Two Letters Re: So You Think Starting a Garden Will Be Easy After TEOTWAWKI


Finally someone has addressed something that has been on my mind for quite some time. Thanks Dr. Prepper for pointing out that gardening alone will be an insufficient means to provide adequate food when the SHTF! Your 2000 cal/day figure easily shows the shortfalls of relying solely on a vegetable diet, but under the high stress and increased activity levels that will be required when the SHTF a 3000cal/day requirement often is used as a more realistic figure. This would increase the required amount of the harvest by 33%! I wonder what the net caloric gain is with the amount of labor required in gardening and of course processing and storing the harvest and seeds for the next years crop. Of course all this only addresses caloric requirements and not the benefit of necessary vitamins and fiber derived from the harvest. Some method of providing high calorie meats, eggs, and dairy products is going to be necessary. – DC

Hugh – Many thanks to you, JWR, and all the staff and contributors for the best survival info on the net!

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This year we’ve a half acre of vegetable plots. We are experienced farmers and do all the work ourselves. Not mentioned as a great crop are field peas, such as cowpeas and southern peas. Our bunny rabbits do not eat any of the plant. These plants are rather indeterminate and will make peas over several months. They do, however, need a long very warm growing season. Our yield data are some 20 lbs of dry peas per 100 feet of row. One may buy a small great motorized pea sheller that efficiently shells the dry pods. This is a great labor saver. This pea yield is a better yield than the best pole bean we’ve tried, “Turkey Craw,” with 16 lbs dry beans per 100 feet of row. Yields from bush dry shelly beans are substantially below that of the better pole beans. Rattlesnake pole beans seem to have better drought resistance than other cultivars we’ve tried. Our yield from “Bloody Butcher” heirloom field dent corn is some 40 lbs of shelled, dry corn per 100 feet of row. We prefer this cultivar because it has the best prop roots this ancient farmer has ever seen, and the ears are so high off the ground the raccoons cannot get to them. Get a ole timey corn sheller to save your hands. We have one that is a floor model with a huge flywheel. We have a huge and growing patch of Egyptian Walking Onions that will soon make us self sufficient in onions. Read up on these; they are very interesting. Instead of flowers on the flower stalk, they make bulblets. We’ve harvested some 15 lbs of these bulblets, which will get planted in late September, and the bulb in the ground will divide into 4-6 bulbs in the spring. We leave these in the ground all winter. Each year we do our own field trials of cultivars of pole beans, shelly beans, field peas, tomatoes, and peppers. Everyone’s climate and soil will be different, and such field trials we believe are quite important to maximize yields.

Storing food is at least as important as growing it. We both can and dehydrate a huge amount of veggies. We prefer this over freezing, as the grid may well be cyber attacked. We put dehydrated tomatoes and peppers in pint canning jars, put a tiny hole in the center of the lid, put on a Pump ‘N Seal seal, pump out the air, and place in our cool, dark, root cellar. The book Root Cellaring is a must have. If cans of dehydrated tomatoes freeze, no damage is done. The degradation of food depends on pH, light, temperature, moisture, and oxygen. All these parameters are minimized in our storage of dehydrated tomatoes and peppers. Moreover, this storage method requires only a fraction of the room of canned tomatoes. We recommend the All American Canner as the el primo canner. No rubber seal. Built like the proverbial Russian brick toilet in Wisconsin. The Ball Blue Book is a must have for canners.

We use commercial fertilizer and suggest that a big stockpile of this and stabilized fuel to run farm implements is a must. We put commercial 15-15-15 in 55 gallon plastic used pickle barrels that have a big O ring seal and the fertilizer does not turn into a rock. We do the same for 46-0-0 (urea). Get a full tilt boogie soil test for both macro (NPK) and micro nutrients. Add lime as needed to get the pH into the range your veggies like. Gypsum is great for loosening heavy clay soils. Field peas are excellent crops to improve the soil, as they will add maybe 120 lbs nitrogen to the acre and a lot of organic matter. We make heavy use of winter cover crops as annual rye, hairy vetch, and Austrian winter peas. The latter two are legumes and will add some 140 lbs nitrogen per acre. Annual rye suppresses the germination of a huge number of weeds.

The best money I ever spent was for a KingKutter 4′ wide PTO three point hitch rototiller to go onto our Kubota B7510. I also recommend the use of a subsoiler to break thru the “hardpan” that tends to from over time in cultivated ground. We discovered a fabulous use for this implement– before setting out seedlings in a veggie plot, go down the row with the subsoiler. This makes digging the holes for the seedlings an order of magnitude easier, and it lets the roots and the rain go deep into the row.

As the gardening posts truly say, there is a long steep learning curve in growing one’s own food.