Growing your own food will help you become more self reliant and will be a top priority during any long term disaster.
To grow food you will need to do the following:
Determine what crops you can raise in your location and understand your growing season.
Become familiar with the different types of food crops.
- Climate. Some locales only have a brief growing season, such as
Northern Europe and Africa. This means growing quick producing plant
varieties that can be harvested and stored for the winter. Other areas
have year-long warm weather, where fresh vegetables and grain can be
harvested on demand.
- Soil. Depending on the type you have available, you may expect very
high yields from a large area, or meager yields from small areas. The
best plan to follow is to plant a food crop which flourishes in your
conditions as a staple, and use surplus land to grow "luxury" foods that
require more fertilisation and effort.
- Rainfall. No plants thrive with minimal rainfall, so most food crops
require substantial amounts of water from irrigation or rainfall.
Consider the normal rainfall rate for your area, and the availability of
irrigation when choosing crops. If you live in a dry area, consider collecting rainwater.
- Space. If plenty of space is available, you may be able to grow
plenty of food using conventional methods, but where space is limited,
you may have to look at other techniques, including hydroponics, container gardening, sharecropping, and vertical gardening.
Select the crops and varieties that are suitable to your growing region.
- Vegetables. This includes legumes, leaf vegetables, root vegetables,
corn (a grain, looked at more closely later), and vining vegetables
like squash, cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins. These provide many
essential nutrients and vitamins, including:
- Proteins. Legumes are a good source of proteins.
- Carbohydrates. Potatoes and beets are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, as well as minerals.
- Vitamins and minerals. Leaf vegetables, like cabbage and lettuce, as
well as vining vegetables like cucumbers and squash, are a good source
of many essential vitamins and minerals.
- Fruits. Most people understand that fruits are a great source of
vitamin C, but they also contribute many other vitamins and minerals to
your diet, as well as offering a broader variety of taste to enjoy.
Fruits also can often be preserved by drying or canning, so
refrigeration is not required to store your surplus.
- Grains. Growing grains is not what most people envision when they
think of growing their own food, but grains are a staple in most diets.
They are filled with carbohydrates and fiber, and can be stored easily
for long periods of time. In many early civilizations, and in some
countries today, grain is the primary foodstuff for the population. This
category of food crops includes:
- Corn. Often eaten as a vegetable with meals, corn is also a
versatile grain that can be stored whole, unshucked, shelled (removed
from the cob, with whole kernels), or ground into meal for use in making
breads or mush dishes like grits. Corn is probably the easiest grain to
grow for the home subsistence farmer. Freezing is the easiest way to preserve it for winter use.
- Wheat. Most people are familiar with wheat, from which we get most
of our flour for baking everything from breads to cakes and pastries.
Wheat stores well after harvest, but harvesting itself is more laborious
than it is for corn, since the whole plant is usually cut down, sheaved
(placed in piles), gathered and threshed (beaten to free the seeds),
and ground into fine powder (flour).
- Oats. Another grain, oats for human consumption are processed more
than wheat or corn, and the labor involved in harvest is equal to wheat.
Still, it may be considered an option in some areas where it is easily
- Rice. For wet areas, areas subject to flooding, or which can be
flooded, rice is the obvious choice. Rice is commonly grown in shallowly
submerged soil, and is harvested much as wheat is.
- Other grains include barley and rye, which are similar to wheat and oats.
Develop a "farm plan" on the land you intend to use for your food production.
- Beans, peas, and other legumes. These are planted after the threat
of frost, and require 75 to 90 days to produce fruit, which can continue
producing as long as the plants are cared for until autumn frost.
- Gourds. This group of plants includes squash, melons, and pumpkins,
and is planted after the last expected frost, and takes between 45 days
(cucumbers) to 130 days for pumpkins, to produce harvestable fruit.
This fruit (usually grouped with vegetables) can be planted in
containers if kept warm, and transplanted into soil after the threat of
frost, and will produce season-long as well.
- Grains. There is a great difference in growing seasons with grains,
as well as summer and winter varieties of many of these. Generally
speaking, summer grains, such as corn and summer wheat, are planted near
the end of winter when freezing temperatures are not expected to
continue for more than a few weeks, and they take about 110 days to
mature, then another 30-60 days to dry sufficiently to harvest for
storing as seed.
- Orchard fruits. Apples, pears, plums, and peaches are regarded as
orchard fruits in most places, and do not require annual planting. The
trees that bear these fruits require pruning and maintenance and usually
take 2-3 years before producing their first, modest crop. When the
trees begin producing fruit, the yield should increase yearly, and after
they become mature and established, a single tree can produce bushels
of fruit each year.
- List all of the possible crops you will attempt to cultivate on your
land. You should try to have as diverse a selection as possible to meet
nutrition requirements mentioned earlier. You may be able to estimate a
total yield per crop item by researching the growing success of others
in your area, or by using information from the source you purchase your
seed from. Using the list, and the planting plan you began earlier, you
will need to calculate the amount of seed you will need. If you have
lots of room, plant an excess to allow for poor performance until you
have a firm grasp of what you are doing.
- Plan to use your land as effectively as possible if you are limited
in space. Except in very cold regions, you may expect to be able to grow
and harvest summer, fall, winter, and spring crops. This will allow you
to enjoy some fresh produce year around. Beets, carrots, cauliflower,
snow peas, cabbage, onions, turnips, collards, mustard greens, and many
other vegetables actually prefer growing in cold weather if the ground
does not freeze. Winter crops are also much less subject to insect
problems. If you are very tight on space, consider your alternatives
Plan on your storage method
Break the ground
- Drying (or dehydration). This is a useful method for storing fruits
and some vegetables. It can be done without high-tech gadgets in most
fairly dry, warm climates.
This requires containers (which are reusable with the exception of
lids, which may deteriorate over time) but does require proper
preparation, cooking equipment, and skill. Pickling is considered in
this article as a "canning" process, although it does not have to be so.
- Freezing. This, again, requires some cooking preparation, as well as a freezer and proper containers.
- Bedding. Not previously mentioned, this is a method for storing root
crops such as potatoes, rutabagas, beets, and other root crops. It is
accomplished by layering the product in a dry, cool, location in a straw
- In Ground Storage: Many root crops and cole crops can be
overwintered in the garden. In most cases it is important to prevent the
ground from freezing. Milder winter climates may only need a frost
blanket. But colder climates may need mulch of up to a foot and a
plastic covering. This type of storage is an effective way to save space
and keep your produce fresh.
For cultivated land, this is simply the process of loosening the soil,
and "turning under", or covering, the plants or plant residue from a
previous crop. It may also be referred to as "tilling
and is done with a plow or tiller pulled by a draft animal or tractor,
or on a small scale, with a self-propelled machine called a
"rototiller". On a small plot of land and due to financial constraints,
you may have to revert to the use of pick, shovel and hoe. This can be
accomplished collectively. You should clear away any large stones, roots
and limbs, heavy accumulation of vegetation, and other debris before
Lay off rows
With modern farm equipment, this process depends on the type of crop
being planted, and "no till" planting actually skips this and the
previous step. Here, we are considering the general method that would be
used by someone who does not have this type of equipment and expertise.
Mark out the area you intend to plant, and with a hoe or plow, create a
slightly raised bed
in the loose soil in a line across the length of the plot. Next, make
your furrow (a shallow groove cut in the soil) with your chosen
Place your seeds in the furrow at the depth required for the particular crop you are planting
This may vary according to your choice of plants. As a rule, succulent
plants like legumes (beans and peas)and melons, squash, cucumbers are
planted between 3/4 and 1 inch (2 - 2.5 cm) deep, where corn and
potatoes may be planted 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches (6.3 - 9 cm) deep. After
placing the seed in the furrow, cover them and tamp (gently pack down)
the soil lightly so the seed bed (the covered furrow) does not dry out
as quickly. Continue this process until you have the number of rows you
planned on planting.
Alternatively, you can "start" seeds indoors (such as in a greenhouse) and transplant them later.
Cultivate your crops when the ground becomes packed by rainfall, or weeds become a problem
Because you are planting this crop in rows, you will be able to walk
the center area between rows (the middles) to accomplish this, if you
are doing this by hand. You will want to keep the soil around the roots
loosened without damaging the roots themselves. You may apply mulch
to reduce, if not eliminate "weed"/unwanted growth by undesirable plants.
Watch for insects and animals which may damage your plants
If you see leaves which have been eaten, you will have to determine
what is causing the damage. Many animals find tender young plants in a
garden more appetizing than native growth, so you will have to protect
the plants from these, but insects are a much more prevalent problem
with growing food. You may find you are able to keep insect damage to a
minimum by simply removing and killing them as you find them, but for
serious problems, you may have to resort to chemical or biological
control ( use of surrounding bug repellent plants ).
You will have to educate yourself to some degree on when to harvest your
crop. Many common garden vegetables are harvested as they become ripe,
and continue to produce throughout the growing season with proper care.
Grains, on the other hand, are most often harvested when they are fully
ripened and dry on the plant. Harvesting is a labor intensive operation,
and as you become experienced in growing, you will find that you need
to reduce the production of some plants so that harvesting can be
For common vegetables, you have several choices for storing them through
the non-growing season. Carrots, turnips and other root vegetables can
be stored well into the winter months in the refrigerator or a root
produce is one option for long term preservation of meats, fruits, and
vegetables, and for seed type crops like legumes, this will give
excellent results. For succulents and fruits
, you may want to consider canning
or freezing your harvest. A vacuum sealer will give better results in freezing vegetables for long-term use.
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