Prepare to Garden Like Your Life Depends on It, by Prepared in Maine

So you plan on growing your own food in times of need. Here are some facts to bear in mind: 1) your garden is not just what you have in your tilled yard, greenhouse and cold frame; 2) prepare yourself
physically for this way of life and diet; 3) organic gardening/farming will be the only kind of farming in the future; and 4) go native.

Local food gathering and native plants are an essential aspect of a long-term, sustainable food supply. What grows in your area that can be eaten or used as a medicine? The most common edible plants are dandelion, chicory, cattails, amaranth, lamb’s quarters, and milkweed. If you garden, you probably pull [and composting] many of these from your “garden” now as weeds (they grow well in temperate zones of America). Time may come when we will have to adjust out thinking to recognize free food. If it grows in your area and you don’t have to work at it, you benefit by saving time and money.

First, get a good book on the topic for your area, such as: Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places or A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plant (Peterson Field Guide Series). With book in hand, take a walk around the backyard and surrounding areas and look for the edible wild plants in your area. Odds are you’ll have no trouble finding half a dozen or so. Consider pulling these weeds now and eating them (instead of composting them if they grow in your yard and garden). Can you find or create a recipe for the plant? Do you (and your loved ones) like the taste? If so, then hooray! You just cut back on your grocery bills. Also, some weeds can be made into teas (medicinal or tasty). Don’t overlook the joy of a tasty drink in the summer or importance of hot flavored drinks during cool months to lift the spirits.

Importance of stored foodstuffs in February and March. There is a good reason the full moon in February is called the Hunger moon [in the Northern hemisphere] and why many religions have fasting periods in early Spring. Before civilization, food was hard to come by during these months (hunting is often poor and very little is edible). To get the most out of your stores, you should plan to tap into your stored food stuff only when can’t get by on what you grow, hunt, gather (due to illness/injury/weather).

Read what you can about extending your growing season. Some very simple changes to your garden, techniques, and seed stores can extend the growing season by weeks if not months in most areas. Here in Maine, my cold frame will grow food I can harvest until early December and start again in late February to harvest in early April. You can learn more about these techniques here or from the master (Eliot Coleman): Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.

Perennials rather than annuals are the best choice for survival gardens (you don’t need seeds and most of these plants are more resistant to pests and drought than annuals). Think about dual use
ornamental plants. Think blueberries or cranberries rather than burning bushes. Can the trees you plant for shade or cover should be fruit bearing trees? Finally, start that rhubarb and asparagus bed
now. Asparagus beds take a few years to bear, but your children will harvest from it in 20 years. And it is one of the first food plants to emerge in the spring (remember the Hunger moon?). What about growing hops vines as screening/cover. Hops makes boiled water taste better, has medicinal uses, and it has other purposes, too (*wink*). Any perennial food plants you put in now will save you many hours of labor when the Schumer hits the oscillator.

Realize that growing, hunting and gathering were full time jobs for early Americans and still are for primitive cultures. Do you have the knowledge and skills to make these yours? Strive to acclimate yourself to the challenges of this diet (challenges both physical and psychological).Going cold-turkey from fast food to a home-based diet can be bad for your morale (if not yours then any family members under 18!). Start eating local from your garden and native foods now so these are not foreign when they are the only option. For some this will also mean weaning yourself off coffee and chocolate. These are [imported] luxuries that need not be a daily necessity. Withdrawal from these is not easy or fun, but better now than in time of crisis.

The one thing most US climates cannot grow is sugar. Historically people used honey or maple syrup. The reality is that wild honey is hard to come by, bee stings are not fun, and beekeeping is not easy.
As for maple syrup/maple sugar, collecting sap to make syrup is a lot of effort and boiling it down takes a lot of time and heat. Early American settlers and had apple trees and used apples as a sweet
treat. Perhaps you can survive on MREs three times a day, but children will be much happier if they have an apple or warm cider on a cold winter day. Cut back on refined sweets now and natural sugar will start to look a lot sweeter.

Farming in the future will not be driving a $250,000 International Harvester fully air-conditioned combination CD-player and tractor back and forth on the land and following Big Ag spray and pray methods. It will be work by animal or hand. For this, you should take a close look at your gardening/farming tools. A wooden handled shovel, rake, and standard hoe will lead to misery and disappointment. I’d suggest a real shovel. The Fiskars shovel is a good one. That, and a scuffle or colinear hoe , an Ames multipurpose trowel will be your mainstays. While I’m at it, I may as well include a wide-brimmed hat. Straw hats are great and have been worn for centuries for a reason. They provide good shade and move perspiration from your head to keep you cool. Like your defense arsenal, your garden tools need not be fancy, but must be reliable and easily maintained. You should (through hours of practice) know how to use them properly and effectively without causing harm to yourself (blisters, strains, or worse) or damaging the tool or your crops.

Your future garden will be organic. Over time, gardening will deplete the soil of macro and micro nutrients. There will be no “Weed be gone” or “Miracle Gro”. If you depend on those to grow your food, when the balloon goes up you are in trouble. For a peek at what to expect you can read a book on what happened to Cuba’s agriculture after the US embargo: Greening of the Revolution: Cuba’s Experiment with Organic Agriculture. These can be replaced through natural (some would say organic) additions to the soil. Animal manure or humanure or good compost The Complete Book of Composting or you can buy the new version: The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener will do it. If you start this now, you will save money to be spent on
other preparedness items and learn how to do it properly. [JWR Adds: See my previously-posted emphatic warnings about any use of “humanure”.]

On a related note, stop using any chemicals on your yard. Period. All non-wooded areas are potential gardens or pasture. The sooner you stop putting chemicals on your yard, the sooner you can use it to grow food. Encourage your neighbors to do the same (if necessary, under the OPSEC guise of being environmentally-minded). Your yard and theirs may become your garden or pasture. You don’t want 3-tetra-methyl-weeddeath in your red wheat flour before grinding it to make biscuits for supper.

Research how people lived in your [geographic/climate] area and you will learn a lot about how to prepare. What did native people do in your area for food and shelter. You can learn a lot about what it takes to survive in your area by reading history books about natives or early settlers. Where did they live, what did they eat, what did they trade with/for.
Answers to these questions can help you identify needs or resources you may otherwise overlook. If no native people lived in the area you are considering to be your retreat, then you should probably not try to make a go of it there.

Remember: The Lord does not give us more than we can handle. Pray for the best and prepare for the worst – Prepared in Maine