And then one day, just like that, people stopped making fun of preppers. Who knew toilet paper and hand sanitizer would be the first things to go?
This is an uneasy time for many. Life has been cancelled. People have been encouraged to remain in their homes. No one knows what to expect–whether this will fade away or get much worse. The media doesn’t make it look good and that doesn’t help to improve the mood. We are being bombarded with virus updates and death tolls. The numbers keep rising. Store shelves are empty. Travel has been restricted. Schools are closed. Public gatherings are prohibited. Businesses are closing down. People aren’t working.
And most people are not prepared for this.
Homesteaders, however, have been thinking about these types of situations and how to survive them for a long time. We are prepared. For many, the draw to homesteading is self-sufficiency and self-reliance in the case of a SHTF scenario. Even those that don’t do a lot of “prepping” are prepared to a certain extent because something has to be done with all those homegrown vegetables. Canning and preserving food is a natural extension of gardening, and the garden will most definitely stock your pantry.
“Homesteaders, however, have been thinking about these types of situations and how to survive them for a long time. We are prepared. For many, the draw to homesteading is self-sufficiency and self-reliance in the case of a SHTF scenario.”
Experts are saying the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially last for months, but who really knows for sure? The uncertainty is unsettling for so many. No one quite knows how this will affect trade and the economy. Will food and other necessary items be available? Will they be affordable? Better stock up on TP now before the price goes through the roof, right?
The Perfect Time to Plant a Garden
So what if, a few weeks down the road, you can’t get what you need from the store? Or what if the price goes up so high and you can’t afford it because you’ve missed work? What will you do?
Aside from stocking up on beans and rice, you can plant a garden. Plant now and you will have food in 2-3 months. Maybe you’ll need the food then, and maybe you won’t, but won’t you feel a little more secure knowing that it will be there if you need it? If food prices skyrocket, or if the grocery store is bare, won’t it be nice to have more tomatoes than you can possibly eat?
A peek at last year’s garden with its wild tomatoes, towering sunflowers, and neat rows of lettuce.
There are so many reasons to start a garden: for self-sufficiency, to save money on the grocery bill, to improve your health with top rate food, to improve your mental health, to enjoy a hobby, or maybe even to pass the time while you’re in quarantine. But there’s really no good reason not to have a garden.
If you have a backyard, you can easily lay down a Back to Eden garden for little to no cost, or install some raised beds with a small investment. If all you have is a sunny patio, you can plant enough veggies in containers to have fresh salads and potatoes. If you don’t even have a sunny patio, you can grow sprouts and microgreens in your kitchen, or buy a grow light and grow lettuce on your kitchen counter. Regardless of your situation, you can do something to prepare for the unknown ahead.
What to Grow When
Gardening season is just beginning and this is the time of year to start seeds and plant spring crops. You can check with your local Master Gardener’s extension office (just Google “master gardener extension + your state) for planting times in your area. Planting dates vary throughout the U.S., but in general (at least here in zone 8), spring crops that you would want to plant now or very soon would be peas, spinach, and radishes.
Soon after, you would put some cauliflower and broccoli in the ground, and then summer crops like tomatoes and cucumbers follow.
In the middle of summer, you can start planting cooler weather crops, like carrots and broccoli, for a fall garden.
There are even crops that easily overwinter in the garden such as spinach, winter lettuces, and carrots. Crops such as potatoes, onions, carrots and winter squash will all store well in the pantry over winter. If you plan it right, you can eat fresh food from the garden all year long.
“If you plan it right, you can eat fresh food from the garden all year long.”
So what should you grow? What gives you the most bang per square foot? What are the easiest plants to grow for beginners?
Staple Crops that are Easy to Grow
As far as staple crops go, potatoes would be at the top of the list. They are filling, easy to grow, and can easily be grown in a container if you don’t have land. You can get a large harvest in a small space and they can store over the winter. You can plant any potato that has “eyes” growing, even ones from the grocery store, but you’ll get the best results from seed potatoes that you buy from seed companies.
Beans would be another staple. They are a great source of protein, which you may need if you don’t have any meat. There are so many different types of beans to choose from! Green beans go well with any meal, and preserve well. Can them up in mason jars plain or pickled.
Beans grow two different ways–as a bush or as a vine. If you are short on space, you can use a trellis to grow your beans vertically and then cook up your harvest with a little garlic for a delicious meal.
Garlic is extremely easy to grow. This garlic clove will become a new head of garlic.
Speaking of garlic, you should plant some. Garlic is a major immune booster, which is helpful during a pandemic, and makes everything taste better, which may come in handy during a quarantine. Garlic is so easy to grow and rarely has pest issues since garlic itself is a pest repellant. You can grow it in the ground or in a container. For a large yield, you should plant in the fall, but you can still plant garlic in the spring. Your bulbs will just be a bit smaller.
Part of the fun in growing tomatoes is getting to eat tomatoes from all colors of the rainbow that you would never be able to buy in a store, like this Black Vernissage from Baker Creek.
Tomatoes will give you a ton of food in a small space and can be used to flavor basic dishes. They grow easily in containers, so as long as you get 8 hours of light on your patio, you can grow a tomato plant.
There are two types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are compact and only get about 3-4 feet tall, which is perfect if you are low on space, but they harvest all at once. Indeterminate tomatoes get much larger but you can harvest tomatoes all summer long from one plant.
Tomatoes come in so many different colors–red, yellow, orange, purple, black, green and striped. There are big beefy tomatoes, juicy little cherry tomatoes, and meaty tomatoes that are ideal for sauces and canning.
A small crop of lettuce can go a long way if you harvest it the right way. It can be grown indoors under an inexpensive grow light if you don’t have any outdoor space to grow. It can grow well with less sun if you don’t have a super sunny area. If you grow tomatoes and lettuce, then you’ll have salads all summer long. When you go to harvest, just pick a few leaves off of each plant and the lettuce will regrow in between pickings and feed you for months.
Last year’s bed with lettuce in the back, onions growing in clumps in the middle, and garlic that is almost ready to harvest in the front.
Onions are another immune booster that you can grow in a small space. If you have the room, you can grow onions from seeds or sets into full size bulbs, but if you are short on square footage or need to grow in containers, then you can grow onions from seed and harvest them as scallions, which are basically immature onions. Not only do they strengthen the immune system, but they add a wonderful flavor to your meals, either cooked or raw.
This Dark Star Zucchini will feed the whole neighborhood!
Zucchini is a prolific plant that is almost impossible to kill, and it produces much more than you will be able to eat. You can grow it in the ground, or in a container if you’re short on space. Plant zucchini if you want to be a good neighbor, because I guarantee you’ll be feeding the neighborhood if you plant a couple of zucchini plants.
Growing sprouts and microgreens in your kitchen is something anyone can do and they are the fastest growing source of fresh food that you can get. You’ll have fresh food within a week and it is a very simple thing to do, even if you don’t have any gardening experience. Sprouts and microgreens are also PACKED with nutrients, which keeps your body healthy and immune system strong.
These are some of the easiest, healthiest, most versatile crops that you can grow, especially if you don’t have a ton of gardening experience, but want to have a little security in an uncertain time.
Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared
There is a lot of wisdom in the quote “Don’t be scared, be prepared.” In this day and age, society relies heavily on the systems we have in place, but we should always have a back up plan in case the system breaks. COVID-19 has shown us how easily and how quickly that can happen.
“There is a lot of wisdom in the quote ‘Don’t be scared, be prepared.’ In this day and age, society relies heavily on the systems we have in place, but we should always have a back up plan in case the system breaks.”
This will actually be the second time I’ve lived through an event that demands survival skills. The first was over ten years ago when storms knocked out most of the power in Washington State. Our town was a low priority area and we went without power for 3 weeks in the middle of winter!
In that time, I learned how to manually flush a toilet with water that we hauled in 5 gallon buckets from the stream near our house. We also boiled that water to drink. I learned how to start a fire in the wood stove that I had previously only thought of as a decoration. If I had been more knowledgeable, I would have cooked on top of the wood stove too, but instead…I got carbon monoxide poisoning because my ignorant self thought it was a good idea to cook on a propane camping stove inside the house. I know.
That event was an eye opener for me and started me down a path of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. I didn’t ever want to be so ill-prepared again.
I have confidence that we will get through this, hopefully with as few fatalities as possible, but it would serve everyone well to start finding ways to be more self-reliant in their own lives, whether they live in the city, suburbs or country. This way, if and when another event like this happens, you’ll be prepared and won’t panic with the rest of the masses. You’ll have a deep-seated confidence that you can take care of yourself no matter what storm comes.
If you don’t have land, you can still stock up on basic survival necessities (ahead of time) like canned food, first aid supplies, extra toiletries, toilet paper, beans, rice, and water. By adding a few extra things to your shopping list every week, it is possible to build up an adequate supply in a few months to a year.
You can even make the goal of buying some land and then invest your time learning the skills you’ll need when you get there. For example, you can buy fruit and veggies from the farmer’s market and learn how to can, dehydrate and freeze them. Learn to cook from scratch. Grow sprouts and microgreens in your kitchen. Learn to fish and hunt. Rent a plot at a community garden or put some containers on your patio and start learning how to grow food. Grow herbs indoors for cooking and medicine. Just start with one skill at a time. They add up.
If you do have some land, or a big enough backyard and no HOA, consider investing in some chickens for an endless supply of eggs. Plant a garden. Maybe raise a pig or some rabbits for meat, or goats for milk, or bees for honey. If you’re in an area with drought issues, you can learn to collect rainwater.
There was a time, not too far in our past, when these skills were commonplace. Supermarkets only came on the scene in the 1940s. Before then, our food was in the family garden and in the forests. The government encouraged families to grow “victory gardens” and keep chickens to prevent food shortages during World War II.
“Homegrown food has layers upon layers of flavor that burst in your mouth with every bite. You don’t know what you’re missing until you taste it.”
Our modern food system has made our lives a lot more comfortable. Food is readily available, but any gardener will tell you that the stuff you buy at the grocery store isn’t what real food tastes like. It is a flavorless imitation of homegrown food. Comfort comes at a cost.
Homegrown food has layers upon layers of flavor that burst in your mouth with every bite. You don’t know what you’re missing until you taste it. So in the years without crisis, when you go through the (enjoyable) extra work of growing your own food, just know that the taste of your dinner will be more than enough incentive to keep you working away in the garden.
Here on our homestead, our garden and meat birds are now top priority. The stakes are a bit higher this year and it’s game time. For years now, we have been developing the skills to handle exactly this kind of situation and we are ready.
Be safe out there, my friends. Wash your hands, stay calm, and take care of your neighbors (while keeping a respectable distance, of course). We are all in this together.
- Grow Your Own Back to Eden Garden
- How We Created Our New Back to Eden Garden
- How to Grow a Hugelkultur Garden
- Grow Microgreens for a Powerful Vitamin Boost
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