Ready for Self-Sufficient Gardening?

Zeedman

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I think if it comes to the point where folks have to eat the majority of their intake from a garden, they are going to be WAY less picky about how they preserve the food, the taste and texture of said food, etc. Food for survival is just that....preserved any way possible for the optimum storage time.
Growing up, my grandparents gardened, hunted, fished, and were at least partially self-sufficient. While they lived in the city when I knew them, they grew up rural, off the grid. I was privileged as a child to spend a lot of weekends on their 280 acre property, with wood for heat & cooking, kerosene lanterns for light, a hand pump in the kitchen for water, and their only link to modern civilization was a propane-powered refrigerator. Living that way meant preserving during times of plenty, to tide them over lean times - with no freezer.

I remember rows & rows of jars in the cellar, sealed on top with paraffin. Paraffin is no longer used, and is not recommended for food safety... but if the hard times ever come & supply chains crumble, it is worth remembering that paraffin was reusable year after year, and canning lids are not.

It would be difficult for many to return to self-sufficient practices, because our culture has changed so much. We've become specialists rather than generalists, too dependent upon the efforts of others. My grandparents on both sides had root cellars; not many homes have one now, preferring finished basements. My dear departed uncle had a cistern in his basement for holding well water (which I think is still there), I doubt there are many of those left. And over time, the average size of a family's property has diminished. Few people now have access to the amount of land necessary for even partial self-sufficiency, and that situation appears to be irreversible (I think we can thank rising property taxes for that).

In my youthful exuberance & self-absorption, I didn't pay much attention to the knowledge my grandparents could have passed on - which has become, unfortunately, a common theme in our modern culture. My grandparents all passed away while I was gone in the Service, and the long chain of passed-down knowledge was broken. We have lost - or surrendered - so many of the fundamental skills needed for self-sufficiency. Yes, many of those can still be found online, in you-tube videos... but in time of need, that network would likely collapse.

There are signs that this outbreak, and the disruptions caused by it, are a wake-up call. If we make it out of this without irreparable damage to our society, that could turn out to be the silver lining in this dark cloud. For myself, I try to take just one step closer to self-sufficiency each year; pickling last year, tofu & small grains this year. I have no illusions of becoming as self-reliant as my grandparents were, DW & I are running out of time... but I hope I will at least be more successful in passing on what I have learned to my children & grandchildren.
 

Beekissed

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I was privileged as a child to spend a lot of weekends on their 280 acre property, with wood for heat & cooking, kerosene lanterns for light, a hand pump in the kitchen for water, and their only link to modern civilization was a propane-powered refrigerator. Living that way meant preserving during times of plenty, to tide them over lean times - with no freezer.
That was quite a privilege! I too had a privileged upbringing of living off grid for 9 years, starting when I was 10 yrs old. We homesteaded, starting from scratch by building a 2 room log cabin, hauling water from a spring, clearing the land with hand tools, living poor and off the land for most of our food needs. No electricity, no running water, cellar full of canned goods canned up on a wood cook stove.

We still live on part of that property right now and, sadly, we no longer have a root cellar nor the amount of land we once had. Still have the kerosene lamps we used back then and still use them as the power still goes off here frequently. Still have shelves filled with jars of canned food....we have a freezer but rarely keep anything in it longer than it takes to store it until I can get enough to can up~home grown meats, deer meat, foraged fruits, etc. Still heat exclusively with wood but have grown soft with running water, fridge, electricity and all that comes with it. Still keep and maintain an outhouse....a really nice one nowadays.

Living that way before and still not trusting the power grid all that much, we stay on the edge of going back to the land here. I know how much food it takes to live that way and how many canning jars, how much work is involved, how much a person has to adjust their mindset about what is necessary and what is not. Even we, having done it before and willing and able to do it again, are not prepared to subsist off what we can grow here~don't have the seeds enough, the jars and lids enough, nor a garden plot big enough right now to do so.

Still raise chickens for eggs and meat, but one has to have food for chickens, especially in the winter months. They can forage the rest of the year but one won't get as many eggs as one would if they had a little feed each day. Then you have to feed a dog to protect the chickens and they too require a lot of food....hardly anyone has dogs that can hunt for their daily food any longer. Unless you can grow enough for those creatures, imagining you can keep them for food and defense of food is just dreaming.

To ponder if the average backyard, urban gardener can and would grow and preserve enough food to feed themselves and their family has always been a point of discussion on SS and other forums to which I belong....and it always leaves me shaking my head. The average American can't even deprive themselves of much of anything~even a cell phone~for long. To imagine they have the resolve, the fortitude and the mindset it takes to do without, eat a restricted diet, to work hard enough to survive off grid~without the benefit of solar power, wind turbines, composting toilets, and all the money input that going off grid consists of nowadays~is both amusing and sad. They won't even learn how to butcher their own meat, even with it running around in the back yard. Claim they are too soft hearted....but could do it "if they ever had to".

We call those armchair homesteaders...they like to talk about it, imagine doing it, even make big plans for what they will do "some day", but never put any of their dreams into practice. I have a few of those in my own family, even. When push comes to shove, they have nothing with which to shove except some really good imaginations. Hate to sound like a Debbie Downer on this thread, but reality must be pointed out by someone.
 

AMKuska

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Realistically I think my family and I would be fine even if I didn't produce a garden. Blackberries, wild bittercress, dandelions, and many other edible greens are present within walking distance in great abundance. Within walking distance is a river full of fish. I got rid of the chickens that were heavy feeders, and my current ones eat hardly nothing and still produce eggs.

I admit though, I'm gardening as if I'll need to support my family. The CEO of Kraft said along the lines of, "Sure hope the food supply doesn't collapse!" and I'm just -.- this is not helping.
 

flowerbug

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Growing up, my grandparents gardened, hunted, fished, and were at least partially self-sufficient. While they lived in the city when I knew them, they grew up rural, off the grid. I was privileged as a child to spend a lot of weekends on their 280 acre property, with wood for heat & cooking, kerosene lanterns for light, a hand pump in the kitchen for water, and their only link to modern civilization was a propane-powered refrigerator. Living that way meant preserving during times of plenty, to tide them over lean times - with no freezer.

I remember rows & rows of jars in the cellar, sealed on top with paraffin. Paraffin is no longer used, and is not recommended for food safety... but if the hard times ever come & supply chains crumble, it is worth remembering that paraffin was reusable year after year, and canning lids are not.
...
while people say that you should not reuse lids i have no problem doing it if they are in good condition and the contents are acidic enough.

the real challenge would be in finding some kind of natural material that would work as a flexible seal and not give the foods an off-flavor/smell.

my own inclination would be to do more dehydrated foods as electricity is the biggest issue for food preservation. if you can't boil water easily then having a bunch of canning jars may not work anyways if you have to struggle so much just to get wood.

as far as showing others and having them pick up the skills, back in 2008ish there was a boom in gardening and canning but that only lasted a year or two before people found out that yes, it is actually work and they have to put some effort into things.

i really do not think this time around will be that bad. i'm not worried about civilization crumbling if only a small percentage of people are made sick and die from this. yes, it's horrible and it will be no fun, in fact i may be one of them, but in the bigger scheme of things, i think after a short term gyration life will pretty much continue to go on and not all that much changed. i don't think our government or society is actually geared towards learning from this event.
 

Trish Stretton

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I'm happy that I have managed to grow all my own fruit for the last couple of years. For me, getting the fruit trees in and producing was key. I do miss bananas though, but have resisted the urge to buy them. I do have three baby plants that I have been pampering, with one now in the ground where I hope is a good spot for it. The others are still in pots and get brought inside over winter- my bathroom gets a little crowded.

So far, I grow some of my vegies; this summer its been sweet corn (I'd say about 6mnths worth), potatoes grown in tubs, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and rocket, but nowhere near enough.
Once I get some more beds set up and cleared of weeds I really do hope to do better. This winter the goal is 100% of my garlic and shallots.
I know I do not have enough room to grow all my own grains, but I like the idea of growing a small patch of things- this is definitely on the to-do list for next summer. This is also a two fold approach. Learn how these grow and get harvested as well as providing a carbon mulch for the garden.
 

flowerbug

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...
To ponder if the average backyard, urban gardener can and would grow and preserve enough food to feed themselves and their family has always been a point of discussion on SS and other forums to which I belong....and it always leaves me shaking my head. The average American can't even deprive themselves of much of anything~even a cell phone~for long. To imagine they have the resolve, the fortitude and the mindset it takes to do without, eat a restricted diet, to work hard enough to survive off grid~without the benefit of solar power, wind turbines, composting toilets, and all the money input that going off grid consists of nowadays~is both amusing and sad. They won't even learn how to butcher their own meat, even with it running around in the back yard. Claim they are too soft hearted....but could do it "if they ever had to".
...
i have no illusions of how hard i need to be to get by and since i have managed to fish and forage to get by i'm sure i can do it, but for now i'm also glad i do not have to do that and i doubt i will need to. i just don't think this will be that bad. i am ready, but also willing to watch and wait. will talk to the neighbors when it looks to be SHTF kind of situation.
 

flowerbug

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Even if they do, a certain level of trade is necessary for most homesteading, and THAT needs a certain amount of stability as well. Even if you CAN grow enough food to feed your household completely, you'll still need tools to do it (mechanized OR hand) Know how to make tools? You still need the iron to make them. Know how to smelt iron? You still need ore (and so on).

With the exception of some of the uncontacted tribes in the world's rain-forests I can think of few people who need absolutely NOTHING that their immediate environment does not supply. However "far back" the average homesteader thinks they can go, relatively few are going to want to basically go back to the Stone Age (no PRE- Stone age, the stone age needs a source of chippable rocks nearby.)
that is one thing about low-till/no-till gardening, i can get by with very little in the way of tools/metal. the most common things i use could be done with wood. a flat piece of wood could be scraped with a sharp enough stone. we have a lot of rocks around here.

i'm not worried about the mechanics of getting by here as much as the social aspects if things get really bad, but that is a conversation in another post...
 

flowerbug

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I was going to bring that up but it seemed over paranoid.

And banding together with your neighbors works OK with little bands of thieves, but if they band together to make a raiding nomadic horde then you need a BIG group. And part of the problem in this case is that big groups are a danger in and of themselves.

And beyond stealing food, as food replaces currency as the object of supreme value some of those hordes are going to be out for slaves to tend THEIR land. And of course at the very bottom, some will lose it and go cannibalistic and YOU will be the food they are after.
i assume that the bigger cities will mostly destroy themselves quickly if food runs out. only a certain percentage of people will make it away from those alive and if they are troublemakers we have a large number of gun owners here who have plenty of ammo. it will be horror and a mess for some years.

and yes, you will have gangs and thugs of all sorts to contend with and of course many people will not survive such times, but enough will who are far enough away from the cities and those who are more prepared and organized. having a nice defensive spot in the hills or enough people to keep watch and enough people willing to do what it takes. enough will survive.

in our circumstances, we're probably too close to the bigger cities to actually keep living in this particular house, but the most valuable things we have here are knowledge and garden seeds. i would not have any trouble moving to some place more easily defended or working with other people to grow food and to help organize a working community.

the fields around us would be easily turned into gardens if we had enough people willing to work and hunger would be one way to make more people willing to work. once the land is turned to production instead of being poisoned this would be a very productive landscape. put one or two people per acre who actually care about diversity and this area would be very fertile. because i do this myself already i see a very bright change in the end, but the transition would be very difficult.

good chance i would not make it - but i wouldn't give up either...
 

digitS'

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The wheels of industry aren't likely to come off easily. I swear, some seem to pretend that they wish the wheels would. I suppose that it would be one way to allow the Earth and Nature to be restored.

My early gardening experiences were in my grandmother's and my family's gardens. I later had my own backyard gardens but the limits imposed by work, school and space interfered quite a bit. A book by John Jeavons (How to Grow More Vegetables) and Organic Gardening magazine's articles on Alan Chadwick's French Intensive gardening came along just about the time that I had more space for gardening. This is rather ironic because their emphasis was on small space gardening. But anyway, I have always felt that I could grow nearly as much without planting rows from here to the horizon, even if that is pretty much what I still do.

@Trish Stretton , Jeavons wrote a lot about "compost crops" and, although these plants have their place in the food pantry, much of their importance is to feed the soil. Sweet corn is one. Jeavons says that 60% of our gardens should be dedicated to growing compost crops, as he called them.

Steve
 

Trish Stretton

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Yes. I havent quite got my garden up and running properly yet and havent figured out to do the 60% carbon crops either.
I do try to apply the law of return. For example, I recently found a way to return my convovulus back. I dry it out on the paths til its crispy and completely dead, then it becomes part of the mulch between the plants. I do watch it constantly as this is the first year I have done this.
All my tree prunings go back usually around the tree. Dock gets chopped and dropped all over the place.

The bed I just made and cleared has my 3 double row of leeks with carrots between these. There was a bit of a wide space between two carrot rows so my spring onions have gone in there and somewhere in there too is a row of Red Cardinal chard.
One row of leeks was 4 short of a row, so that where the bunching onions have gone.

I've tried florence fennel this year and next to that row is two rows of late beetroot. So far that has taken up half the bed with everything spaced out to the absolute minimum spacing.

I've tried to sow according to the moon plantings, so the next part of this bed will be the mesclun mix, some loose leaf lettuces, maybe a row each.
I need to make sure I have enough space for all the shallots and garlic, both normal and Elephant too.

It was raining a few days ago and I was listing out all the things I really like eating and their spacings, then trying to see how I could fit them into the beds I have or will have by next summer, sort of along the lines of the square foot garden.
Next was trying to work out sequences- which to put in first and what should follow.....along with companion plantings.
I may be over thinking this, but what can I say, it was raining.
 
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