If The Lights Go Out, Will You Live?

street-light-emp

BGS over at Gab.ai shared a post with me last week on the chances of surviving an EMP or other even that destroys the power grid.

With nukes potentially in orbit already, plus a sun that is given to occasional violent outbursts, the chances of survival look grim for many of us – especially in the developed world.

Ken Jorgustin lays out the grim possibilities over at Modern Survival Blog:

“Any thinking person would have to admit that indeed there would be great loss of life if electricity (our life blood) were to vanish.

Why would there be such great loss of life? Because our modern society has become 100% reliant upon it. Most all of our infrastructure is dependent on electricity for it to work. It is a great challenge to come up with a list of infrastructure-related things that do not in some way depend upon a source of electricity.

How long would it take before a significant number of people begin to die off?

I believe that it would begin sooner than most people may think…

I have written about this scenario a number of times over the years and I really have not changed my view too much on this (except one). I have always felt that if the lights went out in America (grid-down), it is my opinion that ultimately 70% – 90% would not survive.

One major viewpoint that I’ve adjusted is how long this would take to occur (the 70% – 90%). When I first hypothesized this years ago, I felt that an approximate one year time frame would be required to finally reach those numbers. I believe that this thinking was incorrect. It would be much sooner than that.

Given the lack of drinking water after the pumps stop working and holding tanks drain,

Given that most people have less than one week’s worth of food at home,

Given that the majority of people live in urban areas,

I feel that these facts alone will seal their fate within one to three months. One month for many, and certainly within three months for most. There simply will not be enough food available within our just-in-time system and this will immediately begin the timeline to starvation. The lack of drinking water will bring about end-of-life even sooner.”

 

Having a few gallons of gas for your generator isn’t good enough. If you live in the city, you are at risk. If your well runs on an electric pump, you are at risk.

Back in the states we built backup systems. Roots in the ground, year-round, and buckets of beans and rice in the pantry. Canned chili, extra salt, ammo, backup rifles, extra first aid supplies.

It’s prudent to get some of these things now. And to have copies of important books in your survival library.

Of course, I’m rather partial to Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, but I would also want to have a lot of other good reference books on food preservation, foraging, etc.

And MREs.

 

*Featured image by Christopher A. Dominic, CC license.

David-the-good-books-revised

Propagate Yams the Easy Way with Yam Minisetts

yam-minisetts-ready-for-planting

Grab yourself a big root, a knife and some ashes… it’s time to propagate yams!

Also see the CARDICaribbean video on propagating yams here:

Though I pick on the method in my video because I’m not a fan of soaking yams in pesticides or herbicides, it’s a fine presentation with good information otherwise.

Propagating Yams in Three Steps

how-to-propagate-yams-image

This is the minisett method of yam propagation. If you have bulbils, you can just use those; however, some yam species don’t make bulbils or you may be starting with a store-bought yam and don’t want to plant the whole thing. A good-sized yam can get you a dozen or more plants if you divide it well.

Step 1: Divide the Yam

To propagate yams from minisetts, get a fresh yam and cut it into pieces while ensuring you have a good piece of skin on each one from which the new growth will emerge.

making yam minisetts for yam propagation

You can cut the yam pieces even smaller than I cut them in the video. Half that size will still work. Larger pieces will give you stronger vines, however, so there’s a balance between getting more plants and getting more vigorous plants.

Step 2: Dip the Pieces in Ashes

Dip the cut pieces of yam in ashes and let them dry a bit.

dipping yam minisetts in ashes for propagating yams

Ashes seem to help heal the wound and protect it from infection. It’s a traditional method practiced in places where yams are grown. Pieces will also grow without ashes, but it’s an easy step so I follow it.

Step 3: Plant Your Yams

It’s important to plant yams in loose soil as they are a root crop.

In Florida sand I just dug a little hold and buried them and they’d get nice and big; however, in clay it’s important to loosen lots of space to give the roots a place to grow.

yam-bed

If you like, you can plant your yam minisetts in a big pot or a bed to ensure you only get ones that will sprout. When the vines start popping out from the ground, transfer your yams to where you would like them to grow – and don’t wait long – the vines will grow fast and become a big tangle if you don’t act quickly.

Ensure each yam has a solid stick they can climb. Shoot for 6-7′ tall poles or ever larger.

This is how I cut stakes:

Alternately, yams can be grown on fences or on trees.

More On Yam Propagation

Yam bulbils will also work for planting if you have access to them; however, not all Dioscorea species will make bulbils.

Note: I have successfully propagated Dioscorea alata from cuttings, but I don’t think that method will give you good yields, at least in the first year. If you can’t get roots or bulbils, go for it, though.

Usually it’s just easier to propagate yams by cutting big roots up into minisetts. Try your local ethnic market for yams and other treasures.

With the potato yam, just use entire roots from the cluster without cutting them into pieces, as that is supposed to work better.

Potato-yam-dioscorea

Here are the buckets (and a bag) of cut-up yams we planted, plus the still-intact potato yams:

yam pieces ready to plant yam minisetts

Now it’s time to cut stakes!

Discover more on yams in my survival plant profile.

I also cover yams as a crop in my books Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening and Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening.

Some recent reviews of Grow or Die:

grow-or-die-reviews

Though tropical yams won’t work in colder climates, temperate gardeners will have luck with the Chinese yam, AKA Dioscorea batatas.

Have fun – yams are a wonderful staple crop with good flavor and beautiful vines.

David-the-good-books-revised

My 2017-2018 Goal: 2000lbs of Food!

goal-2000lbs-of-food

I’m trying again for a LITERAL ton of food:

I tried this before back in 2015 and almost hit 1,000lbs. I would have gotten closer to my goal in 2015 but we lost a chunk of the growing year thanks to the arrival of a daughter. It was a good trade.

If I had remained in Florida, the tree crops really would have been coming into their own at this point. Yet here I’ve rented a location with mature and maturing trees that are bearing well, so we’ll call that a good trade.

The real test of my growing ability will be the vegetables field crops. Last year’s gardening was cut in half thanks to my machete injury. That also messed up my writing schedule, as it was very hard to type with only one working hand. This year, Lord willing, I will be able to garden without severing any tendons.

This coming week I hope to get some irrigation set up and a large area down the hill cleared. Slopes, clay and pests will all test my skills… but I think in the end I’ll pull this off.

I’m going from April 2017 to April 2018. Anyone else want to join me?

Stay in the loop by following my YouTube channel.

David-the-good-books-revised

The Top 10 Tropical Staple Crop Countdown

MalangaRoots

Last week I created a video on the top 10 tropical staple crops.

It took me way too long to write and edit, so I hope you find it incredibly helpful.

Let’s run through them here, along with a few notes.

10: Grain Corn

Corn4

Stick to dent corn varieties in warm, hot climates. Corn needs decent soil and plenty of nitrogen but it’s the best grain for production and processing. Much easier to process than small grains like oats, rye and wheat. You need to nixtamalize it with lime or eat it as part of a balanced diet to avoid pellagra, a niacin deficiency which will mess you up.

9: Pumpkins/Winter Squash

Awesome-orange-market-pumpkin

These are one of my favorite plants to grow. In the tropics, most of the pumpkins grown are C. moschata types, though there are others too. Pumpkins take up a lot of space but make big, storable fruit. On the downside, they’re not that calorie dense and it’s easy to get sick of eating pumpkins.

8: Breadfruit

soursop-stinking-toe-breadfruit

Breadfruit is delicious and productive, plus it’s a tree so you don’t need to plow and plant like you do with annual staples. They are tough trees though they can’t take any cold. The downside is that the breadfruit come in seasons instead of spread out through the year.

7: Coconuts

Coconuts

So long as you don’t cut through your hand while opening them, coconuts are very good. They are high in good fats and nutrients, grow easily even in terribly soil, plus require very little work to maintain. The fronds are also useful for crafts, thatching, baskets and more. The downside of coconuts is they are a pain to open.

6: Bananas and Plantains

Plantains

It’s a fruit! No, it’s a starch!

Unripe bananas and plantains can be cooked and eaten like potatoes or fried like chips, making them a good way to fill in the caloric cracks. Though they are non-seasonal, they do produce better in the rainy season unless you keep them watered. And they like a lot of water! They also like a lot of nitrogen. Plant them around the septic tank and you’re golden.

5: Malanga and Taro

MalangaRoots

Malanga, AKA dasheen, has edible leaves (when cooked ONLY) and tubers (ditto). Its cousin taro needs more cooking to neutralize the oxalic acid in the roots. They like a lot of water and grow like weeds in a drainage ditch or shallow pond.

4: Pigeon Peas

pigeon-peas

Pigeon peas are a very easy-to-grow nitrogen-fixing tropical staple crop. The dry peas are a good source of protein and the younger peas can be eaten like common green peas. If you have marginal ground, hack holes in it and plant pigeon peas. The downside is that shelling the peas takes way too long. I also find them a bit hard to digest.

3: Cassava

CassavaComingUp

Cassava is a carbohydrate bazooka. It’s productive even in bad soil and has roughly twice the calories of white potatoes. Unfortunately, it’s almost devoid of real nutrition. It’s just a blast of carbs. This makes it great for a crisis but not good to eat all the time. The leaves are edible when boiled and are nutrient-rich, so it makes sense to eat the leaves and roots together.

2: Sweet Potatoes

SweetPotatoes2013

Sweet potatoes have edible greens and roots, produce abundantly in a small space, plus they’re high in calories and nutrition. An excellent choice for survival and non-seasonal.

1: True Yams

GiantYamRoot

Yes, I am prejudiced. Yams (Dioscorea spp.) are my favorite staple crop. The flavor is good, they take almost no work to grow, they’ll live on the margins of a food forest and they’ll even grow and produce when guerilla planted in the woods. Grow some – you’ll be impressed.

Conclusion

Any combination of these ten tropical staple crops could keep you alive in a crisis. I recommend planting more than one of them for variation in diet, plus redundancy. IF cassava does badly one year, you’ll still have pigeon peas. If the malanga doesn’t get enough water, maybe the corn will come through. Experiment and see what grows best in your area.

Did I miss one of your favorite tropical staples? Leave me a note and let me know.

 

David-the-good-books-revised

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

BeansBeforeAndAfter

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

David-the-good-books-revised

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.

David-the-good-books-revised

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.

David-the-good-books-revised

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!

David-the-good-books-revised

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!

David-the-good-books-revised

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.

David-the-good-books-revised
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