When the harvest fails
As I have shared earlier, we took a year off of active gardening due to serious repair work to our house. Frankly, it got me thinking about all the reasons one might not have a crop and the most useful responses to them. Here are the main causes a crop might fail I can think of.
- Bad seeds. You solve this by using fresh seed every year. Ultimately, the best option is to learn seed saving. Note that saved seeds are 80% viable in year two. This is important if you lose a crop and want to replant it next year.
- Drought/heat wave. Rain water can be harvested. Wells can be dug/drilled. Permaculture ridges and berms can channel rainwater to your plants and mulch can retain moisture. You can solve heat (up to a point) by experimenting with shade cloth, and experimenting with various heat-tolerant plants.
- Late freeze/Early Freeze. You can use a high or low tunnel of clear plastic to make a greenhouse, and if it’s a small bed you can even cover it with an old quilt for the night. Keep your eye on the weather forecast, and consider getting your own forecasting equipment.
- Flooding. We had a lot of that last October here in SC. Recently, my husband over-zealously watered our potatoes and they rotted, so Gardening Learning Curve is another problem. Drainage, here, is everything.
- Hail Damage. Kind of hard to predict. If it happens to a mature crop, you can glean, but it might just wipe you out.
- Tornado. Kind of hard to predict. If it happens to a mature crop, it might just wipe you out.
- Insects/Diseases. Your number one defenses are to grow things that do well in your climate and make the soil as healthy as possible. Trying to grow something exotic will be much more likely to cause problems.
- War/Civil Unrest. If the SHTF, your annuals garden will be despoiled by hungry people. Count on it. However, they are not going to do anything to your perennials except strip the fruit in season, and they will not eat your seeds (remember, your seed is viable for years.)
- Nuclear fallout. I’ve heard it suggested that you can cover your soil with plastic which will catch the worst of the fallout. So have some plastic available and cover it if, God forbid, such a thing should happen.
Our perennials are producing. We canned enough last year for this year and have a lot of dehydrated things. We will can this year, but it will be from the local State Farmer’s Market – a huge agricultural produce market, not a little boutique “farmer’s market” full of overpriced silliness. And we have seed for next year; the above list makes you realize, I hope, that having seed and food for at least two years is pure common sense.
Just to clarify….We run a couple of little "boutique" farmers markets, we are priced competitively with organic food in the grocery stores and we sell out at every session. We are in a low income area that can not afford boutique pricing.
We are working with the state to accept Snap benefits, they also have a program called "Double up food bucks" that allows people to double their benefits with fresh organic food.
Our state just gained the title of the highest incidence of food insecurity and child poverty, we are working our bums off with a local food coalition to tackle that.
No offense taken, each market should be looked at on an individual level and not painted with broad brush strokes!
Love what you do Wendy, thanks for doing it!
Thanks for the pointers about the many perils of gardening, Wendy.
My neighbor suggested we rent a plot in a community garden several miles from out house. But the likelihood it would be raided by others during true emergencies made this an unreliable post-SHTF strategy.
Planting fruit and nut trees and berry bushes in the yards of all MY NEIGHBORS increases MY food security. They are less likely to raid my yard, have a foot in the door of gardening, and have at least heard the concept of supply chain disruption, just in time inventory systems and food security. And we may find we have surplus to share and trade.
Good point, Rob's helper. Not all Farmer's Markets are alike in all parts of the USA, or the world.
My experience in "downstate" NY was that they sold overpriced local produce near my town hall to folks with vouchers on public assistance and it died due to all the paperwork the vendors had to do and the wait to get paid.
Here is SC there are mostly local farmer's markets that are really "craft fairs" with an occasional baker or person who sells a few vegetables trucked in from FL or CA. Then there are the State Farmer's Markets, which have trucked in produce that we do not grow here and a HUGE selection of things we do grow in-state. The cost is half of what you'd pay at the flea market fruit and veggie market and a quarter of what you'd pay at the supermarket, but only if you buy by the bushel or that case. It's a great resource for home-canning.
One thing I’ve seen is the pickup truck stand that sells Sam’s Club / Walmart watermelons for fifty cents over the Walmart price.
Or the roadside stand that sells to tourist suckers at thrice supermarket.
Or the man who grows his own in his garden, and you can see it growing.
Or the man who grows his own, but it is on a site that had been submitted for superfund cleanup. Cleaned (they mix it with a small amount of concrete powder and stabilize it) or not, it’s still highly toxic.
Indeed, not all farmers markets are equal.
This is getting interesting!
I understand the consumer view of wanting value for ones buck. In the US we have the least expensive food in the world and we spend the lowest percentage of our income for it.
We chose the market garden model as it uses no fossil fuel to grow our food. It is a step towards sustainability and powered down future, we grow about an acres worth of mixed veggies. It is all HAND LABOR. We do get what is to me an amazing amount of food. That said we still need the highest prices we can get to cover the cost of what we do, it is the hardest work I have done for the least amount of money.
I follow a number of organic growers on facebook, most of them are using tractors and tillage. Tillage to be sure is not as good for the soil, but they get more work done……because of gas and diesel fuel.
This group more than any, understands what a powered down future could look like. Are we willing to support a sustainable farm model? Should we be asking the method of how our food is grown?
Our community has jumped in in a big way, we have the type of following that really warms ones heart. We sell all we can grow at the prices we ask, largely because it is fresher and higher in quality than anything that can be found or trucked into this isolated market.
Our business model is like Singing Frogs Farms without the good weather.
Tractor or garden model, are you willing to vote with your wallet?
In the US, about 5% of our food is organic, we only grow about 1% of that domestically. How important is locally produced food? One would think that we should be spending our money locally rather than sending it on a one way trip out of country.
The best case scenario when the time comes is to each grow 100% our own food. On our journey to growing for market we had a BUNCH of failures and unrealistic ideals of how much we could grow in a small space. The time to learn how to do this is before we need to, most of us won't. I think this makes small local farms look very important, the time to cozy up to a good grower is before you need to.
I am hoping to poke a bit at our collective thoughts on what food costs…..What is the collective cost of our industrial food system? Do we count the rising incidence and cost of cancer? How about the outflow of nitrate run offs into the Gulf of Mexico?
If transportation shut down tomorrow we have three days worth of food on the grocery store shelves. As Wendy points out two years worth of food is a very good idea, but what then? Can we acquire the needed skills to produce enough food in that time?
We are learning, in our second year our sales were 7 times that of our first year, this year we are on track to double last years sales. Picking up these skills has not been without failure!
I have seen a couple of comments about the expense of local food and I would like to challenge that and promote some discussion. Isn't it better to sponsor local (healthy) food right now before we need it?
For almost all locations in the U.S., the vast majority of food is shipped in from California or Central/South America. This situation creates an unacceptable dependency upon other locations and the ability to transport food long distances. Should there be a long-term interruption in the ability to transport food, produce petroleum-based fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, or utilize needed mechanization on factory farms, the local results would be catastrophic.
The solution, of course, is to reduce that dependency by growing more food locally, and by using a Market Garden approach that would similarly minimize the need for mechanization and fossil fuels. We do not need to grow all of our food locally, just enough to support the local population during a long emergency.
We also need to adjust our traditional thinking of always selecting the cheaper option. Producing food locally and without mechanization may likely cost more than that from a large factory farm, but the additional cost is more than compensated by providing needed food security.
This dependency and the potential catastrophic effects on our population need to be recognized as a threat to our national security, and should become a priority supported by federal, state and municipal funding, and removal of onerous regulations. As Rob Shepler highlighted, there is a significant learning curve to growing food without mechanization – and you want to begin learning well before a crisis occurs.
Keeping the cost of local food down can be done in several ways.
One already mentioned is to patronize local growers if you can afford them. Economies of scale will only be a factor if enough people buy into the concept. CSAs are at the forefront of this.
Until that trend tips over into the mainstream, you can do several things. Tell your local supermarket that you want local food. Spend the extra, like I do, for milk from a local dairy and/or on at least SOME organic produce. He's a list of things that have the worst problem with contamination, you might want to start buying those as organics and note that meats and dairy top the list!
Patronize stores that buy local. Example: a supermarket chain called Bi-Lo near me gets as much produce as they can from local buyers, which they define as our state and three other neighboring states.
Patronize stores that handle organic produce. I'm a big fan of the Aldi supermarket chain that has a very nice selection of fairly inexpensive organic foods. It's an international chain; the brother of the guy who started Trader Joes (in Germany) runs it. They are very, very green and have been around a long time – I first visited an Aldi in Reins, France, in 1978.
And for the ultimate in affordability grow it yourself, which starts of small but at this point is a larger and lager part of our nutrition. PLEASE grow as much as you can, and continue to improve so that when things get tough, you can share the how-to with others.
Thank you BBrady, you get the magnitude of our food problem!
I worked in the packaging industry as a commissioned sales guy for 25 years, many of my customers were food companies. It is truly a JIT industry, if we missed our dock time my customers were in danger of shutting down their lines. Off the truck, through the line, and on to another truck for nation wide distribution. Very little on hand inventory.
Small growers can not afford to lose 30-40% of their profit margin by selling wholesale, we need to sell direct to the consumer and cut out the middle man. Profitability is still a close thing even though our farm is paid for. We are in zone 6, we earn most of our income in two months. We have put up many thousands of dollars for high tunnel greenhouses to extend our season, our growing conditions are not ideal.
The average age of the American farmer is 59, that should scare you a bit.
Many of our young growers are facing the roadblocks to entry. We old farts have taken our money out of the equity markets and have invested in tangible assets like Adam's favorite REIT, organic land……
Think about that for a minute. We are driving up the cost of our own food, and making it harder for our kids to become farmers because of the way we invest. Kids coming out of college with student debt have a hard time qualifying for loans, even if they can qualify they have to go big with tractor based farming to come anywhere near a profit. Some are making it by putting in ungodly hours, some are giving up.
Food is a big sleeping giant of a problem if we have a hiccup.
CSA's are a good start, they get the farmer some income early in the season when the costs are highest. Food hubs are working in some areas. Traditional methods of distribution and retail will not work long term in sustainable agriculture, there is not enough profit for the farmer.
California is in a long term drought, the Ogallala aquifer is under stress, I have farmers near me that can no longer irrigate with well water, our soils nationwide are in terrible shape, beekeepers are struggling with losses, people are getting sick from our industrial food system, we have issues.
Long term we have to go local with our food. Snuggle up to a local grower, go help them pull some weeds, pay them a reasonable price so they can make their mortgage payment.