Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Urban Survival Gardening

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While it’s great to have a supply of emergency food, imagine what would happen if supply chains broke down and you needed a long term way to feed your family. Scenarios like this have already played out in my lifetime, the collapse of the Soviet Union being a good example.

I’ve been a gardener for almost 30 years and while some people view it as a not very exciting hobby, I have always felt it is a skill everyone should have. I personally can’t imagine not knowing how to plant, grow and store my own food. This skill would be in high demand should such a scenario play out.

If you’re already a gardener, some forward thinking/planning is easy to add to your annual routine. Simple steps like stocking up on easy-to-grow seeds is easy. Read up on seed storage as well. The lower the temperature and humidity the longer the seeds will be viable. That said, I’ve gotten 10 year old tomato seeds to germinate that weren’t stored particularly well.

Add some short season / quick growing seeds to your stash. It might not be something you want to grow on a regular basis, but having seeds on hand that could provide food in less than 40 days could be a game changer for you and your family.

Finally, consider learning how to save seeds. Some are simple such as beans. Just let them dry on the vine, then store in a cool, dry place. Others like tomatoes are trickier, as you need to know how to separate the seeds from the gel that surrounds them before they are dried.

If you’re not already a gardener, take some time this season to ask a friend for some tips, or just do some reading – there are a million great gardening books out there – check out Amazon’s selection of urban gardening books. If you already grow food for your family, expand your thinking to include a disaster plan. Having the tools, supplies and knowledge to grow your own food is so empowering!

Check out David Morris’ survival newsletter for more urban survival gardening info.

Comments

One Response to “Urban Survival Gardening”
  1. I got a handy little guide to seed saving when I purchased a seed bank written by Lisa Almarode. The info is posted below. I got the seed bank for $15 from http://www.myseedcellar.com Great seed bank that came with a really nice selection of seeds, this guide to saving seeds, and a how-to on planting. Check them out, you can’t go wrong for that price!

    Seed Saving 101, © 2008 Lisa Almarode 1
    Seed Saving
    Seed saving is easy! Plants want to produce seed, and the seed wants to grow; and nearly everything you’re likely to get
    will be edible. It gets interesting when you want to get specific repeatable results; and when you want to consider long
    term health of a variety. But what makes seed saving seem so overwhelming is that every vegetable variety is different.
    The Processes – Skills
    1. Starting seed to grow into plants
    Before you start worrying about saving seed, you should be able to start plants from seed. This is a prerequisite skill
    for the seed saver!
    2. Managing pollination and controlling cross-pollination
    For regular gardening, for food production, this is only a consideration for corn, in which accidental cross pollination
    shows up in this year’s crop. And some plants won’t set fruit if there is only one; tomatillos, for example. But for most
    vegetables, any cross pollinating only matters when you are saving seeds.
    To produce seed, pollen from the male flower or flower part, must get to the female flower or flower part. This can be
    done by proximity, for vegetables that can self-pollinate within the same individual flower (such as tomatoes and
    peas). Or it may be insects (ants and flies as well as bees – even cucumber beetles) that move pollen from flower to
    flower, as for squash. A few vegetables are wind-pollinated. Insects may also visit self-pollinating flowers (again, like
    tomatoes and peas) and cause unexpected crossing; experts disagree on the risks of this. It’s apparently affected by the
    number of insect pollinators in your particular garden, how it is physically arranged, wind, climate, etc.
    Avoiding unwanted pollination is done by:
    • Isolation, so the wind or insects are unlikely to bring pollen that far. Reference books list very large isolation distances
    – a mile! This may be critical for commercial seed, or to preserve the purity of a special heirloom; but for your
    own production, where you can tolerate or remove off-types, it’s less important.
    • Physical barriers – insect-proof cages or bags. For varieties that need insect cross-pollination this can get tricky;
    there are many complex ways of hand-pollinating, schemes of caging so insects can get to some plants and not others,
    etc. Consult the reference books for these details.
    • Separation in time, making sure that one variety is done producing pollen before the next one has any flowers.
    3. Getting plant to stage where it has good seeds
    If you leave your vegetables alone, eventually they get to the stage where they produce seed.
    • With fruit and pod type vegetables, generally you let the fruit get very ripe – possible too ripe to eat, which may
    impact your edible crop. Remove the seed and that’s it.
    • For leaf-type plants, they generally will flower, either the first summer or the second summer. They put up one or
    more seed stalks with lots of flowers, followed by seed.
    • Root vegetables, including some brassicas and chard, store energy the first year in their root, so early the second
    year they put up flower stalks. These are more effort, since you need to save the plant over the winter. In the Rogue
    Valley the winters are mild enough that most biennials will overwinter in the garden without any special care.
    4. Processing seed, and storing until the following season
    Usually all that’s required is to get the seed dry. Seed must be totally dry to store; otherwise it will rot, sprout or get
    moldy. A few vegetables, like tomatoes and cucumbers, are usually fermented before drying – this increases their ability
    to sprout and gets rid of some diseases. Imagine how in nature the ripe fruit falls and decays, this is the same system.
    But usually, just get the seed very dry, and store in a cool place or freeze until the next year. Do not dry seed in the
    oven or a hot dehydrator or anywhere it may overheat, which will kill the seeds.
    Some types of seed will remain viable for many years, but other seed loses its ability to sprout after a year or so, even
    under the best condition.
    Seed Saving 101, © 2008 Lisa Almarode 2
    The Science – Knowledge
    1. Hybrid, open pollinated and heirloom
    Commercial seed is either hybrid (F1) or open-pollinated. Hybrids are crosses between two distinct and different varieties;
    the first generation is consistent but later ones may vary greatly. Sometimes the results of saving seed from
    hybrids are good, other times very disappointing. Open pollinated varieties will produce seed that will in turn produce
    new plants just like themselves. When seed saving, it’s better to start with open-pollinated seeds. Heirlooms are
    open pollinated varieties that have been around by name for a long time, usually 50 years.
    There’s nothing inherently wrong with hybrids – it’s completely different than GMO (genetically modified organisms).
    You could produce your own hybrid seed at home, and there are commercial organic hybrids. Hybrids are a problem
    when we’re dependent on them and therefore on seed companies.
    2. Genetic diversity
    How many plants should you save seed from? This is a big question without easy answers.
    Vegetables are either inbreeding or outbreeding. Inbreeding vegetables pollinate themselves. For these vegetables, you
    only *need* one plant to save seed. However, this means there’s risk:
    • With each generation that you save seed, you lose genetic diversity; one plant can only pass down one-half the
    genes of each parent. The other genes aren’t available later to adapt to changing conditions.
    • A random mutation could show up – possibly one that’s not immediately obvious – and spoil your entire gene pool
    (all your seed).
    Outbreeding plants need another plant of the same variety to pollinate them. Outbreeding plants are subject to a varying
    degree to inbreeding depression. This means that if the population from which you are saving plants is too small,
    after some generations of saving seed, your yields are reduced, plants may die easily, germination may be bad, and
    strange recessive traits may show up. By this time it’s too late to fix the problem, you need to find new seed to mix in.
    If you are saving seed for just a few generations, and then willing and able start over with fresh commercial seed, this
    isn’t so much of an issue. The problem of inbreeding only lies in perpetual reproduction.
    For plants subject to inbreeding depression, it’s recommended to save seed from 40 plants – planted closely in blocks so
    that they all cross pollinate each other. To retain full genetic diversity, more would be needed; “Seed to Seed” cites a
    general rule of 100 outbreeders. But you can save seeds from just 20 plants, or even 10, being aware of the risks.
    Corn is a special case, since it’s very sensitive to inbreeding depression. 100 plants is considered the bare minimum,
    200 or more is recommended.
    3. Selection, evolution and responsibility as curator
    When you select individual plants to use to produce seed, you are selecting the traits that this plant will pass on. Select
    the best plant for reproduction! If you select the first spinach to flower, or the last beet to get to full size, the next generation
    is likely to bolt quickly, or grow slowly. Selecting the healthiest, best adapted plants over several generations
    will adapt the variety to your specific growing conditions.
    To make sure the vegetable seed is the highest quality, start extras of the seed crop, and “rogue” (yank out) the least
    desirable – off types, the ones that grow slowly, are smaller, or produce less fruit or fewer leaves. Eat them! It’s hard to
    do this, but this is the responsibility we take on when we save seeds.
    4. References
    Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, Suzanne Ashworth and Kent Whealy
    Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s & Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving by Carol
    Deppe
    Seed Saver’s Exchange: http://www.seedsavers.org
    This document may be freely distributed, as long as the credits are retained, any corrections to lisaalmarode @ yahoo.com
    Seed Saving 101, © 2008 Lisa Almarode 3
    Details for Selected Vegetables
    Lettuce
    • Allow to bolt and flower; collect seeds as they are
    ready to fall from plant.
    • Inbreeding, self-pollinating, possible but not likely
    to cross, separate slightly
    • No inbreeding depression, can save from one plant
    (although more is better)
    Beans and Peas
    Peas, beans, soybeans, chickpeas and favas will not cross
    between families, but within each species may cross, so for
    example snow, snap and shell peas may cross with each
    other but not with beans.
    • Long lived seed
    • Let pods dry on vine
    • Inbreeding, self-pollinating, may insect pollinate,
    possible to cross if you have insects, separate
    slightly.
    • No inbreeding depression, can save from one plant
    (although more is better)
    Tomatoes
    • Long lived seed
    • Allow fruit to get very ripe, squeeze out seeds and
    let the juice/seeds ferment, then clean and dry.
    • Inbreeding, self pollinating, possible but not likely
    to cross, separate slightly or bag.
    • A few specific varieties have different flower shape,
    and are much more likely to cross.
    • No inbreeding depression, can save from one plant
    (although more is better)
    Peppers
    • Allow fruit to get very ripe, remove seeds
    • Self or cross pollinating, very likely to cross by
    insect visits, separate a good distance or bag
    • “Hot” is dominant; the results when sweet pepper
    flowers get pollen from hot peppers will be hot.
    • No inbreeding depression, can save from one plant
    (although more is better)
    Beets and Chard
    • Long lived seed
    • Biennial, will flower and set seed the second year;
    don’t save seed from any that flower the same year.
    • Allow to flower, set seed, seed dry on plant
    • Outbreeding, wind pollinated, will cross with other
    beets and chards
    • Need minimum 6 plants, ideally 20+ recommended
    for genetic diversity
    Arugula
    • Annual, will flower when it gets warm, don’t harvest
    first plants to flower.
    • Allow to flower, set seed pods, pods dry on plant
    • Outbreeding, insect pollinated, likely to cross with
    other arugulas.
    • Need minimum 6 plants, better 20+, 40 is recommended
    for genetic diversity
    Brassica oleraca – broccoli, cabbage,
    cauliflower, kale, collards, brussel sprouts,
    gai-lan and kohlrabi
    These are in the same family, will cross with each other but
    don’t cross with other brassicas.
    Brassica rapa – turnips, broccoli raab,
    chinese cabbage/mustard, bok choi
    These are in the same family, will cross with each other but
    don’t cross with other brassicas.
    For all Brassica:
    • Leaf and root types are biennials and will flower
    second year; others such as broccoli, cauliflower,
    raab, etc., for which the edible part includes the
    flower, are annuals. For biennials, don’t save seed
    from plants that flower the first year.
    • Allow to flower, set seed pods, pods dry on plant
    • Outbreeding, insect pollinated, likely to cross
    within species.
    • Subject to inbreeding depression. Need a minimum
    of 6 plants, better 20+, 40 is recommended, for
    genetic diversity
    Radish
    • Biennial, will flower second year. Use caution in
    saving seed of early plantings that flower the same
    year, to avoid encouraging early bolting trait.
    • Allow to flower, set seed pods, pods dry on plant
    • Outbreeding, insect pollinated, likely to cross with
    other radishes but not other brassicas.
    • Subject to inbreeding depression. Need a minimum
    of 6 plants, better 20+, 40 is recommended for
    genetic diversity.
    Spinach
    • Allow to bolt and flower; don’t harvest first plants
    to bolt
    • Outbreeding, with separate male and female plants
    • wind pollinated, very likely to cross with other
    flowering spinaches.
    • Need at least 8 plants to ensure male/female ratio
    and genetic diversity
    Seed Saving 101, © 2008 Lisa Almarode 4
    Squash and pumpkins
    There are a number of species that are difficult to tell apart.
    Each will cross within species but not between species.
    There’s no separate pumpkin species or family; pumpkin is
    a label used on squashes of certain shape and color.
    • curcurbito pepo (c.pepo) – summer squashes,
    crookneck and pattipan, zucchini, acorn squash,
    spaghetti squash, hull-less pumpkin, some other
    pumpkins (including the very large ones), some
    smaller gourds such as nest egg gourd.
    • c.moschata – Butternut, some pumpkins, some asian
    squash/pumpkins, other squashes
    • c.maxima – Hubbard, Buttercup, Turban, Potimarron,
    some pumpkins
    • There are other species that are less common,
    including c. mixta (cushaws and others). Large
    gourds are another separate species.
    For all the squashes:
    • Long lived seed, 5+ years
    • Save seed from ripe fruit; for zucchini/summer
    squash this means they are far past the edible stage.
    • Plants have separate male and female flowers,
    insect pollinated.
    • Female flower can be pollinated by male flower
    from same plant but prefer a different plant. Very
    likely to cross; separate very widely, grow only one
    of each species, or hand pollinate.
    • Easy to hand pollinate
    • Can possibly save from 1 plant, minimum 6 recommended
    or 12-20 preferred.
    Carrots
    • Biennial, save seed second year. Don’t save seed
    from any that flower the same year.
    • Will cross with wild Queen Anne’s Lace; ensure
    none is growing nearby, check for and remove
    white (accidentally crossed) roots.
    • Outbreeding, insect pollinated, crosses readily
    • Subject to inbreeding depression. Need 20+ plants
    for genetic diversity, 50 recommended.
    Melons
    Watermelons are a separate species and will not cross with
    cantaloupes and other common melons.
    • Save seed from ripe fruit
    • Plants have separate male and female flowers,
    insect pollinated.
    • Female flower can be pollinated by male flower
    from same plant but prefers a different plant. Very
    likely to cross; separate very widely, grow only one
    variety, or hand pollinate.
    • Can save from 1 plant (although more is better)
    Cucumbers
    • Long lived seed, 5+ years
    • Plants have separate male and female flowers,
    insect pollinated.
    • Allow fruit to get large, yellow, soft; squeeze out
    seeds and juice and let ferment
    • Female flower can be pollinated by male flower
    from same plant but prefers a different plant. Very
    likely to cross; separate very widely, grow only one
    variety, or hand pollinate.
    • Can save from 1 plant (although more is better)
    Onions
    Will cross with shallots, but not with leeks or chives.
    • Short lived seed, 2 years or less
    • Biennial, save seed second year. Don’t save seed
    from any that flower the same year, or onions with
    double cores.
    • Outbreeding, insect pollinated, will cross.
    • Subject to inbreeding depression. Need 20+ plants
    for genetic diversity, 50 recommended.
    Corn
    • Short lived seed, 2 years.
    • Wind pollinated, readily crosses.
    • Crosses affect the current crop, not just next years.
    For Some hybrids, the crop is badly affected by current
    year cross pollination.
    • Severely subject to inbreeding depression. need
    minimum 100 plants for genetic diversity, 200 or
    more recommended.
    Other Tips
    • Remember to save seed from the best plants; healthiest,
    fastest growth, largest crop, most true to type.
    • Be aware of what your neighbors are growing; in
    particular for vegetables that flower as part of normal
    production (squash, for example)
    • For root crops, it’s recommended to dig them up
    and inspect, then replant the best ones for the seed
    crop.
    • For plants subject to inbreeding depression, plant in
    close blocks to allow as much cross-pollination as
    possible. Bees moving down a single long row
    would only pollinate adjacent plants.
    • If you are saving seed for a year or two, then restarting
    with commercial seed, genetic diversity isn’t a
    significant issue.
    • Don’t forget to take notes and label the seeds and
    their history.