‘nother great article from foodgrower

Sorry folks, he sent me the title to this in a separate email but I must’ve spaced it out and deleted it. What you see is what you got. Real original, I know.

I had a friend from across the state contact me, “I see you’re writing for Wirecutter on Knuckledraggin.com”. How did you know? I asked him. “You’re one of the few people I know that’s really doing it and I know your style” was his response. Heh, so much for anonymity.

One of his comments really stuck with me. “You know, no matter how much information is given to people, they will not understand until it’s too late just how dire the situation is going to be.”

Another of his comments triggered this reminder. The premise of these articles is the growing and preservation of your food supply after TEOTWAWKI. This is different than weekend or summer gardening, not implying there is anything wrong with growing a smaller garden. However if that is all your goal is, having a few tomatoes, a fresh cucumber or two and a couple of ears of corn and whatnot, then I’m sorry to tell you, you’re gonna die if or when it all goes south.

The question you have to ask yourself right now is, are really serious about growing your own food. If you aren’t then don’t waste your time by reading any further.

Long ago in another life time I used to pound out custom MIS code for corporate america. Entering a development review my favorite question was “Why?” I would question every premise and business rule spelled out for me. “Why?” It was a great question that forced them to examine their conventions and practices.

These days my favorite question for survivalists and preppers is “Then What?”

After tossing flies to hungry trout all afternoon a few days ago, I got into a stream side discussion with a fellow about survival preparations. In the course of the conversation he informed me how he was all set to weather whatever came down the pike because he had three years of freeze dried foods at his BOL. The look on his face when I asked him, “Then what?” was priceless. He apparently had never considered what comes after the preps ran out.

You need to come to grips with the reality you most likely will not be running down to the corner store for a loaf of bread and gallon of milk after a collapse no matter the cause. Read the accounts of folks like Ferfal and Selco for some more or less modern day survival stories of the most grim kind. If you haven’t read them it will be a real eye opener.

Let’s examine a few things.

“I’m going to prep myself to survival.”
I don’t care how well you prep nor how much you store, at some point your preps are going to run out. This thinking is akin to being told to keep three days of food, water and critical needs on hand in case of an emergency. What happens after the three days runs out? I see the CDC is now recommending two weeks worth of food and water. Ok, what happens after the two weeks goes by? “I’ve got that handled.” you say, “I’ve got (insert how much you have) years worth of canned, frozen and freeze dried food stored.” And what happens after that supply is used up, or what happens when you have to relocate and you can’t take all those supplies with you? I could poke holes in this one all day long. The simple truth is, you can’t prep for the rest of your life and the continuing life of your progeny or group. What do you do then?

“I only need to store enough to get us through the winter, we’ll be gardening next summer.”
The first problem with this line of thinking is, you don’t harvest as soon as you plant. Next, most of the time you only have around a month, maybe two, of fresh harvest from your garden. Sure some things run longer but the bulk of the harvest is over in less than two months. This implies you need to store at least ten months of food. I’m going to go even further and state you need to store enough food until the harvest of the garden after next. If we are measuring from this harvest that works out to a full twenty four months of food.

Look at a couple of the comments to my last article to put the meat to that twenty four months time line – Sanders “Corn came up but most sprouts were eaten…”, Angel “put up 18 quarts… everything else was meh, enough to put up a few quarts.” (This is not to pick on you two, only using your comments for illustrative purposes)

What would have happened if Sanders was counting on that corn crop or the other things that failed, to carry the clan over to next harvest? The 18 quarts of tomatoes Angel put up wouldn’t last my family more than six weeks in the winter. Even adding in the few other quarts she put up it’s a far cry from a minimum of ten months of food storage. (remember I’m not picking on anyone here) When you factor in a lost harvest for whatever reason, having only one years worth of supplies on hand is a sure way to have your belly tell your brain your throat’s been cut.

The simple fact is you can not count on any harvest until you have it in hand and preserved in some manner. Weather, bugs, diseases, animals and accidents are some of the things that will conspire to wreck all your labor in growing a garden.

The last few paragraphs have set up where I’m going next.

It’s one thing to grow food it’s another to preserve it. How are you going to store your food? Freezing and canning perhaps? Maybe vacuum packing? – What happens if there is no electricity to run the appliances for processing your food. What if instead of a total power collapse the electricity is only on intermittently? Even if you have power where are you going to get the resources – the jars, lids, freezer bags, vacuum pak bags etc. to do your food storage?

On the canning aspect, how many canning lids do you have in storage? Do you know how long those lids are viable? A more basic question, how many jars and lids do you need each year to meet your needs for storing your harvest for the next one or two years and beyond. What happens when you run out of your stock of canning lids?

To give you the answer to one of the above questions, Jarden Homebrands, the parent company of Ball and Kerr canning lids, have told me their lids have a shelf life of three to five years. Some sources on the web report up to 10 year shelf life w/proper storage. What then?

There are other methods of food preservation than canning, freezing or vacuum packing. A good exercise is to read some historical accounts of how they did it in the old days. When you read what they recount give consideration to the fact we’ve lost most of the technology and institutional knowledge of their time and how they did it so you will need to improvise with “modern” materials and techniques. To give you a leg up there’s drying, smoking, salting, pickling (even meat) to name a few of the less esoteric means.

A problem with a lot of the foods we grow today is they are hybrids, bred to enhance a particular aspect of the fruit or yield, be it color, taste, conformity of shape, quantity of yield or even pest or disease resistance.

That yellow hybrid sweet corn really tastes good. Problem is, being a hybrid it doesn’t necessarily breed true. It also doesn’t dry and mill as well as a dent or flour corn will.

Not to belabor the point, you really need to give some thought to the varieties of veggies you are going to grow based on nutritional requirements, what your family will eat and how well you will be able to propagate them from the seed you collect.

On the topic of varieties, consider the things you might grow to get beyond the idea of raising just a “survival” garden. Many of the spices and seasonings you purchase from the store can be grown with ease in your garden and these will definitely spice up (pun intended) your menu.

We raise nearly two hundred different varieties of plants in our garden. Some are different varieties of the same plant species such as tomatoes, potatoes, corn and peppers so that two hundred varieties can be a little misleading.

Gardening Space
I’ve stated we grow all that we do on a little over half an acre. That’s not the whole story though. Someone in one of the comments (and I’m too lazy to go back and find it) mentioned tripling the space or something like that. In that they are correct. We have around two acres involved in our garden complex, three half acre plots for gardening and another half acre for fruit, storage and work areas. We have space (away from the garden) dedicated to raising livestock as well.
The reason for tripling your space is you need to give your soil a break to so it can replenish itself. This is especially important if you are building soil from dirt. In order to give your soil a break you need to rotate crops off it. You might leave it entirely fallow or you might plant a cover crop on it. It all depends on what you might be trying to achieve with the soil. Do take the time to make a planting map so you can remember in two years time where you actually planted what and when. It will help avoid problems when you plant again.

In order to know what you need to do to your dirt to make it soil you really should get a soil test (or several) done. Some folks will send out samples to a lab to get a precise evaluation. We’ve had pretty good results from some of the do it yourself testing kits. Sure these are not as exact as having a lab do it but do you really need that degree of accuracy? I’ll use blueberries, ph (ph is a measure of soil acidity or alkalinity) and a cheap ph meter to illustrate. Blueberries like a soil ph between 4.5 and 5.5. I can get a cheap probe meter for around 8~15 bucks at a lot of garden centers. The one I currently have is around four years old. My base soil ph is around 7.0~7.2 according to this meter. A lab might tell me my ph is actually 6.8 or maybe 7.4. The point is, no matter where in this ph range my soil is, it’s still much too high for blueberries and the cheap meter is good enough to tell me that. The roughly ten bucks I spent on the meter four years ago is a lot cheaper than even one soil test and I can test whenever I want all around my garden.

One of the single most beneficial things you can do for your soil is to start composting if you already don’t. I’ll get into a discussion of my method of composting in another article. The important thing to remember is, if you feed your soil, it will feed your plants and they will feed you. A quick note on composting. You might be inclined to till partially ready compost into your soil to let it finish breaking down the organic matter. This can have a couple of downsides for your garden efforts. One it can steal nitrogen from your soil. Another is, there is evidence some plant problems, like potato scab, are worse in soils with high organic matter. Let your pile do its job and completely break down the compost before you use it.

No matter what you are going to grow you need to have realistic estimates of how much you need to grow to ensure enough harvest to meet your food needs for an entire year and have some left over for seed.

If you don’t already, I suggest you start keeping track of how much food you go through each month per person and take into consideration how this varies over the course of a year and as individuals age. This will let you develop a rough idea of how much you need to grow to meet your family or group needs. I can most certainly assure you, it takes more food than you think to meet ALL of your needs for an entire year and more.

I’ll toss out a few for my family.

Let’s get the heavy lifting out of the way first. Although the focus here is on gardening I don’t intend to become a vegetarian. We like our meat and will continue raise it. Meat animals are also a means of converting and storing plant growth from ground that will not support a garden. We go through a whole beef and two to three hogs each year. A steady parade of chicken moves from the hen house to the dinner table as well. This completely ignores the contribution of wild fish and game to the dinner table. We also milk and make our own butter, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream and several other things.

We raise around twelve hundred pounds of spuds each year. We’ll consume right at five hundred to six hundred pounds and generally figure on loosing around three or four hundred pounds to storage rot or sprouting. The rest are a buffer and for seed. We high grade the harvest to collect our seed potatoes and store them apart from the others. Sometimes you can store your spuds in the ground, cover them with heavy mulching and dig them through the winter as needed. We have a problem with wireworms so we can’t store this way and instead we dig, then store our spuds in a trench root cellar in the ground.

Carrots are frozen or canned, beets are canned. Beds of both, two and a half feet wide and forty feet long meet our needs for the year. Some years we can ‘in ground’ store them with a heavy layer of mulch on top to prevent freezing (they don’t seem to be bothered by the wireworms). Broccoli and cauliflower are preserved by freezing, we grow around one hundred each.

We hardly ever store lettuce, instead extending our growing season to nearly year round by using the greenhouse and cold frames.

We grow four thousand corn plants. This includes the sweet corn hybrids, an heirloom variety every few years (for seed) and a flour corn for milling. We figure we’ll loose around thirty percent of the crop to racoons and birds. We currently freeze most of our corn and usually have around four hundred fifty quarts in the freezer. If we lost power the plan is to thaw and then can the corn to see us through. Then we would cut out the hybrids and grow more milling corn.

We grow five fifty foot rows of pole beans in three varieties. Two are hybrids and insurance against a crop failure, like occurred with blue lakes a few years ago and the third is an heirloom (kentucky wonder) grown to insure a seed source. We’ll pick around a five gallon bucket of beans per row per picking and we pick two to three times a week. Each bucket will have a net weight of about twelve pounds of beans. We have around five hundred quarts of beans labeled as to year and variety and more are being put up daily. Just as with the corn, we sell our surplus.

My wife is a little of a tomato fanatic. As a result she grows a couple hundred tomato plants of up to eighteen varieties. We can tomatoes, we paste tomatoes and can that. We make and can a salsa that is used for everything from a chip dip to base for several meals. We freeze whole tomatoes as well. In all she will have the equivalent of around a thousand quarts of tomato product stored at any time.

Twelve hundred onions in three varieties are stuck in the ground each year. A good portion of these are to ensure variability of our seed onions. Here’s a storage trick for you. Grab some nylon stockings and put an onion in the toe of it. Tie a knot above that and put another onion in it. Rinse and repeat. When you get five to eight onions in a ‘string” hang it from a rafter in a cool, dry place. When you need an onion you just cut the stocking off below the knot. Onions stored not touching each other will last for much longer than if they are stored in a bin.

The above mentioned salsa is where a lot of our onions and sweet peppers and chili peppers end up. We additionally dry strings of chili peppers.

Cucumbers are converted to pickles and there are over a hundred quarts on the shelf.

Summer squash is stored by either drying it or baking it into zucchini bread and then freezing the loafs.

We routinely store over four hundred fifty winter squash and pumpkins (note, we find we get better ‘pumpkin’ pies from squash than pumpkins). Your squash will store for much longer if you let them harden off before you put them into storage.

There is close to two hundred pounds of four different berries in the freezer. If we loose power we’ll dry it as fruit leather. (I built different food dryers that are operated by electricity, propane, wood and solar)

Most the herbs are dried and stored in glass jars.

A footnote to this is we intend on moving from wheat flour to corn meal in our cooking if we actually go into survival farming. We also use honey instead of refined sugar for taking care of our sweet tooth.

The above is not an all inclusive list and is included only to demonstrate some of the volume of food we put up to get us through the year. You need to base your garden needs and what you grow based on your family size and what they like (or will) eat.

Labor Hours
A full sixty to seventy percent of my time, spring through fall, is spent in the production of food. My wife contributes a considerable amount of time as well as my children. Even in the winter I can eat up five to seven hours a day between care of stock, milking and processing dairy items. This occurs seven days a week. Separating cream, making butter, cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream occurs every few days as well.

Subsistence food growing becomes a lifestyle due to necessity. It is a lot of hard work that never ends but the alternative is to die. It’s going to be even more work if we don’t have the use of modern conveniences like like garden tillers and so on.

What I tried to do with the above is get you to thinking about the big picture of growing food. Next time I’ll share some specific things I do to thwart mother nature and all the impediments she throws at our garden and explore some really cheap ways you can extend your effective growing season.


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47 Responses to ‘nother great article from foodgrower

  1. Irish says:

    Well , I already know that if I have to go more than a week without a hot shower I’ll just cash it in. ;-)

    Great article by food grower. The only issue is how do you prepare to protect all that when 10-50-100 or 1000’s are starving and searching for any food available. You may be way out in the sticks but that’s were many will be heading. Just some thoughts.

    • foodgrower says:

      Protection against the hordes spreading out from the hives is dealt with by having two years of storage. In the event it happens to coincide with your harvest it is just another event that wrecks your harvest for one year.

      The rest of the year, they can’t find what they don’t know about. We have caches of stores spread all over the place. Some are on our own property and others are spread out across a wide area. In the event we ever had to bug out we even have caches sprinkled along our BOL route.

      The most I would loose if the home place was over run (from a food stores perspective) is about four months of food. We could survive the loss of this much food.

      thanks for the question.


    • Jack58 says:

      My thoughts exactly..If you don’t have fucking SEAL pickets and Ninja’s on Recon AND a fully armed and numerous extended family you WILL be over run very soon after the Big Shit..I’m betting on the American Can Do mixed with a bit of greed spirit to keep a semblance of a barter system popping up within three months of the balloon-pop..Otherwise 95% of us fucked sideways..

  2. Steve in Ky says:

    Thank you. I work 55 hours a week, my wife works nights 36-48 hours a week. We have 4 girls. I garden, pickle, jam, and pressure can. It is freaking impossible to get enough food stored. I have had trouble with powdery mildew on my cukes, yellow squash, and zucchini. I will go from 15 to 20 cukes a day to dead plants in two weeks.

    • foodgrower says:

      I know this sounds simplistic but (we also have a family of six) you approach building up a store of supplies just like you eat an elephant, one bite at a time.

      For the powdery mildew problem try spraying your plants once a week with a 10% solution of milk and water (1 part milk, 9 parts water). It works great and it’s an organic control means. Heavier concentrations do not improve the efficacy of the treatment.

      Skim will will work almost as good as fresh milk straight from the cow.


  3. elric says:

    Folks had a garden when I was growing up, I can attest that it is a LOT of work.

    Gives some good food, though!

    My hats off to the writer, that would be a hard but very rewarding life. Thank you for sharing.

  4. C. Bridges says:

    Despite all that, as well intended as it is….the truth is you cannot provide security for your production areas unless you have LOTS of armed people working 24/7. The folks who will come to take your food will be armed as well. and they will be hungry and desperate and half crazy. I’ve yet to see anyone address these facts adequately. You let your guard down for even a short while and all your hard work could be taken right out from under you. Unless you can hold out long enough for the rest to die off and unless you are extremely remote…it very well may all be in vein. How many hungry people desperate to feed their kids will you be able to shoot to protect it before it turns you into a mad dog yourself? Just something to think about.

    • Wirecutter says:

      Um, I think foodgrower here is giving us help on food production. I’m pretty sure he’s not an infantryman although he just might be.

    • foodgrower says:

      Actually if you extend the logic of storing two years supply of food, not storing it all in one location and having a sound seed bank (as I’ve shared previously) the ravages of starving hordes is mostly addressed.

      Even if your garden was overrun one year, at any stage of growth, the most you would lose would be one years worth of harvest. If any of the estimates of population die off are even close to true, most of the ‘fighting and dying’ would be over before your stores were exhausted and the next garden started, whether at your current location or someplace you’ve relocated to.

      I’m not saying you don’t need to protect you and yours and I’m certainly prepared to meet threat with whatever level of force is required to neutralize it.

      Rather than violent loss of supplies I’m much more worried about my own tendencies to extend help to those needing it and have had to come to grips with the knowledge that you (impersonal sense) can not save everyone.

      This very subject was a recent topic of discussion in my family. My eldest daughter is struggling with the concept we won’t be able to help that family with the starving infant standing in front of our house. (use whatever metric you want to construct the group needing help)

      One of my goals with these articles is to help people help themselves. I think at times we as a community focus a little too much on the armed aspect of survival and not enough on the living part of survival.



  5. czechsix says:

    Great article….but as with all the instructionals that’re out there, if you’re not doing it, or haven’t done it, you will have no clue as to exactly how hard it is, and also how much luck you’ll sometimes need.

    If you haven’t already, start networking, it’ll up your chances. If, of course, you have the right people to network with. Otherwise it’ll lower your chances, LOL.

    • foodgrower says:

      You are entirely correct, if you’re not or haven’t done it, you are setting yourself up for failure. It’s why I keep harping on the time to learn how to do something is before you need it.

      I personally believe we are headed for a world of grief and if a person is not prepared with the skills and knowledge of how to feed themselves they are going to die.

      The thrust of this series of articles is an attempt to help those who want to help themselves. It’s why I’m not sugar coating the amount of effort we have to put into subsistence food growing for a family of six for an entire year.

      You are also right about networking and just as you say, thoroughly vet the people you choose to trust.


  6. Lisa says:

    Excellent article. We have started a bit of this process, there is quite a learning curve to it. Thank you.

    • Wirecutter says:

      The learning curve gets a lot shallower when you’ve got somebody like this sharing his experiences, huh?
      Hey, I’ve been around large scale ag my entire adult life and a lot of what I’m reading here is new to me too.
      This gentleman’s input is exremely welcome.

  7. Jackhammer says:

    He is exactly right. Underestimating will be fatal and everyone these days does it. There is so much more to survival and farming, farming and survival than people realize. The most important ‘tribe’ of all is the ‘farmer tribe’. Get your markets up & running asap. There truly is safety in numbers.

  8. Alex says:

    Being a prepper and food grower I think this is a good article and I go thru all kinds of problems during the growing season, you never know when the cucumber beetles will show up, or their cousins the squash vine borers, very bad news. My big problem with shtf will be medicine for the sick and aged. Most of the people I know go to the doctor on a regular basis and have at least 3-4 prescriptions. Many take sleeping, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure pills, arthritis pain pills, antibiotics, etc. In a shft scenario many, many will die, but on their way to dying there will be lots of yelling, screaming and yes, stealing eventually. In preparation for such things we should organize our local church, food pantry, local government to get ready and have a plan. Trying to go it alone or just your family will fail. Alex

    • foodgrower says:

      Please don’t take this as insulting your intelligence, I just don’t know your knowledge level.

      The first step in solving any problem with your garden is to understand your enemy.

      During a portion of their life cycle cucumber beetles are a soil dweller. An effective organic means of control once they are in your soil is to use predatory nematodes. You’ll normally apply nematodes in the spring once the soil temperature gets above 60~65 degrees. Depending on your climate they can provide positive benefit over more than one year.

      Predatory nematodes will seek out and destroy a whole range of soil dwelling pests besides cucumber beetle larvae.

      If you have large numbers of migratory adults around your garden area an organic control you might consider using is summer weight floating row covers. We weight ours down along the margins to keep the wind from blowing them around.


      • gamegetterII says:

        We had the cucumber beetle problem,I’m fairly certain they arrived in bags of potting soil,as we had not had them for the 6 years prior to them showing up.
        We don’t use ,as they kill bees as well as whatever pest you’re trying to kill. I have had people tell me that neem oil works well for controlling cuke beetles,we never tried it though.
        After exchanging e-mails with the Ohio State University’s ag extension-
        we were told to till up the gardens when the air temp was well below freezing.
        I tilled 3 times over the winter a few years back,and we haven’t seen a cucumber beetle since.
        We also stopped buying potting soil,I just add some perlite to compost,and it works as well-or better than store bought potting soil.

        • foodgrower says:

          You skipped writing what it is you don’t use.

          I’m assuming diatomaceous earth for some reason. If it is diatomaceous earth I use this product a lot and haven’t noticed any real impact on my bees. I even use it as a control around the hive stands to keep the ants out of the hive. I do use a fairly conservative application method though.

          Tilling in freezing, interesting control method. Now if I can only find the time to till when the air temps are below freezing and the ground isn’t as hard as iron. I’ll have to give this a try and see what it does to the wireworm problem.



          • gamegetterII says:

            Somehow,half of a sentence disappeared-

            What we don’t use is insecticides of any kind because they kill bees.
            I have a friend who swears by diatomaceous earth for insect control,his gardens haven’t had many problems with insects since he’s been using it.
            The next time I have an insect problem,I’ll be using the diatomaceous earth first,before any other methods.

            Other than the cuke beetles,which haven’t come back after the tilling when below freezing,and the japanese beetles, which the traps that you hang 50′ from the garden work for,we haven’t had any insect problems.
            Around here-(NE Ohio)-there’s usually several days in late Dec/early Jan. when the ground isn’t frozen yet,but air temps are in low to mid 20’s at night,and only warm up to upper 20’s in daytime.
            The technique makes sense to me-any insects that live in the ground over the winter would be killed off if exposed to freezing temps.
            I’ve never got bad advice from the OSU Ag extension people,they’ve been very helpful every time I had questions. Hopefully,it’s the same with every state’s university Ag extension,or whatever they call it.

            As soon as the plants are big enough,we let the chickens in the gardens daily,they seem to really keep insects down.

  9. NEED TO KNOW says:

    Not trying to throw water on what you are saying but I do have questions that I feel need to be addressed. 1. If you or we raise all this food and follow what you suggest how do we protect it all from people who haven’t been prepping as we have been doing? Remember Mr. Bush said the government can come in and take what they want and pretty much leave us with they feel we need to survive. Seems to me that all the effort to go in it will have to be matched by people to protect it. 2. Whats your opinion on horse/cattle and chicken manure as food for your garden. I understand you are raising dairy cows how much of their waste products are used in your gardening? 3. What is your opinion of so called hydroponic closed loop systems that utilize fish waste products as fertilizer from the plants grown in a green house environment? Fish waste water feeds the plants, the plants clean the water and then the water is returned to the fish tanks. I will stop here and let you answer these before I ask more. I am extremely interested in what you have to say and I think you are doing us all a great service sharing this information on this site. Please do not feel that I am knocking you. This is what every reader of this blog should be doing 100% of our time. Time is running out and many of us are not prepared for what is coming.

    • foodgrower says:


      OK, this is going to sound a little snarky concerning your first question and it’s probably a little boil over from the several other comments in this post alone asking pretty much the same question.

      What is your alternative? If you don’t grow any food because you are worried someone is going to take it away from you, then what are you going to do, become one of the takers? Wait on someone else to provide for you? Roll over and die?

      Growing food is a basic skill everyone should have. It doesn’t matter who you are and where are and/or what your circumstance is, you have to eat to fight all these battles and marauding hordes everyone is worried about.

      Now for a real response,

      #1 You are talking a subject very much beyond the scope of my ability, or anyone’s to address properly not knowing any of the details of your situational readiness. It is certainly beyond the scope of addressing adequately in a response to a blog post.

      That said you need to be prepared to defend with force what you deem too important to lose. I know I am. Beyond that I don’t store all my eggs in one basket. If I lose one area, be it a battle field or food store I have somewhere else already set up to go. I pretty much go through life following two things, the Boy Scout motto – be prepared and a variation of Murphy’s law – what can go wrong will go wrong and it will go wrong for me when I need it the most. As a result I tend to build in redundancy in everything I do and over prepare in almost every area. Hopefully I’ll never need it, but if I do, I won’t have to scream and shout and rend my clothing because I wasn’t ready for what life threw at me.

      Manures are used extensively for building up garden soil. I personally favor chicken, rabbit, sheep, cow and then horse in that order. Some considerations in using horse manures is they will often pass weed seeds in their manure that will provide you with hours of enjoyment later on through the outdoor activity known as weeding. (it also gets you some exercise from all that bending and stooping). Another factor is a lot of horse paddocks are bedded with wood shavings. Breaking down the shavings will steal nitrogen from your soil. Depending on where they are eating, sheep will pass a lot of weed seeds too but they have other attributes that place them ahead of horse manure. I’m planning on addressing this topic in depth in a future article on composting and soil building. Dairy cows fit under the generic heading of cows above, but I currently don’t use any manure other than chicken and sheep right now. That could change if my situation changes and based on what is available.

      (Big opinion piece) I think they are more work than they are worth for what they deliver. They seem to have a few failure points that could jeopardize your whole grow operation. Some of them require power to keep the water moving. In a grid down situation you are out of luck. The also require heat to keep them from freezing in cold climates. This is all said from never having actually put one into operation. When I studied them I shied away. Someone else may have had great success and they need to weigh in with their experience.


  10. David Koenig says:

    That is all great, until a hungry group with superior weapons/tactics takes it all from you. You don’t get to keep what you can not defend. That is the true dilemma, not how many acres it takes to feed a family of 12.

    • Wirecutter says:

      Again, he’s trying to teach you to grow food to survive, not tactics. You want to learn tactics, go to Mason Dixon Tactical.

    • foodgrower says:

      No, the true dilemma is failing to recognize if you don’t eat you can’t keep on with all the fighting and killing.

      Listen on a very low level I couldn’t give a fuck one way or the other if you or anyone else survives. If you, or anyone, comes messing around my AO I’ll be more than happy to take your head off and dick fuck your bleeding throat. Is that violent enough for you?

      I’m not going to detail on a public blog what some of my defensive measures are for protecting me and mine but rest assured they are in place and well up to the task.

      If you want to discuss food growing ask a question or make a statement, If you want to discuss tactics and firearms, send a post to Wirecutter and see if he’ll post it.


  11. Exile1981 says:

    When i was buying my land i tead a lot on how much i would need to support my family. Lots of books say you can do it on 5 acres. My county office says 20 to 30. I finally went back to literature from the late 1800’s. Back then they recommend 160 acres for s family of 6 for exactly the reasons the writter suggested.

    • foodgrower says:


      I think some of the confusion on how much land a person needs comes from the fact that people aren’t always talking about the same thing.

      The amount of land you need to grow a garden to meet your needs for a year and total self sufficiency are two different things.

      Let’s say you are growing your own truck garden. Once past that you have to consider some other things on your road to self sufficiency.

      Add in having a milk cow (actually three and maybe a bull, but that’s food for another topic). Now tack on that couple of beef cows and a bull (or the one for the milk cows). Now add space for some hogs (can’t forget about bacon, I loves me some bacon)

      Then you maybe need some room for a horse or four, maybe a full team. Toss is some oxen for draft animals.

      Can’t forget about the chickens, ducks, geese and sheep or goats.

      Then the woodlot so you have somewhere to get your fire wood and building materials.

      You need some hay land so you can put up winter feed for your stock.

      There’s dozens more “other things”.

      Point is each of those “other things” take space to accomplish. Different land will have different carry capacities. In one place you might only need two acres to pasture an animal while other areas may require as much as ninety to a hundred acres for one animal.

      Your environment and soil quality will dictate how much land you need to be completely self sufficient but just to stick to my guns, you do not need huge amounts of acreage to grow a garden to meet your needs for food for a year.


  12. General P. Malaise says:

    great article.

    i have a large garden (well the wife says it is large) and I am out of country a lot (did I say she hates the garden,or at least working in it). this year a few days after planting I was away for 30 days (the wife did admirably for keeping it viable, watering and a bit of weeding). so then I get home for 18 days and clean it up before another thirty day stint in hell (actually hell is Japan this time around), then another 18 days at home. for the most part yield has been great. lots of beets beans carrots onions and lettuce. tomatoes and hot peppers not so good poblanos great. climbing beans complete failure (they are a gourmet bean from Italy known as shrimp beans. they can not be planted near the position of last year or you will have guarantied failure.I got lots done and am back in hell on another 30 day rotation I will harvest my potatoes when I get home. so far the potatoes have been a disappointment. it was a cold sh!tty spring and late start to summer and of course I was working when I should have been planting.

    long way of saying gardening doesn’t take that much time and it keeps me in shape. last year I had onions until june and same with potatoes. I was picking fresh onions when the last years were still viable.

    I need to find a source of rotanone if anyone out there knows where I can get some. seems Monsanto doesn’t want me to have any.

  13. Tom Smith says:

    Fun to read. I garden about 2 acres part time and it is a lot of work. When I have to do my income job it all takes a nasty turn BUT I am working towards this lifestyle. I planted my first saved seeds this year and bought a caner that holds 19 quart jars. Not doing enough for survival mode yet but while getting there we get to eat and give away good tasting food.

    That really is the best part is that you realize how bland store bought food is. Last year I grew lettuce and you can actually smell it when its cut. Lasts longer in the fridge too.

    Great reads, keep them coming.

    • glort says:

      Yeah, I love lettuce picked a leave at a time. So fresh it smells kinda like earthy when you cut it. Get yourself some lemon balsamic and a dash of olive oil. Supermarket lettuce is dead and so bland.

  14. glort says:

    How big is your freezer? Is it a walk in or just several freezers? Do you store fuel, be it gas or diesel or propane? The volume of food you have frozen sounds massive. I did not know that ball lids had a shelf life. Actually explains a few problems I have had. Good article.

    • foodgrower says:

      We standardized our freezers on 24 cu/ft chest freezers. This is the largest (physical dimensions) my wife and I can handle comfortably by ourselves if we have to move one. Chest because in a power outage they keep the cold longer.

      Fuel is a logistics item I won’t discuss here.


      • glort says:

        I was more curious as a yes no type question on the fuel, having dealt with the issue to some small extent. Multiple freezers of a movable size makes good sense, as I hadnt put much thought to that.

  15. fjord says:

    . >>>Most of the people I know go to the doctor on a regular basis and have at least 3-4 prescriptions. Many take sleeping, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure pills, arthritis pain pills, antibiotics, etc.

    ,Most of these conditions are a result of our sedentary, non-survival/existence mode of lifestyle.There is almost no effort put forth for your daily conveniences – -plentiful food, fresh water at the tap, sanitation, a roof over your head. We are so far removed from actual survival, most people turn their free time to bitching and moaning and it precipitates into physical ailments.

    Especially in older folks, forced to quit meaningful work or those that retire and have nothing constructive to fill that time.

    Hard physical activity alone would alleviate the need for a lot of prescriptions for those conditions you just mentioned.

    1. doctors prescribe them because –> $ and most people are lazy, they don’t want to put forth any effort in anything. Look at weight loss “solutions”

    2. Everyone needs to be useful, needed and have a purpose.
    This is precisely why so many members of our society are self destructive,lazy, bored and just plain fucked up.

    if we do have TEOTWAWKI, it would be a situation to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Unfortunately, those that need medications to address serious physical problems would probably not survive very long.

    • Angel says:

      There are also many good herbal remedies for several “chronic” conditions. Get a good book on survival and medicinal herbs.

    • General P. Malaise says:

      exercise is also a good way to strengthen the immune system. it is the lack of activity that aggravates many ailments.

      doesn’t fix everything but it helps many conditions

  16. norse556 says:

    great article! thanks again to food grower and wirecutter. heres a note on canning lids. i started using tattler lids after they were recommended to me by a friend. i was skeptical at first. they come in two parts, a lid wich is made of some sort of polymer, and a rubber sealing ring. theyre advertised as being reusable indefinetly, and ive reused mine for three years now with no problems what so ever. theyre a bit pricey but i have gotten my moneys worth after three years and they seem to have plenty of live left in them. my friend who recomended them claimed she replaced all the rubber seals after ten years just as a precaution and that she had expierenced only a few problems in that time. i suggest trying just a few to start if your are skeptic like me. ive recently found them online for sale in bulk, and after three years of “testing” im ready to order several hundred.

    • foodgrower says:

      We shied away from Tattler several years ago because there was a lot of noise about seal failures. I just checked and a lot of that info is still on the web. In view of your success I may have to revisit their product.

      They still only list a twenty year product life so eventually, unless someone started mfg’ing them post collapse, a person is still going to need to explore other means of food preservation.



  17. doubletrouble says:

    Good stuff from FG, thanks. As he mentioned, the growing thing throws a lot of punches at you over the years. We’ve been gardening for about 20 years now, & in the last few have expanded to a point where we freeze, can, or store most all our produce for the year (just two of us, + occasional guests). If we don’t have good results in any given year, it’s back to the grocery store for us; obviously that wouldn’t be an option in a grid down scenario. We have yet to experience a total failure, but each year something gives us trouble.
    One more item to consider- water. FG, in an earlier post, alluded to the enormous task that hand watering is. But if your normal water supply is compromised, backup is needed. We collect ~500 gallons of rain from the barn & house roofs for most of the watering chores, easing the demand on our well. Barrels are siphoned together, so the level equalizes across all containers. There are lots of ways to do it, but consideration of the need would be prudent.
    Keep ’em coming, FG!

  18. Paulo says:

    Terrific article. Thank you.

    We also grow much of our own food but mostly freeze for storage due to being on BC Hydro which is quite reliable and renewable in source. Some of our problems are predators…not just pests, (although pests can obviously wipe you out). Stellar jays get all nuts grown and produced in our neighbourhood. Bears can destroy an apple tree overnight. We have everything behind 7′ fences to keep out the elk. But, elk also tastes very good. I have eaten canned salmon 6 years old…and it just gets better. Racoons leave not very happy.

    Along with meat birds and eggs, rabbits are excellent and very easy to grow. I don’t raise them now, but I did for years almost 35 years ago. If I needed a meat source and had a small land holding I would go to rabbits.

    I am now 60 and the garden is very hard work, just saying.

    In addition to food, personal skills are a must. I am a carpenter by trade, a level C welder, can fix machines and have friends who are great mechanics/techs who take cash and can’t build so trading is good. If people seriously think a collapse is in the cards, I would put away the golf clubs and start with a good Industrial First Aid course, and then start on learning trade skills. Firearm skills are a given.


  19. realistic says:

    Those who have realistically looked at the issue know that it really does take a village. A single family or even groups less than 20 will not survive the fall of civilization. The subsistence existence is harsh, poor and short. With a larger group comes specialization and realistic security.

    So the issue becomes how to form the right group with enough skills to eke out an existence for the young (15-45).

  20. cwac says:

    Thank you for the article. Gives me alot more info. I noticed you commented on the compost a little. I would hope you go into that more in a post. Some of the questions I have about it are:

    1. Are you growing green manure crops for composting?

    2. On the compost piles you currently have, are you able to make them from just what you have on your property? Or is there a lot of material coming in from outside sources?

    3. Are your compost piles turned at all?

    4. What varieties of veggies are you planting? Especially tomatoes varieties.

    5. I would ask what zone you are in, in reference to question 4. But this question is up to you if you want to answer.

    • foodgrower says:


      I plan on posting something about composting down the road.

      1 – I view a manure crop as something to till in or under, not something to compost per se.

      2 – we bring in wheat and barley straw from the farm for a carbon and bulking component, we use green grass clipping for a nitrogen and organic component and then use chicken manure for additional nitrogen and as an accelerator.

      In order to avoid introducing unknown factors to our composting and gardening in the form of disease, pests and chemicals we only use our own materials.

      3 – yes we turn our piles. It can be really fun when we decide to turn them manually to replicate not having power tools available.

      4 – This is what was in our 2015 planting list –
      Sun Gold,Caspian,Pink,Rutgers,Delicious,San Marzano,Beefsteak,German Green,Red Brandywine,Abe Lincoln,Paul Robeson,Amish Salad,Black Brandywine,Umberto,Amish Paste,Polish Linguisa,Jet Star,Oregon Spring,Cherokee Purple,Ultimate Opener,German Johnson Pink

      5 – Depends on whose system you use. USDA zone 5 (we are actually a sub zone that you could call 5 minus or 4.6 or something like that)


  21. NEED TO KNOW says:

    Thanks foodgrower for your response. Wirecutter do you have any contacts in Israel? On a port call in Haifa we visited a kibbutz (hope I spelled that right). Anywhere my point that is with they do to protect their group and raise the food needed for them to survive. Everyone needs to read up on these. Of course everyone is armed to the teeth to repel terrorists coming in until the army can respond. Of course we won’t have an army to respond for us, we are it! Angel is right herbs can be used instead of drugs. I am taking naicin for chlorestrol now. I can get a 1,2 or 3 year supply for that now and it don’t eat your liver like prescribed drugs do. Red rice yeast is another good one that can be bought now and stored. Caution do your research and a good doc to help you. If yours won’t do it find one that will. Learn what plants you can pick out of a field and use for ailments. Again be careful and learn this from a professional or you might kill yourself. You won’t to network with your neighbors and plan out what all of you are going to do and that when bad times come you already know what to do rather than freaking out and making dumb mistakes. Remember all of are intelligent, we are just intelligent about different things. Wirecutter can take a gun apart and put it back together but he may not know to operate a ham radio. Put people in areas that they know and never stop learning something new.

  22. pdwalker says:

    Excellent information foodgrower.

    Have you thought of collecting your advice all in one place?

    Slightly related, I came across this link at the WRSA the other day: The Diary of an Austrian Middle-Class Woman 1914-1924. I found it rather gripping.

    On composting, this book has been rated well: Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting

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