Feed a Family of Four for ONE Year for Less than $300

My family would have to more than double this amount, but I did find this preparedness hack to be quite impressive:

 

“This plan is THE fastest, cheapest and easiest way to start a food storage program. You are done in a weekend. AND there are no hassles with rotating. Pack it and forget.  It’s space efficient – everything is consolidated into a few 5-gallon buckets. You’ll sleep content in knowing that you have a one-year food supply on hand for your family should you ever need.

With the exception of dairy and Vitamin B12, this bean soup recipe will fulfill all your basic nutritional needs. It won’t fill all of your wants, but using this as your starting point, you can add the stuff that you want. 

All of the food and storing supplies listed below plus 2 55-gallon recycled barrels to be used for rain catchment cost me $296, including taxes. I purchased rice, bouillon and salt from SAM’s Club. You can buy small bags of barley at the grocery, but if you don’t mind waiting a few days, special ordering a bulk bag from Whole Foods was cheaper.  All of the beans I purchased from Kroger’s in 1-lb bags. Buckets, lids, Mylar bags and rain barrels were from the Lexington Container Company. Their prices are so good, with such a great selection that it’s worth a drive even if you are not in the local area.”

 

Hey, bean soup might get tiresome but it would keep you full. It’s a great idea to have plenty of food stored away in case of a crisis. Consider it cheap insurance in an increasingly unstable world. Additional greens could easily be grown or wild foraged for nutrition. Fresh or dried moringa leaves are also good for adding to soup. Maybe some Bidens alba, too.

I actually miss that prolific “weed.”

If a year of nothing but bean soup isn’t up your alley, my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening has what you need to know about survival gardening, plus information on what grocery store seeds and plant material can be used in a crisis to grow a serviceable garden if things get tough.

 

*          *          *

O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;
    save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
    rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.

O Lord my God, if I have done this,
    if there is wrong in my hands,
if I have repaid my friend with evil
    or plundered my enemy without cause,
let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
    and let him trample my life to the ground
    and lay my glory in the dust. Selah

Arise, O Lord, in your anger;
    lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
    awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.
Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you;
    over it return on high.

The Lord judges the peoples;
    judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
    and according to the integrity that is in me.
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
    and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
    O righteous God!
My shield is with God,
    who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
    and a God who feels indignation every day.

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
    he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
    making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
    and is pregnant with mischief
    and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
    and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
    and on his own skull his violence descends.

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
    and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

-Psalm 7, ESV

8 Reasons Why You Should Be Growing Chayote Squash

ChayoteSquash2

Hey! Let’s do a list post! How about “8 Reasons Why You Should be Growing Chayote Squash?”

Oh shoot. Now I have to come up with eight reasons, which is a number I picked arbitrarily. That shouldn’t be hard, though, as chayote really is an excellent addition to the garden. Also known as christophine and mirliton, they are a Mesoamerican crop which is now available around the world. Costa Rica exports tons of them to the EU and the US every year as the taste for this tropical squash-that-doesn’t-taste-like-a-squash has grown.

Ready? Let’s see if I can come up with eight reasons for growing chayote squash… here goes…

1. Chayote is Productive

No lie! This squash is likely to be the star of your garden in 2017 if you get them planted this spring.

Here’s a photo-manipulated shot of a bag of them I picked in my North Florida garden at the beginning of 2016, just before the first frost of the winter (which was a very late one – January!):

growing chayote squash is good for big harvests

It looks artistic, doesn’t it? I added an “artistic” filter in Photoshop!

You can see me harvesting these squash in this video (along with a few other goodies):

They are a wonderfully productive plant – but don’t think this productivity lasts for only one gardening year. Oh no – the story gets better!

2. Chayote are Perennial

That means they come back year after year. Look at this one growing back:

I love perennial vegetables. (You might be surprised at how many great ones there are – if you want to dive down the perennial rabbit hole, Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book Perennial Vegetables will get you dreaming.)

If you live in a colder climate, mulch over chayote’s roots to make sure they don’t freeze in the winter. My bet is you’ll be able to keep them going all the way into zone 7 if you’re clever with frost protection.

3. Chayote Taste Good

There is a highly productive vegetable that starts with a “z” which I don’t wish to mention, as it is a hateful and vile thing.

People grow this, then throw them away.

Unlike that abomination, chayote are good enough that you’ll want to eat them. They are much like a dense cucumber and some call them a “vegetable pear.” If you play pretend, they are somewhat like a mild pear but without the grittiness.

How do you eat them? I need to make a another point, obviously, or I won’t hit eight. So…

4. Chayote are Versatile in the Kitchen

Chayote can be sliced and eaten raw like their cousin the cucumber, or they can be peeled and cooked. we discovered through experience that if you don’t peel them the skins get quite tough in cooking.

Chayote can be made into pickles and relish and can also be sauteed. One of my favorite ways to eat them is right off the vine, like a fruit.

growing chayote squash is easy

They are denser than a cucumber and hold up better in cooking. They’ll also absorb the flavor of whatever you cook them in, so they’re a good filler for the pot.

5. Chayote Shoots are Delicious

This is something I discovered while I was visiting the H.E.A.R.T. gardens in Lake Wales and touring the plants with my friend Josh Jamison.

“Have you ever eaten the shoots?” he asked, when I recognized chayote growing on a trellis.

“No,” I said, “I heard they were edible but never tried them.”

“Here,” he said, breaking one off. “You have to try one.”

I did. “These are amazing!” I said.

He grinned. “They really are good – I’m growing this trellis just for the shoots!”

I was impressed. They’re good in the way asparagus is good. Chayote shoots are a mix of subtle flavors, nutty, fresh, green, sweet, delicious.

6. Chayote is Easy to Grow

Some vegetables – like tomatoes – are technically a perennial but practically speaking are an annual. Unlike these fair weather perennials, chayote sticks around happily. I’ve had few problems with insects, disease or nutritional deficiencies… they just like to grow. Strangely, though, I have had multiple chayote rot when they were planted, instead of grow. I found out what I was doing wrong, however, and now plant them differently.

In a video I posted yesterday, I show you how to plant chayote to give them a better success rate from the beginning.

Planting them on their side, not all the way in the ground, seems to be the best way to do it.

7. Chayote are Novel

There is such a thing as garden bragging rights. In fact, once you reach Super Elite Gardener Status(TM), you start competing with other gardeners to see who has the wildest and weirdest things growing.

Super Elite Gardener #1: “So… did you see my mouse melons?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: (yawns) “Oh yeah. I grew those, like, five years ago.”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Of course. Everyone grows them. But I know you used my guest bathroom earlier… notice anything… interesting… in there?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “Uh…”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “You did, didn’t you? Yes, you did. Tell me what it was.”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “It was… a… 30-foot…

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Yeeeeeeeessssss?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “…or maybe longer…”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Say it.”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “…vanilla orchid with pods on it.”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Which you wouldn’t think was anything, would you, if it were just a NORMAL vanilla orchid, right? Why is this one so special? Tell me.”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “I’d rather not say.”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “That’s because I win, don’t I?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “Fine!” (sobs) “You win! It was a VARIEGATED 30-foot-plus vanilla orchid with pods on it growing 1200 miles from the tropics! You win! I hate you!”

Chayote may not be at that level, but it will put you ahead of the typical backyard vegetable gardener.

8. Chayote Vines Will Climb on What’s Available

Unlike some vegetables that need to be tied up carefully and supported well, chayote will happily cover whatever is available.

I’ve seen them growing 40 feet up in oak trees. They’ll climb towards the sunshine and put fruit way up in the air. This is good and bad, of course. It’s great that they are so scrappy, but it’s hard to harvest fruit that high in the air.

If you have a chain link fence, a small tree you don’t care about or a rotting garden shed… plant chayote next to it and let them run. They’ll turn that support into a beautiful green mass of vines in a season. Growing chayote squash over eyesores isn’t a bad idea, actually. Got a burned-out car? Grow chayote on it! An ugly spouse? Chayote!

My chayote vines quite happily grew over an unproductive pomegranate tree and covered it with fruit… albeit not pomegranate fruit.

growing chayote squash on a tree

They make good shade, too, so you could plant them on an arbor over a sitting area for summer shade.

Actually… I could add a 9, too. Let’s do it!

9. (A BONUS! EXTRA POINTS!) Chayote is a Solid Survival Crop

Because of the list above, chayote is a very good addition to a survival gardening plan. Their nutritional profile is good, though they are unfortunately low in calories. The productivity makes up for low caloric yield, though, and they’re a good break from MREs, spam and canned beans!

Now that I made it to 9 of 8, let’s take a minute and look at growing chayote squash in your backyard (or front yard, if you’re hardcore).

Growing Chayote Squash

Growing chayote squash is easy.

First, get a few chayote from a grocery store, a fellow gardener or a farmer’s market.

Leave the fruits out on your counter for a few weeks. Eventually some of them should grow shoots out of the blossom end. (Chayote do not grow from proper seeds. Instead, the fruit surrounds a single embryo in the middle.)

Once they sprout and the vines are a few inches long, I plant them as shown in the video above.

Make sure you have something sturdy for them to climb where you plant the sprouted fruit. They’re not picky, as I said, but they are vigorous.

Chayote like full sun but will take half shade. Morning sun is the most important.

Chayote like compost, nitrogen and mulch. I fed mine with diluted urine (and sometimes undiluted) poured at the base of the plant. My bet is they’ll also appreciate calcium.

My plants produced in the fall after growing vigorously all through the spring and summer.

Have fun growing chayote squash – it’s a worthwhile vegetable to add to your survival garden.

Survival Cordage from Common Trash Items

survival-cordage

Bob Hansler shares how to make survival cordage from aluminum cans, plastic bags, soda bottles and even a traffic cone – check this out:

I interviewed Bob a few months ago for a post on desert survival over at ThePrepperProject.com. He’s a sharp guy. He also needs our prayers, as his eyesight failed rapidly near the end of last year and he’s in the midst of a series of surgeries and recuperation as doctors try to keep him from complete blindness.

Subscribe to his YouTube channel, too – he’s worth watching. And if you’d like to donate towards his medical bills, you can do so here.

The Best Oil Lamp Design We’ve Seen Yet

110_0226

I’ve made quite a few little oil lamps in the past and Rachel and I have lit the house with their smoky flames but the “Bright Betty” is really the best oil lamp design we’ve seen yet.

My friend Herrick never ceases to amaze me – his recent posts on how to make a “Bright Betty” oil lamp are no exception. He also shares how you can build your own oil lamp with readily available parts.

In Part 1 he shares the concept and why these lamps work so well:best oil lamp

“The basic concept of an oil lamp in a jar is nothing new. You can find similar jar-lamp tutorials elsewhere on the internet. And, as already noted,  Lehman’s sells jar lamps for burning olive oil. But the Bright Betty is a bit different than other jar lamps, especially the olive-oil-fueled lamps.

First, my Bright Betty lamps have a fiberglass wick, not woven cotton. Fiberglass is better. The other difference is that my Bright Bettys burn liquid paraffin instead of olive oil for fuel.

The fiberglass wick, with liquid paraffin fuel, puts out more light than a thin-wick olive oil lamp. 

Read the customer reviews at the Lehman’s link (above) and you’ll see that their little wicks put out a very small amount of light. But Bright Bettys are vastly better light producers. Not like a lightbulb, mind you, but it’s a downright satisfying and useful amount of light. I’d say one Betty puts out the light equivalent of several candles…”

Then in part two and part three he shares how to build your own Bright Betty oil lamp while including lots of photos.

For emergencies, preparedness, off-grid cabins and other applications, this design looks like a total winner. I also dig the way Herrick keeps them on his emergency shelf with a pack of matches inside the handle of each lamp.
It’s the little things. Honestly, I can’t even remember to put my wallet or glasses in the same place from day to day.

Though is the best oil lamp design I’ve seen yet, I still wonder if it could be tweaked to burn used cooking oil instead of liquid paraffin. Cooking oil is abundant. Would it be too smoky? Or would the wick sputter out?

That said, liquid paraffin lamp oil is really nice stuff to burn. I have a pair of these German-made hurricane lanterns that run wonderfully on it.

By the way, if you don’t own Herrick’s idea book for gardeners… WHY NOT? Go buy it!

Could You Fertilize After a Collapse?

CornOverMulch1

I was recently invited by my friend William to post over at The Permaculture Apprentice.

If you’re not familiar with William, he’s a hard-working permaculture-minded market gardener in Europe who shares his abundant knowledge freely on his site. We first met thanks to our mutual friend Justin Rhodes and now we compare notes regularly and have decided to collaborate on a few projects.

If you’re establishing a new homestead or hoping to make some money off your garden, I recommend you hang around William’s site and sign up for his newsletter to get his permaculture farm guide. His posts are very good, very meticulously researched and make for a much more thoughtful place than my slice of gardening anarchy.

Could You Fertilize After a Collapse?

If you can’t fertilize your gardens, your gardens will eventually fail.

There’s only enough fertility in the soil to last through a crop, or a few if you’re blessed with excellent local conditions – but after a time, your roots, grains and vegetables will simply refuse to feed you.

I once planted a row of corn in some infertile sand to see what would happen. The resulting stalks were ridiculous miniatures, looking as if they were created to complement someone’s model train collection. Worse than that, they failed to bear a single kernel. After lifting a few tiny blooms to the sky to scatter a few anemic grains of pollen, they died.

If I had decided to plant a nice big garden in that space, it would have done terribly… unless I had a way to feed it.

Ideally, a gardener would build up his soil first, then plant later. Sometimes, though, we just want – or need – to obtain a yield quickly.

If the grid collapsed tomorrow and the grocery stores closed, which option would you choose?

Option 1: Take a year to dig beds, observe the land, make compost, sheet mulch and improve the soil… and starve

Option 2: Say heck with the soil, till a huge area, throw down some 10-10-10 and plant a big plot so you can eat

Organic purism often gets thrown out the window when we face a crisis or an economic reason for gardening.

All we really want is food!

Yet the two choices I gave you aren’t really fair. Sure, you can’t build the soil into rich, high-nutrient loam with a perfect amount of organic matter and a wide range of beneficial microorganisms and fungi in a quick period of time… but you CAN feed your crops organically and get good yields with a lot less material and time than you might think…

Click here to find out how over at The Permaculture Apprentice!

Identifying Plants Easily

FoodForestLot3-PawpawBloom

Identifying plants easily doesn’t happen by accident, though you can definitely speed the process along immensely.

I’ve noticed over the years that the more I’ve worked towards learning wild plant foraging, the more I’ve started to see plants in groups of related species. Even without knowing the specific names of the various specimens I find, I can often nail down the family in which they are members.

This bloom, for instance:

identifying plants easily

If you were to hazard a guess, what type of tree would you think that was?

It’s a quite distinctive bloom shape, isn’t it?

Not a common pattern to see, which is why I pegged it right away as belonging to Annonaceae.

That family is represented in the temperate world mostly by one species, which bears this bloom:

Know what that is?

Pawpaw!

Most relatives of pawpaw (Asimina triloba) live in the tropical world. Pawpaws in temperate America are like the legendary Wandering Jew, far from their warm homeland and now scattered across a chilly foreign clime.

There are a lot of plant families that become easy to spot once your eyes have started to see the patterns. Some are easier than others. the rose family, for instance, is easiest to spot when you’re dealing with simple-bloomed plants and not the highly bred roses in gardens.

This:

Bermuda_Spice_Rose

Is related to this:

PeachBlossom2

You’d never know it, though. The first image is that of a “Bermuda Spice” rose, the second is a peach blossom. Both are in the Rosaceae family.

Fortunately, those highly bred representatives are absent from nature. It’s easier to see, for instance, that this plant’s bloom:

Sand_Pear_Bloom_2

Shows its relation to this plant, which has a quite similar bloom:

The first bloom is that of a pear, the second is a strawberry blossom.

Members of the Asteraceae, or daisy family, are also usually easy to spot:

Sunflowers

Perennial_Marigolds_2

CosmosWeb

Thistle_Blooms_4

Those are, in order, sunflowers, perennial marigold, cosmos and thistle blooms.

The ability to spot plant patterns has been useful to me as I’ve been trying to learn a bunch of new plants quickly. I found part of a meal a couple of days ago when I spotted a wild amaranth growing around some of the pigeon peas I planted.

My sons chopped and gathered a bundle in a few minutes, providing plenty of healthy greens for the table:

indentifying plants easily led me to this amaranth

I’ve grown good varieties of domesticated amaranth before and have enjoyed them both for their edible seeds and their hearty leaves.

MyTimeAmongTheAmaranths

There’s a good story that goes with the above picture which you can find here.

So – what does all this mean for you?

It means that you don’t have to start from scratch with your wild plant foraging.

Help With Identifying Plants

 

With some training, you’ll be able to pick out members of the bean family, the daisy family, the spurge family, etc., and get an idea of what may or may not be edible, useful or poisonous without even knowing exactly what species you have in your hand.

The blossoms and fruit are usually how I nail down most species, but there are others I peg through their leaves, stems or growth patterns.

Botany in a day identifying plants easilyA valuable survival resource (and plant geek crack) that recognizes this set of natural patterns is the quite useful and highly illustrated book Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification.

You’d have to be a savant to truly learn botany or identifying plants and plant families in a single day from the book; however, hyperbole aside, having this book around the house or by your bedside to gaze at now and again and get some plant identification patterns in your head = valuable!

I started seeing the patterns while identifying plants before I bought the book a few years ago. Seeing them illustrated over and over again was a good signpost telling me I was on the right track.

But what is that crazy bloom at the top of today’s post?

Soursop!

We’ve got at least a dozen scattered about the property and they’re really a blessing. Delicious and medicinal.

They’re in bloom right now and some are bearing small fruit. Soon we’ll have plenty for the table. For now I’m enjoying spotting the weird blooms, though they do make me miss the pawpaws of Florida, at least a little bit.

Interplanting Corn and Pigeon Peas On a Slope

Intercropped_Corn_And_Pigeon_Peas_2

A few weeks ago I learned how the natives go about interplanting corn and pigeon peas…

…then the rainy season kicked into full effect and the weeds went nuts!

Dude, where’s my corn?

interplanting corn and pigeon peas

I’m sure I planted some in there somewhere.

I spent part of last week learning to weed like a native, crouching with a machete and trying to find where in the world all the corn and pigeon peas we planted went.

But… let me back up and tell you how we planted our intercropped corn and pigeon peas.

Interplanting Corn and Pigeon Peas

Since I’m new at gardening on a slope and new to growing in a truly tropical climate, I hired our farmhand – a local farmer who’s chock-full of agricultural knowledge – to show me how they plant corn here.

I told him I wanted to grow corn and later put in some pigeon peas somewhere on the hill as well.

He told me that the best way to grow them was to intercrop corn and pigeon peas.

Then he started clearing the weeds with his machete, rapidly mowing everything down to ground level.

After knocking the weeds flat, he started digging planting stations with a spading fork, twisting and loosening the soil and making a little ridge down slope from each pit.

I assisted with my trusty grub hoe, following the pattern he was creating.

After digging the pits, he recommended I toss 4 corn seeds and a couple of pigeon peas into each one. He then kicked the soil back over them, burying the corn and peas at a depth of 3-4″.

“Are those going to come up?” I asked.

He nodded.

Sure enough, they did.

Since I have a lot of my own ideas and knowledge, it was an interesting experience to simply assist a local farmer and do exactly what he recommended.

Back in Florida I would grow corn at 36″ width between rows, without intercropping, and space the corn at around 6-8″ between plants.

That’s not how they do it here. And they don’t bother tilling in between planting stations.

I created a diagram so you can get an idea how this works:

intercropping corn and pigeon peas

Less than a week after planting, the corn and peas were already up. Thank God for warm, rich soil and a warm and moderate climate.

We probably planted about 1/10 acre of corn and pigeon peas.

The thinking behind planting both at the same time, so far as I understand it through the language barrier, is that the corn will bear first, followed by the pigeon peas later on. You can start chopping down the corn and then the entire plot becomes a patch of pigeon peas, bearing on and on for the next year or more. By planting both at the same time you’re only clearing and planting once.

He also told me that the corn, as they mature, will push outwards a bit and away from each other, finding the space they need to create good ears. They do indeed have plenty of space in all directions.

Weeding a Corn and Pigeon Pea Plot

As you saw in the first picture, the ideal little pockets of corn and peas were rapidly consumed by the bush. That’s when it becomes necessary to chop the weeds down again and lay them in the rows, like so:

Cleared_Corn_Rows interplanting corn and pigeon peas corn and pigeon peas intercrop

I was told by my new farming sensei that after this first weeding the corn and peas will reach rapidly for the sky and start to overshadow the competition, requiring only one more good weeding before the corn is ready to harvest.

Fertilizing Without Chemical Fertilizer

My farming friend also recommended that I buy some chemical fertilizer and put a handful in each planting station; however, at this point I decided to rely instead on my liquid fertilizer barrel system, as described in Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Compost_Barrel

That stuff works like magic and has done very well on the corn I planted previously in the beds near the house. Why buy fertilizer when you can make it for free? This particular batch started with Leucana leaves, fish guts, urine and cow manure.

The mosquitoes got into that batch and started breeding, however, so I bought a little cheap vegetable oil to put a “skin” on top they couldn’t breathe through. Now their little larval corpses are feeding my corn.

I’m making another batch right now that’s heavy on moringa leaves, which ought to be very good for the garden and field crops.

Once you let it ferment for a couple of weeks, then you just dip out what you need with a watering can and water away. That’s what I did with the corn and peas right after we finished weeding them. They’re already looking nice.

Intercropped_Corn_And_Pigeon_PeasOn Friday I went down there and filmed some of the machete work, plus give you all a look at the beds, including the additional cucumber bed we planted after the corn and pigeon pea plot.

If you remember from my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, grain corn is the only grain that makes my go-to list as a survival crop.

Grow_Or_Die_Cover_WebThere are multiple reasons for that, but in short: grain corn is easy to grow, stores for a long time, is much easier to clean and process than other grains, plus you can make grits and corn bread from it.

Adding in pigeon peas makes a lot of sense if you’re in a climate where they grow well.

In our old location we’d usually get a frost just as the pigeon peas started to produce, destroying all the pods. I gave up on them after a few years of failure. Down here – and in zone 9/10 USA – they make a lot more sense. Pigeon peas are actually a small perennial tree and fix nitrogen while making food and good fuel for a biomass cook stove.

I’m looking forward to harvesting corn and then peas… and I’m really enjoying learning new ways to farm. Interplanting corn and pigeon peas isn’t something I considered doing before. Sure, I’ve interplanted corn with beans and squash, but putting a big plant like a pigeon pea in the same hole with a big plant like corn? No, never tried it!

No matter how good you get at something, there’s always something new to learn.

…and finally!

 

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Small Farm Advice

CornPatchMay

CornPatchMay

I received this email last week asking for some small farm advice:

 

Hi David,

So my wife and I and the 7 soon to be 8 little ones (OK, the 13 year old isn’t that little, but she is short for her age) seem to be closing in on getting a 6 acre farmette under contract to be bought here at the end of May.
I grew up on a farm, but it was agribusiness/Monsanto model because my parents couldn’t imagine doing it any other way (though they certainly complained a lot about how they did do it).  Anyway,  I was wondering if you had any good gardening/mini-farming book or website recommendations?
I am eagerly looking forward to putting my little children in charge of growing wormies and harvesting “worm tea” or whatever name that was that you gave it.  Not that I’ve got a problem with doing it, but the second oldest daughter (10) and the oldest son (7ish) will absolutely love doing it.  Part of the whole farming idea is giving them the chance to really contribute to the family in meaningful ways that they can own and be proud of.
I’ve got to go back and re-read “Compost Everything” now.  Is “Grow or Die” an argument sort of book or a how-to?
I know I’m in Illinois and you’re in Florida and the climates are rather different, but still, I’d love to hear any advice or recommendations you’ve got.  We’ll probably have 4 of the 6 acres in pasture for a rotation of dairy cows, egg layers, broilers, and pigs eventually, but we’ll be gardening and orcharding as much of the rest as we can.  Though we are planning to leave some of the big maples up to sugar.
-Thomas

 

First of all – congratulations on raising a large family! I wish more homesteaders would do the same. Now let’s jump into resources.

Small Farm Resources

I usually start by learning from mentors – and many of my favorite mentors are books. My favorite gardening books are listed here on a dedicated page.

Out of those, for a small farming situation, I recommend purchasing The Market Gardener along with Gaia’s Garden.

The_Market_Gardener - small farm advice

Quite useful

I’ve also heard good things about The Resilient Farm and Homestead. I own a copy but have it packed somewhere at the moment and haven’t been able to read it yet, alas. The rest of the books on my list will also help give you ideas, but some are definitely more applicable than others.

For websites, my favorite farming-related sites are The Deliberate Agrarian, Permaculture Apprentice and Pa Mac’s YouTube channel “The Farmhand’s Companion.”

You’ll also find some good inspiration from Marjory Wildcraft’s site Grow Your Own Groceries… and my friends at the Mother Earth News website share some good information. Permies.com is also a great rabbit hole… and if you really want to see some amazing projects, check out Skillcult.com.

Locally, be sure to visit the county agricultural extension and pick up all the data and handouts they have available. Ask what local farmers and gardeners are growing. Also check Meetup.com for gardening and permaculture Meetup groups. Every time you see someone with a nice farm or garden, try to stop and meet them. Leave a note on their gate if they’re not home!

Property Advice

Six acres is a lot of space to tend. Grazing animals really help keep pastures under control, though, so that’s good.

If you have wild areas and trees (since you already have some maples, it sounds like you may have more species too), don’t cut anything down or pull anything up until you know what it is. You could have wild nuts and fruits, not to mention trees that host edible mushrooms around their roots – some of which are quite valuable.

Chanterelles1

I gathered this basket of delicious chanterelles from around the base of a local oak tree – if that land had been cleared, these wouldn’t be there!

There could be valuable native medicinal plants or edible berries you’re not aware of yet. Even after a couple of years on my single acre I was still finding useful plants here and there. Don’t be too hasty to tear anything out!

Also, if you do take down a tree – compost it. All of it. Unless you chop the wood up for your fireplace, that is.

I still regret burning multiple oak trees six years ago when we bought our old homestead. I wanted them GONE RIGHT AWAY; instead, I should have made a pile of the limbs and trunks to feed the soil, edge garden beds and harbor fungi.

Finding Your Focus

Before you jump in to a bunch of projects and burn yourself out, it’s important to figure out what you want to do. Ask questions like:

  1. Is this going to be a profitable farm or just a hobby?
  2. Will my children be able to make money off this farm?
  3. Will I be willing to work like crazy outside?
  4. Are we really good with animals? All animals?
  5. Can I keep a large garden fed and tended?
  6. Am I hoping to feed my family from the farm?

My own farming and homesteading is primarily focused on research, not making money or producing crops for market. I know that a lot of what I try will fail. We raised goats for a while, then decided that wasn’t for us. We tried different breeds of chickens, plus ducks and guinea fowl. We raised meat birds and learned to butcher them, then stopped. One year we tested dent and flint corns in multiple different plots. Another year we spent creating beds of sugar cane and looking for simple ways to make our own sugar. We planted trees in the food forest that were unsuited to the climate, just to see if they’d live.

If I were interested in making money rather than gathering knowledge for this site and for my books, I would go straight to gardening in double-dug beds and growing tried-and-true high value crops.

If I just wanted to feed my family, I’d concentrate on chickens, yams, sweet potatoes, cabbages, pumpkins and some highly nutritious easy-to-grow greens. I wouldn’t bother with fun experiments like trying to grow coffee or grafting nectarines onto wild plums.

Other Small Farm Advice

 

Tip 1: Plant Edible Trees

When I get a new homestead, the first thing I’m going to do is plant fruit and nut trees. They take the longest to get going but they’re some of the very best investments you can make. You’ll have fruit for decades or even generations. Don’t wait on trees!

Tip 2: Garden Well in a Small Space First

Once you master a smaller garden, it’s easy to make it bigger. Tilling up an acre to start with may just end in frustration. Remember: you need to feed, water and feed everything well. You need to be able to deal with bug infestations and keep the soil in good shape. Learn on a smaller plot, then grow!

Tip 3: Secure Water Supplies

Make sure you have water stored up in multiple ways. City water and a well would be great. A tank fed by the roof is good. So are ponds. A creek is awesome. Just know that without access to water, everything else will fail. Build your gardens and animal areas around water sources first.

Tip 4: Keep the Garden Close

It’s best if you can step right out of the back door into the garden. Bonus points if you have to walk through the garden to get to your car. You’ll see problems this way. Wilting, insects, yellow leaves – issues can be dealt with right away. A garden far away will often fail unless you’re very dedicated.

And Finally…

 

Grow_Or_Die_Cover_WebGrow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening isn’t a rant on the end of the world or “an argument sort of book”. It’s a how-to manual on feeding yourself even if things get tough. You can use it as a crash-course in gardening, a way to get started in your backyard, or as a book or tried-and-tested ways to feed and tend your plants when everything around you is falling apart. It also covers the excellent man-powered tools we’ve tested on our own homestead.

If you liked Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, you’ll like this book even more. It’s definitely applicable to a small farm.

Thanks for writing and may God bless your new venture!

Best Composting Toilet System?

Boonjon_Best_Composting_System_Title
Boonjon Best Composting Toilet

This guy invented the best composting toilet I’ve seen yet.

I recently discovered the best composting toilet system I’ve seen yet.

Today’s post may go outside of the comfort range of my more delicate readers, but remember… I literally wrote the book on extreme composting.

Compost_960-webALL ORGANIC MATTER MUST RETURN TO THE EARTH – TERRIFYING AND HORRIBLE THINGS INCLUDED!!!

There’s a gap in our thinking when it comes to our own waste. For some reason, recycling banana peels and coffee grounds is “great” but recycling sewage is “oh heck no I’m not doing that! Gross!!!”

I understand, really. It took me quite a while to come around to the idea of composting everything.

The first guy that changed my thinking on the subject was Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanure Handbook. I built one of his “lovable loo” composting bucket toilets and installed it in our Tennessee house for a year as an experiment. It worked decently, but had problems with attracting some flies and odor. Close, but not quite what we wanted.

The_Humanure_Handbook_CoverGranted, the problem wasn’t really in the design so much as the fill material we had available. Peat moss worked great, but it consumed too much peat moss. I couldn’t find any safe sawdust locally, so that option was out, leaving us stuck with wood chips. Not great.

There are other composting toilet designs, ranging from quite expensive dehydrating Biolet models to the collection of cool outhouses Paul Wheaton covers in this video.

Now I have a new favorite… and have to say, I think it’s the best composting toilet system I’ve seen for both ease-of-use and simplicity of design.

The Best Composting Toilet System?

A few years ago, a man named Sandy Graves dropped me an email after finding my old Florida Survival Gardening website. He told me he’d developed a different composting toilet system and that I ought to come out and see it at some point.

I get emails from kooky people now and again, so the idea of going to see a stranger’s toilet wasn’t really all that high on my list… until I did some more research and realized he had something new and interesting going on.

Before the videographer who was helping me on the Crash Gardening series quit, I was going to go over with him to see Sandy’s system so we could film a pro-looking video. That never happened… and time moved on. I corresponded with Mr. Graves a few more times via e-mail but no solid plans ever firmed up. His office was about an hour from my homestead and it never seemed to be a good day for me to pack up and head off out of town to look at composting toilets.

Until a couple of weeks ago when we sold our homestead.

I’d loaded up a trailer with all our worldly possessions and we were heading down 40 towards I-95 when my wife says, “Hey – isn’t this where the guy with the composting toilets has his place?”

“Yes,” I said, “I should just stop now and see what he has going on… we could just film a spontaneous video!”

Rachel thought that was a great idea, so when we spotted the sign for “C-Head, LLC,” I pulled in.

Boonjon_Best_Composting_System

Out front was a U-Haul trailer remarkably similar to the one being pulled behind my van, and I noticed it was being packed by a solidly-built, gray-haired man with glasses.

“Are you Sandy Graves?” I asked.

“Hey – I know you!” he replied, “David! Welcome! We’re just packing up for the Mother Earth News Fair!”

I asked if he had time for a video, so leaving the packing behind, Sandy took me to see the best composting toilet system I’ve seen yet.

Check it out:

The system began as an experiment on Sandy’s boat… then moved to land… then became an entire business with a variety of models.

Row of the best composting toilets I've ever seen

 

The BoonJon composting toilet system ties in nicely with a backyard compost bin. Sandy encourages soldier flies in his compost piles and told me he keeps discovering new things about the species that makes him appreciate them more.

I was amazed how little fill material was required for a BoonJon composting toilet. Quite affordable! Back when I built my composting toilet, it consumed a lot of fill material.

A Unique Way To Fertilize With Urine

 

The diversion of urine into a separate receptacle is also a very good thing. That allows you to use it as a liquid fertilizer in your garden or orchard.

Urine_Fertilizer_Fertigation

The way Sandy irrigates his beds with urine is quite clever (don’t you dig inventors?) and grows some of the biggest tomato plants I’ve seen in a Florida garden.

He also grows some good-looking raspberries:

Raspberries

Final Thoughts

When you think about how much water we waste – plus all the fertility we literally flush away every day – composting toilets make a lot of sense.

Why would we use clean water to dispose of… fertilizer?

Everything is upside-down when you think about it. I’m glad for people like Sandy Graves who are using their talents to make a difference in the world through simple technologies. Decentralizing waste management makes a lot of sense.

Imagine how much water we could save!

How many gardens we could feed!

How many wastewater plants we could close!

So…

What do you guys think – is this kind of composting too crazy for you?

Survival Gardening Doesn’t Have to Be Gloomy

Gloomy_Survival_Gardening

Gloomy_Survival_Gardening

Survival gardening isn’t something you need to get depressed about. Just plan your gardens as if the supermarket doesn’t exist and the worry will melt away. Plant a big garden – it’s fun and great exercise.

Sometimes you can get so consumed with the “what ifs” that you miss the beauty of right now.

Fear is everywhere and it’s even crept into the realm of gardening.

There’s a good reason for this, of course. We see the Republican establishment freaking out over outsider Donald Trump… and the Democratic establishment freaking out over outsider Bernie Sanders.

We see waves of immigration sweeping into Europe and wonder if there will be any native European culture left in another generation or two.

We see the possibility for runaway viruses and the even higher possibility of a deeper financial crash following the multi-year papered-over Depression we’ve been in for a decade.

And then we think, “could I feed myself if things got bad?”

I’ve been a property consultant for serious preppers, food forests, prepping websites and even developers. A lot of that material stays off this blog because I like to keep things light, plus I keep my clients confidential. I also simply enjoy writing about fun gardening stuff here, despite the scary “Survival Gardener” title I use for the website.

It’s probably a personal failing. I need to knuckle under and help teach you guys some of the skills you need to grow lots and lots of food in case it’s ever a necessity. I’ve poured more of that information into my books, of course, but don’t always dump all my prepper stuff here.

On our homestead we’ve been able to supply all of our large family’s vegetables from the gardens out back and have had some extra to share.

backyard survival gardening

That’s a great feeling.

Though I started gardening on a larger scale because I felt we were facing an uncertain future, the fear for tomorrow really melts away when you’re out in the sun, pushing a wheel hoe, planting seeds with a two-year-old or filling a basket with sun-warmed green beans.

Stop. Breathe. Say a prayer. Pick some more green beans. Kiss a kid. Plant another row of corn.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fear and forget to live.

My In-Depth Guide to Survival Gardening

Grow_Or_Die: The Good Guide to Survival GardeningLast year when I wrote Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, I let myself dig into the various scenarios of what could go wrong and how it could go wrong.

Could I garden if the electricity went out?

Or if the well gave up?

Or if we ran out of gas?

It’s good to ask these questions and I spent a lot of time and research on them, not to mention testing lots of crops, tools and methods across multiple garden plots in multiple climates. We grew crops in Tennessee for multiple years, then grew simultaneously in temperate North Florida and in tropical South Florida. I was even working on setting up a test plot near Canada but realized I simply couldn’t do everything as well as I wanted being spread that thin.

All that to say, I put in the worry and tested the methods so you won’t have to do quite as much.

Readers agree:

grow or die survival gardening reviews

 

 

 

 

 

Grow or Die could easily stand alone as a crash-course in gardening… or it could be the end-of-the-world manual you need to get through a crisis. Consider it cheap insurance at $2.99 for the kindle version and $14.95 for the full audiobook version.

The paperback version from my publisher has been delayed longer than expected but it’s on its way soon. I have the proof on my desktop right now (thank you, Matthew).

Knowing that I can grow a garden in multiple climates and produce plenty of food if things got ugly brings me plenty of peace.

There’s no room for gloominess when you have the knowledge in your head and some crops in the ground.

I’m rooting for you.

 

 

*Image at top courtesy franzconde. Creative commons license. 

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