John & Abigail Adams on Survival Gardening

At times I hear from folks that are concerned about raising their own food during a WTSHTF situation. I have heard, it will be a tremendous amount of work, there will be no seed to put out, there will be no fertilizer to feed the plants, we’ll use up all the nutrients in the soil and will need to leave it lay fallow for a year and other concerns and worries.

If you don’t mind I’d like to address some of those issues. Abigail and I have been using our current garden since 1982. Over those 23 years we may have used a total of 200 lbs of commercial fertilizer on the garden. For instance last fall I worked in about 20 lbs of 12-12-12 before I broadcast the entire garden in wheat. Most years I do not use any commercial fertilizer at all but I thought it might help get the wheat off to a good start.

While we don’t use much commercial fertilizer we do give the garden a yearly addition of organic material. Either a couple of inches of manure or if that is not available at least 6” of leaves that we have raked from under the trees seems to do the job. This year we plowed down wheat planted in the fall to make “green manure.” All this organic material encourages and supports a nice colony of earthworms and night crawlers. These guests in turn work the organic material into the soil as they pass through, aerating the soil as they go on their merry way. As an example this year, our sweet corn is in excess of 9 feet tall, and many of the ears are 12 inches long. All this with a minimum of commercial fertilizer and never a fallow year.

Now on to the issue of finding seed. When I bought the seed wheat for our garden it came in a 50 pound bag. Half went on the garden the other half filled a sealed 5-gallon bucket. As this wheat was already covered with insecticide it should be viable for years. This fall I believe I’ll do the same but in either oats or spelt.

Another preparation that we make is to go to the different stores that sell garden seed and buy up the individual packages at 50% to 80% off. I then vacuum seal them, date and set them back for use “someday.” [JWR’s note: Store gardening seeds in your refrigerator. The germination rate will drop off with time, but old seed is better than no seed!] We live in a farming community and many of our close neighbors are grain farmers. I am sure that they would be willing to sell us either seed corn or ear corn that we could shell and plant. Now some will say that using a hybrid ear corn for seed is doomed to failure and will not produce. In my experience it may not produce as well as the original but it will indeed produce. So while we may not be able to run to the store to buy seed, there are ways to prepare or make do.

Heritage (or “Heirloom”/ open pollinated seeds) should be in everyone’s cupboard as these will produce the same plant, generation after generation, however we need to be remember that the hybrids were designed to either out produce, store better, be more insect or draught resistance or have more flavor than the original seed. My advice would be to use the hybrid seed the first generation, and then if you have open pollinated seeds plan to go 50-50 the next year. Just be certain to keep the different varieties separated so that the 2nd generation hybrids do not “pollute” the true bloods.

The point is… Go out and do it now, whatever it may be, while our failures are merely educational and our successes bring us satisfaction. Do not wait until the time has come that the difference between failure and success is a full tummy for your children and yourself.