Wouldn't You Like To Be A Prepper Too? Or Being Prudent, Food-Secure & Self-Sufficient Without Becoming A Survivalist
I have none of these things
I prefer "prudent" to "prepper" when describing myself
Preppers, as I'm sure you know from television and elsewhere, are people who are preparing for the worst. While there are different ideas about what may go wrong in our world, a constant concern in most prepping communities is food security.
This is the part of prepper philosophy which matches my own thoughts and feelings. Much of the rest of the general prepper/survivalist outlook is not something I share. But I am concerned that the way we access food, no matter where we live, isn't as stable as it should be.
About five or six years ago, I lived in a city neighorhood which lost power for a week. All the cold or frozen food in the grocery stores went bad. All the ice melted so we couldn't keep our fresh food safe and edible when the refigerators quit. Our electric stoves didn't work. A few people had generators, but most of us didn't. And the gas pumps in our neighborhood wouldn't operate.
To get groceries, one would have to have adequate gas to drive far enough to then get more gasoline, in order to make it home again rom an outlying store that stocked milk and eggs and frozen peas. And of course, those outlying stores only stocked enough items to meet the needs of the regular shoppers; when all of us from the blackout neighborhood began searching for groceries farther from home, high-demand items ran out. The delivery trucks came once a week, so the shortages spread from the affected area to a larger area which still had power.
Based on this real-life example, it's not hard to see how some sort of major disruption, human-made or otherwise, might mean that Americans would quickly be scrambling for things to eat.
My grandparents were farmers, but I grew up in the city
Do you agree that building skills is better than hoarding or spreading fear?
My goal, personally, is not to produce everything my family and I eat; this is not realistic. I live in town and our lot probably isn't even an eighth of an acre. Some of that is in shade because of large trees and big old houses. Also, my grandparents lived on a farm and I know how much work that was. Grandpa and Grandma were made of tougher stuff than I am. I don't want to be that dirty and tired all the time.
Instead, I have these two goals: A. Skill-building & B. Easy access to fresh food. The skill-building part involves not only remembering the things my mother and aunt taught me about the old-fashioned garden model of straight rows laid out with white string, but also adapting garden methods to when and how I live. I don't have space for a large garden bed, and some of the things that grew well in the Midwest -- fomatoes, for example -- don't flourish here in coastal Maine.
And it's great to have information, but in real-life gardening, it takes real-life practice to see what will grow, and how and where it will grow. Even if I don't want to turn seeds into food, I might need to do that. Gardening -- especially raising vegetables, grains, berries, and herbs -- is one of those skill sets I've learned, like self-defense, that I hope I don't have to depend on to keep living. But if I don't have the skills, well. . .
More positively, fresh food is delicious! And less expensive than the stuff at the grocery store. And sometimes it's easier than shopping. I have basil growing on the patio right now; if I want pesto, I can go get basil leaves and be back in the kitchen in two minutes. It's also very satisfying to have succeeded in turning seeds into real food the family and I can actually eat. A potato or a string bean I grew really does taste better to me, because I know all I did to make it come into being.
Big seeds are the easiest to grow -- and collect!
A lot of things we eat are seeds but we don't think of them that way -- beans and corn come to mind immediately. Some edible plants make fewer large seeds and some make lots of tiny seeds. While tiny seeds can work out if you can collect them and scatter them widely, counting on the odds being with you that some will germinate no matter what. But tinier seeds are harder to find and gather.
Plants go to seed in different ways. And sometimes with tiny seeds, you have to be there to collect them within the critical few days when they are ripe but before they scatter to the winds. If a perspm is concerned with food security, it's a given that life might become more difficult than usual. Otherwise, we'd just go to the farmer's market or the grocery store. If circumstances mean everyone is busier or more tired than usual, the hassle of going to get the small seeds might keep the seed-gathering from happening at the right time -- and that's if you know what the seeds look like or where the plant stores them.
On the other hand, seed corn is a no-brainer. Save a half-dozen ears of sweet corn which grew well for you, and store the ears, husks and all, someplace dry and reasonably cool. I kept mine in a peper shopping bag which hung from a nail in the wall of the stairway from our kitchen to the attic.
Same thing with green beans or peas. Let the beans or peas, which are really seeds, stay in the pods of a couple plants, then take off the dried pods and store them as you do the corn. Or if necessary you can harvest the pods fresh and let them dry in the house.
Saving enough sweet corn or bean seed to replant next year only takes a few minutes, and you can do it no matter how much other stuff you have going on. You don't require anything at all to do it. If you needed to, you could go get corn or beans and gather them up by hand into an improvised kangaroo pcoket made from gathering up your shirt tail or skirt hem. As long as these huskfuls of corn or bean pods are dry, you're good. If you have to gather them wet, then let them dry on a sheet of newspaper, turning them over to make sure there are no damp spots. Other than mold you should be good. If you think there might be mice anywhere on the premises, hang the seed bags up high from an attic rafter, out of reach.
Corn kernels are also corn seeds
Alternatives to foraging in the woods
If I went into the woods to try and gather wild foods, what I'd mostly come back with would be poison ivy, bug bites, and possibly a poisonous plant that resembled something okay to eat (that poor guy in the film "Into The Wild" haunts me). But I understand the basic idea: wild foods just grow, and if you were hungry enough, you'd find and eat them.
My alternative to that is food I once planted, which grows by itself, and which I don't actually eat. I grow several perennials which are my emergency food supply. These backup foods include Malabar spinach and buckwheat. Other perennail foods I do have now and then -- in particular, sunchokes aka Jerusalem artichokes. I've heard someone describe how he and his mother, Europeans whose food supply was cut off during the Second World War, lived on a steady diet of these tubers every day for weeks or maybe months. While I would tired of that diet quickly, I do like sunchokes, as long as they've been cooked in a couple of changes of water.
Jerusalem artichokes growing Summer 2015
Reliable crops are boring but you can count on them
Like the man who lived as a child on Jerusalem artichokes, I once spent about three weeks living mostly on green beans from my garden. I was in my early 20s and I had just gotten a job, but had to wait a month to get paid because of my workplace's probationary period policy. My housemates and I had planted beans and squash and something else, but the other two crops gave out as the summer got very hot and dry. The pole beans flourished, however, and so there was always a cookpot of them in the fridge and that's what I had for breakfast and dinner for weeks. Maybe someone bought me Taco Bell once, or I was invited to someone's house for dinner once, but it really was mostly green beans. I did get tired of them but they kept me alive. To make sure you eat regularly, no matter what, you may need a few basic foods you know you can grow.
Many preppers seek out heirloom varieties of vegetables and berries and fruits, because these plants run "true to seed." What you plant is what you will get, generation after generation. Hybrid seeds, developed by commercial seed companies, are bred to have the best qualities in terms of size and taste and disease resistance, but if you plant the seeds from these hybrid veggies etc., you may find that the plant has reverted back to an earlier genetic type. Or you will get inconsisent results, seed to seed.
Besides sorting out herloom vs. hybrid varieties of plants, it's also helpful to know which plant varieties are almost guaranteed to grow. A good example is the Provider bush bean. Doesn't need to climb a pole or fence, and it's compact and doesn't spread so you don't need lots of room for it. Provider beans can be started before the soil warms up, and an early start means an earlier harvest. Even if you are waiting for other crops to mature, you will have Providers.
And they are almost foolproof. They grow nicely in a medium-to-large pot if you don't have garden space. Just soak them in plain water for a few hours, a day if you can, and stick them into some potting soil. They need to be covered with dirt -- a half-inch to an inch deep will do it. Make sure your planting containter has drainage holes in it (a power drill or a hammer and nail will make fine holes) and keep the soil moist. Bean plants will appear!
"Provider" beans do what their name suggests
Lots of food plants will grow in a flowerpot or dishpan
Becoming more self-sufficient with your food is trickier when you live in an apartment or your yard space isn't suited for a garden bed. Perhaps community garden space is available; container gardening is another option.
Although I enjoy photos of creative container gardens where fruits, vegetables and herbs come cascading out of vintage fishermens' boots, shabby chic windowboxes and slightly rusty Radio Flyer wagons from 1954, I usually plant things in upcycled nursery pots, re-used paper coffee cups, and plastic containers.
White plastic dishpans, with a few holes drilled around the lower rims, have served me well. The very cheapest ones get brittle when the weather turns chilly,, so some of mine have shipping tape on the outside to give me another season of use.
When choosing a container, it's wise to think about whether the plant makes the food part below or above the soil surface. If below, a container must be deep enough to allow not only the developing tuber, but the tap root below the carrot or beet or rutabaga, as the tap root brings up moisture and nutrients.
Other plants need to spread over the surface of the soil, so a wider, narrower, boxline container is best.
Some miniature or dwarf varieties of vegetables are specially suited for container growing. Small round carrot types, including Tom Thumb and Paris Market, can grow in a container less deep than you would need for Danvers Half Long or even longer mature carrots.
Young sage plants growing in a plastic dishpan
Root vegetables are my friends!
Root vegetables can have issues --they'll rot if the soil gets soggy wet and stays that way, and there are plenty of bugs 'n' slugs that think my tubers are just yummy. But what I find with rooty things like carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, and rutabagas is that they don't care about temperature.
Soil temperature doesn't go up and down the way the weather up in the atmosphere does. Even if cold or heat do a number on a root-based plant's leaves, the root will often send up replacement leaves to take over from the damaged ones. On the other hand, plants which mostly grow above the soil and produce the parts you eat up in the sunlit world are affected more by changeable conditions. If damp mildew or withering heat attack the stalk or leaves of a pepper or broccoli plant, that's often all she wrote. And the young tender leaves of anyhing edible are delicious to every creature that walketh or crawleth upon the Earth. For a leafy plant, that makes the whole thing inedible. With a turnip or beet, the greens are edible and good, but you can have nibbled or perforated leaves and still have the root to eat.
Beets are easy to grow & a versatile food
Rhubarb, horseradish, raspberries -- what do they have in common?
Yes, they all have an "r" in them but more importantly, you plant them once and then you have them. You can get all of them at the grocery store, plant them as they are, and they will grow.
None of these foods are mainstays, but all of them will brighten your food options, adding color or zing. If it's necessary for you to eat a very basic diet for a while, something like a handful of raspberries on top of yur 532nd bowl of oatmeal makes all the difference.
All of these food plants will grow in a container, as well. The berries need a very large container -- something like a plastic storage tub. But they'll do fine in there if that's where they need to live.
We won't have raspberries THIS year but I have a Plan B
What I'm grateful for getting from the prepper community
The main objection I have to allying myself with people who describe themselves as preppers is that, whether they are operating from an ultra-pessimistic point or view or whether they are self-segregating because of cultural, political, or religious beliefs, I just dont feel comfortable with some of the ideas on why we try to ensure that our food supply is something we control ourselves.
However, I do appreciate the many people who share their tips and ideas and experiences on how to save seed, to plant it, to grow and harvest plants, and how to process the food to store or preserve it. I've learned a lot, and I appreciate that those who provide the information didn't limit it to their own communities, but shared it with anyone who wanted it, including me.
Thank you for reading this
I really like being part of a community where I can read posts by others, who share their real-life experiences with growing perennial vegetables, urban farming, raising culinary and medicinal herbs, and other topics which interest me. A book on green living or homesteading can offer lots of ideas, but there's a difference to me between a great picture of a fabulous castle of a chicken coop and then the day-to-day adventure of raising backyard poultry. And of course where else could I share my many thoughts about the joy of composting worms?!