Living Off the Land – Gardening

by JohnyMac

I am putting a series of articles together about living off the land in a job loss, economic downturn or a SHTF scenario over the next several months. This series of articles will cover gardening, protein raising, spirits making, among other fun things that you and your group will need to do to survive. Since we are now in harvesting time the first item will be about gardening.

I know the topic of gardening isn’t as exciting as the new XYZ carbine review however, if you think you are going to survive a job loss, economic downturn or even a SHTF scenario without food you are truly mistaken.

The AP Staff was batting some idea’s around the table the other day and one topic came up as it always does – Living off the land. There are two scenarios of living off the land that comes to mind. One is grabbing your GOD bag and rucking it to the hills and living off the land. The other is to plan and practice your living off the land scenario at your retreat, in suburbia, or even an urban environment.

Let’s first talk about hitting the mountains and living off the land, ala Jeremiah Johnson. I will use my AO area as an example because it is truly rural.

We are located in a small hamlet surrounded by thousands and thousands of miles of woods among mountains and more mountains. The town of 500 or so is about 5-miles away and the residents are made up of farmers, blue collar workers, retired, and unfortunately living off Uncle Sugar too. If things went south everybody would be hunting and fishing. You must ask yourself, “how long would the critters living in these mountains last?” I remember one of the old timers here telling me that the deer and bear really didn’t come back into these hills in any kind of quantities post the Great Depression until the late 1960’s.

Once the deer, bears, and other four-legged critters were hunted out what will one do? I theorize that two-legged hunting would begin.

Add to the above scenario, man cannot live healthily on protein alone. How many of us could gather the needed vegetables from the surrounding area? Once someone learns that you can eat cat-tail roots everybody will be digging around the ponds in the area. Again, how long will cat-tail roots last before they go the way of the game.

My point is that you nor your family will not survive. Therefore we have a garden. Not just for food today, but to practice growing food tomorrow.

Practice you ask? Yes, I grow vegetables to not only reap the rewards of fresh vegetables but to learn now while I can afford to make mistakes rather than later when there is no room for failure.

Our growing season starts in January. I set up grow lamps in a spare room first for flowers – Why buy expensive Agway plants in the late spring. Once the flowers are seedlings and been transplanted to their individual pots we start on vegetables. The flower plants are always the first to go into the greenhouse typically around the middle of February followed by the vegetable seedlings by the end of March.

2019 Seedlings ready to go into the garden. Notice the make-shift greenhouse in the rear.

My greenhouse is made up of one of my firewood racks wrapped in clear reinforced 7-mil. fabric. When empty of wood. The greenhouse is setup on the porch for easy access and proximity to an outside electrical outlet for the heater. The heater is an electrical one that has heating controls that keeps temperature in the greenhouse regulated at night. During the day, if it is sunny, no heater is needed.

Our garden is approximately 1,800 sf and is made up of raised beds with seedlings, and seeds planted directly into the tilled ground. The research that I have done is it takes about 900 sf at our latitude per person to grow enough veggies for one person. The current goal is to grow 80% of the veggies that we eat within a year. The best to that goal has been 70% due in part to the fact the vegetable garden is self-tending. We do not spend a lot of time weeding, watering, or general maintenance. I know though that if our garden was the only source of food, we would be in that garden every day weeding and doing general maintenance.

The latitude of the cabin is about 48-degrees North, so it is foolish to plant before Memorial Day due to the frost threat. The garden is rototilled at the beginning of April, weather permitting, and chicken manure is spread across the garden. At the end of April, the garden is rototilled once again.  Then just before it is planted with the seedlings and seeds, it is rototilled one last time. Rather than plant in rows we plant in 4×8-foot sections with 24-inches between each section. Instead of using the black planting cloth we use newsprint which comes in rolls 1,750-feet long and 48-inches wide – Much cheaper. Each 4×8-foot section is three layers thick. The first year we used the newsprint we only used one layer. Eventually, the weeds broke through the paper. The second year we used three layers. This seemed to do the trick. A roll lasts us four years or so.

Garden ready for seedlings and seed.

Along with the newsprint we use tires to grow potatoes and the raised beds which is planted with more delicate veggies like lettuce, carrots, radishes, herbs, swiss chard, and climbing veggies like pole beans.

To reiterate, we grow vegetables not only for the fresh food but to practice growing our own food. To wait for a job loss, economic downturn or a SHTF scenario to happen, is way to late. We have been doing this since 2014 and we only now are able to get 70% of our yearly intake of vegetables from our garden. Be honest with yourself – Could you grow 70% of your vegetables today let alone 100%?

Last, I would suggest when the job loss, economic downturn or a SHTF scenario happens try to grow extra veggies to sell or barter and to cover your bases if part of your crop fails.

The next subject I want to write about is making your own hard cider as we are approaching the fall apple season. This item would be a good product to make for many reasons.

Freedom Through Self-Reliance©