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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Food Crisis 101: Planting Tomorrow's Meals Today

I have had many gardens over the years, even though I've never owned any land of my own. But that has never stopped me from growing a few vegetables. There's always a place you can stick a few plants, along a wall, in a container – there's always a place you can grow something.

I learned to garden as a boy in Virginia, working in the family vegetable plot and yard. Over the years I have raised radishes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, sweet corn, egg plants, tomatoes, strawberries, ground cherries, watermelons, Swiss chard, asparagus, green beans, Lima beans, peas, mint tea, squash, carrots, sweet peppers, hot peppers, cabbage, turnips, beets, turnip and mustard greens, and more. I learned by doing – hoeing, weeding, planting, transplanting, harvesting, etc.

It's relatively simple to garden. By that I mean that practically anyone can dig, hoe, plant, weed, water, etc. But there is a learning curve. You do have to learn how to garden and the only way to learn is by doing it! And there is no better or more important time to start than now. Even master gardeners are constantly learning new gardening tips and techniques, though everyone starts at the same place, with their first garden.

No two gardens are the same; no two years are the same. You learn something new every time you put seeds in the ground and care for whatever sprouts up. These days, interest in home gardening is on the increase again, as food prices rise and the specter of possible future food shortages rears its head. The impending, global financial crash, which in reality has already begun, is going to play havoc with the global agricultural system, with direct, negative consequences for food supply in communities all over the world. As we head deeper into the great financial collapse, food will be of paramount importance. Those who have food will survive. Those who lack food, well, they won't fare as well.

Which reminds me - - I have read the stories and have seen the photos in recent days of the rowdy, unruly hordes of so-called Black Friday shoppers, who stormed the stores in the USA, looking for bargains on cheap Chinese imports, as the frenzied Christmas shopping season moves into high gear. They are looking for all sorts of plastic baubles and trinkets, cheap consumer electronics, video games and so forth, that they will lavish on themselves and others in the coming weeks. Many of them are going hundreds, or even thousands of dollars into debt to buy a bunch of cheap, plastic junk. From an anthropological perspective it is a very primitive, peculiar tribal rite, indeed.

Better that they should have had the foresight to invest that same money into garden seeds and simple gardening tools. What will they eat in the coming time of trouble? Will they gnaw like rats on all that plastic junk that they spent their money on? If ever there were a time to be thinking less about throwing away money on needless Christmas junk, and more about devoting financial resources to ensuring future food security for one's family, now would be that time.

Of course, the time-honored method of guaranteeing food security is to produce your own. The Earth is bountiful if we give it half a chance, and work with it, instead of against it. I have never seen a garden that did not produce food. If you can plant a seed, you can plant a garden, and grow food. I know this is so, because I have done it myself many times over the years.

The better the soil, the more productive the garden, and nothing enriches the soil like good compost. Here's a small pile of it that I made earlier this year. You can easily make your own and dress your garden with it. I use a simple recipe – one-third soil, one third manure (cow, chicken, horse, rabbit – whatever I can get) and one-third plant organic matter such as tree leaves, grass clippings, peanut hulls, etc.

I mix it all up together and turn it a couple of times. It's ready within several weeks. One of the things I've done over the past year is to mix a few tons of compost for gardening here in Ecuador. It's a lot of work, but you'll get results if you are willing to invest the time and energy. The nutrient level in your produce will also be higher. I got a ton of chicken and cow manure for $20.

Oftentimes you can find materials for compost for low cost or maybe even free. Municipalities or tree services may actually give away shredded limbs and trees. Many towns have more tree leaves than they can dispose of in the autumn. Farmers may have more bedding straw and manure than they know what to do with. Look around. Keep your eyes peeled. You may find what you need close at hand, for the mere asking!

If you can also dress your plot with a good quality rock dust (granite dust, for instance) your garden will produce even better and yield fruits and vegetables of a superior nutritive quality. This is because rock dust contains the trace elements that are vital to physiological health-- both for plants and animals. The plants will take up the trace minerals from the soil, and you will ingest the trace minerals when you consume the fruits and vegetables that you have grown. You can readily find suppliers of rock dust by doing an online key word search.

I like the French method of raised-bed, intensive cultivation, as it reduces the need for stooping and bending over, once the initial work of making the beds is complete. It's easier to walk alongside and do the planting, watering, weeding and harvesting. For the sides of the beds you can use wooden planks, rocks, bricks, concrete blocks, whatever you have at hand. Then fill them with your compost. Keep the beds narrow enough that you can readily reach in to do your work. You can use straw, leaves or dried grass clippings for mulch to retain soil moisture. As the mulch decomposes it enriches the soil with organic matter and improves its tilth and fertility. You simply add more as needed. At the end of the season you just dig it in.

I prefer to plant heirloom varieties
, or at least varieties that are not genetically modified and that yield plants with fertile seed that can be collected, saved and planted to yield another crop. The heirloom varieties usually have better hardiness and genetic strength and resistance to disease, pests and climate variation.

Here are some heirloom sweet pepper plants that I started from seed. I'll simply transplant them directly into the prepared bed and in a few weeks they will yield tasty peppers.

These squash are also an heirloom variety that produced prolifically. The flavor was delectable and they produced a lot of seeds for replanting.

This tomato plant is actually from a volunteer that sprouted from a seed in a rotten tomato that was thrown away. It was transplanted to this large container and produced tomatoes!

The bottom line is that you can plant a garden, even if you have never done it before. I have done it many times, and you can too. Even if you have no land, you can give garden seeds to a friend or family member who does have land, and cooperate with them on growing a garden. Also, it is eminently possible that in this time of coming trouble and likely food supply crisis, heirloom, organic garden seeds will be a very valuable commodity indeed. You can plant the seeds and produce wholesome, nutritious food, which unlike gold and silver, can be eaten for life sustenance. Garden seeds could also be a valuable barter item.