PART 1 (Of 3)
With the end of winter and the frost date for my area passed, my thoughts naturally turn toward my vegetable garden and this year’s crop. During the harvest last year, I saved a number of seeds for planting again this year, I also saved a ton of money purchasing seeds from our local Co-op left over from the end of last year’s growing season. Properly stored, I’ve found they germinate at very respectable rates and I have always had good luck planting them.
I’ve been an avid home gardener for better than twenty years; that’s certainly not to say that I know all about raising my own food, I don’t. I still make mistakes, still experiment, and still sometimes fail here and there. But, I generally have enough successes to eat healthy home-grown food during the summer, and preserve food for my family for the coming months. My wife cans quite a bit; we also freeze some food, and I have done some dehydrating – I need to do more this year.
I’ve also been into prepping for five or six years and consider myself an experienced learner (that’s my way of saying I know the basics reasonably well and have done a lot of things to help me and my family prepare for a possible a grid down situation), but I am certainly no expert. I still read books, still search for quality articles on prepping, and still look at quality blogs and a few YouTube videos on the subject. I strive to be well rounded in prepping just as I strive to be a well rounded gardener.
Storing water and food is basic to all our prepping endeavors. How much and what kinds is a personal decision, and I’m making no recommendations for that in this article. But in looking at many articles dealing with food storage, I’m given to believe that while our stored food is foundational it is also temporal. That is, all our food will eventually run out if a grid down situation lasts long enough. We might weather a grid down of a few weeks or even several months with our stored food, but what will we do if a TEOTWAWKI situation lasts much, much longer? The purpose of this article is to look at a resupply plan through home gardening.
Everyone’s personal situation is different, and I am not prescribing what you need to do… only you can decide for yourself the best course of action. But as for me and my family, raising food in our own vegetable garden is – at least part of – the answer. In this article I want to point out a few things that work for me. If you are an experienced gardener, then this article is not for you. If you live in a city and have no opportunity to have a garden, then nothing here really relates to you. But, if you have the time and available gardening space, and have decided this is the year you want to get into gardening, then perhaps some of my thoughts will be helpful to you.
Let’s Think About This
If the grid were to collapse today… now, right now… how long could you feed your family? Take all your pantry foods, everything in the frig (and freezer), and all your long term food storage (if you have some). Add in food that you may (no guarantee at all) be able to still get from markets or convenience stores in your community for a few more days. Now add all the food together. So how long do you think you could feed your family? When it runs out, what then?
We all realize that a “grid down” means no transportation, no resupply anywhere. Maybe you’ve stored enough food to last a few weeks or even several months. Maybe you’ve planned for a long-term scenario and you know you have enough food stored for a year or longer. But what happens then? What’s the resupply plan? Keep your fingers crossed and hope Uncle Sam will take care of things? No, not really. For me, the best answer is to procure my own food through fishing, hunting and especially through home gardening.
The Time To Start Is Now
If you’ve thought about starting your own vegetable garden, then I encourage you to start this growing season. Begin now. You don’t have to be a master gardener, invest in a lot of expensive equipment, or plant an acre of food. Starting small and learning as you go, still allows you to gain some experience at growing your own food. If you plan carefully, you may even be able to raise a spring/ summer crop and a late summer/ fall crop using the same garden space. What you learn this year will get you off to a better start next year and year by year you can expand your knowledge, skill level and comfort zone as a gardener.
If you are starting as a “newbie” this year, there are a world of YouTube videos you can consult to help you in your beginning efforts. Also, there are many good books and self-help manuals on the subject. After you review a number of these, you will begin to naturally gravitate to the gardening method you think will work best for you. Container gardening, raised beds, Mittleider gardening, traditional straight row gardening, it’s all up to you. And, I won’t even get into planting by the moon!
There are advantages and disadvantages to most any “style” of gardening you may try. You’ll find some gardeners that swear by one method over the others… and that’s OK if that is what they prefer. You make up your own mind. That said, you might try a couple of different methods and experiment. Determine for yourself what seems to work best for you. I tend to favor raised beds for things like lettuce, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbage; most everything else I plant in traditional rows. But you don’t have to make this decision alone.
If you live in a subdivision or in close proximity to others, look around and see if anyone in your neighborhood has a backyard garden. They would be an excellent resource to help you with your gardening questions. Most gardeners I know are always willing to help others get started. Or, if you live in more of a rural area, I’d bet there are farmers not too far away you could talk with. So, take the family for a Sunday afternoon ride and look around for someone who already has a garden spot. Meet and greet and let them help you get started. County agricultural agents are also an excellent source of gardening help. My only caution is if you decide to start a garden this year, begin planning soon. Don’t let the growing season slip up on you.
Time is a precious commodity these days, especially for those with full-time jobs, kids to raise, yards to mow, chores to attend to, and all the many other things we call “life.” But one thing is for certain, home vegetable gardens take time; time to learn what to do and do right, time to prepare the soil, time to buy and plant the seed, time to weed and cultivate the ground, time to fertilize (if you choose to do so), time to water in periods of drought, time to harvest. If your harvest is more food than you can use right away, time to can, freeze, dehydrate or pickle to preserve what you’ve grown. So don’t kid yourself, there’s work to it all.
Honestly, one of the most difficult parts of gardening for me is to make time for working my garden. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that a home vegetable garden will not wait for your next day off . You simply cannot work the ground when it’s wet or when it’s too dry. There is a sweet spot when you’ll want to prepare the soil for planting, weeding or cultivating. Many a time when I’ve put off working the garden after a long day at work thinking, “I’ll do that Saturday,” I’ve sat in the house Saturday and watched it rain. It rains again Monday and Tuesday, and before long my beautiful garden is covered with a nice blanket of grass and weeds. “If only I’d…!” Yeah, it happens.
When I say be realistic, I mostly mean think about how much time you have to devote to your garden. Talk to others gardeners and get some ideas from them about how much time they spend for the size garden they have. Maybe for your first year effort you’ll decide to have a 10′ by 15′ garden… 150 square feet. That’s respectable enough in size to grow several different vegetables and gain some experience without breaking the bank or denying your kids trips to the ball park or dance recitals. On the other hand, if you really want to commit the time and effort to something larger, then go for it. Again, your best guide to time commitments and cost may be a local gardener who has experience with a garden about the size you’d like to have.
Don’t Expect Perfection
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed with something in my gardening year. Last year I had nine rows of corn with about 120 stalks per row of the prettiest yellow sweet corn you’ve ever seen. It was at it’s full growing height and beginning to form cobs when we experienced 40 mile per hour straight line wind with two inches of rain. Eighty percent of my beautiful corn was blown down and laying in mud. My wife and I managed to salvage some stalks, but the crop was far less than what I’d hoped for.
The year prior to that, my garden was planted and growing well when my wife had surgery for a torn meniscus and a week later I was diagnosed with a slipped disk and was prescribed six weeks of physical therapy. Between us we were still able to harvest some vegetables, but our garden was less than mediocre simply because we did not have the time to devote to it. Sometimes, life just gets in the way.
Other years are not as dramatic and we’ve experienced an abundant harvest. Some years we have tons of green beans, other years not so much. One year we put up 64 large bags of frozen summer squash, the next year our harvest was only enough to eat on during the summer. One year I counted 58 quarts of canned tomatoes, the next year we only canned a dozen. The very first year I had a garden, I planted purple hull peas… had a nice little row coming up until the rabbits found them and all but cleaned them out. (It was then I decided to put a fence around my garden!)
Some years the weather cooperates and some years it does not. My wife grows blueberries. Two years ago we picked 110 gallons… we froze six gallons for ourselves, gave several more away to family and close friends, and sold the balance for $15 a gallon. That brought in some extra income, and was more than a fair price for home grown, completely organic blueberries. Last year we experienced three cold snaps below freezing after the traditional frost date of April 12th for our part of the country. We only picked a few gallons and the berries were not very good. No one’s fault – it just happened.
My point is this. I am not a perfect gardener and I’ve never met anyone who has made that claim. Sometimes things go really well and sometimes they don’t. But we still garden every year, and season in and season out, we “put up” quite a bit of food. In bountiful years we might put up far more than we will use during the fall and winter months. That’s okay. We may not be as fortunate next year. Even experienced gardeners far better at their craft than I am, experience poor crops some years. So, don’t expect perfection. Learn all you can, and start doing something to reach your goals.
(Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.)