Things that go bump in the night

I was approached by foodgrower a week or so ago about posting here about self sufficiency and prepping and received this very informative article a couple hours ago.
Comments, please?

Over time there’s been a few posts concerning aspects of survival, post TSHTF beyond beans, bullets and TP, so I thought I would throw out something for your consideration.

Have you ever felt you had something in the bag only to wake up one night at 2 am, in cold sweat, with the realization the bag has a hole in the bottom big enough to drive a Mack truck through?

Or how about recognizing that as far as you went, it wasn’t quite far enough?

Another one that hits home is, You don’t know what you don’t know.

With the three above thoughts in mind the following is a discourse of an overlooked facet of extended (measured in years) survival when you are doing it all, or at least most of it, on your own. I am going to examine a relatively narrow aspect of the act of growing and producing your own food.

Conditions are presumed to be so dire we aren’t going to be running down to the local garden supply or pulling up our favorite online vendor to order plants or seeds. A natural response to this situation is the growing of heirloom or open pollinated varieties (plant varieties that breed true) allowing us to collect seed for future years production. There is a hidden danger here though.

Let’s set this up.

A group of people are some amount of time, it doesn’t really matter how long, into their post apocalypse survival. Their energies are mostly expended in protecting home and hearth and producing enough food to keep them alive.

Spring rolls around, they get their asses in gear, tear up a chunk of ground and stick some seeds in the soil. Harvest comes and they’re set with another winters supply of food. They carefully set aside some of the harvest to collect seed from. This process is repeated each year, they plant, harvest and save some of the harvest to save for its seed.

After a few years they notice their plants aren’t thriving as well as they use to. Each year seems to be a little worse than the last. One year they experience an almost total crop failure, they don’t have enough yield to last to next harvest let alone have enough to save some for seed. Their examination of all the common causes, horticultural practices, soil conditions, irrigation, disease, pests and several other factors runs to a dead end and they are now in a world of hurt.


This is where we can get hurt by something we didn’t know we didn’t know. When we collect seeds from our own plants and use those seeds for the next years crop and do this year after year we can create a condition known as inbreeding depression. Inbreeding depression is a fancy way of expressing we didn’t maintain genetic diversity in our plants and seed. In a nut shell (and this is a big topic) inbreeding depression over time eventually results in a reduction of germination, plant vigor, yield and seed development. In other words, crop failure, the very thing our group of people above experienced.

Many people who grow a garden purchase fresh seed or starter plants from a variety of sources every year. These sources in turn acquire their seed for resale or the growing starter plants from a variety of growers. Even folks that propagate a lot or most of their seed will periodically get some seed from somewhere else, if nothing else through a seed exchange with another gardener. Some folks that garden in high density areas will even find their plants are pollinated by their neighbor’s garden. This ensures a fairly healthy amount of genetic diversity in our seed stocks and plants.

Once we become dependent on only our own efforts to procure our seed we can be facing an eventual brick wall in our growing efforts, the result of an ever narrowing genetic line of parent plants leading to our inbreeding depression.

Many researchers agree it is better to avoid or minimize inbreeding depression rather than dealing with its effects once it reaches deleterious levels. One means of combating this problem is to maintain several different genetic strains of seed each year over the course of several years. Instead of collecting seed from only one of our plants each season, collect seed from several plants each season and keep each seed sample separated and cataloged. Repeat this process every year. Now we have a seed bank with a range of genetic lines spanning several years.

Lets say we end up with seed from 2004 through this year. This next winter everything goes to hell and we are left to fend for ourselves. We are now in a position to draw seed from several genetic strains and across several years when we plant.

In 2016 when we get ready to plant we draw seed from 2004, 2009 and 2013 stocks. The year after that seed from 2005, 2006 and 2015 is grown. We never plant the same year groups of seed and lineage more than once in a short period of time.

We also track the planting location of each years seed and the genetic strain giving us the opportunity to control the plants we collect seed from. We are now able to harvest our seed from a group of plants of known lineage, and protect the genetic diversity of our seed collection efforts. Through careful monitoring we can control the genetics of our plants and seed, much like we track bloodlines in livestock.

If you already collect your own seed, I would suggest you consider purchasing (or acquire by some other means) some seed each year to increase the genetic diversity of your seeds. I do this each year to augment my seed bank and introduce a wider range of genetic diversity in the seed I am storing.

If you don’t already collect your own seed I urge you to purchase seed from at least couple of different suppliers for the next few years (or however long we have) to build a seed bank that lets you start out with a wider range of genetic diversity than you have from that one pack each, of the veggies you currently grow. If you aren’t invested in collecting your own seed I suggest you take up the practice against the time when you won’t have the opportunity to purchase seed like you do today.

This practice has the added benefit of helping protect you from a germination failure. Normally, with most species I grow I will get somewhere between 70% ~ 100% germination rate. There have been years though, where I have experienced one hundred percent failure of a certain seed group. Had I only kept that one seed group I would have lost at least that particular genetic strain and if my seed collection was narrow enough, perhaps that entire plant species.

Protecting the viability of your food supply is as important, long term, as any other component of your survival efforts.

Thanks Wirecutter for the opportunity to share.



Qualifying statements:

We currently grow or produce nearly ninety percent of our annual food needs for a family of six and could push this to one hundred percent without too much effort. This includes veggies, fruit, meat, dairy, poultry and bees. We grow several times over one hundred percent of need of several crops for sharing with our local community. We garden entirely organic. If you don’t garden organically you need to think about it because you will not be using inorganic fertilizers and bug sprays for long after a collapse.

The above discussion covers a vast topic in a small amount of space. In the interest of brevity I deliberately left out a lot of fine detail and discussion that would take us down a lot of rabbit holes. It was not my intention to completely explore the subject but to expose the idea for consideration and offer the reader a means of dealing with the problem before it becomes a fatal issue for their long term food production.

The above mentioned time lines and/or seed year samples planted (three) are used strictly for illustrative purposes and are not intended to suggest a time line for inbreeding depression to occur nor represent a suggested number of seed samples or pattern for planting in any given year.

I have completely ignored the impact of topics such as long term storage and seed viability, undesirable crossbreeding and attempting to collect seed from hybrids, which can have a major impact on our efforts.

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20 Responses to Things that go bump in the night

  1. Kauf Buch says:

    Related (not 100% o/t): for those not fortunate enough to have lots of land to grow food on, I found that the “above ground” beds described in the book “Square Foot Gardening” can come in handy.

  2. Tom Smith says:

    Well said and I agree. I save and buy seed each year. This year I also bought a pressure caner that can hold 20 qts. So all those crappy looking tomatoes made it to the shelf. I am slowly getting there and hopefully will be able to prove that you cant eat gold faster than beans.

  3. WiscoDave says:

    Damn good info. Going to print this out .

  4. bikermailman says:

    Foodgrower, many thanks for this. I never would have thought of this as an issue, though it makes sense once it’s laid out. Kenny, thanks for posting it!

  5. Doug says:

    Hats off to this author! Yes Sir. That is super good practical information right there.
    What I like about it beyond the existential value, is it applies beyond just bare bones survival. What I’m saying is it is a great component of “permaculture”, and not only does it pertain to sustaining viable seed and food stocks, it is a holistic ingredient in the mix of total liberty and self determination. It goes far beyond just “surviving”. It is germane to the whole bag of liberty. It is thriving.

    I’m going to walk out on a limb here and stand up for what this author is saying, whether he or she groks something about it or not. Because it is something I have come to understand may well be the greatest path to our salvation as a free people. The sonofabitches running things not withstanding. In fact in spite of the bastards.

    It is really pretty simple, and the beauty of it extends into every facet of the sphere of our liberty.
    Everything begins with each of us. How we conduct our lives, how we determine what is right or wrong or wholesome for each of us.
    And not just in regards to food.
    That is key to our liberty and freedom. And if we are to have liberty, it begins with each of us and grows outward. It encompasses everything we do. And by extension, by association, by preference, by brotherhood of common goals, especially the intimate aspects of our daily lives and basic needs, we become powerful, legitimate, manifest in our lives.
    These practices of agriculture provides us with the means of withdrawing our consent from tyranny, just as powerful as our rifles, even more so. They are cultural in nature, and living thusly, we live upstream of tyranny.

    Like you Kenny. You have this blog, it is resistance, but even more important it is a vehicle of liberty. It is not your blog or what you post so much, but what you and I and others do with the insights and tools of liberty such as your blog provides. Like you are heading for the Appalachian mountains Kenny. You think you are going to find something there brother? Oh let me tell you, you don’t realize the full extent of what you are going to find. A piece of God’s green earth your own, a place where you can live free of the totalitarians and their poison. It is liberty below your feet.
    It is things upstream from the tyrants and sonofabitches who want to enslave us to the state and through the “power” of the state, to them.

    Your blog, this essay you posted, is like a great fuckyou to the fuckers. Not because we are rude or combative, but because we reject the bastards, their “laws”, their administrative tyranny.
    We reject their legitimacy, because they have none.
    It is withdrawal of consent through our actions.
    Consent, withdrawal of it, is the most powerful weapon ever devised.
    Through our actions we reject them.
    And we live free, we self determine our lives.
    That is liberty right there.

    We don’t need them.
    We never have needed them and their tyranny crap.
    It is that simple.

    • kennymac says:

      I”We reject their legitimacy, because they have none.
      It is withdrawal of consent through our actions.
      Consent, withdrawal of it, is the most powerful weapon ever devised.
      Through our actions we reject them.
      And we live free, we self determine our lives.”

      Good words. It’s far past time for the cowed to stop being cowards.

  6. Nemo says:

    “inbreeding depression” is a term that I’ve not heard of before. As if there aren’t enough things to keep track of when growing your own food; i.e. pests, fungus, weeds, animal (two and four legged) marauders, etc ad infinitum, now add in genetic diversity monitoring. At least there appears to be an easy to manage remedy for this one.

    Thanks for the info and I, for one, like this kind of informative article, as long as the article contains a viable remedy for the problem presented.

  7. Rob says:

    After I got out of the Coast Guard we bought some land and took a stab at gardening. Talk about a learning curve! If we’d have had to depend on that garden to stay alive we’d have died.

  8. Exile1981 says:


  9. Mark says:

    One thing left out was that “Organic” farming is extremely labor intensive, requiring twice if not more acreage to be planted for the same yield. So when everything does GTHIHB, once you secure home and hearth, you will need to lay out your garden for at minimum twice as much land area as you may have planned on. This will require also twice as much ground preparation, twice as much, irrigation, and twice as much labor. If not MORE.

    Look to the Amish, and how much work they do, and how much arable land they have to use to feed their families.

    • Mark — You might want to do some deep research into your claim. There’s much more than anecdotal studies to the contrary — many residential and commercial farmers report increases of from 10% to 25% larger harvests after going back to organic farming. While it is more work intensive, organic farming done right (rotating crops, cover crops, etc.) heals chemically damaged soil resulting in larger crop yields.

      • Mark says:

        I spent all my summers on a farm growing up, and many winters. There was an Amish family not quite 1/2 mile away. They planted 15 acres for their garden, and our 5 acre garden out produced their 15 acres every year on the FFA standard. Our cattle and hogs were easily 1.5 to 2 X the size of theirs, the only animals of theirs that was larger than ours were their horses. Theirs were draft animals, ours were for riding.

        I’m not going to get into an argument in Kenny’s comment section about organic farming, but I would recommend you find one of the OLD Ag Agents way back in the hill country to talk to if you want to talk about Organic versus Modern farming.

        All I will say is this. IF/WHEN TSHTF when will you have the TIME, MANPOWER, and RESOURCES to put in the effort truly ORGANIC farming requires?

        While a lot of the information you posted is correct, you gloss over the ACTUAL amount of LABOR that is involved.

        In a SHTF situation, many people WILL NOT have the man or woman power available for such intensive measures.

  10. czechsix says:

    Nope, nothing I can see in the original article that I disagree with. One main thing to note is that what he said ain’t advanced knowledge, it’s pretty basic stuff.

    Couple of other things that I’ll mention – square foot gardening is for hobbyists. Good luck (as in….”crap, we’re starving”) using it for serious production. Yes, I’ve played around with it for years, assessing how well it works.

    Mark is on the money too, but in most cases I’d be thinking three times as much area. The amount of loss you can undergo by not using modern technology can be shocking. Also speaking to the labor – there’s a reason farmers and ranchers get up before dawn, and go to sleep long after the sun sets, eat three or four hearty meals a day, have large families, and often die early. And that’s not because it’s an easy life.

    Plenty of folks out there that know the reality of things, but I’ve gotta admit that I no longer really give a shit about trying to teach anyone other than my immediate family.

    Anyway, good post, maybe it’ll open up some eyes.

  11. AC says:

    There is a book called ‘Restoration Agriculture’ by a guy named Mark Shepard. If you can stomach the PC crap he included in the book, the actual substance of the book is really worth reading.

    Just keep a pen nearby to make your own edits . . .

  12. says:

    It makes sense, kind of like the “three field system” our ancestors used to use in Europe during Medieval Times only at the most basic level.

  13. fjord says:

    If you are going to go there: the whole cant buy seed at the store scenario then you also have to consider that you won’t be able to buy fertilizer either. Not the petroleum based fertilizer that most growers as long as they are not organic certified rely on for bigger yields.
    Kitchen waste and livestock manure and green manures (get seed for that too! ) you can make your own “miracle grow”.

    As for seed diversity and seed exchanges they tried doing that at libraries– until the USDA shut them down, like its a crime or us simple folks can’t be trusted to do it right. Fuck ’em.Nothing to stop people from seed swapping personally. Start networking with other gardeners.

    Also i noticed that some people grow the same things in the same place year after year. Not only does that increase disease it depletes the soil.
    Companion planting and crop rotation are other things to read up on.

  14. elric says:

    Great read, both the original post and here in the comments.

  15. Crusty Rusty says:

    Foodgrower mentioned bees up there. Keeping even one hive for pollination will make a world of difference in yields. Plus, there is honey.

  16. kennymac says:

    Foodgrower, how do you store your seeds? Fridge? Basement? Thanks for a very interesting post.

  17. James says:

    Quick Question Fellas:

    If you plant several different strains of a given plant each year, wont the crosspollination of the strains bring about the same inbreeding scenario?
    Doesn’t it make better since to plant separate strains, rotating them in alternating years?
    I’m no Botanist and the chances are that most of us will have put up seeds from multiple sources anyway!

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