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.)