Food sufficiency is a large part of self sufficiency, so my wife and I pursued mid-scale grain gardening, though our home was in Alaska. Here is our story and how we have done this.
Breakdown of My Article
My article will cover the following:
- Preamble: Why We All Should Become Increasingly Self-sufficient– The First Steps
- Definition of Mid-Scale Grain Gardening
- Crop Operations
- Reaping and Drying
- Threshing and Winnowing
- Scaling Up Harvesting Operations
- So, What To Do With All This Grain?
Preamble: Why We Should All Become Increasingly Self-sufficient
People’s outlook and actions are largely a product of their experiences, both real and vicarious. My wife and I have spent most of the 23 years prior to 2007 visiting much of the world via sailboat, and our observations have made a big impact on our view of the world.
Trade deficits are a reality. In Asia, more than three decades ago, we saw smart, hard-working people whose wages were a pittance by U.S. standards. In Singapore, many international corporations had modern production facilities, some in industrial parks, in total covering many square miles of this city-state. (A roadside view of industrial park after industrial park by taxi, just to get a mental image of the scope of the imported industrialization, took us 45 minutes.) These global corporations were taking advantage of these ambitious, well-educated, low-wage workers to enhance profits in their global trade; later, this trickle of industries exiting the U.S. and Europe to implant in Asia became a steady flow. Even back then, Singapore was the busiest container port in the world.
The accelerating exodus of the developed world’s major corporations left behind consumer societies that produced less goods and more debt each year to exchange for their essential needs. Earlier, I think that it was from the chairman of Sony that I first read the phrase “hollowing out of America” to summarize the process. Little imagination is required to see the end result. What do we make to exchange with China in return for their manufactured goods?
What do we make that oil-producing countries need, in exchange for oil? Our own shale drilling efforts for oil are barely profitable, or are unprofitable, for the drilling companies, yet are priced at the upper affordable level of consumers. If these questions are inadequately answered, then how do we pay for our essential needs? We’re running trade deficits with these countries now, that is, paying for our essential needs with debt. How long can that last?
Exported Technological Advantage
Asia now has the new factories, the jobs filled with trained workers, the technological advantage of ongoing production improvement, the education, the work ethic, and, increasingly, the wages to pay for their future demand. Much, maybe most, of the world’s “high tech” is now manufactured in Asia. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the daily newspaper had several pages in the center of the newspaper teaching Microsoft’s Excel to their readers. These people were willing to work hard to better their standard of living. By contrast, our government now has produced an economic growth rate barely above a recessionary level despite trillions of unpayable debt and unfunded liabilities and with a large portion of the population either without or unwilling or unable to work.
Russian Collapse of Ruble
We were in Russia two years after the collapse of the Ruble, at the depth of their economic collapse. There, we saw first hand what end results of economic collapse can look like. The exchange rate was 620 Rubles to the U.S. Dollar, while we were there. Two years prior, according to our Russian guide, the exchange rate was about two Rubles to the U.S. Dollar. All imported goods were unaffordable to the average Russian.
We had joined a tourist flight from Cyprus to Russia. All of our companions spoke either Russian or Cypriot. All of the signs in Russia were unreadable to English speakers, and very few in Russia spoke English. We were sitting in the Moscow Hotel wondering how we were going to learn about Russia when a Russian lady, who was to became our guide, passed us leading four American tourists and speaking excellent English. Later, we saw her alone in a corner of the main lobby, and she agreed to become our Moscow guide for two days.
So, instead of a fun-focused and organized Moscow tour, we received direct answers from a Moscow resident about life in Russia. We saw sights that Russian residents see.
First Example- Double Lines of People Displaying Items For Sale
As one example, in Moscow, we saw double lines of people, one double line approaching 60 yards long, formed before subway entrances, each line composed of people sitting or standing side-by-side and facing the other line, each person with a little display of items from their homes laid out in front of them, some with crafts, to sell. These people needed more cash to cover necessary expenses. Subway users walked between these lines, sometimes stopping to buy something from these desperate people. Many were older people whose pensions were no longer sufficient to purchase everyday needed expenses, including food.
Second Example- No Goods In Department Stores For Sale
Another example is, from our upper floor window in the Moscow Hotel, there was almost no traffic visible. Large glass windows from department stores facing the street were papered over. There were no goods to sell, because there were few buyers. Our Russian guide didn’t know how she was going to pay for her apartment rent. Bad things do happen; it’s not always just theoretically possible, historical, or something that happens to others. Our end result may be much worse, because Russia had oil and gas to trade to a still prosperous Europe (based on increasing debt, however).
Problems Leading to Event Cascades and Low Standard of Living
I’ve had trouble writing this preamble, struggling against a tendency to flood readers with detailed descriptions of problems. Some of these problems include unpayable debt at all levels, potential global economic contagion of regional distress, demographics with a bulge of retirees expecting pensions that are under-funded, competition for dwindling resources, peak affordable oil, complexity costs of top-heavy governments, currency wars, dollar debasement, 7+ billion people vs global carrying capacity, common tribal values of ethics, and morality gone because of politically correct multiculturalism.
If you’ve done much reading, you know that all of these terms connote increasing impacts, and some of these impacts will cause event cascades. (This is defined as one event triggering other events, and these in turn trigger still other events; therefore, an event cascade may be one similar to the fall of Lehman Brothers triggered by over-leveraged mortgage debt and rising interest rates.) These problems will markedly lower our standard of living, at the minimum. It is a slow motion train wreck.
In systems analysis terms, the flows have been changing negatively for over three decades, but the stock was large, so the resulting depletion of stock has only recently become critical. In physiological terms, the system is trying very hard to maintain homeostasis, but complex systems, like our society and like organisms, have hard limits to adaptability. To combat our impending financial problems, our reserves are about exhausted. With all of these problems, some more immediately pressing than others, it’s hard to be positive and not be faking it, or, the alternative, tuned out.
The difference between the lifestyle we in the U.S. have, and the sustainable lifestyle we can pay for, is too alarmingly great for most realistic observers to find the situation sustainable long term. Since we, individually, can do little about the overall trends, perhaps the best we can do is tend our own little gardens and let the world go by, to strive to be bystanders, not victims, to the impacts of system change. And this brings us to what this article is about.
Reasonable Action– Personal Self-Sufficiency
If you buy this basically negative systemic outlook, one of the reasonable courses of action would be to strive for personal self-sufficiency; this article is about enhancing food self-sufficiency with grain gardening.
The First Steps
Our traveling experiences and the resulting conclusions were strong enough to overcome ambivalence and breach the threshold to motivate us to action when we arrived back home. When we sailed into our home port in Valdez, Alaska in the fall of 2007, we were determined to become in large part self-sufficient and to anticipate the future dilution of the U.S. Dollar’s purchasing power (two of several action themes). At the minimum, these actions will be insurance. While the macro picture seems clear and inevitable, the timing is dependent on unpredictable events.
Food Self-sufficiency Focuses– Protein, Vegetable, and Grain
For purposes of discussion, food self-sufficiency can be subdivided into protein gathering, vegetable gardening, and grain gardening. For Alaskans, protein self-sufficiency is frequently attained, or aided, via wild fish and game harvesting. (Although, this is becoming less the casew, as federal and state authorities in Alaska modify existing laws to redistribute hunting and fishing rights from everybody to Natives and in effect instituting discrimination but politically correct discrimination.) Self-sufficiency efforts for us began in the summer of 2008, when we started clearing land for a large garden. Vegetable self-sufficiency (including root crops, such as potatoes, carrots, and turnips, as well as greens, such as brassicas and spinach) is fairly easy to attain, even with Alaska’s short growing season.
Vegetable and Grain Gardens
We wanted both vegetable and grain gardens. Becoming self-sufficient with home-grown grain faced many challenges. In the locale of my home, in southern interior Alaska, my impression, without weather data verification, is that the growing season is usually shorter than even in northern interior Alaska because the summers are cooler. We started by growing rye, hull-less oats, and the variety of hull-less barley developed by the University of Alaska. Hull-less oats and hull-less barley, after threshing, become a clean grain and hull-less, like wheat. After two years of trials, I concluded that the growing season was too short for rye to mature.
Eventual Success with Hull-less Barley and Hull-less Oats
Even with eventual success in growing hull-less barley and hull-less oats, the equipment for mid-scale grain harvesting (mid-scale is defined below) for retail purchase did not exist. I had to fabricate my own solutions. Much of what I learned was via the Internet, and I feel indebted. Aided by ideas from others, I have been able to assemble a relatively low-cost integrated system of solutions to grain harvesting in Alaska, or anywhere that grain will grow. The primary justification for this article is to share this information. It is “pay back” time, a time for me to share my experience with “others”, as there were previously “others” who shared their knowledge for me to utilize. Considering the growing evidence of threats to our lifestyle, I think that a lot of people may be interested in this type of information, my public good deed.
Tomorrow, I will get into crop operations, so come back. We have much to cover.
- 2 – Mid-Scale Grain Gardening in Alaska- Part 2, By Alaskan Gardeners 
- 3 – Mid-Scale Grain Gardening in Alaska- Part 3, By Alaskan Gardeners 
- 4 – Mid-Scale Grain Gardening in Alaska- Part 4, By Alaskan Gardeners 
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part one of a four part entry for Round 74 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest . The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator  from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses , excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper . These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees  in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product  from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses .
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4  Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of  Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack , a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners , donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections , a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances , and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord  (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 74 ends on January 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail  us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.