Barriers – Berries – and Bounty All Hidden in Plain Sight, by The Prudent Gardener

It seems a part of preparing for extremely hard times is acquiring knowledge and honing skills to maximize resources. SurvivalBlog has been tremendously helpful in developing exhaustive lists of needs, supplies, strategies and defenses. In addition, provision is made for faith, charity and quality of life to improve a healthy mental state.

As a landscape contractor for 32 years, I am now seeing more potential for self-reliance that most property owners could develop with some planning and a better awareness of the resources they may already possess. This form of preparation could substantially improve our situation both short and long term. So much of our storing up – though most vital – is of a finite nature. Just as a woodlot on our property can supply continuous fuel, the well planned garden should not only include non-hybrid seeds, building up soils through composting, manures and cover crops, but also include a small greenhouse and/or cold frame that could yield early and late fresh greens that would provide a welcome and healthy addition to food storage.

By learning now and purchasing the types of vegetables that your family will use and enjoy, you have done just the kind of preparing that we are learning about through JWR’s books and blog. You will find that quite a few of your favorite vegetables are available as open pollinated or non-hybrid seeds. Many of the beans and peas are not hybrid anyway, as are lots of the salad crops. However, most of the sweet corn we know are hybrid varieties so you might want to look for Golden Bantam or True Gold sweet corn. Most of the great tasting tomatoes we grew up with were non-hybrid. My grandparents saved the seed from year to year and if you have ever wondered why its so hard to find a good tasting tomato, it is because most hybrids are bred for shelf-life and not taste for commercial producers. It seems these genes are somewhat incompatible. Most tomato hybrids however do have the designation of VF hybrid. That is important to know because it indicates resistance to verticullum and fucaidin wilt also known as early and late blight of tomato. Knowing this allows you to store some fungicides – either organic or chemical or both in my case. Another worthwhile gem is knowing how to avoid having tomatoes rot on the bottom before they ripen. This is called blossom-end rot and stems from a calcium deficiency. This can be avoided, more easily than it can be cured, by adding a small amount of lime at planting. The lime contains calcium and raises the PH which also makes the calcium that is present more available to the plant minimizing this frustrating problem.

This is not intended to be a complete guide to anything, but rather to stimulate awareness of your own potential resources and encourage some garden planning to optimize your own property.

As JWR has mentioned here before, rose bushes planted under a window could discourage entry. If you take that idea a little further, there are some lesser known plant selections that can make your property far less accessible. If you have an open field of view and perhaps a place where you would like to incorporate an impenetrable hedge, take a look at Julian Barberry. I never used it much in landscape design because it is so mean I did not figure anyone would want to get near the thing! Now it is looking a lot better to me. I cannot imagine anyone getting through a hedge of that, yet viewed from any distance it simply appears to be an attractive addition to the landscape rather than the vicious barrier that it is. Here you have an example of security hidden in plain sight.

Another option, if you have the room, is pyracantha. This is an angry plant I have also avoided. The Latin word for pyracantha is “firethorn”. That should tell you something. When you get stuck with its thorns, it remains sore as it injects you with a little toxin to keep it sore. The beauty is it starts hurting immediately. At a glance you would see a landscape plant that flowers with a heavy white display in Spring and yields orange or red berries in the late summer.

Most folks have forgotten about a tree call osage-orange or hedge apple. Hardy across much of the country, the osage orange was originally planted as a living fence. It lost its appeal with the introduction of barbed wire for livestock. The attributes of this tree do not end there. The fruit of this plant has been used for decades to repel insects inside places such as cellars or closets. It is a natural insect repellent. The wood of hedge apple is extremely strong and was used by the Osage Indians to make their bows, thus the name, osage orange.

We have a 10 acre tract in Tennessee, mostly wooded, for a good supply of firewood for heating and cooking if needed. This past year we built a pond for additional water and fishing and to take the guesswork out of wondering if it would stay full in dry times. I decided to put a 45 mil rubber pond liner in to make sure it held water. A Y-diverter has been installed with the gutters on our house to give the option to fill rain barrels, pipe water to pond, or fill underground tanks for irrigation.

By planting fruit trees and blueberries, we hope to extend and enhance our food storage. When selecting fruit trees to plant, be sure and learn which varieties you will need as pollinators. I have planted Fuji, Honey Crisp, Mt Boomer and Early Transparent for favorite apples, but also a Golden Delicious because it is a great pollinator for many other apples. Planting several varieties can also extend the season in which you can have fresh fruit. The some principle applies with the blueberries. Here you will find early, mid-season, and late varieties. They provide an attractive naturalizing grouping that does not attract attention. I would recommend purchasing bird netting to cover the plants so you can enjoy your crop instead of just feeding the birds.

Another little known ornamental plant that provides food is the Service Berry. A shrubby tree that blooms in early Spring before the dogwoods, it produces a delicious berry that is extremely rich in Vitamin A and is great to eat fresh or made into jam. This addition to the “prepared property” does not appear in the least cultivated, yet subtly yields another source of food. Hidden in plain sight again.

Native already to this property are walnuts, mulberries, raspberries, elderberries, and of course, blackberries. These elements should help provide some variety of jams and jellies for all that wheat bread we are going to have.

A trip to the health food store can be an educational experience for those seeking medicinal plants to grow. Items such as Sambucol, Echinacea, St. Johns Wort, and Solomon’s Seal are very common, easy to grow plants that would never appear as anything but ornamental. Sambucol is elderberry, found wild throughout Appalachia. Remember the song Elderberry Wine? St. John’s Wort is hypericum, a vigorous yellow flowering ground cover. Echinacea is a brightly colored perennial and Solomon’s Seal is a native perennial found in shady areas. All of these and many more have multiple uses and are only meant as an introduction to plants for medicinal purposes. A couple of good books in your library could prove a valuable resource, but will not do you much good unless you have the plants available to you as not all are wild plants. By simply learning some of the more useful perennials and herbs and incorporating them in your garden now, you can have available to you a selection of plants for cooking, for medicinal purposes, and for a variety of teas.

One final invaluable resource could prove to be the woodland around you. Many years ago the uses and properties of trees were better known and much of that knowledge has been nearly lost. Once when replacing a roof on an original log house, I discovered the lath strips holding the tin on was a wood I could not quite identify. A very old fellow I thought might have a guess told me very matter of factly “Well I reckon its probably Black Gum, that’s what folks used to hold their roofs on”. Black Gum lumber, while not very good for most things, is excellent lath because the wood fibers seem as if they are woven rather than straight grained. This quality is ideal for holding nails in tight forever on a roof through constant tugging of wind. Without this explanation, one might waste the tree for firewood and find it impossible to split. A fellow I know used to keep a few blocks of it around just to embarrass city folks that wanted to try their hand at “bustin’ wood”.

We are just finishing up sawing some lumber with a portable band saw mill to have on hand lumber I will need for a barn, a garden shed, and some extra lumber for projects or barter. We are fortunate to have lots of very mature trees and I selected those that appeared to be thinning in the top, a sign that they were “going the other way”, and any potential problem trees that could go down in a storm near buildings. Now sawed and stuck with spacer sticks is white oak, poplar, hickory, walnut, cherry, sassafras, maple, and of course black gum for the lath on the barn roof.

The root cellar is half-way constructed and the solar project only in the planning stages. It seems there is far more to do in front of me than behind me. Thanks for all the wisdom and encouragement to all of us.