Get Your Soil Ready For TEOTWAWKI, by C.J.

A topic that seems to get little attention in the prepper community is your soil.  We spend countless dollars and hours preparing our homes, family, and arsenal for the coming catastrophes, but we do little to prepare our soil.  Many preppers store away garden seeds of heirloom varieties, but we must remember that the soil is just as important as the seed, and your soil may not be adequate for production of crops when your life depends upon success.  Even if you are currently successfully growing crops on your property, your crops may not fare as well after fertilizers are no longer commercially available.

Every plant that grows takes vital nutrients from the soil.  If that plant is never clipped, cut, or harvested, a fair amount of the nutrients are put back into the soil through decomposition of the plant, or from the manure of animals that are drawn to that plant for whatever reason (food, shelter, nesting material etc).  Little land, these days, is completely abandoned and allowed to grow in a natural setting.  If a fairly large portion of your land is ignored, and nature completely allowed to take over that land, odds are that your soil nutrient levels are at least good enough, and likely are excellent.  This article is written with those of us who currently use our land in mind.

The World Below Your Feet

A teaspoon of soil contains literally millions of microorganisms of thousands of varieties.  These microorganisms work together to maintain the ecosystem within the soil.  The plant photosynthesizes sunlight into simple sugars, which are stored in the root system of the plants.  The microorganisms feed upon those sugars, which encourage them to reproduce through the high carbohydrate content.

Each variety of these microorganisms has a different job.  Some feed on insects, some on organic matter, some on toxins, some on petroleum products, and the list goes on.  After feeding on the preferred food, they convert the food into a form that is readily available as fertilizer for the plant.  When the plant has an abundance of fertilizer in the root zone, it photosynthesizes more efficiently, providing more sugars to the microorganisms. 

When inadequate amounts of it’s preferred food are available to a microorganism, the numbers gradually either die or “hibernate” until the active members of that variety are low enough to be sustained by the food that is present.  If an abundance of a variety’s chosen food is available the population explodes.

Feeding the Soil, Not the Plant

After the SHTF, unless the situation passes quickly, there will be little commercial fertilizer available, which means it will become necessary to make our own fertilizer through manure, and other organic matter (leaves, grass clippings, shredded twigs etc.).  If your ground has been reliant on synthetic (man-made) fertilizers for several years or more, odds are that the microorganisms that break organic matter down into fertilizers are not as plentiful as they should be.  This means that organic matter in the soil will decompose very slowly, and take a very long time to be converted to a form that can be used by the plant as fertilizer.

Synthetic fertilizers feed the plant directly, especially if it is in liquid form.  Organic fertilizers feed the soil, which then, through the microorganisms living there, feed the plant.  This means that we get very fast results with synthetic fertilizers, and slow results with

In order to increase the numbers of these microorganisms, we must provide them with plentiful amounts of their preferred food (organic matter).  This can take several years, and in a TEOTWAWKI situation, when little food is available your life could depend on a strong crop and you won’t have years to wait.  Because of this, you should begin adding organic matter to your soil now.

Most universities or cooperative extension offices will perform a soil test for a very low charge.  In my area, the charge is five dollars for the basic test, and one additional dollar to test for organic matter in the soil.  You should have this test done as soon as possible, and definitely pay the additional charge for the organic matter test, as this could be your most important piece of information when preparing the land for a day when fertilizer is not available.

The test results for soil organic matter (SOM) will be presented as a percentage.  An SOM score of five means that five percent of your soil is made up of organic matter.  If your score falls in the five to seven neighborhood, you have a huge head start, but you cannot afford to relax, as the organic matter will decompose and be consumed, and must be replaced.  If your SOM score falls below five, then you definitely have some work to do.

In any case, you can improve your SOM by applying organic fertilizers or top dressing the soil with compost.

Organic fertilizers are available at most big box home improvement stores, and farm supply stores but can be very high cost, as compared to the cost of synthetic fertilizers.  One way to decrease your costs is to use feed grains, bought at your farm supply store, as an organic fertilizer.  Any grain will work, but I do recommend that the whole, intact grain not be used, as you may wind up finding a crop of wheat, oats or corn growing in your pre-SHTF lawn.  Depending upon your geographic location, your least expensive options are probably either: cracked corn, dried distiller’s grains, soybean meal, cottonseed meal, or alfalfa meal.  Each of these items has it’s benefits, so it is best to use as many different grains as possible, especially if there is little price difference between them.  As a general rule of thumb, apply about 10 – 20 lbs of a grain meal per 1,000 square feet of area.  If you are using a broadcast type spreader to apply, you may find that the meals will compact at the bottom of the hopper, making it hard to get an even coverage.  Many of these meals are sometimes available in pelletized form, which is much easier to apply, but is usually slightly more expensive.

Top dressing with compost can become very labor intensive, unless you own a top dresser or a manure spreader, but is by far the shortest, most effective route to improving your soil.  Not only is compost made up of organic matter, but it also contains a large, healthy population of the microorganisms that you want to inhabit your soil, which will further shorten your road to soil preparation.

The Home Lawn

Turf grass is, by far, the most widely grown “crop” in the world.  A small portion of the population grows fruits, vegetables or grains, but almost everyone has a lawn.  Many preppers who live in the suburbs and plan to “bug in” after SHTF have stored away some vegetable seeds (hopefully heirloom varieties) and plan to convert their lawn into a garden after the Schumer becomes intimate with the fan. 

If you fall into this category you can improve the organic matter in your soil by top dressing with compost, by applying organic fertilizers, or by utilizing free resources available to you.

If you choose to use grain meals as an organic fertilizer, use about 10 lbs of meal per 1,000 square feet of land for higher (30%+) protein meals, and 20 lbs of meal per 1,000 square feet of land for lower protein meals.

If you choose to use compost, spread grass seed over your lawn, as recommended on the seed bag and apply about one half inch of compost on top of the grass and seed.  This will add up to about ¾ cubic yard of compost per 1,000 square feet of land.  Use a leaf rake to fluff up the grass, to allow the compost to sift down to the soil surface.  After 3 to 6 months, have another soil test performed and if your levels are below five percent, repeat the top dressing as soon as time and finances allow.  If your levels are above five percent, wait another 6 months before you apply more compost.

If finances or time do not allow you to purchase materials to improve your soil, you may find organic matter for free in many places.  Some possible sources include:

  1. Local coffee shops (especially Starbuck’s) often give coffee grounds to gardeners for free, just ask.
  2. Never bag your lawn clippings, just leave them lying on the ground.  Up to 30% of your lawn’s fertilizer needs can be supplied by lawn clippings.
  3. Rather than collecting the leaves from your lawn, shred them and spread them over the lawn.
  4. If you burn firewood, wood ashes make a great fertilizer.  Spread wood ashes very thinly over the lawn, as too much in one spot can damage the grass.
  5. Start a compost pile and make your own compost.
  6. If you live near a lumber yard, sawdust may be free for the taking, however use sawdust in very small amounts.


Generally speaking, pasture land most likely doesn’t need much preparation for the coming times when commercial fertilizers are not available.  You most likely do not remove leaves from your pasture, and the manure from the grazing animals put a great deal of organic fertilizer back into the ground.

If cattle or horses are grazing the pasture, dragging the pasture to break up the manure piles and spread them will help to distribute the manure.  This will help to make your soil more consistent.  If sheep are goats are grazing, there is no need to drag due to the smaller size of their manure.

In order to keep the pasture at a high level of fertility so that the soil is at it’s best when it is needed most, some benefit can be gained by using urea, which is chemically organic due to the presence of carbon, to fertilize the pasture each fall.  Apply about 100 lbs of urea per acre.  Since the synthetic fertilizer is only being applied once per year, while the livestock is distributing organic fertilizer several times per year, this will keep the necessary microorganisms active for the breakdown of organic fertilizers.


Most of the same rules would apply to gardens and cropland that apply to lawns.  The main exception being that if you choose to apply compost, it should be applied after harvest and tilled into the soil, along with any remaining parts of the plants that were grown there.  Weeds should not be tilled into the soil immediately, but can be put in the compost pile.  This is because any weed seeds will be killed by the heat generated as the compost breaks down in the pile.

If you are growing a crop that uses high amounts of nitrogen, such as corn, it could become very costly to apply enough nitrogen for a good crop with only organic fertilizers.  In this case, you could continue to apply synthetic fertilizers, but supplement them with as much organic fertilizer as your bottom line will allow.

Of course you could use some of the free sources for organic “fertilizer” mentioned for use in lawns, with two additions.  A great deal of fertilizer can be gotten for free by cleaning your barn stalls and tilling the manure into the garden after harvest.  This will allow the manure several months during the winter months to break down.  Poultry manure, in particular, contains a fairly high amount of nitrogen, as compared to most other organic fertilizers.  The second addition would be in the form of blood, if you process your own livestock or game for the table.  Blood should be pasteurized by heating to 160 degrees and held at that temperature for several minutes.  After it cools you could either use it immediately, or refrigerate for later use.  Do not apply blood directly to the crop full strength, instead, mix 1 cup blood to 1 gallon of water and pour it on the soil around the plant.

Fertilizer Analysis of Several Organic Materials

Fertilizer analysis is broken down into 3 numbers.  The first number representing the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer, the second number representing phosphorous, and the third potash or potassium.  For example of fertilizer analysis of 5-10-15 would mean that the fertilizer is 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorous and 15% potash.  The remaining 70% is inert materials in most cases, however a portion of the remaining portion may contain some micronutrients which are necessary for plant growth, but in far smaller amounts than the 3 mentioned above.

Below, I will list the average fertilizer analysis of various organic materials.  I encourage you to research further to find the analysis of any materials that you feel that you will be able to acquire for this purpose, but are not listed.

Grain Products
Soybean Meal: 7-2-2
Cottonseed Meal: 6-2-2
Alfalfa Meal: 4-1-1
Distiller’s Grain: 4.5-2-1.5
Corn Meal: 1.65-0.65-0.4
Dry Molasses: 1-0-5

Fresh Manures
Cattle: 0.5-0.3-0.5
Sheep: 0.9-0.5-0.8
Poultry: 0.9-0.5-0.8
Horse: 0.5-0.3-0.6
Swine: 0.6-0.5-0.4


As a rule of thumb, if soil has been treated regularly, or often with synthetic fertilizers, it takes 2 to 3 years of using organic fertilizers to adjust the soil so that it produces satisfactorily without the use of synthetic fertilizers.  During this “crossover” time, small amounts of synthetic fertilizers can be used to supplement the organic fertilizers without any adverse effects.  This time frame can be shortened, in many cases, to 1 to 1-½ years if compost is applied twice per year, due to the presence of microorganisms in the compost itself.

If you plan to grow any of your food after TEOTWAWKI, you could greatly increase your chances of success by remembering your soil during preparations.