Friday, December 12, 2008

SHTF: Survival Garden

This topic comes up frequently at Prepare and I have written about it before here.

We all know to store food and water and other consumables. But after the balloon goes up, we will go through our stored food. Knowing this, we have been told over and again to plan on growing and harvesting some of our own food.

Unless we live in a rural area surrounded by 5 of more acres, the rest of us are forced to make due with our back and front yards for food production.

Now, if you have never gardened before, you are in for a surprise. I think gardening is easy and fun myself, having been an avid vegetable gardener for more than ten years.

But, if you have never grown anything more than mold in your fridge, gardening food is not easy. Especially if you want to grow enough for a family.

There are numerous websites out there which point out the best way to get started, so I won't repeat the obvious, only the answers to questions people with our mindset want to know.

How much space do I need to have to feed a family of four?

With enough space, year round growing and good soil, a 100 x 200 can feed a family with a few big BUTS thrown in.
- This is vegetables with a few fruits thrown in. No wheat, large amounts of corn and limited potatoes. That means hardly any starches which can be converted to breads and stored.
- Where you live is a big part of it too. For most it means tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and melons in the warm months and carrots, squash, potatoes, in the cool months.
- Colder climates would do well having cold frames or a green house for longer grow times.
- Leafy vegetables can be grown but only during cooler "shoulder" months like early spring and fall - these vegetables do not do well in the hot summer. Grow mustard greens though.

How much space do I need to grow wheat?

Wheat takes a lot of space to grow enough for adequate production yields. A great article in Organic Farming I read about 10 years ago had a backyard farmer producing 75-100 pounds of flour from one acre of wheat. That is a low harvest for a manual (he harvested everything with a scythe to prove he could do it) crop.

So what carbohydrates should I grow?

Corn. Remember though it takes several rows clumped together to pollinate - i know because of my crop this summer.
Also, corn loves water - pray for rain or have a good supply on hand in the survival garden.
Also, potatoes. Plant them in a raised 3x8 bed about 12" deep at least. Have plenty of enriched (compost) soil. After they grow tall greens, bury everything in 6-12" of straw. In this situation, you can harvest as many as 100-200 potatoes (I have done this before).

What about this Mel Bartholomew book all the preppers talk about?

Here it is, All New Square Foot Gardening. Prep writers love to cite it but I don't know if they have used it.

The idea behind square foot gardening is to create a producing garden in a limited amount of space. It is done using a grid, built and placed over a garden area. Seeds or seedlings are placed within each section of the grid and cultivated. Bartholomew's website has several examples of success stories using Square Foot Gardening.

Minimal gardening does work, people in other countries have done it for years. I remember seeing small gardens all over Europe when i was stationed there. Old and young alike worked the backyard plots and produced beautiful produce. They have to because they have so little land to work and the prices are high.
But you have to practice with this method of agriculture first.

Can I grow fruit trees?

Yes, but they take years to produce fruits. Most fruit trees require more than one tree for pollination. There are dwarf fruit trees, but read the fine print on those you purchase online. Sometimes they are 2-3 years from producing fruit. Bottom line - an orchard of producing fruit trees take years from planting to production. Also, fruit trees require lots of care and maintenance.

Try growing melons and berries in the meantime. Both can be grown in one season.

After the SHTF, where am I going to get fertilizer and chemicals to treat my plants once my stocks run out?

From the same place our forefathers did. First, build a compost heap now. Compost is a natural fertilizer that no self-respecting farmer does without. Take some chicken wire and fence off a 4X4 area. Put leaves, then soil, then kitchen waste (vegetable and fruit peelings, eggs shells, coffee grounds, etc. but no grease, meat or people/dog/cat waste) in layers. Keep somewhat moist and turn once a week or so.

If pests (rats or mice) show up in the heap, move it to a closed container. I use an old trashcan with a lid and it works great for me.

Also, google Dirt Doctor for Howard Garrett's organic methods for fertilizer and pest control. Most of the supplies can be bought now cheaply and last forever. Others can be obtained naturally long after the SHTF.

Also, many garden pests can be controlled by our egg and meat machines - chickens, goose and ducks.

What do I do in the winter?

Some edibles grow fine in the winter. Kale, garlic, onions. Also, google cold frame and put a couple together on the patio during cold months. Or bring a container garden inside and place by a window.

Don't forget to grow herbs! Sure they make food taste better, but some have medicinal properties. Herbs can be grown in containers easily.

Finally, learn how to store what you grow. Too many gardeners toss or giveaway their surplus during the summer months. Canning and drying brings the bounty of summer home in the winter. Besides, after the SHTF, you won't be tossing anything out I am guessing.

Plan on starting some gardening now in the winter with a window sill garden. During the winter, measure out and plan on garden spaces around your home. Start with a 6x6 area, build, plant in the spring and then build another. By the summer, you should have 3 or 4 of these producing beds around your home. Cover the patio with containers full of herbs, tomatoes, and peppers. Use a side yard running on the east side of your home for a 3 row spread of corn.

Whatever you decide to do, make your plans now, buy the seeds and tools and get busy. By this time next year, having a home garden may be your best bet for fresh produce and food in the troubled future.

Get your non-hybrid garden seeds here now!

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