I’d visit my husband but if I’d had to I could have heated pool water to bathe in. My next big purchase will be a Big Berkey water filter unit. I can’t wait to get it and try it out.
  10. Learn how to grow your own fruits and veggies. Trees are great for the environment and great for a hungry belly. Most fruit bearing trees require at least two of the same kind to produce and some don’t start producing for several years. You can also get a book on foraging and learn what you can and can not eat from nature. Most people don’t even know that those pesky Dandelion “weeds” are great on a salad.

 
I hope that I have provided some useful information to get you started on your journey to being prepared in the event of a catastrophic event in your area. Don’t be caught with your pants down. SurvivalBlog has lots of valuable information and resources that I hope you will take advantage of. I recently enjoyed reading James’ book, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It which led me to his blog. Be sure and read it as a follow up to this article, because he covers many things that even I hadn’t thought of yet. Good luck and God bless.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012


My family is from the former Yugoslavia and it had been a family tradition to go back and visit the homeland of my grandparents. Unfortunately for me, by the time I could go, my father had passed and I found only one cousin willing to do it again. As luck would have it, it was the summer of 2000 and I thought the war had been long over. It was only recently I discovered that the horror continued right up until just before my arrival there.
 
After a short stopover in Frankfurt, we boarded a smaller plane to Zagreb. The flight was beautiful, the scenery, breathtaking.
I thought about the stories I was told about this place. My family were farmers there, and I was excited to experience the way of life that used to sustain them. I wanted to see the animals, horses, pigs, cows, chickens, the fields of vegetables, and how they did it all. I had heard about how they would slaughter the pigs, then salt and smoke them, and I really wanted to know how. I don't know if you've had them, but Yugoslavians are famous for their cabbage rolls. I wanted to know how to make the sour cabbage, and how they did all this for ages without refrigeration. I was fascinated with the idea of being self sustaining off the grid, and how they managed even after the war.

We rented a van to get to the tiny village of Covac near the larger city of Okucane. I was surprised at the military presence there still, there were checkpoints with armed guards asking to see your passport. Luckily most of them spoke English and didn't actually seem that concerned with us. We must have went through three before getting to our destination.

Arriving in Covac, it was like nothing I had ever seen. One gravel road, off of another gravel road, one small store at the corner. There were maybe 40 houses altogether, surrounded by fields and farther back, forests. At one time this place was beautiful. Now, unreal. Most of the houses had been destroyed and abandoned. Some had walls missing, bullet holes marred the surface of the concrete, trees even growing where the roof once was. The town pavilion that once held meetings, dances and parties was reduced to rubble. We pulled into the gravel driveway of the house we would be staying at. 

Our hosts came out to greet us, a young lady and her elderly mother. The house was small by western standards, a concrete square with a kitchen, bedroom and cold room. The kitchen had a table and chairs, a woodstove and small counter, and a laundry line all lit with a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The bedroom held two single beds, and a dresser with a television with rabbit ears atop, again all illuminated with a single bulb. The cold room was farthest away from the woodstove, just a concrete room with shelving on all sides which interestingly doubled as the room to bathe in. The outhouse was about 40 feet away, past the open well, unlit of course. My cousin told me a story about using the outhouse while a chicken pecked her from below, I guess that's when they closed it off at the back. Regardless, I still had some anxiety about using the outhouse at night. The well was open, like the ones you see in old fairytales, with a roof and a bucket on a rope. Looking down into the water, I counted four frogs swimming around down there. I hoped they boiled the water before drinking. They didn't. Meals usually consisted of smoked, salted meats, sausage or bacon, eggs, fresh vegetables like tomato and onion, bread and soups.

I remembered my Grandmother telling me about picking beans in the fields, and moving the livestock from the forests to graze, and back to the barn. Looking out at the fields, there was nothing but weeds. The only livestock in the town was some chickens and a cow. I asked what happened, the stories I was told and the place I was in seemed vastly different. When the war came here people fled and later were forced out or had their homes destroyed or taken over. Most of the younger people never returned leaving a town of mostly elderly. There was no one to do the hard work involved in farming here, and no one could afford the start up costs again even if they could. At one time this land was self sufficient, the people were happy and free, now barren, a way of life lost. I wanted to walk in the fields that sustained my family for generations, I was told I was not allowed. Not allowed? Apparently it had not yet been cleared of land mines so it would be an enormous risk. I still can't believe that a tiny village, so far away from a small town had been hit so hard in this conflict. I recall a story from my Grandmother about her family hiding from the Nazis back in the war. That happened here, at least twice people were murdered in war, here, on this tiny strip of houses, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

We went to visit other relatives in nearby Gredjane, I had hoped they fared better, they didn't. My Grandfather's brother and his wife lived in a small brick house, the size of a shed. The four of us couldn't all be inside at once it was so small. It held a single bed, a woodstove, and a table and chairs. Nothing here was refrigerated, they had no electricity, not even a light. The towns people came by to say hello. Once again I was surprised at the age of the people who remained here. It amazed me that the elderly people chose to stay or come back while the youth took to the cities and stayed there. Leaving that place, it would be the last time I would see my relatives again. My Grandfather's brother died two years ago, six months after my Grandfather.

Back in Covac, it was bath day. My gracious hosts had to heat buckets of well water on the woodstove for me. I bathed in the cold room, in a plastic bucket a foot deep, two feet across. It wasn't pretty, but it did the job. I had to get used to brushing my teeth outside, and just spitting on the grass. I had never done laundry by hand, that wasn't so bad. All in all, life there seemed so quiet, peaceful. It was actually hard for me to sleep at night, I wasn't used to it being so dark, and so quiet. There were no streetlights, no traffic sounds, not even the familiar sound of dogs barking.

They did have a small garden close to the house. They grew potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbages, tomatoes and beans. Since the summer was ending we did get to help with some of the harvest. At this time, they didn't pull out all of the root vegetables, just some for the cold room to use, and some for next years' planting. We put the seed potatoes in a hole near the house. It was full of hay, we placed the potatoes and onions inside then covered them with hay and buried it. The cabbage was harvested, washed and placed in large tubs with brine, enough to just cover them.The tubs were stored in the cold room, then covered with fabric, a wood plank, and weighed down with a brick. Unfortunately my stay was not long enough for me to try them once the process was complete. I must say, although delicious when cooked up, the smell of them fermenting was a little harsh.

I did not have the opportunity to see any meat processing but I was told how it was done. Once ready, the meat was salted, and then smoked in smokehouses. This would occur in the fall so the meat was then hung in the attic which vented the woodstove smoke in one end and out the other. This would continue the smoking process thus preserving the meat longer for later use. After my visit, the smell of a wood fire always reminds me of my trip, and the taste of homemade smoked bacon.

Three weeks had gone by so fast, even here where there were no distractions in daily living. On the long ride home I had a lot to think about. I believe the one thing that made the deepest impression was the fact that this village, so remote, and so small was so deeply affected in their own TEOTWAWKI. I had just assumed that in almost any situation fleeing the cities is always plan A, this trip taught me otherwise. I believe we need to be careful in creating a plan for disaster that is sort of one size fits all. In this situation, in this civil war, the resources in the city were better. Those left in the country were completely alone in a horrific time and to this day, many of their stories remain untold.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I am writing this to encourage you to do with gardening and food preparation what we are encouraged to do with all of our prepping, practice, practice practice, your life depends on knowing that your plan will work!  I don't know if this will even qualify as a survival article but if nothing else maybe it will help some, like me, who need that little kick in the pants to start practicing our survival plans.  Maybe some of our mistakes, outlined in this article, will help you avoid them and experience a more successful first year of gardening than we experienced. 

My husband and I have spent the past three years researching information on seeds and gardening and we agreed that this would be my area to plan and oversee with his help.  We understood that our choice of seeds and the success of our gardening could mean the difference between surviving or not.  We chose heirloom seeds so we could save seeds for future gardens.   We considered our options for placement, we have a very big challenge, we have limited space for a garden due to our location.  We opted for raised beds, this is to help maximize space and yield. 

Last year we purchased our seeds as part of our Christmas, which was centered on preparation and survival equipment.  In February, I began my first year of survival gardening.  I had planned what to plant and knew what needed to be started indoors before spring.  I put the grow lights in the basement fixtures where we were setting up our little green house and meticulously spent a day planting my seeds with a lot of optimism and prayer.  It was very exciting to see the little seedlings start to grow and gave me a real sense of accomplishment.  In the spring I moved them up to our sun porch, to start hardening them off.  We got our raised beds built.  We then prepped the ground we were placing them on, tilling and removing grass etc.  We then filled our raised beds and I made my map of where everything was to be planted based on my assessment of the sun, the space and trying companion planting to help control pests.  The raised beds were also awesome for controlling weeds, grass etc and helped with watering and prevented wasting water.  We used lumber from pallets that we were able to get for free.  The down side is that they will have to be replaced, something we are working on with a more permanent solution,  it is that or stock up on pallets for replacement down the road.

As the days warmed we began planting and moving our plants outdoors.  We also chose to utilize Square Foot gardening in our beds, to maximize space.  We used string to mark off the beds in square foot planting grids.  This worked well for us and we will continue to use this method.  I knew early on that my tomato's were not doing as well as I hoped.  I gave it several weeks and decided to replace them, so I went to a local nursery and bought replacement non hybrid variety's and replanted.  Not an option TEOTWAWKI.  We also had several other failures from our attempt to start our seedlings indoors.  In fact almost everything we started inside failed and had to be replaced or we simply did not grow this year.  I know what some of my mistakes were and will try again this year making adjustments.  The size and type of containers as well as waiting to long to move them up to the sun porch was part of the problem as well as the soil mixture we chose.  So this year I will practice once again and hope that I have learned enough on this front to be on the road to  success. 

We had mixed results with the seeds planted directly into the soil, our beans, squash, peas and cucumber did well but were planted too late.  Our yield was very low.  I also lost my squash's and cucumbers to a pest that rotted the main stem.  We tried using diatomaceous earth for pest control with limited success, you have to reapply every time it rains and it can also kill the critters you want in you garden.  Next lesson learned, Sevin Dust  is going into our survival supplies, at least until I master organic gardening.  A little Seven on the garden is more desirable than a loss of life sustaining food.  The next problem I encountered was my layout failed.  I planted in such a way that my tomato's overshadowed my peppers and we did not get enough sun and they grew like vines and never yielded anything.  They could not get enough sun.  I learned this year what parts of my garden layout worked to best utilize the sun exposure and where it failed.  I also did not allow enough room and need to plant more beans.  The weather was also a challenge, we live in the Midwest and our summers can be very dry and hot.  Our tomato's grew and grew but were not setting fruit or did not ripen until the weather moderated closer to fall.  Earlier planting would have yielded us an early crop to enhance the later crop close to fall, having to replant cost us valuable time in the early season.  We had some great salads using our large variety of lettuces and I learned how to pick the lettuce and a variety of greens to keep them producing.   I was able to can about 19 pints of tomatoes, 9 pints of pickles from the cucumbers before the pests got them and 16 pints of green tomato salsa.  I also gathered a pint of mixed dried beans, navy, kidney, wrens egg and black eyed peas, I will also use some of these for replanting along with seeds left over to see if gathering these worked and if they will propagate, the rest will go into a pot of bean soup this winter.  It was rewarding to put up what little we got out of our garden and deepened my determination to do better next year. 

I learned what I need to plant more of and less of.  For example, I would rather have beans on the shelf than to try and creatively use more radishes than we could eat.  Some of the foods we grow can be canned, frozen, dried or stored in a root cellar but some need to be used fresh from the garden.  I also need to work on spacing my plantings over weeks to extend the yield as well as planting fall crops to extend the the growing season. 

Overall our first attempt at survival gardening was a huge failure, I am so thankful that we were not depending on it this year in a survival situation.  I am also thankful that I dug in and applied my plan and put in the work to learn these lessons and hope that this next year will yield success built on those lessons.  I have learned that the life sustaining skill of gardening needs to be practiced and  lessons learned while we can still feed our families without depending on the food we can grow. I planned very carefully and believed I had it all worked out,  I am so glad I had the opportunity to put my plan into practice before it becomes critical to my families survival and to learn that, I had a lot to learn. 

There were also many things we were prompted to think about and to work out in advance.  We will be working on how to best turn our little sun porch into a green house so that we do not have to rely on grow lights.  Grow lights are a  fine alternative now but may not be feasible TEOTWAWKI.  We are also going to build some cold frames to cover our new seedlings and to give us an opportunity to plant earlier.  These will provide some protection from the chilly spring nights and help hold in the warmth from the day as well as protection from insects until the plants are stronger.  This was something else we learned that we really needed, to help prolong our growing season and give our seedlings a better start.  In working the garden this year we were also motivated to think about water when TEOTWAWKI  hits.   So, we worked out a way that we can have water on hand near our garden during the times we need to water.  We  bought large food grade barrels to place under the down spouts on our garage to collect rainwater with a spigot attached near the bottom.   This enables us to attach a hose so we can water when we need to supplement mother nature.  Our garage is detached from our home and the garden is right next to it, so this works out well.  This won't help during a prolonged drought but most of the time, in our area,  it will provide a really good supplement to mother nature under normal weather patterns.  So much of what we are doing, such as gardening, in prep for whatever may come, is not rocket science but there can be many details that need our attention, before our lives depend on it, things we won't think of until we are using our preparations.  Practicing helps us to find what we have missed.  In some cases we will be able to adjust as we go but things like watering a garden could be the difference between security and success and a devastating failure. 

I don't want to discourage anyone by sharing this.  In spite of my failures, I felt empowered by my effort and the knowledge that I am building and learning skills that could make a difference when faced with TEOTWAWKI.  I learned the importance of not only practicing my gardening but also the need to practice with many other aspects of our survival plan and preparations.   I urge everyone who has not practiced their gardening to start next spring and not wait until your family is dependent on that part of your preparedness plan.  By drawing out and putting my garden plan to paper I have also made it easier to evaluate and rework my plan, now that I put it to practice and learned what worked and what did not.  I hope you have a better outcome with your first efforts.  The important thing is to begin the effort now, before your life depends on it! All the plans, preparation and supplies in the world will not help us if we do not learn to use them, learn what works and learn what does not work.  The bottom, bottom line is that I am thankful for the opportunity to practice my garden at a time that the hungry eyes of my kids and grand kids were not looking at me for success.  Hopefully when that time comes I will have learned all my lessons and will have a very successful survival garden.  In the meantime, we need to practice as though our lives depend on it. 



JWR:
A key to survival will be having a handy way to start seedlings any time of the year, or perhaps to even have a micro-greenhouse for Winter vegetables.  A cold frame is great for this and you can make one for yourself very easily  My wife and I have been starting a lot of seeds recently and I thought I would pass on a simple homemade cold frame idea I had.  This cold frame requires no tools and only about an hour to assemble.  If you buy the materials, you can purchase everything for about $100.
 
I started with an old set of poly garage shelving that I had stored in the garage.  The set I have is a sturdy set made by Continental (I have no affiliation with this company) which sells for $81 or more, though you can find other brands for less.  The shelves are ventilated and the entire set is made of poly with no metal parts, so outdoor s it won’t deteriorate due to rust, and when not in use, they store disassembled in a very small space.  Amazon doesn’t have it in stock at the moment, but this is the one I use.  I like these because they are very sturdy and can handle the weight.  The second item needed is a 15” roll of mover’s stretch plastic wrap.  This wrap adheres to itself and is used by movers to protect furniture, and may be purchased online or at your local U-Haul (again, no affiliation) for about $17.  You may also want to purchase some clear packing tape to keep your creation from unraveling in the breeze.
 
Step 1: Assemble Shelf
To assemble your cold frame, first assemble the shelving unit.  The unit consists of four shelves, with a total of 12 round legs to support the shelves.  As an option, you can combine multiple units to add additional shelves, but beware of the tipping hazard and secure your unit when finished.  The shelves assemble by simply slipping the legs into the four corners of each shelf, requiring no fasteners. 

Step 2: Wrap bottom, sides, and top
Use the stretch plastic to wrap the shelf unit on the bottom, sides, and top first, leaving a bit of overlap on the sides in the front and back, making sure you overlap layers for adhesion, and stretch it to fit snugly. 

Step 3: Wrap front and back, leave a gap
Next, wrap the left and right sides of the shelf unit leaving a 12” gap in the center of the front and back, again overlapping with the sides.  Wrap these in the direction of the back, away from you, starting at the top and ending at the top.  It’s best to use a continuous loop all the way around.

Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3
Repeat these two wrapping steps (steps 2 and 3) to create an overlapping second layer of plastic.

Step 5: Wrap the “Door”
Finally, wrap the 12” inch center section in the opposite direction, but this time, start at the bottom, go up the back, and over the top, ending at the bottom of the shelf unit at your feet.  Leave about two or three feet of extra plastic wrap at this point wrapped around a dowel or old broom handle.  This will allow you access to the cold frame by opening this last section, with a handy place to roll up the plastic.  Wrapping the “door” in the opposite direction will help to prevent unwrapping the rest of the plastic when you open it.  You can open the “door” partially and weight down the roller to allow ventilation, or roll it up and put it on top of the unit as needed.  When closed, tuck the broom handle next to the bottom shelf and hold in place with a log or rocks.   This unit is very light and may be moved indoors if needed due to extreme cold, or moved to different places on your property if the amount of sunlight needed varies.  Place your seedlings and starter trays inside and begin planning your harvest!
 
Options you can add include baling wire for extra security holding the unit together before the wrapping process (though you may have to deal with rust later), and if you are setting it up in a windy area, you might want to anchor it to the ground or a wall.  If you need to use the top shelf inside the frame, you can extend the wrap higher using a light spacer such as a couple of milk cartons on each end of the top shelf before wrapping it up.  If you do this, add a board between them to suspend the plastic wrap “roof.”
 
Best Regards, - Ron in Florida


Tuesday, February 7, 2012


The Schumer has  hit the fan, you've made it safely to your retreat, everyone is inside, bedded down for the night, prayers are said in thanksgiving, and you all go to sleep.  In the morning, as you look out the window, you realize your OPSEC is printed all over the lawn.  A series of neat lines trampled across the tall, un-mown grass tells any observer about how many people are inside, and where they went to when they were out.

We take lawns for granted.  My forested mountain retreat came with a very unusual volunteer lawn, one that taught me a lot of lessons.  Most lawns either need to be mowed, which means the people living there have enough spare resources to do such things, not to mention the noise it makes doing it; or they are left un-mowed, in which case the long grass provides a record of where you went, when, and how often.

My volunteer lawn stays short, doesn't need to be mowed, grows in short clumps that let you place your feet between them on the ground so the grass is not disturbed.  The clumps grow up about four to six inches, and then gracefully fall over.  Even a sniper in a ghillie suit would find getting across a Hardy Fescue lawn unnoticed a challenge.  There's no place to hide.

You don't even have to rake it, as by spring, the leaves are under the clumps, providing mulch.  This miracle grass is called Hardy Fescue.  It grows in partial shade, under pines and oaks in the forests, in a variety of rough soils, and needs no care.

If you get it, be sure to get plain Hardy Fescue seed, not the kind impregnated with endophytes.  Endophytes help it grow, but can lead to disease and deformity in grazing stock.  Plain Hardy Fescue makes good, safe grazing.

It's also real pretty, if you like a low, woodland-looking lawn. - Johan D.


Monday, January 30, 2012


[Editor's Note: A short draft edition of this article was previously posted in a discussion forum].

I am a very new prepper, but feel that I am making some decent advances in my prepping goals. Although my preps may be much smaller then most, I still think I am doing better then most of the general population, and have budgeted for weekly and monthly improvements to my preps.

While reading this and other survival based blogs and forums (not so much here, but other places get real out of hand), I've noticed that the conversation or topic tends to lean towards guns, ammo, tactical gear etc. Now granted, these are important topics, but there are other equally important topics. I personally have what I consider to be a good stock of firearms, ammo and parts, but my opinion is, they are just tools. My weapons are a tool to protect and feed my family. I would like to discuss another survival tool, a garden tractor.

When I say garden tractor, most people may be thinking of the 4-wheel drive Kubota/John Deere/Cub Cadet with a diesel, 3 point hitch and bucket loader that you see new at your county fair for approximately $15,000 new. Those machines are actually more referred to as compact utility tractors, and not garden tractors. If you have the means to make that type of purchase, then I say go for it. I'm your average blue collar middle class guy with a wife and two young sons (4 and 6), to say that $15,000 is out of my price range is the understatement of the year! Also, keep in mind that the new tractors on the market, even down to that size, can be as high tech as new automobiles with their computer modules and electronics. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be able to repair a power-train control module in my yard today, let alone during a TEOTWAWKI situation.

I'll start with, I am partial to John Deere, but you can choose your flavor if you decide to look into do this as well. The key item to look for, no matter who the manufacturer, is that it have some type of hydraulics. It can be a hydrostatic transmission, or a hydraulic lift for the mower deck. You can add a hydraulic system to any garden tractor (anything with an engine to run the pump actually), but that is well outside of my knowledge and the scope of this information. If you do add a hydro system to your machine, from there you can work along with the following. The key is that it be equipped with a hydraulic pump, once you have that, let the modifications begin.

This all started when I needed a new lawn mower, and there was no way I was going to the big box stores and spending $3,000 on a pile of plastic that wouldn't last. I knew I wanted a machine to mow the lawn, plow/disc/cultivate a garden, grade the driveway and run a snow blower or snow blade in bad weather. I started my search and landed on a 1976 John Deere Model 312. Some people look at this as a collectible tractor since they wee only built for two years, so if you're a John Deere purist, you may want to stop reading here. As I appreciate what the machine is, again, in my opinion it is a tool to perform a job.

The 312 was offered as an entry level tractor for a couple years, but I found that tractors, like cars, are easily up-gradable when pulling parts from a similar series/model. In it's stock form, it has a single circuit hydraulic system that raises the deck, a 12HP Kohler that is virtually bullet proof and still uses points and condenser no electronic ignition, has a hydrostatic transmission and weighs just shy of 1,000 lbs without any attachments or driver. When you go to the big box stores, you see them advertise 20 hp and up engines, but I think they are using the “new” math. This is 12HP but somewhere in the range of 27 ft lbs of torque. This is a stout machine!

From there, it's time to start working. For your rear ground engaging attachments, there is no need for a 3 point hitch on this size tractor. Almost every garden tractor manufacturer has offered a sleeve hitch as an option, or you can built your own. In it's simplest form, it's boxed tubing that is hinged onto the back of your tractor that can be raised or lowered manually or with some mechanical power. Mine is hydraulic, but I have seen electric actuators, electric winches or just handle levers. Here is a link to a piece at Weekend Freedom Machines--a great resource for John Deere owners)- to their PDF blueprints to build your own sleeve hitch for a majority of the older John Deere machines like the one I own.

The attachments you purchase or make have C channel that fits over the box tubing and pinned in place to give a "positive lock" to the tractor, instead of just a pin through a hole that can pivot. Now you can work your implements into the ground.

With mine, I run a 1 bottom moldboard plow, 2 gangs of 10" discs, a cultivator and a small box scraper. If you are unfamiliar with the use of these attachments, the moldboard plow is used to break ground or turn already broken ground. Setting up the plow properly does take some trial and error. If set too deep, it will stop any tractor in it's tracks. Set to shallow and it will want to keep jumping out of the ground. When set up properly, the plow will “curl” the row of soil over onto the previous passes furrow, down between 8-10 inches. The disc harrow is then used to chop the clumps, sod, organic material into a finer, more consistent and workable. One quick tip, when making your garden hills, you don't need a "hiller". After you're done discing the soil, raise up your disc harrow, spine the gangs around backwards and angle at about a 20 degree angle. 2-3 passes in the same direction will result in a 8-to-12 inch hill, depending on your soil. The cultivator is of course for weed duties. I would advise that when you purchase, or build your cultivator, you make it adjustable, so you are able to move the tines so they will straddle your your crops while they are small, then can move back together to keep down the weeds in the paths between your rows. Yes, you did read that correctly, even with this size machine, you can do work straddling your crops while they are young. With my machine, there is 10” of ground clearance, that amount will vary by model. Lastly, the box scraper is normally used by landscapers, I used it mainly to grade out my driveway.. In the garden, I like to use it to move around my compost. At the start of the season, my compost pile will be a 4-6 feet tall mound, right next to my garden site. Instead of spreading by shovel, I will back up to the pile and bite into it with the scraper and drag it out around the garden.

Last year's garden was just about 1/3 acre, will have to see what next year brings. It seems to get larger every year. I have measured out my property, and by using some simple grid paper, I found that I can plant up to just under a 1 acre garden in a survival situation. I do know people that tend 2 acres with this same set up. That size is very time consuming, but way far more efficient then tending that size garden by hand.

As far as implements for the rear, your imagination is your only limit. If you can weld it or bolt it to a piece of c channel, you can shove it in the ground and drag it along. One of my friends was concerned about loosening up the soil deeper them his plow was going. He bought a single 24" tooth from a piece of heavy machinery for $20 and tacked on the C channel bracket. When engaged in the ground, it is 18" under ground ripping the soil up. I have made a very simple type of lift for mine. I have a 6 foot long piece of box steel, that I notched and drilled on one end to properly attach to my sleeve hitch. The other end I drilled and bolted a couple link long section of chain with a hook on it. When attached to the hitch, using the hydraulics to lift the sleeve hitch, I can now lift heavy items with a chain, instead of potentially injuring myself trying to lift something way too heavy. Think of this along the lines of an engine hoist in a mechanics shop (actually where I got the idea from).

Now for the front hydraulics. Since you already have a hydraulic pump, it is easy to run a single circuit to the front. On the hydraulic control valve, where the ports are that go to the existing cylinder (deck raise etc), use 2 T fittings, and run 2 lines to the front, with couplers for attachments. On mine, I decided to go with a second circuit to the front, which was a very simple task. I purchased a 2 circuit valve from a higher model 300 series tractor at a salvage yard for $40, and ran a second set of lines. Now I have the ability to not only raise and lower my plow out front, but also angle side to side. This also gives the option of installing a front bucket loader. Yes, they have bucket loaders for this size machine. I have used them before for garden tractors, but I haven't purchased on yet for mine.

For the most part, the standard front attachments aren't really survival tools (unless the zombies are slow enough to chase them down with my snow blower), so some may ask, why go through the upgrades for the front hydraulics? First, I'm a guy, like playing with plows and snow blowers and tinkering with stuff. Second, and more to the point, think outside the box a little.. I now have 2 hydraulic circuits independent of each other, that can power almost anything. Keep in mind, most people in America will throw out an item that doesn't work absolutely perfect and just "go buy another". I got a log splitter from someone at work that he seized the motor on. There's this stuff called oil that you are supposed to check periodically to see if it's still there. Anyhow, I pulled the motor and control valve off, leaving behind the ram, wedge and stop. I took the fittings out of the ram and the info for the couplers to my new hydraulics to my local NAPA. Asked for 2 hoses, 6 feet long with those ends, 10 minutes later I was out of there. Now, my tractor hydraulics operate my log splitter. Instead of 2 engines and 2 control valves to maintain and have parts for, there is only 1. I find that much easier to plan for.

At a yard sale, I found a generator for sale that wouldn't run. Bought it for $30. Never took the time to find out why it wouldn't run, just separated the generator from the engine, make a quick little mounting plate for the front of the tractor, added a pulley to the generator and lined up with pulley on front of engine. Now an easily portable generator and again, only one engine to worry about. I am currently looking for a larger generator through.

Which brings be to the issue of noise pollution. If left in it's stock form, this is far from quiet, and you would let the whole neighborhood know what's going on in a grid down situation. For my machine, and most garden tractors of this era, they have a cylindrical type muffler. With some tinkering, here is what I've found and the results. You can open the muffler by cutting at the seam and removing one end of the muffler, like opening a can of soup. Once inside, gut it. Mine had some of the matting in place still, but I would say, whatever you find in there, gut it. Now get a roll of high temp fiberglass matting. I used the material that is used for making gaskets in propane fireplaces. Line the cylindrical walls with the matting, I went three layers thick, then cover with a thin steel mesh to keep in place. Tack weld the mesh in a couple of spots just to hold it in place, then reinstall the end that you cut off and weld back in place. It is hard to describe the sound difference in the written word. I'm not going to say that this is as quiet as an electric car or anything like that. But, it is rather amazing how quiet it is. I can be sitting on the tractor with the engine at full throttle and talk on my cell phone. I can hear the person on the phone no problem, and the person I am talking to can barely hear the tractor!

Some other odds and ends to help in multitasking. I have installed 4 off road type flood lights, 2 in the front and 2 in the rear. I can work the ground or whatever else I need to do at night, or light up an area for other types of work.. If you plan to do this, I would suggest doing as I did. Find out what types of light bulbs your automobiles use, then find off road lights for your tractor that use those same bulbs. Remember, your vehicles may be lawn ornaments in a TEOTWAWKI situation, might as well use a couple of their spare parts.

Security, yes, I said security. On most garden tractors, the sheet metal that surrounds the dash board is merely for looks, and serve no structural purpose, so have some fun with it. In the panel directly under the steering wheel, facing the operators seat, I cut a hole and on the back side mounted a 10"x8"x8" metal box that I picked up at a yard sale. That's where my pistol rides (Bernardelli P018). The right side of the machine is where the brake pedal is, so the left side is clear. On the left side of machine, I made a box out of sheet metal on an angle with padding inside, which is bolted to the tractor's sheet metal. That's where my Mossberg Model 500 shotgun rides.

Now for the best part, prices:

1977 John Deere 312 with mower deck - $600
Sleeve Hitch OE John Deere - $80
Moldboard Plow - Free - Look around, lots of people have them and they are just rusting outside
Cultivator - $100
Disc Harrow - $150
Box Scrapper - $125 - Nice for grading driveway, and spreading large amounts of compost in garden.
Used parts for hydraulic conversion - $125
Snow Blower - $250 - This was a right time right place price.
Rear Ag Tires - $175 - you can use turf tires with chains in dirt and snow, but face it, ag tires just look cool! If getting new tires, I found the cheapest ballast was to fill tires with windshield wash fluid. Won't freeze added 48 lbs per tire and I believe it to be the least toxic affordable option if it were to leak into the garden.

I am sure I am forgetting a few items, but as you can see, this is a very versatile tool and simplifies how many power sources you need to maintain and store parts for. Even with whatever it is I am forgetting, I know I have less then $2500, over the course of a couple of years, in the whole set up....and it mows my lawn too!


Sunday, January 29, 2012


I have been an avid gardener for many years, and most if what I have learned of has been through trial and error. Luckily, most of my errors have been corrected and when those errors did occur, it wasn’t a matter of eat or starve. I now know what plants will grow in Zone 3, and have learned that just because a seed company claims certain things will grow, it doesn’t always mean that they will. Learning from your mistakes now, can save you valuable time and energy when it counts. For example, I will never again try to grow watermelon when I only have a 90-100 day growing season regardless of what the seed company claims the time to maturity is, or if they say the variety I am trying to grow does well in northern climates. It’s not worth wasting precious space and resources.

My “in town” garden has been very reliable and predictable for the last few years so I wanted to try something different. My garden is not overly large (20x20) but I manage to produce a healthy amount of food each year. My other half, who doesn’t want me to increase the size of the garden in town, suggested we plant one at our retreat, even though it is 20 miles from where we currently live, and with our work schedules we are limited to going out there once a week. I thought this was a great idea, as we hope to be moving there within a year or so, and having an established garden ahead of time makes good sense. Problem was, how do we take care of it when we aren’t there? We knew we had to come up with an idea that would require little to no maintenance, but also provide enough food to make it worth our while. The results we got were amazing!

Some Background:
Our retreat is located 20 miles from town and is three miles down a dead end dirt road. Our nearest neighbor is over a ½ mile away and our driveway off the main road is a ¼ mile long. We are definitely off the beaten path, and are surrounded on three sides by Federal land. Wild game is plentiful, and we have trails through the woods leading to two great fishing lakes, one of which is only accessible by the general public in the winter when the swamp leading into it is frozen enough for snowmobile travel. Our trails cannot be seen from the air (we checked!) or the lakes. The location is perfect, even if our growing season isn’t.

I grew up where our retreat is located. We raised a few cows, pigs, and chickens for our personal use. My dad moved into town a few years ago (and has regretted it) when he decided that his “hobby farming” days were over. There is a small cabin on the property, and while it is livable, it needs a lot of work and is too small for more than one family to live in. We could move out there now if we had to, but we would prefer to wait until we can build a new, more efficient, masonry house with a basement and a second story. We have power on the property and an excellent well. The well is drilled to 50’, has a static water level of 18’ which enables us to use a hand pump if we had to, and is very clean and ice cold. The refill rate is estimated at 1,000 gallons per hour, so the last thing we are worried about is running out of safe drinking water. The cabin is heated by a wood stove, and there is also a non-electric propane furnace. There is also a small “barn” on the property. I use the term barn loosely, as it is nothing more than a 16x16 structure with a slightly sloping metal roof.
The property is mostly wooded, with a few acres that we had cleared and fenced for the cows. The soil conditions aren’t great because the ledge rock is very near the surface. This makes even putting in fence posts difficult, so our dilemma was where to put a garden. This endeavor was meant to be as easy and inexpensive as possible, so we decided that container gardening was the way to go. Luckily for us, we have many years’ worth of well composted manure and six old bathtubs that we had used as water troughs for the animals. The bath tubs were free for the taking from a local motel during a remodel years ago, and, with no livestock using them now, were just taking up space. After reclaiming an old twin sized bed spring and 10 used tires, we were set to go.

After moving the tubs to a level spot behind the barn, we removed the plugs we had welded into 5 of the tubs, filled them with 3 inches of gravel and topped them off with composted manure. The 6th tub was placed under the eave of the barn to collect water. Remember, this was supposed to be as low maintenance as possible, so even though we have a great well, why haul water when you don’t have to. We did not screen the manure, but did remove the top layer of sod and any visible roots. The years of composting seemed to have killed any weed seeds, as there was very little weeding that needed to be done during the growing season.
Here’s what we planted: One tub contained lettuce and carrots. Cucumbers filled another. Pumpkins got their own tub. Spaghetti squash and acorn squash shared a tub, as did bush green beans and pole wax beans. We buried the bed spring in the deepest tub, braced it with a fence post, planted the wax beans next to the bed spring and planted the bush beans along the outside of the tub. The tires were stacked two high and filled with the composted manure. In them, we planted 2 Roma tomatoes and 3 Beefsteak tomatoes. Aside from the lettuce (some of my seeds had gotten damp and I didn’t dare try to save them) I purposely choose plants that typically aren’t grown in containers. I already knew that peppers, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower would thrive in something as small as a window sill planter, so this was my chance to try something new and correct any mistakes when they were nothing more than a small annoyance.

We were able to prepare and fill all the tubs and tire planters in one afternoon. Planting took no time at all and we were on our way to the easiest gardening experience I have ever seen. Aside from our first afternoon, we were able to maintain this garden with 20 minutes worth of work a week. The composted manure did an excellent job of holding enough water to keep the plants healthy, but the gravel in the bottom of the tubs allowed the extra water to drain away. Since we hadn’t packed the inside of the tires themselves with soil, but had just filled the center circle where the rim would have been, the excess water was able to drain into them and slowly water the tomatoes throughout the week. The majority of the water we needed for the garden was collected by the tub placed under the barn eve. We did have to haul water a couple times, but had we put up a simple gutter with a downspout, this wouldn’t have been an issue. It took a total of 15 gallons a week to keep everything healthy. Each tub got 2 gallons, and each tomato planter got one. The rest was provided by Mother Nature. Had it been a normal year for rainfall, we wouldn’t have had to water at all.

We had one area where we were able to till the soil enough to plant a 15x25 foot patch of potatoes. In that area we planted Reds, Yukon Golds, and Russets so that we could determine which ones would grow the best. We did not water or hill the potatoes the entire season, and even though it was unusually dry, all varieties did very well. We ended up with over 200lbs of potatoes from that patch, and we are still eating in mid January.

In this small garden, we ended up with a total of 80 lbs of tomatoes, 23 pints of bean that we canned plus another 4lbs or so that we ate fresh, more lettuce than we could eat or give away, about 15 lbs of cucumbers, 14 quarts of pumpkin, and numerous squash. The carrots did ok, but I didn’t thin them enough so they were kind of small. Overall, I was quite pleased with the results, especially with how little work we put into this. Had we hilled the potatoes or pruned the tomatoes, I have no doubt that our yield would have been much bigger, but in a survival situation, time needs to be spent wisely. Firewood doesn’t cut and split itself, laundry doesn’t magically appear clean and folded, and the dog doesn’t know how to cook dinner.

This method of gardening will also allow us to plant numerous small gardens hidden all over the property and even on the neighboring Federal land if needed. I believe this will be an advantage for a few reasons: 1) If one garden is discovered by 2 or 4 legged animals, they will not get your entire season’s worth of work. 2) If one garden is hit by disease, there is a chance that the others will escape. 3) Plants such as peas and spinach that prefer cooler temps can be grown in a spot that is slightly shaded in the afternoon, whereas tomatoes can go in a spot that receives full sun. 4) There is less of a chance of open pollination plants cross breeding if they are kept separated. It was not a good idea for me to plant two types of squash right next to each other as now I cannot be sure that the seeds will breed true next year. It is not a big deal right now, as I have more heirloom seeds, but in the future it could be a problem.

We are already planning this spring’s expansion. There is one more spot on the property where there is good soil and is large enough for more potatoes where we can till the ground without running into ledge rock. There is enough composted manure for at least four more gardens that are the size of the one we have, and we have spots picked out to hide them. All we need now are containers to plant in. While we did not fence in our garden this time, we will be surrounding every one we put up from now on with chicken wire to protect them from animals. I found it a bit humorous that the deer were bedding down in our potato patch, but they did ruin quite a few by exposing them to sunlight. A simple gutter and larger holding tank will keep us supplied with plenty of water, and we are kicking around the idea of constructing an 8x8 sloped surface (such as two sheets of plywood or a tarp on a frame of 2x4s) with a gutter and rain barrel system at each site to collect rain water. Not that we couldn’t haul it, but there are many things I would rather do than haul water a ¼ mile through the woods for a garden. We are also going to start a compost pile so we can keep our soil healthy. My plan is to grow twice the amount of food that we need, so that plenty can be given to others or used for barter, and so that we have a backup should we have a bad season.

Our total investment for this project was less than $30 for seeds and plants, plus some sweat equity.


Saturday, January 28, 2012


Let me begin with a brief history and a few insights into my journey towards being prepared for The End of the World as We Know It (TEOTWAWKI.) I was born and raised, until the age of 7, in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States (the greater Los Angeles area). At which point my parents came to the realization that city life was no way to raise a family. So, they moved my sister and I to the Central San Joaquin Valley and began my education in rural life. At age 18 I joined the military and was able to witness rural life in Texas, Illinois and finally South Dakota (where I spent 4-1⁄2 years). While in South Dakota, I married a local girl, my wonderful wife of 25 plus years. As a result of that marriage, I was introduced to a deeper and somewhat more rudimentary rural lifestyle, by her and her family. As a city boy who was never comfortable with the city lifestyle; I had found my calling. After serving my Country, along with with my wife and then three children returned to the San Joaquin Valley to start the next chapter of our lives. As it turned out that was to be a very short chapter. We quickly realized that what I had believed to be a rural community was in reality very urban. Shortly before we headed back to the Valley her parents moved to the Northwestern portion of the American Redoubt, of course we didn’t know it would eventually be labeled as such at the time. During our brief stay in the Valley we had the opportunity to visit the in-laws and decided that was the place for us. We have now been living the very rural life of the American Redoubt for the past 20 years.

My education in the art of self sufficiency began at about age four when my Grandmother--who started her family before the Great Depression--began to teach me to garden, harvest fruit and to fish. Both of my parents have a love for fishing and continued where my grandmother left off. At the age of 8 my parents began to raise rabbits for butcher and made sure to involve their children in the raising and butchering. My mother continued to teach us the art of gardening, cooking and preserving the food that we produced until it was time for me to leave home. This was done in order to teach us the value of the food on our table along with the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes from putting it there. At about this same time I was blessed with the gift of a Red Ryder BB gun. I was taught the proper safety and use of the gun and after an acceptable amount of time under strict supervision I was allowed to practice with it, under minimal supervision, whenever I had free time. (At this time I would like to say that any of you who are attempting to prepare and either haven’t yet learned to properly handle a firearm or haven’t become proficient as of yet, get a BB gun and shoot thousands of rounds with it, then progress to the .22 Long Rifle and repeat. It is my opinion that the cost and intimidation level are such that you will comfortably progress to the more lethal calibers with much less trepidation). By age 13 I was hunting pheasants and working part time on the neighboring dairy. These things having been taught to me by my father or neighbor, respectively, who were both born in the 40s. While stationed in South Dakota I had the great privilege to get to know two of my wife’s Great Uncles, one of whom was born in the late 1920s and the other in the early 1930s. These two crusty old gentlemen decided that a 19 year old kid might be worth their time to teach a thing or two. They taught me to saddle and ride a horse, how to harness a team, the basics of putting up hay with a team of mules, and most importantly how to grind wheat and make delicious fresh bread from the resulting flour. Upon moving to the American Redoubt the revelation of my level of ignorance was astounding. I was soon learning to run a chainsaw, fell trees, build fence and do a lot of my own repairs on most anything. My father-in-law, a man born in the late 1930s and who lived the rural lifestyle his whole life, was the one to point me in the right direction for many of these tasks. My mother-in-law (whom I won’t date as that wouldn’t be proper) has continued to teach my wife and I food preservation methods. For the last 20 years we have been leasing a house on a 4,000 acre ranch. That lease payment is made by working for the owner of the ranch. The owner of the ranch is a man in his early 80s. He continues to work the ranch every day, mostly by himself. From this man I have learned most of what I know about farming and a lot of what I know about animal husbandry. During our 20 plus years of living here we have managed to befriend some of the families that have been here for forever and a day. From this corner of our lives we have been privileged to learn to properly slaughter, butcher and preserve large livestock and wild game. The man most responsible for our knowledge had been taught by his parents and they were of an age and background to know a bit about depression survival.
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As you have probably noticed, there is a theme to my little history lesson. Yes, I am giving the approximate age of almost every one of the mentors that I have listed. As I’ve been reading the blog and many of the archives, I haven’t come across a single mention of what I feel is one of the greatest assets that one can to tap into, in order to survive in the long term after TEOTWAWKI. I wish to admit that I haven’t read all of the archives and probably won’t find the time for all of them, but from what I can tell, no one has been preaching the value of our elderly. These people have either lived through the Great Depression or were a lot closer to it chronologically than most of us. They may not be able to perform many of the tasks of survival in the long term, but they can certainly pass on their knowledge of “How To”. In addition to their knowledge there are many tasks that they can perform with more knowledge, confidence and experience than those of us that may be stronger of body. Things like cooking, canning, repairing tack, maintaining firearms, watching children, snapping the beans, shucking the peas and on and on and on. With some of these chores removed from the shoulders of the younger generations, more can be accomplished in a day, making a better life for all. I realize that a lot of people out there are thinking of the elderly, but from what I have read it appears that they are only thinking of what they have to do in order to take on the burden of providing for them. I say that they are not a burden to be taken on, but an asset just like the thousand pounds of grain you have stockpiled, the medical supplies you have so carefully laid away or the guns and ammo that you will use to protect it all.

In this life my wife, my kids and I have reached the point where we provide most all of our own meat through our livestock. We can provide the hay to feed them. We grow most of our own vegetables and some of our own fruits. We have the ability to preserve our food. We cut the wood for 100% of the heat for our homes. We have the ability, wherewithal and fortitude to defend it all. Without the knowledge that was freely given, by those that came before, we would never be as prepared to provide the basic needs for ourselves and our extended family and friends WTSHTF, as we are right now. I would like to suggest to those who are planning to provide for the elderly members of their family to please rethink the asset vs. burden issue. I believe that if you are to take the asset side of the issue and treat them as such you will gain some valuable information and they will be more interested in helping where they can instead of sitting around just consuming the assets that you do have. No one wants to feel that they are useless and just a drain on those around them. If you make use of their knowledge and abilities, they will not feel that they are a burden and will truly be an asset to themselves and the group as a whole.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012


It is very difficult for the average middle class American to prepare for the coming collapse; those that recognize the need still see it as maybe too late to do anything or there is too much to buy and prepare to be completely prepared.  Unless you are independently wealthy, that may be true, it is nearly impossible to be 100% completely prepared for all eventualities.

The first thing you need to do is to prepare your soul and your family, they have to understand and be on board.  Your family and yourself must first get right with God if you haven’t, and accept Christ as your savior and bend to God’s judgment, let his will guide your first and foremost.  After this you must begin your preparations, none of us know when the time will come, more than likely soon, but it may be a week away or years away, and every little bit will get you that much closer to survival and make your position far better.  I won’t go into deep detail on every facet of information as there are ample books and blogs explaining the “how to’s” and if you are on survivalblog already than you have a monstrous wealth of knowledge at your fingertips.  This is a quick once over to help the read understand the basics and get started, remember that knowledge is the best weapon you have, read, learn, try and repeat until you have it mastered.

Finances

More than likely you don’t have a lot of disposable income have had your hours cut back or have a hefty mortgage.  You have to look at all the expenses in your house, if renting is it reasonable, is there a way to find a more remote location to move to, or a cheaper place to rent that would save you monthly expenses?  Cell phone bills are an easy way to cut, if you have multiple phones consider cutting back to one main house phone, get a pen and paper and write down things to buy at the store instead of calling home from there to figure out what you need.  Cell phones are handy but are they worth the extra 60-100 dollars they are costing you a month?  Cable is not necessary, it is a convenience, if you have cable you probably have internet, have one house computer, sell the others, and get your news off the net.  Whatever disposable income you have, start to put it into tangible goods, things that you can use or sell in the coming TEOTWAWKI situation.  I invested a good portion of my net assets in precious metals in 2008 before the price went up, but even with the higher prices now you have to remember that when the time comes that everyone realizes that they should buy gold and silver it will be too late to get adequate amounts.  Buy “junk” silver, 90% dimes and quarters, they don’t have the numismatic value of silver Eagles or gold Krugerrands, but people won’t care about the collectibility of the coin in TEOTWAWKI only the content. Don't buy 1-ounce "trade dollars" or bars. What I mean by this is the 10 or 100 oz silver bars or 1 oz gold coins, those are worth a lot individually and you will need your metals to barter for things like food, ammo, clothes, etc.  day to day items not a new care, so buy small amounts, which is why junk silver is so nice, because about 1.30 in silver coin is worth a 1 oz silver piece and you can barter more accurately with the smaller denomination.  It’s okay if you can buy $10,000 worth of coin now, if it’s just a few hundred at a time, that’s more than fine, shop around get the best deal, but don’t not buy storage food and ammo to buy more coin, you can barter with silver but you can’t eat it, and at the beginning of the collapse people may only want “beans, bullets and Band Aids” as the military says.  In short, don’t eat out, buy bulk and buy cheap, learn to cook with simple ingredients that can be found in nature.  Cut out non-essentials, don’t take that vacations to Hawaii, instead go out camping and you can test the gear you buy and get your family used to living it rough, and relying on what they have and on God’s bounty in nature.  I know many people might disagree, but get out of your retirement accounts, cash them in take the hit, or at least don’t put your money into them anymore.  List out all your expenditures and future expenditures and figure out where you can cut out wants and boil it down to actual needs and go from there.

Food

Food isn’t hard to find and buy, with the proliferation of bulk food stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, etc.  On a tight budget you can see when there are deals on canned vegetables and other foods and when you go out buy a few cans per trip and it will add up.  This is a less efficient course, because when you buy in bulk you save much more per can than individually.  If you can’t afford a membership find a friend that does or find a few and pool your money and have the owner of the account shop for everyone. You can save up to a dollar a can in some circumstances.  Bulk Salt, Sugar, Molasses, Coffee and every other staple can be purchased there.  Buy in bulk store it in a garage or wherever you have room, and add to it over time as money allows, in a short while you will be amazed at what you can accumulated.  Read up on what is needed for an adult man, woman, and child to survive and buy accordingly.  You’ll need an ample source of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  Hard Red wheat is a favorite of mine, you can (with a home grinder, recommend the Country living grain mill, it’s the best on the market) grind your wheat when needed into flour to make bread and it retains its nutrients much longer than buying flour itself.  You can also soak it in water overnight to make Wheat Berries and add some brown sugar and/or honey and it makes a nutritious breakfast that’s not too bad.  If you can’t find a cheap local seller of red wheat, check local bakeries many will sell it at wholesale or a buck a pound if you bring your own bucket.  For long term storage you need food storage grade buckets, and there are many techniques including Mylar bags with dry ice and “Gamma seal” lids, just a quick search on any survival site will give you more detailed information on how to pack and store this once you get your supplier lined up.  A quick tip is instead of buying the buckets online, is to call local bakery shops, or supermarkets, restaurants that buy bulk cooking foods and ask if they have empty buckets laying around.  Make sure that the buckets ARE food grade and haven’t had any chemicals stored in them.  Check for smells because if they held pickles and you don’t clean them out with bleach and baking soda then you might have pickled flavored wheat come TEOTWAWKI time. 

The other way to get your food storage situation in order is to look at bulk pre-packaged meals like those in the military MREs or the Mountain House meals you see at camping supply sections.  These meals are dehydrated, have long shelf lives and only usually need water to cook/heat up.  The downside is that they are much more expensive per calorie than say a bucket or hard red wheat and canned fruits/veggies.  The upside is that they are great emergency and Bug out (a term that denotes you needing to leave quickly) food, as they can be thrown in a backpack and left there for longer than your family dog will live.  If money is tight then I would only use this as a small portion of your total food storage. Definitely have some pre-staged in “Bug out bags” (will mention this later, but basically a backpack for each individual, easily available to grab and leave quickly if things get bad) so that you will have meal(s) to eat on the go and MREs can be rationed out to last a few days each.  Check Craigslist, local surplus stores and of course the internet, as they are sold everywhere and can range from $50-to-90 a case (of 12).  The last big item to mention for food is seeds and hunting.  Hunting will require weapons which will be discussed later and will be dictated by where you live and availability of game in the area.  Seeds on the other hand are very important for long term survival in a TEOTWAWKI situation.  The average seed store will sell you a pack of carrots or tomatoes that with a green thumb and good soil produce copious amounts of the fruit or vegetable wanted, but most people don’t save the seeds they produce to use the next year.  This is because of two reasons, one the packs are cheap and two most seeds are what are called “hybrid seeds”, meaning that they are made to produce good yields of each plants bounty, but the in a generation or two the seeds produced will not be viable.  What you want to buy are “heirloom” seeds, these seeds often don’t produce as big of yields of as their Frankenstein hybrid cousins, but year after year, the seeds they produce will grow true and can be used indefinitely.  Search out web sites that sell heirloom seeds and research the plants and crops that will grow best in your area, or areas near you will be moving to after the collapse.  Research heavily, I have a whole folder that has page upon page of information on every heirloom seed that I buy and that has helped tremendously when I did my own small experiments and tried my hand at home gardening, this information and experience helped me immensely to accumulate the knowledge needed to know how and when to plant, what plants to plant around or keep away from my “crops” as now the learning curve only means I lose a plant or two or none grow at all until I figure the tricks out.  In a TEOTWAWKI scenario when your life depends on this food, the learning curve will mean life or death.  You don’t want to OJT in a survival situation; you need to know the little tricks before.  Intent is good, knowledge is better and practical experience is golden.

Water

Water is one of the most important links in survival and a post indoor plumbing; TEOTWAWKI will amplify this for every man woman and child on this planet.  Most people take their ample water supply at home for granted, flip the faucet and water will run continuously.  When that water stops where will you get yours? Even if you have a house more than likely, as in 99% of the time your pump is electric with no manual backup. If you have your own well there are manual pumps that can be made and fitted to use before, or if you have the money to buy them, solar powered pumps are and option as well.  If you live in the city, or even the suburbs many times, you are dependent on city water and will be SOL in TEOTWAWKI.  First thing to do in any emergency is plugging the drains in sinks and tubs and fill it with water, you will need this to fill bottles, camelbacks, etc for your run from the city. 

Wherever you go one thing that it will need to have is water available, whether it’s a solar/hand pumped well, a neighboring creek or some other water source.  The closer the better because a five gallon bucket of water weighs around 41.7 pounds and hand carrying that long distances gets old real quick!  A water filer is a must especially if your water comes from a standing water lake or pond or even a stream.  I know and have drank from fast moving streams deep in the mountains, as they are often free from bacteria, but this was necessity and I know use a Steripen UV water purifier for when I fill my canteens.  The problems with streams is that you never know what is just upstream from you, a dead moose/deer or other animal could be lying dead or a friendly bear could be giving you the big finger by taking a dump in it.  Like I said I carry a candy bar size Steripen for my hiking trips with a solar recharger case for my mountain camping, but that takes 45 seconds to sterilize a quart of water, and only as long as the battery lasts.  The best plan is to buy a Big Berkey water filter with a 3.5 gallon per hour filter rate, and its filtration is second to none.  This baby runs about $250+, so it is out of the price range of some, but if you can make it work, it is well worth the investment.  This is a in-house filter and not good at all for on the go, in the same price range is the portable  Swiss made Katadyn pocket filter that you can use to fill up your canteens or Nalgene bottles from lakes and streams.  These are two examples of great filters for in house and on the go (bug out) use, but there are other ways to filter your water for cheaper.  The Common container of bleach (original non-fragrance) is an old standby for water purification.  Use ¼ teaspoon per gallon of water, or a full teaspoon per 4 gallons of water.  This is a cheap purifier and should leave avery slight bleach smell, this only means that it has done its job, but may not taste like it’s from the Brita.  Another more economical solution is to use “Pool Shock” a common ingredient to make pools safe to swim in and available from any pool care store, online or in your town depending on your environment.  Make sure that calcium hypochlorite is the only active ingredient in the product and at 65% with no added anti-fungal's, or clarifiers, if not you can seriously endanger you and your family.  You would use about ¼ ounce per two gallons of water, this will make bleach and with that you can use the bleach solution to treat water at 1 part per 100 parts water, roughly 2.5 tablespoons per gallon of water.  I got most of this info from J.W. Rawles on SurvivalBlog.com and the EPA site link, and using this I would definitely go with the EPA’s recommendation of aerating “The disinfected water by pouring it back and forth from one clean container to another” as this does get rid of the smell.  This was more because I had time and it wasn’t survival mode yet, but a bad smell is better than giardia (Beaver Fever) any day!   The last way is to just bring the water to boil for one minute, let it cool and drink it.  This is fine for the campsite but for a larger group of people in a more static location having the ability to treat large amounts of water is a real plus and your energies and time can go to more pressing matters.

Shelter

This list isn’t so much in order of importance, as food and water are important to survival but having a place to stay and survive while society collapses is a must.  If you live in an apartment there are books and manuals available on how to outfit it for “urban survival” but most of these recognize this as being just a "you have no other choice" type scenario and I would discourage it in every possible way.  The truth is yes if you have a fireplace you can burn furniture available throughout the city or construct a makeshift stove to heat and cook from.  You can barricade the doors; form a co-op with other residents, pool resources and all that.  That would be for a short term, month+ plus Katrina scenario where the caped federal crusader will be there to provide food and shelters eventually.  In a TEOTWAWKI world, this isn’t going to happen, currency and government will cease to function, and there will be no coast guard airdrops and FEMA trailers coming.  The best thing to do if you live in an apartment is move to a more remote home with land of your own.  If you can’t do that then, as previously stated, change your life habits, get something cheaper if possible and be ready to leave the city or suburbs as soon as things get bad, and before everyone else realizes it and loses their minds. A quick digression, if you are reading this you already recognize the need to know these things and have somewhat of an idea of how bad things will get.  But remember that 99% of the people in this country have no idea what do when the power goes out and the shelves at the supermarket are empty.  Many people will remain good hearted individuals, but many will not and turn to the darker side of humanity and steal, rape and pillage whatever they can.  Our commanding general in Iraq said that we Marines should “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”  That is the mentality you need to have, that you should live the Christian virtues of charity and love of your fellow man, but have a plan to escape survive and defend you and your family’s life.  Okay Back to Shelter, if you can’t afford a place out in the woods away from the main cities, remote and self sustaining to the best of your ability, network.  Log into survival blog sites like Surivivalblog.com and others and find other like-minded Christian people like yourself that want to be prepared, form groups and pool your resources, more than likely you have skills that others don’t, and if you don’t have any practical survival skills begin to learn them, specialize in medicine, or hunting/trapping, solar power, mechanics so that you have something to offer the group that they need.  There is the rugged individual in every American (And I was of this mindset when I first started prepping) that wants to have a mountain top retreat, hunt, grow and trap all your food, and hold of waves of godless communists with nothing but your AR and brass balls.  Sorry to break this to you if you had the same thought as me, but you won’t survive long-term going solo, or just you and your family.  You could scrounge out an existence, but more than likely you will run out of food and/or gangs of looters before too long.  Your best chance of survival will be in groups, peppers who joined before and after the collapse to help each other and pool their resources and talents.  Your best chance will be to find a place off the beaten path, not near any major highways with freshwater, long growing seasons and plentiful game.  Even with all this life will be labor intensive and difficult.  You will want your retreat in an area where the population has some semblance of self reliance as a community virtue.  It should be within driving distance and if not you need to have pre-filled and rotated gas cans so you won’t rely on gas stations to get there.  There are extensive tomes written on this subject so I won’t try to touch on all the details that lie therein.  Basically you will want to get out of the cities and away from any major populations now, and if not do it before things get bad, read the signs and beat the crowd.  Survival in numbers, folks.

Weapons/Defense/Medical

Depending on whom you ask you’ll get many different opinions on what weapons someone should have to defend themselves in a TEOTWAWKI world.  I’m a firm believer that everyone should have a weapon for self defense even in the pre-TEOTWAWKI world we live in now.  I have the utmost respect for Police officers and have worked with many of them over the years, but Police rarely stop a crime before it is committed, more often they are a cleanup crew.  At the minimum someone should have a handgun, shotgun and rifle.  Handguns should not be your primary defensive weapon now or in TEOTWAWKI, they are great as a backup when your primary weapon runs out of ammo or you don’t have time to reload and need rounds on target quickly. Transitioning (which is what those in the military and plice world call it when you move from one weapon system to another) from your rifle to your pistol is much quicker often times than reaching for a new mag and reloading as your pistol should be already loaded and ready to go.  A .45 is my preferred choice for a sidearm for is stopping power, but there has been a lot of talk about the .40 S&W being of roughly equal stopping power, higher capacity and better ballistics when Special Forces was testing for a new sidearm over the hated M9 Beretta 9mm.  I personally use a Kimber Warrior, but any Colt manufacture .45 is excellent as well, with any weapon read up, shoot ones your friends may have, and many pistol ranges allow you to rent most common pistols, take lessons and use what is most comfortable with you.  I don’t like 9mm as its stopping power is at best problematic as I saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, even with hollow points a enemy can and has taken multiple rounds and been able to still keep fighting, albeit less efficiently.  If you have a 9mm now, consider selling it and getting a .45 if not, it’s still better than a knife or bat! 

For rifles well that’s where we run into a 1,000 different opinions and no matter what you say there’s always someone that says your wrong and this is why.  I don’t care much for armchair shooters' opinions and I rely on my own experience overseas, I did two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps Infantry, the last was the Siege of Fallujah in 2004-2005 and then three years private contracting security for companies that have been unjustly maligned in recent years, anyway off my soapbox.  I prefer my M4 for main battle rifle due to its ability to do double duty as both an offensive/defensive weapon as well as hunt small to medium game.  The M4’s main attribute is it is basically a magnum .22 and has quite a bit of “oomph” behind it (the amount of depends on your barrel length and ammunition used).  There has been a lot of talk of it not being able to “stop” a enemy, and I have seen this in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it does sound hypocritical due to my diatribe on the 9mm previously, but the lack of one round stopping power is made of the other attributes the M4 (AR family) offers.  As a Drill instructor told me, the AK is great for uneducated, slow witted mud hut dwellers, they can point shoot and drop it in the dirt, and it will keep shooting, but the M4 is a professional’s weapon.  It can shoot accurately at distances far outrange of the AK (the barrel length will greatly affect this) or many other similar battle rifles, and in the hand of a well trained Marine it is deadly.   I love the AK as well and I own and use one as well as other rifles, but if push came to shove and there was an intruder in the perimeter, my M4 would be my primary.  With proper training and only Iron sights you can hit targets accurately at 500 yards or less.  With the right ammunition you can also hunt animals from rabbits to deer, which makes it a much more versatile weapon than the venerable AK. 

As for a Shotgun I would go with a 12 gauge Mossberg 500 or Remington 870, there are nice autoloader Benellis or other fine quality shotguns, but for the price that you can buy a Mossberg or Remington, you can’t beat them.  They are tough reliable and easy to use, and their close in stopping power is second to none.  I prefer 4 or 5 shot 00 Buck but pretty much any shotgun round at close range will do the trick.  There are also 3 shot+Sabot from Winchester called the PDX1 12 will destroy any intruder or enemy at close range, and even longer distances with the Sabot round.  For the uninitiated the 12 gauge shotgun can be a bit intimidating, so definitely get familiar with the weapon. 

Another quick point would be, if you are forming a group or have a large family, wishing to have a rifle for you, your wife, older sons/daughters, etc.  In any case where you are going to have multiple rifles in your family/group, come up with a group standard no matter which one you choose.  Any assortment of weapons is better than having nothing, but you do not want to be in a situation where you are running out of ammo and the people around you have different calibers and magazine styles, as you can’t interchange them.  So if you decide on the AR family then bulk up on magazines, at least six on each person, in a chest rig or some other type of practical magazine carrier.

Conclusion

To sum up, none of us regular chumps have a lot of extra cash to go and buy two years of food for a family of six an arsenal of weapons, a farm with animals and thousands of dollars in silver this minute.  But over time you can, but that time is rapidly growing shorter, as I believe things are coming to a head very soon.  So first and foremost pray, get right with God, get right with your family, become cohesive, find others you can rely on when things go bad, stock up on what you can when you can.  Every individuals situation is different so look at yours, look at your options, your network of friends and family, figure out who possibly has a place far away from the cities that you could fall back to, talk things over with them, even if they think you’re crazy if they agree, they will thank you later.  Pre-stock food, ammo and other essentials there, bring your family out and camp out in the elements with the, so they have a better understanding before it becomes real.  This is real camping, not Winnebago and a gas grill we are talking about, practice primitive survival methods (that are legal) practice trapping and hunting when the season permits, get everyone in decent shape.  Change your life, save your life and the lives of your loved ones.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The idea of homesteading is not a new one.  As a species, we humans have mastered the art of living off the land better than any other species, learning along the way to capture fire, clothe ourselves and even preserve food that we grew to later nourish us. We weren't content to stop there though.  Mankind “evolved” to reassemble natural materials into unnatural materials such as plastic and combine countless ingredients produced or grown by man into processed foods such as Twinkies, which we figured we might as well wrap in plastic.  Although the modern age has brought many possibilities, many fear that we have gone too far.
We now find ourselves, as a species, barley able to live on our own in the natural world, as we’ve accumulated too many allergies, too many dependencies on modern conveniences, too much dependence on government assistance and, let’s not forget, too many pounds to make it on our own.  Now, Mother Nature is calling many of her children home.
Modern homesteading is alluring to many but let’s face it, even (especially!) in a TEOTWAWKI world taxes still have to be paid, fuel needs to be bought and most of us want health care.  And so we find that the living off the land begins with considering how we will generate personal income.  As a new and modern homesteader, you will get to (have to) create your own job description and set your own priorities with the goal of earning sufficient income to afford you the lifestyle you want off the land. In other words, your first step as a homesteader is, ironically, to think like an entrepreneur.
This essay is designed to help you to develop your own plan to do just that so that you can make the transition from traffic to tractor. While it was tempting to write a quick, one-page article about "how to make money as a homesteader", it requires much more effort to do the concept justice.  Therefore, this essay will be organized as follows:

  • Part One includes this introduction and the steps you'll need to take before you being homesteading to give yourself the best chance for success.
  • Part Two will provide ideas for Generating Income With Your Land
  • Part Three will focus on Using Your Skills to Make Money
  • Part Four will discuss ways to Generate Income With your Farmstead Products

Of course, while this essay is detailed and specific in many ways, it must be viewed as a starting point for each individual reader.  With so many specifics unique to each reader such as level of debt, skills, cash, health, knowledge and countless other factors, no article can inform a reader of exactly how to go about homesteading. Rather, the intent of this essay is to get each reader thinking about what they want, what they’re capable of and showing just some of what is possible so that they can develop their own plan.
The good news is this. There are tons of ways to generate dependable, steady income from homesteading! This essay will list dozens of them but that represents just the tip of the iceberg. Viewed all at once, it may seem overwhelming, dangerous and best to just stay put in the safety of your cubicle.  However, as Winston Churchill said, “The optimist sees opportunity in every danger; the pessimist sees danger in every opportunity." And you, my prepared friend, are an optimist!
So, are you ready? Let’s get back to the land!

Part One - You’re Not Ready to Farmstead...Yet!
The ideal situation is that you're thinking of becoming a homesteader but haven't transitioned yet.  You may make the leap down the road...say, in a year or two, unless TEOTWAWKI forces your hand sooner! 
Here are the priorities and actions as I see them to help you to get ready to homestead.

  • Get Some Land.  I realize that sounds obvious. I mean, after all, it's hard to really homestead without at least a little land.  You don't need too much but you do need some.  If you're one of the lucky ones who has inherited land, fantastic and congratulations!  But most of us have to find and buy our own land.  For a couple of reasons I believe the time to do that is now.  First, I believe that rural/farm land prices will only escalate over time as more and more food will need to be produced to feed a rapidly expanding global population.  Second, if you need to finance the land as many people do, interest rates are at absurdly (and artificially) low levels.  Getting land is an undertaking in and of itself though.  Consideration must be given to the region and climate since so much of homesteading depends on what Mother Nature decides to do. There is also that tiny problem of how to pay for land.  Consider making a trade. You may be able to find cheaper land in a more remote area that is equal to what you could sell your suburban home for.  If you are not already a homeowner, then your main focus will have to be how to save for land.  No matter what your situation, the next priority on the list is probably the most important.
  • Get Out of Debt. If you're an American, you're almost certainly in debt. Almost all of us are...the entire country is.  We use credit for mortgages, furniture, automobiles, appliances, school, health care, home improvement and, of course, for consolidating other debts we owe!  Our society seems to collectively embrace using debt to enjoy today what virtually none of us saved for yesterday. Whereas we once left college with degrees in hand and went straight to a waiting job, today we leave laden with tons of debt and, with no jobs waiting, leave to occupy city parks instead.  Debt becomes part of our life and few of us are ever able to jump off the treadmill that propels us to chase always more income to pay it off.  Of course if you've amassed a lot of debt it is easier said than done to get out of debt. It begins with a change in mindset.  Rather than dreaming of what we want in the moment and seeking immediate gratification, we must keep our focus on the ultimate goal of homesteading.  The best way to get there is to pay down the debt.  Make your homesteading dream so real that you can almost taste it and it will become easier to forgo the taste of that morning cafe latte because it means you are one dollar closer to your dream.  The purpose of this article is not to give debt management advice, but rather to underscore the importance of doing everything you can to eliminate the debt you have.  Society has conditioned us to believe we're entitled to conveniences and luxuries, whereas the mentality of homesteading is about living on what we can produce and do ourselves and not borrowing. Get into the homestead mentality, now.  For every dollar that goes out ask yourself, do I need to spend this now or should this be saved? The less debt you have as a homesteader then the less income you'll need to realize.  
  • What Do You Really Need? In the homesteader mentality you will likely find that you don't have a lot of time or interest in those things that occupy so much of your mind-share (and wallet) as an urbanite.  This makes the transition easier once you've made it.  Urban life seems to require many non-essential expenses and distractions such as cable/satellite television, lattes, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, dining out, gym memberships, furniture, clothes, tobacco, alcohol, movies/sports/concerts, HOA fees, lodging/vacations, pet care, shiny appliances, repairs to shiny appliances, pest control, lawn services, water bills, and so on. You'll find as a homesteader that you'll incur very few of these expenses.  Take whatever steps you can to start practicing this now. Instead of missing television, homesteaders will become distracted by nature and the pleasures of growing their own food. You can too! While the Internet may be seen as a very real necessity for homesteaders, particularly given their isolation and need to connect with customers, that one expense can consolidate to give you access to most news, information and even free video programs on Hulu, YouTube, iTunes and elsewhere.  All of these expenses seem "necessary" to us as urbanites, but viewed through the lens of a homesteader they are quite unnecessary indeed. If you can't cut the cord and do without them where you are now, TEOTWAWKI homesteading may be very trying for you.
  • Learn to Garden. Now! Regardless of which income producing paths you choose one thing is constant among all homesteaders; they ALL garden and grow at least some of their own food.  No matter where you are currently living you should be able to practice some gardening skills.  Learn to plan your garden, plant and germinate your own seeds indoors, transplant into small raised beds or container gardens, learn how to improve soil, how to identify and manage pests, study companion planting and square foot gardening if you are keen on a small parcel or raised beds if room allows and so on.  And you don't just have to focus on your veggies.  Practice with small fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and even blueberries.  By the time you get to your ideal homestead you'll be comforted by the hands-on gardening skills you have practiced and the knowledge you have gained through reading. 
  • Get in Shape. I don't mean do more push ups, squats and more crunches. Sure, those are great if you're trying to look good on club night but the cows and sows on the homestead won't give you a second glance.  Farmsteading takes a toll on the body.  Your tasks could include bending and kneeling to weed and plant, hoisting 50 pound or more bags of feed and balancing them over a feeder, carrying crates of chickens, shoveling compost or wet snow, bending over cheese vats, lifting heavy wet trays of veggies out of the sink to prepare for the market and so on.  To make matters worse, if you get injured while on the job you'll have no one to call to inform you can't make it in that day, so you better get your body ready. How?  Focus on flexibility and tone.  To my way of thinking, this means yoga and pilates more than dumbbells and pull up bars.  It also means getting your weight down to the right target level for your age and height, so walking, hiking, swimming or climbing may help. Whatever it takes, get your body in farmstead shape!
  • Read - For millennia knowledge was passed from elders to juniors in social circles so that succeeding generations understood important food production, preservation and survival skills. Unfortunately, most of us missed out on that transfer of knowledge as our parents and grandparents instead were part of the convenience generation that food marketers cultivated.  So how do we regain those lost skills?  Start by reading as much as you can.  The problem is sifting through all the sources of information available such as books, blogs, articles and magazines.  Your study assignments go even beyond reading to watching movies, videos and listening to podcasts.  The choices are many and it can be hard to find exactly what you want, so I suggest finding topics that intrigue you and then learning everything you can.  Once you find something, get involved with a forum or group and start talking with your virtual buddies.
  • Find Like Minded Souls - Get off of Facebook and get onto sites such as SurvivalBlog.com or Farm-dreams.com that can give you practical knowledge and encouragement.  Seriously.  Find people who share your ideals and who are searching for the same answers.  Networking will get you there much faster and you eyes will be opened to new possibilities.  Talk to people who have taken a similar journey and ask them to share their story.  Find people who have learned the skills you are seeking and reach out to them.  Ask them for resources or see if they would be willing to let you watch a homestead activity the next time they do one, like making soap or collecting honey for instance!  And seek out and attend all of the free farm tours and events you can find.
  • Focus on Lasting Investments - There are many things you may want to acquire before becoming a homesteader that will help you once you're on the land. There may also be items you want to trade in for something more practical.  For example, how about trading your shiny compact car for a good, solid used diesel truck that you can ultimately drive into the ground.  In addition to saving money when buying and insuring this truck, it will be useful for hauling animals, seed, feed, fertilizer, tools...you name it, and being an older model it will be easy for your rural friends to repair and keep running.  If there are any new items you are considering buying between the time you read this sentence and the time you move to the land, ask yourself this question: is this item essential to my homesteading dream?  If not, then you don't need it.  If you can afford it then the choice is yours, but make sure it will be a lasting investment well worth the expense.  After all, homesteading is not about deprivation. But if you're not sure how to afford living off the land then perhaps you should consider postponing any discretionary expenses until you figure it out.
  • How Much Do You Need? - Finally, you should calculate how much money you really need to make. And, while your first thought as you contemplate becoming a homesteader may be "how will I make money" remember this: Saving Money = Making Money!  By lowering your expenses and producing much of what you'll consume when you homestead, you'll find that you don't need to make nearly as much as you think you do.  After all, how much of your current paycheck goes to food that you'll produce on your own?  How much goes to nice clothes, dining out, fuel and simple luxuries that you'll want to do without?

So there you have it, a few things to get you thinking before you put the shovel in the ground and start digging the homestead garden.  Let’s move on to Part Two.

Part Two – Making Money With Your Land
Let’s not think of living off the land, but rather “thriving” off the land.  You’ll probably be able to figure out how to produce your own food so that your health and nutrition thrives, but what about income?

Homesteading is all about multiple streams of income...the old “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” concept. There are almost countless opportunities for income generation but of course there is no one “right” answer given the differences in personal situations, markets, climates, inherent skills and so on.  What I will attempt to do for you is to categorize the three main income areas, and then break those categories down into specific ways you can sell something to earn money.

The three categories of earning money off the land are, 1) using your land to make money, 2) using your skills to make money and 3) selling products that come from your land and/or skills.  This section will focus on using your land to generate income.
Thinking Like a Homesteader
Before we get to the actual ways to make money it’s appropriate to spend a moment discussing mindset. As you contemplate each of the income generators in this and later sections, attempt to evaluate them from multiple perspectives.  For instance:

  • Is the income opportunity one-time, seasonal or continuous? Raising heritage turkeys can be fun but you'll likely only get paid at Thanksgiving, whereas consumers buy pork year round.
  • Can the income opportunity be scaled (if there is a lot of demand can you expand to meet it) if you want to?
  • Can you overlap operational/income producing areas to increase efficiency? For example, If you raise a hog then you need either a large garden (scraps) or local cheese operation (whey) or brewery (spent grain) to make raising the hogs essentially free.
  • Does the income opportunity allow you to differentiate yourself or are there lots of people who can offer the same thing?
  • What are you good at now and can that be transferred to income opportunities on the homestead (accounting, writing, woodworking, etc.)?

Play the Big Stock Market
No, not the NYSE big board but the big time live(stock) market.  For most homesteaders this means cows, but could mean bison, water buffalo, large flocks of sheep and I'll put pigs in there as well.  It goes without saying that you'll need an adequate amount of pasture land to accommodate these voracious grazers and there are many benefits to raising them.  For example, if you were to purchase a young bull for $1,000 or so and five ready to breed heifers for the same price, you'd likely end up with 5 calves produced and fed for free (by their mothers and your pastures) each year for 12-15 years. 
What will you do with those calves?  Maybe sell them as stockers when they're weaned, maybe raise grass fed beef, which we'll discuss in part four.  However, to give you a sneak preview, if you did raise them as grass fed beef it's quite likely that each calf would become worth about $1,500 each for you (net) in about 2 years if you can get them to urban markets. Clearly there's a ramp-up period of a couple of years before this produces income for you, but starting in year 3 those 5 heifers will be throwing off about $7,500 per year in profit ($1,500 per calf x 5 per year).  If they do this for 10 years then your initial investment of $6,000 for the bull and heifers will return $75,000.
Of course you'll have to consider any expenses you may have, such as hay when grass isn't growing, vet bills if you plan to use vets and of course taxes on the land they graze, but the income will drastically exceed the expenses...IF...you can market the product successfully.
I would caution you to avoid exotic animals unless economic times are very good or are likely to be. In poor economic times people want basic foodstuffs and materials, and your attempt to market grass fed zebra may turn out harder than you anticipated. 
You can do similar calculations with other species such as pigs, bison and so on, but the point is this; putting the animals to work allows you to generate a stream of future income, improve your soil and create wealth.  The wealth is held not necessarily in fiat currency but in the value of your fertile soil and livestock.

Play the Penny Stock Market

I'm not talking about you becoming the Gordon Gekko of the pink sheets but rather raising rabbits, goats, chickens, turkeys, eggs, bees, and the like on a limited scale.  These species are much more common on the homestead than water buffalo and herds of grass fed cattle, and for good reason.  They're smaller, easier to handle in small areas, diversified and in many cases you can even process (slaughter) them right on your farm or homestead and sell to consumers, which you cannot legally do with red meat (lamb, pork, beef).

No doubt that many if not most of these small livestock belong on every homestead, but keep in mind there's a difference between you raising rabbits for your own table and you raising meat rabbits to generate income. Unlike the example with the cows, you'll likely need to continually purchase feed for your rabbits (and especially chickens) and feed costs seem to perpetually escalate.  The amount of income you can generate may be rather limited for a farmer, but may easily help to sustain a homesteader.  For instance, if a doe produces 4 litters per year of 8 kits each, we'll assume you may have 30 fryers to sell (losing two to mortality) each year at a weight of 3 pounds each.  If you could charge $6 per pound then each doe would generate $540 in sales of rabbit meat before backing out feed costs.  Alas, you'd better be prepared to butcher them yourself as your beef processor might be a bit perplexed if you hauled in a load of rabbits for slaughter.

Small stock could also include honeybees, which may be particularly attractive with all the concern about colony collapse disorder.  With bees you can sell nucs, full hives, 2 or 3 pound bags of bees or just queens.  For many commercial beekeepers, this is quite a lucrative endeavor!
Bottom line?  Small is beautiful, but smaller the livestock, the smaller the absolute income potential.

Farm Stays & Events
Agritourism is a growth area and I expect this to continue even if economic conditions remain soft.  It's not just you who is being called to the land.  We are all becoming more aware of how disconnected we are from our natural world.  Can you not imagine a soon to be married couple wanting to have their wedding overlooking your beautiful pastures, ponds and happy animals?  I can, and they'll pay well for it because competitive alternatives also charge good money for the service.  But ask yourself if this is a one-time, seasonal or continuous opportunity?  Likely seasonal at best depending on how well you market it, but getting back to re-purposing all your investments and efforts, you could use the same facilities for corporate retreats and other events.
What about a farmstay bed and breakfast in your home or in a refurbished barn?  Sounds quaint, romantic and what a lot of people would be in the mood for.  And it doesn't have to be a normal house. It could be a yurt, tipi or the wall tents that they do at MaryJane's Farm bed and breakfast, for $240 per night.
If you don't want guests staying over night then you could consider farm dinners. These outings normally feature local chefs and offer the advantage of introducing paying customers to other products or services you have available.
Variations  - A hunting preserve, guided hunting/fishing excursions, RV/tent farm camping, summer youth farm camps, pond fishing, corn mazes, haunted woods...

Skills Classes
This is a variation of the above but the emphasis is on teaching skills to consumers.  What kind of skills?  How about cheese making, butchering classes, hide tanning and earth skills, foraging, soap making...you name it. Butchering classes can run the gamut from this $50 hog butchering class on a Wisconsin farm all the way to Fleisher's $10,000 Level 3 butchering class that takes 6-8 weeks!
This seems to be an area that many homesteaders and farms ignore. Perhaps they don't feel they have the patience or demeanor to meet the consumer expectations.  If you're comfortable with students or people in general then I encourage you to consider offering skills classes. It will do far more than generate seasonal or continual income for you; it will forge a bond with many of your visitors that will motivate them to become loyal supporters of your farmstead.

Become a Grower
This is one reason why you want to become a homesteader, right?  To put your hands in fluffy soil, tug gorgeous carrots right out of the ground, cut fresh flowers that you planted, snip asparagus in early April...  If these iconic images of homesteading inspire you then it's reasonable to expect consumers will want the same.  Retreating to our earlier discussion of one-time, seasonal or continual income opportunities, "growing" is one income area that can absolutely be as year-round as you want it to be.   And, unlike farm stays or classes, eating is not normally viewed as a discretionary expense. After all, people gotta eat.  In a TEOTWAWKI world, focus on the essential organic foodstuffs!
There are lots of great books on growing including several by Elliot Coleman that I'd recommend.  Just remember that if you're new to gardening and if you're garden plot is new, you should expect it to take at least 3-5 years before your soil tilth and fertility catches up with your expectations of light and fluffy soil.
Variations - Mushroom cultivation, live plants, greenhouse transplants, heirloom seeds...

Hays Sales and Grazing
If you find yourself with some decent pasture acreage you can use it in many ways to create a "cash crop": grazing or selling organic hay.

Custom grazing is a contractual arrangement where you provide the pastures, fencing, water and grazing management for others who place their animals on your land.  You can charge either by the day, by the pounds gained or both.  If you're short on cash but long on time and enthusiasm this may be a good option for you.

Let's say you had 40 acres and you wanted to improve the fertility anyway.  You may strike a deal to graze 40 cows, stockers or cow/calf pairs and someone else would provide the animals that you wouldn't have to pay for. Be careful if you take in bulls as they'll eat 50% more, on average, than cows so you're stocking rates (and prices you charge) need to reflect this. 

In a stocking scenario you may have 40 weaned calves that are dropped off in April that you graze until October. Let's assume they arrive weighing 550 pounds each and your pastures could allow them to gain 2 pounds per day on average for 180 days.  By the end of October each stocker would weigh 910 pounds, having gained 360 pounds (180 days x 2/lb/day). In total you would have added 14,400 pounds of beef (180 days X 2/lb/day X 40 head).  If you charged a rate of $.60 per pound of gain then your income for the six month grazing contract would be $8,640.  Rates vary of course and you could charge much more in drought/dry areas than you could in lush areas, but then again you'd achieve more weight gain in lush areas than you would in dry.  Then again, you don't even need to own land to custom graze for others. You can lease it as Greg Judy explains here if you have a smaller homestead and don't have the room yourself.

Another alternative for some income is to simply produce organic hay, either for the grass-fed beef or horse quality market.  Organic doesn't just mean letting your pastures go...it means having quality forages that are non-GMO and are managed organically with no chemicals at all.  You'll get more per ton for square bales than round, but those in the cattle market will very likely not want to fool with square bales, so you should choose your market first.  If you don't own hay equipment then you can hire out the job, but this is often challenging since all hay tends to come in around the same time and those with hay equipment are in pretty good demand during those times.

Variations: Blending tree plantings into grazing areas for a silvopasture, thereby generating both current and long-term income from timber


Breed and Board
Do you love animals and want to become a breeder?  There are many ways you can do this on your homestead.  Of course you can use the large or small livestock mentioned above and become a breeder of rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs, cows or any combination.  There's always ads in Craigslist and in local ag publications for these and many people looking to buy weaned piglets, 4H rabbits and calves, and so on.
Another idea is to breed and train livestock handling or guardian dogs, such as shepherds or collies to herd sheep and cows or great Pyrenees to protect livestock. I expect both of these to be in constant demand as more and more preppers and homesteaders emerge and need proven genetics to help with their animals.
If you love horses and your new homestead has a barn of sorts, offering boarding and grazing for horses may be just the thing for you.  You may be able to charge $150-250 per month or trade in value for full 24/7 pasture turn out...the more you can offer the more you can charge but of course rates vary from region to region. It's yet another way you can generate income from a homestead parcel that you couldn't from a city apartment. 

Basic Materials

Finally, you're sitting on a gold mine of sorts with your new piece of land.  You'll likely have some woods that could offer rough timber, firewood and pine straw among other things.  If you're handy with a chain saw or if you want to invest a few thousand dollars in a portable saw mill, you could be producing lots of custom cut lumber in no time.
Understandably, many people look upon all the rocks on their land disapprovingly, but perhaps those rocks and boulders could become landscape rocks for someone else?  Although this falls more into the category of one-time income streams than continual income, it could be a good way to clean up your land while beautifying another person's property at the same time!

While some of these ideas touch on product offerings, the above represents just some of the ways you can use your land to generate income.  Some techniques are quite passive and very long term (silvopasture) while others are very labor intensive and offer immediate income gratification (transplants).  Of course there are more ideas and perhaps you'll share some below, but this is enough to get you thinking. 
If you know how much money you need to make, how much capital you're comfortable risking and, most importantly, what you are passionate about, then I'm sure you'll find some ideas that sound right to you.  But I'll repeat something I said in the first post to be sure it sinks in: Saving Money = Making Money!
To a homesteader's way of thinking you not only save money and therefore need to earn less (and therefore pay less in taxes) by producing so much yourself, you also lock in prices and create a personal buffer from inflation.  Milk prices may go through the roof for everyone else, but yours will always be the same.

Part Three – Making Money With Your Skills

Regardless of who you are, I'm confident in assuming one thing about you; you have at least one or more skills.  Everyone does.  And your roster of skills and capabilities will only expand when you move to the homestead as you learn all sorts of new gardening, farming, mechanical, crafting and other talents that others need, and are willing to pay for.  The trick for you will be to market those skills into income generating assignments that will allow you to comfortably live your dream life off the land.
Hopefully part two of this four-part series gave you ideas to think about how your land could work to generate income for you, and tomorrow's part four will give you numerous ideas for products you can sell. This third portion of the series will be a rapid fire listing of money making ideas that bridge the gap between your current/future skills and market opportunities.
In this section we’ll focus on skills and services that you can sell from your homestead and I'll divide the list into two macro categories. The first will be physical skills that you can perform for your local community.  You need to be in close proximity to make money with the ideas on this list.  The second will be virtual/online skills you can easily sell to anyone around the world and collect money via PayPal, check or wire-transfer.  As always, these ideas just scratch the surface so please share your ideas and comments. If you're interested in some of these ideas but don't have the skills yet, just remember that it's not too late. You'll be learning lots of new skills as a homesteader.   Get the knowledge and training you need and start earning income with it.
Ready?  Let's begin!

Physical/Local Services to Make Money as a Homesteader


General Services
- There are lots of "general" needs that many folks in rural areas need.  By the way, just because you're moving "out there" to become more self-sufficient doesn't mean that the people already there think that way. You may be surprised to learn that they value the convenience of grocery stores and having hired help to do things for them.  What kind of things?  Fence installation and repair, automatic gate installation and repair, painting, household repair and so on.  If you're interested in or handy with any of these then put the word out by printing a business card and pinning it at the local feed store and elsewhere where people congregate.

Tractor Work
- One way to really justify (or rationalize) the purchase of a tractor and implements is to use it not only for your property, but to hire it out for local projects.  The jobs you can hire it for depend on the features of the tractor (does it have a front-end loader, for example) and the attachments you have. Depending on what you have you could earn good money by cutting/baling hay, mowing large fields, disking, tilling, seeding/planting, maintaining long gravel driveways, bush hogging, moving piles of dirt/gravel/debris, snow plowing, and more. Advertise yourself.

Gardening Work
- You'll become expert at organic gardening and growing food in no time, and you'll likely become the best in your area as others are happy to let the grocery chains feed them or, if they have their own garden, rely on chemical controls.   I expect that more and more people will become interested in organic methods of growing food and you can avail from this trend by "marketing" your expertise to others.  What can you do?  Teach them how to install raised beds or drip irrigation lines, how to build soil with manure/leaves/grass clippings, how to garden without tilling, how to schedule successive plantings and winter gardens, protecting plants from frost, how to set up compost bins, how to capture rain water for the garden, how to companion plant or how to trap plant for pests, etc.  Get the idea?  There's lots you'll be learning that others won't know but will want to know.  Yes my dear reader, you can become THE Plant Whisperer!

RV Repair
- Repairing recreational vehicles isn't necessarily difficult, but it is specialized. Given the concerns about the economy, jobs and so on, it's reasonable that there will be more and more people taking economical RV getaways or simply living in their RV's.  This means more and more will need repairs and, let's face it, how many RV repair people do you see on the side of the road?  It's an opportunity to specialize and become "the" RV repair person for your area.

Mechanic
- If you are good at mechanical repair then you'll be in need.  It's always hard to find a good mechanic.  If you are also good at small engine repair and farm equipment repair (tractors, RVs) then you'll be even more in demand.

Welding
- Many people in rural areas know how to weld but most do it for themselves or their farm.  The opportunity is there to offer welding and small fabrication for hire, if you have the skill.

Sheep Shearing
- If you have sheep on your homestead you could shear them yourself and then hire this service out to others.  Most sheep owners don't shear themselves and it's always hard to find someone local who does.

AI
- Artificial insemination (AI).  With more and more homesteaders and small farmers starting up with smaller herds of animals, many don't want the danger or cost of having bulls, boars and rams on their property.  Or perhaps they simply want to add genetic diversity to their herd by using AI.  Either way, if you learn this skill and make the modest investments in equipment, then you will be in demand for sure.

Boarding
- I mentioned how boarding could be an offering that your land could enable, but you could expand this if you're skilled with horses by offering riding lessons and horse training.  There are horse people in every neck of the woods, so you'd likely find a waiting clientele.

Get Sharp!
- Perhaps you could become expert as sharpening knives, chainsaws and tools.  You'll likely need this for yourself anyway so why not make some extra bucks by offering it to others?

Equipment Operator
- Perhaps you don't have the equipment to hire out but you know how to operate a tractor, bobcat, bulldozer, track loader, excavator, ditch witch, backhoe or the like. There's always a need for this in the country.

Carpentry
- If you like to build then you're in luck as this is a skill that most people either don't have, or don't have time for.  From repairing buildings to constructing sheds, additions, barns and so on, you'll probably find more work than you can handle as fewer new homes are built and more repairs/add-ons are in demand.  And, to broaden your offering even more money, learn and then teach cob building techniques!

Electrician, Plumber
- Not much I can add to this. If you can do these, people will need them, especially if you develop skills with alternative energy and plumbing techniques!

Hauling Animals- You may have a truck and purchased a livestock trailer when you moved to the country. Guess what, not everyone has one.  Let locals know that you can haul livestock for them or post your skill on Craigslist.

Photography
- With fancy new phones anyone can take a picture.  However, only skilled photographers can compose and create an emotive work of art worthy of celebration...and compensation. If this is a talent of yours then you'll have a unique income stream.

Workshops
- I'll probably include workshops and classes both as a skill and a product, but with your new skills why not offer mobile city/suburban workshops on creating raised bed gardens, chicken and rabbit tractors, etc.  If the money is back in suburbia, go get it and bring it home!

Computer Repair
- Are you good with computers and Internet issues?  Many people, if not most, are not.  If people know you're around and that you're good with eradicating viruses, freeing up memory, recovering files, providing Internet access alternatives and the like, then you're in luck...and in demand!

House Cleaning
- Yea, you know what this means. Just clean your own house first! :-)

Meat Processing
- Now, you can't do this as an inspected processor unless you want to go through the red tape process, but since you'll likely learn how to skin rabbits, eviscerate chickens and maybe even slaughter sheep and goats, you could offer this as a service for others who want to butcher their own animals. Just be very careful how you position this; you are selling only your knowledge and service and in no way are you selling meat, since the animals already belong to the customer.

Bridge the Gap
- Some farmers struggle with marketing and distribution but perhaps that's an area you're good at.  Consider becoming a distributor for local farmers and getting their products to retailers, restaurants, resorts and other stores.  It will be good for the producer, good for the buyer, good for the local community and you won't have to produce anything yourself!

Online/Virtual Services to Make Money as a Homesteader

Broker Deals - Basically buy something for $.25 and sell for $5.  How?  Farm auctions have lots of valuable and often new items that can go for very little money.  If you can create a market for it via Craigslist, eBay, Facebook or your own community contacts, here's your chance.  My advice is to consider useful items that are harder to find and are easy to ship.   A wood stove may be cheap but you'll need to sell it locally which will limit your market reach. [JWR Adds: I recommend gathering references on collectibles. See our Bookshelf page for some coin, gun and antique book links. Study and then bring those reference books with you when you go on farm auction trips. If you become a subject matter expert, then you can turn that into a money-making venture. Many people make a good living as "pickers". (See the television shows "American Pickers" and "Antiques Roadshow", for some examples of collectible items that are sought after.] I concur about only buying only small and lightweight collectibles that can be mailed.]

Consulting - What do you do today?  Is it something in business, academia, law, medicine, technology, etc. that you could offer as a distant consulting service?  Can you package it into an online or remote training offering?  Perhaps you're an accountant and setting up and managing Quickbooks is easy for you, but challenging for folks around you. Or maybe you're a business hot shot with expertise in logistics, marketing, human resources or strategic planning.  With all those skills I bet you can figure out how to offer business coaching, life coaching or consulting online.

Making Money Online
- As I said, I don't know you or what specific skills you have. That said, there are lots of ways to make money online using skills you probably already have. I don't want to define each of these here, so let me just list a few ideas for you to think about or research:

  • Copy editing
  • Free-lance and content writing of e-books, articles, blog post, press releases, product reviews, proof reading, forum posts...
  • Illustrating for authors, web designers, etc.
  • Become a Virtual Assistant (VA)
  • Offer research assistance to authors, editors and writers
  • Web or graphic design
  • Web security consulting
  • Voice-overs or record your own ad-supported podcast
  • Language translation

Note: Not sure how to find these opportunities or how to market yourself?  Try eLance, Guru, SideskillsFreelance Jobs or iFreelance.  You'll probably be surprised how many opportunities there are. Just be sure to specialize and differentiate yourself, otherwise you'll likely get lost among the other freelancers.

Authoring
- Authors such as James Rawles, Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon and Joel Salatin have been able to make a living off the land with publishing being a primary source of income. Could you be the next one?  Why not!  If you have good writing skills and can identify the right topic for right audience, it's easier than ever to get published and, more importantly, distributed with print on demand (POD) offerings from Createspace by Amazon, Lightning SourceDog Ear and others.  Just take a page out of Salatin's and Rawles’ book and remember the importance of "branding" yourself and your expertise.  If you create a following as they have, followers will eagerly await your next book and you'll be on your way to a passive income stream.
There you have it, just a sampling of ways that you can use your skills to get money from the farm fairy, often very good money, while living your dream life off the land.  For modern homesteaders the Internet creates a global market and, unlike with physical products, it doesn't matter where you are geographically located if you're offering virtual/online/writing services.

Part Four – Making Money Selling Farm and Homestead Products


Farmstead Meats
- Organic, grass fed, sustainably raised, pastured, heritage...what have you, there is a growing market of consumers looking to connect with and support farmers who are tending the earth ethically.  These consumers are just as anxious to support the local community as they are to tell Monsanto and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to take a flying leap. 

When selling meats directly from the farm you'll have lots of choices to navigate. The first choice may be if you want to sell bulk (whole/half/quarter) animal or small retail packages.  If you sell bulk then you can avoid the hassles of becoming licensed to store packaged meats in your farm freezers by technically selling a "live" animal to the consumer. You then deliver the animal to the processor and the consumer determines how they want the animal butchered, pays the processor directly and picks up their cuts.  The consumer saves money or a per pound basis and you save headaches.
Alternatively, you can sell individual packaged cuts such as roasts, ground beef, pork chops, rack of lamb and so on to consumers.  This requires you to have meats processed by a state or USDA inspected facility and you'll have to follow regulations for storing and transporting your labeled products.  The regulations aren't that burdensome in most places, but the costs for freezers, utilities and transportation must be considered. Of course, when you sell this way you offer products to a much larger market. After all, there's more people able to buy a pack of ground beef than there are those interested in half a cow!
Other options for selling meats are wholesale, retail and restaurants.  The above options that sell directly to customers constitute direct marketing. You'll get the highest price selling that way for sure, but you'll also expend the most effort and need the most marketing savvy...for sure.  Selling to wholesalers or distributors could put your products on retail shelves and it takes time and effort to set up these relationships (you can also sell your other farm products ((below)) this way).  Many farmsteaders want to sell to restaurants and for good reason. If you're near the right markets there are many fine chefs who value delicious and local ingredients, and you want to sell to people who value what you produce.  Some chefs want smaller portions and packaged cuts that you are selling directly to customers.  If that's the case you probably won't have much room to discount prices unless the chefs commit to larger bulk quantities or weekly deliveries since your costs won't be any lower.
Of course a lot more could be said on this topic but the point of this essay is to give you ideas and to get you thinking of what works for you.  For many farmsteaders, selling farm raised meats will be the heart of their income generating engine.
Variations - In many states you may be able to process poultry (which includes rabbit) on your farm and not use an inspected processor by using a P.L. 90-492 exemption. Read carefully and check with your state regulators before proceeding.

Farm Fresh Milk
- Admit it...the phrase kind of conjures the image of the old milk truck, glass bottles being dropped on your doorstep and old fashioned wholesomeness. Consumers today have become so disconnected with their food that many don't even realize that they're drinking ultra-pasteurized "formerly" milk until they read an article about it or hear mentioned on the news. When many do they go looking for real milk, usually raw, from a local farmer.  And they're willing to pay anywhere from $6 - $12 per gallon for it depending on where they are in the country and if the cow was fed grain (least expensive) or if it was purely grass fed (most expensive).  Be sure to operate within the implicit and explicit laws of your state.  Also check out the Weston A. Price campaign for real milk and if you decide to sell milk, list yourself there.
Variation - butter, buttermilk, yogurt, etc. if you want to pasteurize. [JWR Adds: Be sure to check all the legalities first, particularly at the State level.]

Farmstead or Artisanal Cheese
- If you're milking cows, sheep or goats anyway, why not turn the milk into delicious farmstead cheese?  Farmstead cheese is cheese that you produce from the milk of YOUR animals, where as artisanal cheese is cheese that you produce from milk that you buy from another dairy.  Either way, you'll need a state approved and inspected cheese operation and anywhere from a modest investment (several thousand dollars) to a major investment (over $100,000) to set up your make room, ripening room, cheese cave, equipment and so on.  There's no denying that it takes an investment to become a cheese maker, particularly a farmstead cheese maker where you have to invest in animals and milking facilities, but for many the lifestyle and payoff is undeniably alluring.

Farm Fresh Eggs
- If you raise your hens on pasture then you'll be producing the most beautiful and nutritious eggs available anywhere.  Just check out the chart to the right.  And keep in mind that not all egg varieties are the same.  Many consumers will pay much more for duck eggs than chicken eggs, and you can also sell hatching eggs (turkey, geese, ducks, chicken, guinea, etc.) instead of eating eggs.

Vegetables and Herbs
- There's not much limit to what you can grow for consumers and restaurants.  Warm and cool season vegetables, fresh flowers, herbs, you name it. You'll have the same choices to make regarding selling (direct, restaurants, retail, wholesale) as you do with meats but there's one big difference. Whereas meats can be stored frozen for months the value in vegetables is to be sold fresh, often the day they're harvested.  So you'll want to line up your customers first either by having a solid relationship with restaurants or by operating a CSA for individual customers.

Fruits
- Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, peaches, apples, figs, melons...get the idea?  Almost everyone has a sweet tooth and these can be harvested, sold and delivered directly to farmers markets, restaurants or consumers, or you can offer pick-your-own options.

Sweeteners
- Maple syrup, honey and sorghum syrup all come to mind. With concerns about allergies I would expect a continued rise in the demand for local honey.  All you need is to make or buy some bee boxes, get a bag of bees and a queen or a nuc and let them pollinate your garden. Then you're on your way to the sweet life!

Craft Supplies
- You'll likely find countless supplies on your farmstead that can be marketed and sold to crafters, such as rabbit pelts, turkey and peacock feathers, wood cuttings, wool and more.  Take a look on eBay to see what's selling and then see what you have.

Jewelry
- Rather than selling craft supplies from the farm why not make your own jewelry!  Think of using feathers from peacocks, turkeys, guineas or geese. Or, perhaps you have a large deer population and you'll find lots of shed antlers in late winter. These and more can be used to make unique (one-of-a-kind) pieces of jewelry. [JWR Adds: The Etsy web site is a good place to retail your wares online.]
Variation - Instead of jewelry, make rustic woodworking gifts from your downed trees.  Think of tables, willow furniture, log furniture, kitchen utensils...whatever you can dream up..

Wine and Beer
- Due to stringent regulations you may not want to produce wine and beer, but what about becoming an accomplice?  Could you grow local hops for the beer market or grapes for local wineries using your land? I bet you could and that few people are!

Value-Added Products
- I won't attempt to count all the ways you could add value to products that you could produce on the farm, and most would require some regulatory approval.  But imagine farm fresh baby food, dog treats, lard, jams, salsa, grains, cured meats, pickles, sauerkraut...the list goes on.  Don't be afraid of seeking regulatory approval as it's not as hard as you think. Just call the health department or your state department of agriculture and find out what you need to do to comply.  Others do it and so can you.

Mushrooms
- Cultivate mushrooms for consumers or restaurants and if you live among chanterelles, morels, etc., learn to hunt and sell these delicacies at farmers markets and to restaurants!

Photography
- I mentioned photography yesterday as a skill and it certainly is that, but your rare breed animals and quaint rural landscape offer you unique resources to create poetic imagery.  You could add value by printing and creating frames from your woodlot and selling through various resorts and stores in your state, or license use of your high-resolution images through various providers.

Make Custom Knives, Tools
- Necessity is the mother of all invention, they say, and farmers are an inventive group.  Perhaps you'll come up with tools you need to tend your garden such as the wheel hoe to the right. Or you could offer plans on how to build them yourself like the the folks at WhizBang
Perhaps you know how or want to learn to make knives from rustic materials such as spent saw blades, antlers, wood, etc.  It's not too late and it would be unique and functional.

Building Chicken/Rabbit Tractors
- When folks, particularly urban folks, see your fancy chicken coops and tractors they'll likely want one of their own. They won't have the time or skill to make it, but they'll have the money to buy it. Market directly to them through local organics associations, conferences, publications and online groups.

Manure
- Put your marketing hat on now. You're not selling a load of smelly waste, you're selling organic fertility! Better yet, nutrients!  From worm castings to rabbit pellets and, yes, horse manure, you're selling what everyone needs for healthy plants and topsoil. Variation: Compost

Artisan Meat Products
- You don't see many people doing this because, as with cheese making, there is skill, investment and regulatory compliance required. And therein lies the opportunity!  Imagine making pancetta, pepperoni, saucisson sec, salami or Iberico style long-aged cured ham from your rare-breed pigs that consumed acorns and whey.  Know anyone else in your state doing this?  In your entire region? Is that sausage I smell or is it opportunity?

Tractor Dealer, Feed Dealer
- Perhaps you'd like to sell a small amount of farm equipment or feed in your area.  If it's under-serviced then you'll find opportunities to do so. This will be especially true with feed as you'll likely find organic feeds, fertilizers and nutritional stuffs hard to come by unless you have them shipped in. Is it possible that others can't find these as well and you could become the supplier?

Homemade Lotions, Soaps, Candles
- You'll no doubt learn to make all of these things anyway for your homestead. If you have the raw materials, such as lard, goat milk, etc., then you may want to make artisan soaps for customers.  You can sell to local markets or sell online. There may even be more of an opportunity with making lotions, shampoos and creams that are all natural and free of chemicals.

Sewing/Knitting
- You could sell supplies such as wool or yarn, or you could add value by sewing bags, aprons, cloth diapers and more.

Hopefully some of these ideas got you thinking about how you can sell products and make a good living off your farm or homestead, but I bet you know of even more ways!  Many of the products and skills I've discussed are small scale and tug more at the homesteader's heart. Some, such as retail meats, cured meats and commercial cheese making speak more to those interested in farming as a business.  What's right for you?  It depends greatly on how you answer the questions in part one of this essay, namely how much money do you need to make.  But also how ambitious you are and how much energy you have.  Those are issues for you to ponder. 

One thing is certain; there are lots of ways to earn income from your farm or homestead. I don't know about you, but I take a lot of comfort in that.

People who are new to farmsteading or entrepreneurial life in general are often nervous, if not downright scared, about the prospects of not having a comfortable and secure paycheck coming in each week.  What I will say is that when you do make that transition and learn how to generate income for yourself that you will never again worry about whether you may get laid off, how your employer is doing or if you'll have money in retirement.  You'll make the life that you want for yourself and no one will be there to deny you the pay raise, if you want it, or more time off, if you want that, although getting both would be the ultimate triumph!
TEOTWAWKI will be present a scary new reality for most people. But you can begin to position yourself now to not only thrive financially in a TEOTWAWKI world but to help others to adapt and enjoy their new world.


Saturday, January 21, 2012


Several future scenarios include or produce famine on a very large scale. The goal of a famine feeding strategy is to get people from the beginning of the famine to the end alive and not permanently damaged. In extreme circumstances this may call for unusual measures…

Preparing for famine. We can be reasonably confident that any future crisis will include food scarcity. From EMP to pandemic, from war to drought, food is a critical resource. (The projected death rate from an EMP, including death from a variety of causes including famine, is 9 out of 10 Americans!) The sooner we can educate people about the dangers ahead the sooner every family can begin to prepare. Every little bit will help. And the sooner we start the better.
People need to know the facts in a non-inflammatory way and in a way they can relate to, “painting them a picture” so to speak of how it could affect them and their family. They need to know they cannot expect a government rescue, they need to take personal responsibility for their preparedness. And they need hope – to believe that their efforts can make a difference in the outcome.
Americans have been manipulated, lied to, cheated, and stampeded from issue to issue by unscrupulous people in government, education, the media, and even the church. We need a well thought-out strategy so that we don’t sound like crazies predicting the end of the world or selling something. That’s not going to happen without a lot of deliberation and work.

One of the reasons for getting a head start on famine preparedness is that the real experience of famine is horrible - it is surreal and disorienting and frightening. People need mental preparation, a sort of “mental inoculation” so that they are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually up for the challenge. Without this inner preparation many people will give in to paralysis and hopelessness and make an already dire situation worse.
Consider all the time and effort and materials that are going toward creating lovely politically-correct landscaping in 99% of American cities. Most of that landscaping could be replaced with food-producing plants, pasture grasses, fruit- or nut-producing trees, edible decorative plants, and even simply gardens. Fruit trees take several years to come to maturity – if people are going to plant them they are going to need to get going now..
As a group or a church becomes prepared their efforts will be multiplied by those in the community who catch the vision and understand the dangers. City policies for landscaping, even public landscaping, could be improved, and laws examined to allow emergency contractual changes to neighborhood covenants.
Gardeners need to be educated on how to grow insect resistant crops that don’t require pesticides, or that can be treated without commercial chemicals that will in all likelihood be unavailable. Cold-resistant and drought-resistant crops should be encouraged and seeds (for more than a single season’s planting!) and know-how distributed.

Stored foods. Clearly the best option in the face of famine is to buy food in advance! The challenges are (a) the cost of accumulating food over and above everyday consumption, (b) storing a large quantity of food, some of which will need special storage conditions, (c) making sure there is a nutritional balance, and (d) trying to guess how long a famine might last and how much might be needed. Because we can make some advance preparations now we even have the luxury of asking a nutritionist to help us develop a nutritionally sound plan, or of finding some individual or organization that has already done this basic meal planning. (A good resource is the LDS storage food calculator.)
In addition to a centralized storehouse, food storage should also be dispersed to individual homes as much as possible to make it harder to be all stolen or destroyed in one emergency or raid. Dispersed storage also means greater storage totals, and greater participation as people take personal responsibility. Bulk foods purchases could feed as many as 1,000 people for around $100 per day.

Raised foods. Raising basic, hardy crops such as beans, cabbage, beets / sugar beets, and potatoes can contribute significantly to the food available. It’s difficult to raise grain in a gardening situation, except for corn. Whether or not corn grows well will depend on what caused the famine in the first place – it typically needs a long, warm growing season which may not happen in some areas. Bean pollination can be improved (if insects are affected by cold or disease) by growing larger varieties and hand-pollinating. Sprouting grains in spring could provide an early “crop”. Unless massive amounts of vegetable seeds are made available to a community in advance, with gardening help, the first year’s crops are not going to come close to meeting the need.

Livestock. Livestock that can survive on foods that people do not eat (like grass) are an option (cows, sheep, rabbits, etc.), but livestock that requires grain input (chickens and turkeys) may not be an efficient use of the calories available. Care must be taken (if possible) not to eat livestock that may be needed for other essential purposes, such as oxen or horses for plowing or transportation. Growing children, the elderly, and the ill would benefit greatly from additional protein (eggs/meat) and fats.

Purchased/traded foods. In a famine some food typically continues to be available from traders or markets or even in stores, but at a significantly higher price. Saving up money to purchase food after a famine begins would be crazy, since far more food can be purchased for the same amount of money before it begins. But it’s possible that a delegation could be sent to other areas with a surplus to trade for food. A survival community theoretically could bring back additional food to sell to the public to cover the expenses of the trip.

Hunted/found foods. Hunting, fishing, trapping, and foraging are all good sources so long as there aren’t thousands of other people competing for the same resources. Once famine has thinned the population and concentrated people in the cities for government feeding programs, wild game and edible weeds/plants may rebound and be more available.

Gleaned foods. Combining a wheat field leaves significant amounts of grain still in the field where the combines miss the stalks – that grain can be collected. There may be fruit on fruit trees that was too difficult to reach or that was overlooked by pickers. All food harvesting processes should be investigated as possible gleaning candidates.

Discarded foods. An organized effort to collect food thrown out by restaurants and grocery stores could make a significant contribution to feeding people, and if nothing else scavenged foods may be fed to livestock to supplement their feed and indirectly contribute to feeding people. Fruit left in the field because of blemishes or damage, insect damage or rot, might yet have an edible portion. Even rotten, disgusting foods may provide highly-nutritious food for maggots (rather than feeding on feces), which can be safely consumed by humans.

Livestock feeds. Animal products like “All Stock” are made with bran, minerals, and molasses. It contains 12% protein (red wheat is typically 14%), 2% fat, 15% fiber, and vitamin A and D – it could be consumed by humans. “Cull peas,” a product of split pea manufacture, are peas that are too small to be processed for human use. A serving of pea soup has 8 grams of protein, 26 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fat, and 161 calories. Chicken scratch is just coarsely ground corn and wheat. It costs more than just plain whole corn and wheat, but if whole grain is not available the scratch is edible. The one thing to watch out for is that some foods unfit for human consumption are sometimes dumped in the livestock market – grains contaminated with mold, pesticides and other chemical contamination. Great care will need to be used to detect and avoid harmful feed (and it’s not good for the animals either!)

Insects. Millions of people around the world already know that the local insect population can be considered a potential food source. Maggots, or other large insects / bugs / worms such as earthworms and cicadas and grasshoppers are edible and nutritious when properly prepared. In ideal circumstances insects could even be raised, rather than having to be foraged for (found foods, below).  Insects could be fed foods that are unfit for human and livestock consumption and produce high quality protein in return.

Lake “seaweed”. Not all algae is edible (avoid globular and floating!), but the long stringy strand-types can be boiled (or pressure-cooked!) and consumed, containing starches and even fats. There may be water pollution issues, but in a worst-case scenario that would be a secondary concern. Blooms of algae (floating on surface or making the water turbid) can be highly toxic and make everything in the water, including fish, toxic. Saltwater kelp/dulse (sea lettuce) is edible.

Non-traditional foods.  Some things are edible (or could contribute nutrition to a meal) that are not commonly considered food. Some foods consumed by other cultures may have been rejected as too spicy, disgusting, or strong.  Even dogs, cats and horses in excess of what is needed for security and agriculture/hauling should be considered if times are desperate enough.  Bones discarded by butchers (turkey bones, chicken bones, etc.) contain valuable nutrients, as do organ meats including heart, lung, kidneys, liver, and intestines. They’re all edible, all safe and nutritious, and all consumed in many other non-Western cultures today. See e University database of foods known to be used by populations around the world in famine.  Just three crops - maize, wheat and rice - account for about 40% of the world's consumption of calories and protein. 95% of the world's food needs are provided for by just 30 species of plants. In stark contrast, at least 12,650 species names have been compiled as edible (Kunkel 1984)

Fillers. Historically, chaff and fine sawdust have been added to breads to make the flour go further and still be filling. It’s not nutritive, but it’s filling as a last resort. Steel-cut (pin-cut) oats can be added to chopped meats to extend the meats because the oats take on the flavor and are nutritious in themselves.           

A note about Vitamins. If every family would stockpile a year’s supply of a good multivitamin for each pers