I have lived all my life in rural areas in the mid-south United States. Ever since I was little, gardens, orchards, vineyards, poultry, livestock, beekeeping, hunting, fishing, and trapping have been a way of life for me. Now, that is not to say we are off the grid or don’t buy any food from the grocery store, but all this supplements the life we live. Both the family I grew up in and the family I now have are large families, by today’s standards. Like my father, I have a job in town to pay for land and a home in the outskirts of the county. We are blessed to have upper, thick loess soil and rainfall amounts that exceed fifty inches annually, with an average of two to four inches during the summer growing months. A minimum of 180 frost-free days each year ensure a long growing season. The recent droughts that have plagued the nation haven’t affected our local area, and the farmers have had a crop to harvest every year for as far back as I can remember, though some years are better than others, with their best harvests coming in the last few years. The only down side to good soil, plenty of rain, and a long growing season is that the grass and weeds grow vigorously, along with everything else.
This blog– survivalblog.com– is one of the few things I read consistently, and many a time different articles would make me think of what I could grow to feed my family year round if the grocery stores no longer had food. Of course I would still have our long-term storage foods, poultry and livestock, over fifty fruit and nut trees, blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes, strawberry plants, asparagus patches, and all the seeds that are saved for the annual vegetable garden. Still, what about friends and neighbors who only have large yards of grass that they mow. What could be grown in yards, pastures, and parks (without fertilizers and insecticides) that would be nutritious and could be stored without canning or freezing until the next year? Immediately, peas and beans came to mind. Field peas or cow peas (as some people call them), Black Eyed, Purple Hull, Black Crowder, Pinto, Cranberry, and Lima are the types of peas and beans I am talking about. Check out www.victoryseeds.com for a description of each. You may have to find certain varieties that are suited to your environment. They will grow on poor soils and don’t require a lot of nitrogen, like corn does. Although I see some aphids and insects on them, the yield has not been substantially reduced. I have had pumpkin bugs kill my squash and pumpkin vines, but I never lost my peas and beans to any insect or disease. I currently store a variety of bean and pea seeds and all my garden seeds. Field corn, sweet potatoes, and regular potatoes over winter and are planted again each spring. Peas and beans are hands down the easiest, in my experiences, to grow, harvest, and store of all the above. We currently grow several varieties of each, and they are easily grown, don’t require fertilizers or pesticides, are nutritious, and all you have to do for storage is let them dry on the vine, then pick them, and store in a dry place in the hull where rats and mice can’t get them. Shell them whenever you have time. Don’t store them in plastic bags or they may mold; use paper bags or cardboard boxes. I have heard stories that my great grandmother stored her shelled beans and peas in pillowcases. Deer do love to eat pea and bean plants, but if you are in a survival situation I expect you have already eaten the deer. If it is not a survival situation, build a good fence.
Now that we know what to grow, how do we turn those lawns, pastures, and fields into food-producing gardens? If you had a tractor, plow, and fuel or a team of draft animals and plow, you would be in business. Good luck trying to use a hand held tiller to break sod-covered new ground. With a strong back and a good steel handled shovel or several wooden handled ones, my brothers and I broke the ground for my Dad’s large garden each winter when we were teenagers. That was over twenty years ago. Although my ego tells me I could still do it, we have found an easier way. Over the last seven years we have changed the way we garden, and it is less labor intensive and protects the fertility of the ground. Previously the garden dirt was broken with tractor, tiller, or shovel, but now we copy the local commercial farmers of corn, soybeans, and cotton and use a no till method that preserves the earthworms and organisms that are beneficial and reduces erosion of topsoil. I have used this method on beans, peas, corn, melons, squash, pumpkins, potatoes, and anything else that is planted by seed. This method is not considered “organic”, but if you buy food from the grocery store you are not eating organic anyway.
What we do, come May or June, is go to a section of our lawn, grown up garden ground, or a piece of land that has had the timber harvested. It does not matter if it has weeds or grass growing on it, although less is better. We then mark where our first row will be with a string pulled tight between two stakes. Stay away from trees since their leaves will shade the peas or beans and their roots will draw moisture out of the soil. If the ground is sloped make the rows crossways to the slope to reduce erosion. After the string is pulled, the person with the strongest arms takes a good sharp garden hoe and chops a hole, one to two inches deep, in the ground every 18 to 24 inches apart. This is my job, and if I am chopping through the sod in our lawn, it is quite a job. Kid number one lets me get eight to ten holes ahead (to stay away from the sharp hoe swings) and then starts dropping three to four seeds in each hole. Kid number two covers the seed with the chunk of sod or dirt chopped out of the hole. Kid number three rests under the shade tree by the water hose until the row is finished. Then the three kids swap jobs on the next row, while I move the stakes 30 to 36 inches over for the next row. I have found this is the best way to keep the kids from complaining that one job is easier than the other, and it keeps them hydrated at the same time. Also, your children will invariably ask questions like, “Why do we have to do this Daddy? None of the other kids in my class at school have to do this.” You get to explain that if, God forbid, the grocery stores ever ran out of food we would still have something to eat. Then you have to explain what things could happen that would cause the stores to run out of food. Most of the time they end up appreciating what we are doing, but they still want to hurry up and get done so they can get back in the air conditioned house. In four to five hours we can have half of an acre planted, depending on how hard the ground is, how hot it is, and how many water breaks I need. Half an acre of beans or peas makes all that my family and two families of kin folks will eat in a year, in a non-survival situation. We usually plant another half acre of field corn for poultry and livestock feed, along with our regular garden of tomatoes, okra, squash, and more.
The same day, or the day after the seed is planted in amongst the weeds and grass up to knee high, I take my hand sprayer, mixed with eight ounces of 41% Glyphosate per gallon of water, and spray a light mist of the mixture on all the weeds and grass. The grass and weeds will yellow, then turn brown, and die while the seeds that were planted sprout and grow. Within a few weeks all the grass and weeds will be gone and a nice stand of peas, beans, and corn will have taken their place. I did a search on Glyphosate and could not find any conclusive evidence that it is anymore harmful to humans than diet soda. All the corn, soybeans, and cotton that are grown commercially in our area are genetically modified, so Glyphosate can be sprayed directly on them without killing them. If you are eating food that you did not grow yourself, it probably has been exposed to Glyphosate. While I am apprehensive about chemicals and genetically modified seed, I can see the benefits of this method:
- not having to use all the diesel fuel to break the ground,
- not having to repeatedly till, for grass and weed control,
- not having loose, tilled ground that allows minerals and nutrients to escape, and
- minimizing erosion.
Like I said earlier, the local farmers are breaking their all-time best harvest records every few years, while using less fuel, pesticides, and herbicides than ever before. The seed I use is not genetically modified, so after it sprouts Glyphosate will kill it along with the grass and weeds. Therefore, any more weed or grass control is best done by hoe or hand. However with a several week head start, the peas and beans should make a crop before the weeds and grass over take them.
A 2.5 gallon jug of 41% concentrate Glyphosate costs around $60 at our local Tractor Supply Store, and it will last me two years or cover about three to four acres of grass and weed killing area.
So, now you have one more prep to stock. May God bless you.
HJL Adds: Glyphosate (aka Round Up) was introduced as a herbicide my Monsanto in 1970. Its design function was to allow Monsanto to genetically alter crops for resistance to it, so it could be sprayed indiscriminately on the crops, killing off the weeds that choke the crop out without hurting the crop itself. When absorbed through the leaf of the plant, it becomes toxic to the plant and kills it. Glyphosate resistant plants still absorb the herbicide, but are not affected by it. It falls under the EPA’s regulation. In the U.S. it is considered noncarcinogenic and low in dermal and oral toxicity. The EPA claims eating a lifetime of foods sprayed with maximum doses will result in no adverse health effects. The European Commission, however, has said that there may be a link to birth defects.
The unabsorbed chemical binds to soil particles and is rendered inert. However, because of this binding action, it may be persistent, and it may harm the natural soil processors such as insects, bacteria, and earthworms. I, personally, do not use it in my garden areas, though I will use it as a herbicide in other areas. I have noticed that some grasses seem to be unaffected by it, and continued use in those areas make the unwanted, resistant grasses grow without competition.