Time to Get Real

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Fri, Feb 5, 2016 - 1:03am

It's about to get real. All of the test-crops and experimentation you've gone up to this point, all the seeds you've learned to save, all the ways you've learned to store what you grow up to this point may be all you can do. Don't despair: there are last-minute things to shore up your ability to grow food.

All the work on growing our own food we've done up to this point has been regarded as a hobby by most of our friends and family. We may depend more and more on it as things devolve. Here are a few practical things you can do - now - to make your garden planting count.

If there is a sudden disruption in food supplies, others may strip your square foot garden beds or rows, but edible landscape plants are camouflaged. Any of the crops I recommend here that can be planted as landscaping will be noted.

High-yield, last-minute annual crops:

  1. Jerusalem artichokes. Roots are a starch like potatoes. Hard to kill and will self-seed. Seeds are super-easy to save. They look like miniature multi-bloom sunflowers. If used in edible landscaping remember they will grow 3-4 feet tall. if you have raised beds why not dedicate one or two to these prolific plants? You can also wild-sow them if there are places to grow things nearby or use them to border a hen yard.
  2. Kentucky Wonder Green Beans. Grow lots of them. Very filling; easy to grow. Existing fences can be use as trellises.
  3. Black-seeded Simpson leaf lettuce. It's hard to go wrong with this classic. Let some of it bolt and rub the seed pods over a cloth and you'll have seeds for next year. Great for a cold frame.
  4. Potatoes. Forget about buying seed potatoes: just let the ones from the supermarket get "eyes," cut an inch-thick piece of potato around each eye, let it dry overnight and plant. This works for sweet potatoes, too.
  5. Sunflowers. You want the kind that grows confectioner's (big) seeds, or if you want to press sunflower oil get the oil seed kind. Working these into landscaping is obvious.
  6. Celeriac (celery root). Grow for its leaves plus the root vegetable is unfamiliar and ugly so no one will steal it.
  7. We've learned in our area (USDA Zone 8) to grow peanuts, tomatoes, peppers, onions, pumpkins, carrots, peas, okra, cucumbers, radishes, cabbage, kale, basil (we use as a salad green) and various spices - and save their seeds and can or dry many of them.  Hopefully by now you've at least found a few things you cannot kill that you'll eat.

High- yield, last minute perennial crops.

  1. Sylvetta-arugula. Perennial lettuce.
  2. Strawberries. They'll yield the first year and spread if you leave them with minimal water and care. They make excellent landscaping ground cover. Try inter-planting them with asparagus (asparagus will take 3 years to mature).
  3. Sea kale. Perennial kale.
  4. Fennel. Root veggie, seeds for more plants or as a spice,  greens for salads, pollen is also a spice. Worth growing. This one I would buy as a "start" rather than grow from seed.
  5. Mushrooms. Start a mushroom log and you'll have them for several years, stating with the year after you start it.

High-yield, super-fast growing trees, shrubs.

  1. Mulberries. our tree went from a stick to 25-ft tall in five years; produced food in its 2nd year. Grows anywhere in the USA and in most of the world.
  2. Drumstick tree. If you live far enough south this multi-purpose tree grows very quickly and provides vegetables and more.
  3. There are lots of slower-growing food trees and shrubs. If you start blueberries, peaches, apples, pears, cherries, apricots, figs, etc - and nut trees (hazelnut is fastest) NOW they will eventually feed you. Tip: try planting plum and peach trees inside a hen yard - the birds will eat the insects that would mar the fruit.

High-yield, super-fast growing vines, canes.

  1. Blackberries, raspberries.These can be part of your landscaping.Make sue you get the right kind for your area.
  2. Grapes. We started grapes on a trellis and the fence and had yields since the first year, which keep increasing. Again, choose the right kind for your area; most USA climates can grow concord grapes.
  3. Arctic kiwi vines. Cherry-sized fruits with edible skins that look like pretty landscaping vines will eventually make 100-lbs of fruit per vine.

If you have not already done son, start a compost pile. A garden can ease an economic down turn and can be a lifesaver in a crisis. Get serious about yours.

14 Comments

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 77
Jerusalem Artichokes and wild edibles

Thanks for the post Wendy.  Reading it brought a couple things to my mind I thought I'd share.  First it's probably worthwhile to find some good books about edible wild plants in ones region especially if you are interested in growing some things others are not likely to steal.  For myself I plan to more actively cultivate common milkweed, various types of dock, and stinging nettle which are all good food and already growing wild on my property.  Last year I also planted a lot of daylilies which are edible to further supplement the "wild" colony that has been spreading rather slowly.

I've got Jerusalem Artichokes too that I first planted many years ago.  They are great for growing in that they seem to do well with no attention at all.  I think they do a bit better if you actually harvest and thin them out each year.  The problem with them can be some people have difficulty digesting them.  I'm definitely one of those people.  I eagerly got my very ample harvest the first year.  I had some raw and some cooked.  They give me the most horrible gas I've ever had in my life, and with me that is saying something.  By horrible I mean physically painful gas!  Later I heard some people call them fartichokes for this reason.  After that I stopped harvesting them, being rather bummed that I wasn't able to digest them well enough.  Then this past fall I got Samuel Thayer's two books on wild foods, and in one he talks about Jerusalem Artichokes and this issue.  His recommendation was that first you can wait until later in the winter or early spring to harvest them.  If they stay in the ground longer then more of trouble causing inulin will break down into sugars.  The other thing to do is to cook them a LONG time to break it down.  I tried this, harvesting some late, just before the snow arrived here in Michigan this year.  Then I had them simmering away on my wood stove for 2 days.  I was tentative at first, eating only a little bit, then when no real problems developed cooked meals using larger quantities and all was well.  So for those of us who have trouble digesting this otherwise wonderful tuber crop the secret seems to be in preparation.  I'm now looking forward to harvesting more in the spring.  I might even start another patch or two on my property now that I have a way to eat them.  Oh, I'll also note that mine grow MUCH taller, more in the neighborhood of 8 to 10 feet, so plan accordingly. 

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 112
Time to get real......

We have been trying to learn how to make a meaningful amount of food since 2008, we are just now getting to the point where we can feed ourselves and have a good bit left over for someone else.

In the beginning we worked hard at getting a few things on the table that we produced ourselves, it was kind of disappointing considering that we had the largest garden that either of us had ever had. Each year we added more production space and tried new things. One lesson we learned is that when something is ready to preserve, all other work must stop until it has been done. Food preservation should be a very high priority, it can be lost in a couple of days even with refrigeration.

Over the course of the last eight years the menu and dinner table has changed without our really thinking about it or trying very hard. We sit down to many meals now that 100 percent ours or 100 percent local and it is kind of fun to see how our mindset has changed over time.

Things that we have learned.

Pressure canning is easier and more safe than water bath canning. For us at 6400 feet in elevation, is takes less time and uses less energy. I would rather spend the energy once and be done, than pay for the energy over and over again in the freezer. Buy more canning jars than you think you will ever need, lids too. Plan on canning more than a years worth of food.

Poop happens! A late frost or a hail storm can eliminate a crop for a given year. Put up more than you think you will need. We have gone 5 years without a peach crop, it is pure joy to sneak a jar off the shelf and indulge in an off year.

Even in zone 6 we can winter over some crops in the ground and save space in our root cellar. Greens can be carried into winter in a high tunnel with a low tunnel inside as Eliot Coleman does. see "The Winter Harvest Handbook".

Transplanting is HUGE! We direct seed only a couple of crops at this point, we have a short season and putting plants out gets them past that baby stage when they are so vulnerable to pests and watering schedules. We really like the soil block system of seed starting, best that we have found and it minimizes "plasticulture".

One gardener can not be the best at everything, find out what you are good at and barter with others that have abundance. A deep larder is not only more fun but gives a broader based diet. It is just good fun to build community as well!

We are still learning, learning does take time, at least for me. I appreciate the forum Wendy!

sand_puppy's picture
sand_puppy
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2011
Posts: 2033
Time to start broccoli seeds.

My gardening buddy neighbor has reminded me that next week is time to put the broccoli seeds into little dirt pots and set them in the window sills.

We will start a batch mid February and another 2 weeks later.  This gives them 8 weeks to grow before being put in the ground 2-4 weeks before our last frost date, May 1 - 15.

-----------------------------------

Wendy or Rob, can you point me to a good intro on how to plant potatoes and sweet potatoes in a suburban yard?

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Posts: 2259
You'll get a laugh out of this, SP

SP said:

My gardening buddy neighbor has reminded me that next week is time to put the broccoli seeds into little dirt pots and set them in the window sills.

I did this...2 years ago!!   At that time, I missed the timeline for when they'd need to be transplanted to produce before winter, and so I didn't transplant them.  And apparently I missed that opportunity again last year!  So I still have the little mini broccoli plants sitting in my window, waiting for neglectful busy me to transplant them!!  Who would have thought they could survive so long? 

Maybe 2016 will be the year these poor little guys actually get to see the outdoors!

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Joined: Apr 13 2008
Posts: 2259
Thanks for the advice, Wendy!

I just ordered a couple of hardy mulberry trees, thanks for the suggestion.  I also read that birds like them, and the mulberries can distract them from eating other fruit crops, like cherries.  http://www.starkbros.com/growing-guide/article/plant-mulberry-trees/

I figure either way it is a win (as a food crop themselves, or as a distraction from eating other food crops).

PS Look around when buying mulberries on-line; prices vary considerably (although I quoted Stark's info on Mulberries above, I found a lot better deal elsewhere, with another known seller).

robshepler's picture
robshepler
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Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 112
Sand puppie potatoes

There are many ways to skin that cat! Sweet potatoes are warm weather plants, plant when well past the danger of frost. There is some evidence that they will catch up even if planted late. You can make your own "slips" by cutting a sweet in half and suspending it in water. The plant will put out a runner and roots will begin to seek the water. At 4-6 weeks they can be broken off and planted in the ground. We use plastic mulch to warm the soil in zone 6.

Potatoes are somewhat easier, buy seed potatoes or organic potatoes at the store. Conventional potatoes sometimes have bud suppressants, we lost a crop being cheap! Warm the potatoes in a paper bag in a sunny spot and force the buds, cut into sections and let them scab for a few hours in a cool place. Pop them in the ground a couple of inches deep. Both sweets and russet types love rich soil, compost well.

Bucket raised potatoes are good fun too, lots of ways to grow them!

Best of luck with your season,

Rob 

fated's picture
fated
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 16 2014
Posts: 62
More Mulberries

Pinecarr - once you have your mulberries planted, if you ever decide you want more don't go and buy them. They are VERY easy to take cuttings from (fresh season's growth) and seem to take quite successfully if you just stick the base in some soil and keep watered. I have also read you can layer them, and am trying that this Summer (here in Aus).

Fabulous trees, and the birds do love them, as do children!

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Posts: 2259
Thanks for the advice, Fated!

I'm glad you told me.  I almost bought a number of them (cheaper shipping) at one site, then found I could buy 2 at another site without shipping cost being too bad.  Now I'm even happier I didn't buy 6 of them!

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
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Posts: 60
Overwintered(s) Broccoli seedlings

So those are Bonsai Broccoli plants? ;)

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
so glad you're all sharing

David Huang, thanks for the tip on when to harvest Jerusalem Artichokes. I knew they should be eaten in small quantities at first since they have a lot of fiber and can produce intestinal gas, but did not know the Springtime was the best time to have them.

Robshelper, I second your notion of getting far more jars and lids than you need for canning. If money is no object, get the ones that are reusable: Tattler. Note that Ace Hardware online ALWAYS has canning supplies any time of year and runs sales on jars in the Spring. Walmart seems to always have the best price on water bath canners. For now, you can buy in bulk (we live near a huge farmer's market) you can preserve what you buy there. Example: our pickling cukes died from a bug infestation but we bought a case of Kirbys and had were able to can more than we needed.

Pressure canning is great, but I feel that it's still energy intensive. For this reason I  HIGHLY recommend a solar food dehydrator. We made one out of 2" x 2" lumber, insect screening, rubber door seals, hinges and a latch. It sits on sawhorses.

Also, Robshelper's suggestion that you can more than you need is very well taken. Dehydrate more than you need, too. And save enough seed for a minimum of two years, just in case.

Sand Puppy? Rob's advice on potatoes is spot on, but you can get potato slips and starts from supermarket potatoes that have been treated with a suppressant in a pinch; I've done it.

Suggestion on canning mulberries: they are very spongy in pies but you can cut that texture with dehydrated fruit, like dried blueberries. 

robshepler's picture
robshepler
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 112
JIT food system

Food is my biggest worry. If we have a seneca cliff type of spiral down, things might get very interesting very quickly with our food system. I spent 25 years in the "just in time" environment and we really only have about 3 days of food on the shelves of our local grocery, as was proven during our last big snow event. Naked shelves really drove the point home. The time to get good at making food is before we need to!

I very much agree with Wendy's appreciation of the sharing that goes on here, we have to get good at this pretty darned quickly. Community allows us to stand on each others shoulders. Keep it coming!

Rob

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
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Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 172
brocolli held to long in a

brocolli held to long in a pot will not do well when transplanted. So, just go to the garden store and buy a six pack(of brocolli) and start some new seeds

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
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Posts: 2259
Yeah.....that's what they are!:)

Wish I'd thought of the "Bonsai broccoli" handle!!

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2008
Posts: 2259
Thanks for the advice, mntnhousepermi!

Based on that, maybe I will get some new broccoli seeds started.  But I'm still going to have to plant these guys I've had going for 2 years now,  if even in some corner of the garden.  They've earned a shot at the "big time"!

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