In Part 1, my goal was to share with you the value in raising a home vegetable garden, especially if you consider food resupply in a grid down situation. Hopefully, I encouraged you to seriously think about raising your own food and to get started with learning valuable gardening skills. I also wanted you to be realistic in meeting your gardening goals and not to expect perfection especially with your first gardening efforts. In Part 2, I’d like to share some perspective on what vegetables you may want to plant and consider options on how to preserve your harvest for long term storage. Let’s get started.
What to Plant
Again, this is a matter of personal taste and preference… some people don’t like broccoli and brussel sprouts! Plant what you like to eat. Plant what you think you will have time to work, harvest and perhaps preserve using whatever method you decide to use. But I want to offer a perspective; and, this is for those who are really committed to begin gardening with the mind set of growing and preserving food for a long-term, grid down, resupply situation.
I’ve read a lot of articles and watched a lot of videos of gardeners who make much over their lettuce, spinach and tomato crops. “Just look at the size of those green onions,” and, “the carrots are really getting bushy.” All that’s fine, great sources of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients our bodies need. But eating salads in a grid down isn’t going to put a lot of calories in your belly. And, once the summer is over, they will contribute little toward long-term food storage. A desk job five days a week and weekend yard work is one thing; working physically hard 10 or 12 hours a day in a grid down is quite another. You need calories and a lot of them in addition to those salads.
Nothing wrong with salads, I eat them all the time, nothing better. But lets look at garden food a little differently – let’s think of long-term sustainable food in a grid down. I obtained the following information from fatsecret.com, an on-line calorie counter. (There are many on-line resources and from what I noticed, some of the calorie counts vary depending on which one you use and how they may classify vegetables… shredded, chopped, cubed, etc. So if you check out an on-line resource, your counts may not match exactly with what I have listed below.) Let’s look at the caloric content of these popular salad foods:
Lettuce 1 cup, shredded 8 calories
Tomatoes 1 cup, sliced 10 calories
Spinach 1 cup 7 calories
Carrots 1/2 cup, chopped 26 calories
Onions 1/2 cup, chopped 34 calories
Cucumbers, w/ Peel 1 cup 16 calories
Minus the dressing, this looks like the makings of a pretty good salad to me. But the total calorie count is only 101 calories. Nutritious yes, and tasty, but not really gonna’ provide you with a lot of energy.
My grandfather, who was an avid gardener out of necessity (he raised six kids during the Great Depression years) would tell me of the Indian custom of planting “the three sisters,” corn, beans and squash. The Indians would actually plant all three in the same hill because they all thrive together – much like three close sisters would. The corn provides a stalk for the climbing bean vines, the beans provide nitrogen for the soil, and the much larger leaves of the squash blanket the ground providing cooling shade and helping to retain moisture. Today, we would simply call this companion planting. And the calorie count:
Sweet Yellow Corn 1 cup 133 calories
Butternut Squash 1 cup 63 calories
Black Beans 1 cup 218 calories
Admittedly, there are many different varieties of corn, squash and beans (and differing calorie counts), but just for comparison purposes, a 1 cup serving of each of these provides 414 calories… quite a difference from our salad. Other higher calorie foods that are popular in home vegetable gardens are potatoes. According to fatsecret.com, 1 medium baked white potato yields 121 calories, and 1 cup of sweet potato yields 114 calories… both are easy to grow and provide high calorie counts. Peas are another popular home garden vegetable. I enjoy growing purple hull peas, 120 calories in 1/2 cup, and Lima beans yield 176 calories per cup. Carbs, you bet. But a full belly will enable you to complete your work when you are working very hard.
My point isn’t to tell you what you need to plant, that’s your decision. I merely point out that different foods have far different caloric values, and as you plan your garden you may want to keep this in mind. If your goal is to plant a small garden as a hobby or to provide a little extra food during the summer months, plant whatever you like. But, if your goal is to grow and preserve foods to build up a reserve of foods for a grid down – and to be able to grow your own food in a grid down – then look also to the higher calorie foods. Do your own research and decide what works best for you.
What To Do With All This Food?
If this year’s gardening effort is your first, you may want to start with a smaller garden to minimize the impact on your lifestyle. With a smaller garden, you may consume all the food it produces during the growing season so there will not be any to “put up.” On the other hand, if you are able to have a somewhat larger garden, and you do not eat everything, you’ll have various options to choose from when it comes to preserving food for long term use.
Two of the most popular and widely used preservation methods are freezing and home canning. Both of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and there are many fine YouTube videos, manuals and books on the subject. My wife uses the book Home Preserving Made Easy. It was first published in 1975 so it is quite old, but it suits her and she has used it for many years. A far newer publication is the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving. It is in its 37th edition in providing information about what equipment is required and step-by-step instructions for each preserving method: canning, pickling, dehydrating, and freezing. These are just two references. There are many others on the market available for your use.
Once again, do your research. Many county agricultural agents can provide publications to help you get started. You may be able to find books at your local library as well as many on-line resources. Another excellent resource may be your gardening friend… the one you talked with to help you get started gardening. If they have gardened for any length of time, chances are they preserve some of their food and can help you get started with that as well.
Freezing is Easy
My wife has always found that freezing food is faster and easier than canning. That, of course requires a home freezer. Personally, I prefer a chest freezer because they can hold up to 20+ cubic feet of food and retain most of their cold when opened. (Upright freezers are less expensive and require less space, but they do not hold as much as the larger chest freezers. And when the door is opened all the cold air cascades out, requiring the freezer to run more to keep food frozen.) In freezing food, the processing time is less and you can use very inexpensive (but heavy duty) freezer bags or plastic freezer containers designed for that purpose. My wife uses both and has good results. Don’t use very thin plastic bags that are not designed for freezing use… your food may turn “icy” and taste “freezer burned.”
Canning food takes longer to process, and depending on how much you can in a single day, it can be exhausting work. Canning equipment is expensive, but not as expensive as a freezer! Canning jars, for our family size we use quarts, are not terribly expensive and can be used year after year. I try to purchase aluminum lids and rings simply because they do not rust and I can use the rings from season to season.
Canning is more difficult, but for me and my situation, I prefer this method of food preservation simply because once you put your canned goods on the shelf you are no longer grid dependent. Frozen food does have its advantages, but you are completely dependent on electricity. If the power goes off for whatever reason, you can get by for several hours… perhaps even for a day or two. But then you have to generate your own power or risk loosing everything. Once again, it’s your decision for what is best for you. My wife and I preserve food by both methods but for grid down my choice is canning.
There are other ways to preserve food; my wife makes jellies, salsas and relishes, has done some dehydrating and a fair amount of pickling. But day in and day out, we depend on freezing and canning.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)
Calories expended vs calories gained will be a brutal calculus we will all be dealing with if home food production ever becomes “for real”. Good article.
Salad is a major source of my calories. Topped with eggs and full fat dressing, or oil and vinegar, it can get me through most of my day. Salad greens and saute’ greens are the biggest part of my garden. We eat absolutely zero potatoes, corn, squash or beans. The nice thing about greens is that they grow in cold weather. I can grow them almost all year, outside or in my unheated greenhouse. Fresh vitamins all winter long. I grow cucumbers for pickles, and zucchini to eat and freeze. The only reason I grow corn and squash is to feed my hens. I only wish I could grow an olive tree in my climate!
The salad isn’t the major source of your calories, the eggs, and dressing are. AS noted in the article salad’s are nutrient rich but calorie poor.
Moreover, in a grid down situation, your calorie needs will probably double if not triple.
Make sure you take that into account (assuming you are planning for a long term grid down situation of course)
Yes, I’m aware a half a cup of lettuce is only about 50 calories or so. I don’t count calories as they don’t exist. A calorie is a measurement of how a food burns (fire). There is no fire in my belly. The body uses foods differently depending on their contents, burning them over a flame tells you nothing about how much energy it actually gives the body.
Anyway, salad is the carrier. I’m not going to sit and guzzle olive oil, thank you. Even if I do need more energy, it will be coming from the same ingredients.
I can my own butter, lard, bacon, pork, beef, and chicken. And of course, raise my own eggs. Without the greens, my diet would be missing key nutrients, and I would be reduced to eating steak with butter. Not a bad dinner, but I don’t want it every day.
Calories are just a measure of energy upon chemical decomposition. It is true that you body will decompose the chemistry of your food intake, likely optimizing the energy output through the use of enzymes and substrates. However, the amount of energy your body is able to get from food is not likely to exceed caloric count of the food. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. This is a basic tenant in the foundational laws of nature. So, however you chemically decompose (also know as a mechanism in organic chemistry), the energy output will not exceed the caloric count. There are a lot of potential energy surfaces within a reaction, but only one absolute minimum and absolute maximum energy in the end.
Tomatos are challenging for us in southern oregon. But when I visited a like minded couple that are ahead of us (way ahead of us) I saw her growing a bunch of tomatillos. So I’m trying that this season to see if it’s its a worthwhile substitute for us.
What are the 2 or 3 most valuable survival foods you can store seeds for and how often would you have to replenish them?
I think narrowing it down to two or three is a bit simplistic. There is no magic bullet, no easy answer. Ideally, you would store seeds for all plants you and your family like to eat, have experience growing, have the proper growing conditions for (soil ph, length of growing season, hours of sun per day, average temperature, etc.) and you have the tools and space to raise. And if you raise them in your garden, you can harvest new seeds annually. Otherwise, you would need to replenish stored seeds every two or three years to get maximum germination.
If you simply want to store seeds but lack the experience and tools to grow them, then my advice would be store white rice, oats, and wheat totaling 300 pounds and 100 pounds of dried beans per person per year. Properly stored then will last years you can eat them all without turning over a shovel of dirt.
I’m not a full on prepper. I’m thinking more along the lines of keeping a few useful seed packets in my storage that would be of help in a bad situation.
My take on the “survival seed vault” concept is that it is a total waste of money. It is highly naive to believe you can become a gardener after a major crisis. Hobby gardening takes years of failure/ trial & error, understanding your local soil and microclimate to reach even marginal success. Seeds themselves vary greatly depending on source quality, germination rates, shelf life, etc. Expecting to survive off what you grow is unrealistic for an experienced gardener and downright dangerous for a novice. I recommend buying books on your local/regional wild edibles and learn to identify them now when you’re not starving. If you buy seeds to store for a crisis prep- plan on using them for barter not growing.
Stone fruits and berries provide decent calorie content and can be grown Northern climates. Once established, they require little maintenance and are perennial. We’re building a berry “house”. 50’ long hoop house with netting instead of plastic cover. In it we have 50 strawberries, 6 raspberries, 5 blackberries, 6 blueberries, 1 serviceberry, and room for more. These will produce for years to come with little continuing effort thanks to “plasticulture”.
Our apple, pear, and peach trees are a work in progress as we have yet to perfect the art dusting the blossoms. Hoping to finally get a yield this year from the walnut and hazelnut trees.
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best time is today.” -Chinese Proverb
The 3 sisters is a neat practice, indeed, but modern re-telling totally misses the most critical part of the old tale:
the pilgrims were taught to bury three small fishes in the hill when they planted the seeds. They thrived because of the fish fertilizer. The small amount of nitrogen provided by the beans is actually held by that plant until its roots die off.
If you cannot catch and use the spring run of small fish coming up the river, you be tter get another source of nitrogen. I use urine in the diluted state of 10 parts water, one part urine, but DO NOT put any fertilizer on the young plants for the first month. Let them become established for that time frame.
When the plants get some size to them, then they are powerful enough to take full advantage of the fertilizer (if your soil is already good fertile soil built up through months and years prior to planting, that is a better prep to make). Wait until the plants get some size before incorporating fertilizer
Great ideas listed above. My low-height hoop house just arrived today. It’s getting set up this afternoon.
Current forecast is for a very warm and dry month. I’m mulching everything I can, but have to use caution because I found the soil is still too cold for good production, AND some areas I put heavy mulch on have dry soil under them despite my heavy (in my opinion) watering. Nope, just my heavy mulch sawdust was wet. Glad I checked.
Best wishes everyone. Keep getting those knees dirty!
“Many county agricultural agents can provide publications to help you get started.” ~ Excellent advice within the article by L.R. … Many States also have an Agricultural Extension program to help out. Often publications can be ~downloaded for >free.
[SurvivalBlog in the past has recommended, high quality storage, USB sticks ~ ‘thumb drives’ for the storage of information. There’s also articles on SurvivalBlog about the storage of information on the computer.
……….. As Idaho is in the redoubt, their site is uidaho(dot)edu/extension. [Look through the site]
………. Information for the local area would be more appropriate. Look to see if your State has a local extension site (or local county office). Free information can be downloaded, while a publication~hardcopy might cost a few dollars. (It all adds up, when spending money. It might be worthwhile to look something over, before buying it.)
There’s a lot of free information available [Actually paid for by the taxpayers].
Regarding food preservation, dehydration is the most energy and space efficient means of keeping food edible. There are many quality (Harvest Maid and Excaliber are great) electric dehydrators available used and low priced.
For grid-down, using sun and wind for drying has been around far longer than canning. Look up fermentation and salting for a little more labor intensive preservation. Dehydration is still the simplest, lowest cost, and quickest means of preserving.
I am a true believer of canning everything I can. It may take a little more work but well worth the effort. For glass jars, I find by using the classified section of your local paper and inserting an add like “Needed: canning jars for senior citizen” or “Veteran needs canning jars”, you can’t believe the calls you get. One prior ad generated 283 jars and for free. ( I am over 80 years old and retired 20yrs veteran so I qualified for this type ad.)
Thanks for reading