A Real Emergency Garden

This is an entry in this month’s contest “What Inspired You To Start Growing Your Own Food?”.  Be sure to rate this article!

Do you have a garden that will provide food in an emergency where you cannot garden for several months? Even if you can not cultivate it for a season? After some planning, my soil now produces edible food whether I am currently very active in it or not. Having food producing plant life close to me was important as I had been hungry as a young child and the memory haunts me.

Ten years ago we moved to within 8 miles of the Canadian Borden from the big city to a city of over 12,000. Our little house looked like a green Monopoly house on a rectangular Monopoly lot. Except for red poppies, a boxwood , one daisy plant, a few lily of the valley and an ailing Camellia there were no flowers, no plants in the pale rocky garden soil. Weeds everywhere. As a child when other little girls were playing with dolls I visited a nursery within walking distance that specialized in azaleas. There I learned to mix soil repot and shape azalea as well as other minutia of nursery care. I also sent away for flowering bulbs with my babysitting money as young as 10 years old. In my teenage years I had filled my parents yard with lush azaleas, rhododendrons and other lush evergreens the thrive so easily in Western Washington and had every reason to expect stunning success here in our new home.

.Started pulling the weeds our first morning there. Bought petunia plants, cosmos, lobelia and sweet alyssum to get something growing fast in that hard packed soil. Next morning some were already cut off at the base, tops wilting, some were eaten completely. Regrouping I bought slug bait and added lavender, thyme, and rosemary plant which could stand up to the pests and the anemic soil. Do you see the first mistake? Find out and amend what is going on with your soil before you invest in any plants – then correctly the real pests are in your garden. While we did have ravenous slugs, it was cutworms and army worms that were the great predators on top of our ground. When the blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, 2 dwarf apple trees and rhododendrons were planted, the moles and ground squirrels made their presence known. All of a sudden the plants would be out of the ground or in a full wilt. Quick work with water could save most of them. Turned out that the land was fill, not true soil and even 10 years later broken glass and odd bits come to the surface especially after the mole had dug new tunnels. The moles were inexorable, they were here for generations before us and infest the entire county, one learns to accept some losses. Our raised beds have wire underneath to give some protection and large containers have their place here.

Back to the big question what would a true emergency do to your garden food production? How could you grow food without your input for a season or 2? What if all family members were ill/immobilized or away at the same time? What it if were unsafe to go outside for a season? What food plants would grow in your area without inputs, weeding, pruning or seeding from you? The dirt is voluptuous, it will always grow something, how can we stack the deck in our favor?

With the conditions described above and the real life experience of of both of us being unable to garden for more than three months, this is our solution in the rainy cold region of the Pacific Northwest. Three fruits mentioned above, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries as long as you have flash tape or some home mad equivalent from Mylar bags out in advance. We have alpine strawberries which will ripen in the shade if the sun is shy some months. In a pinch their leaves make a nutritious tea and their extra or overripe berries get our chickens scampering as they are tossed into the run. Kale will reseed itself well and successfully compete with weeds in even poor conditions. Potatoes return with mixed success as sometime blight will attach to them here. How about two sources of greens that up before most anything else, yield into early winter here and reseed themselves or return every year? Parsley and chives are some of the first edible greens up each Spring. These are mineral dense foods. Folks often decline when I offer starts of these plants for their gardens, declaring that they never use them – perhaps people have become disconnected from good food sources these days. We do pass out extra potted raspberries and strawberries to al who are interested, we want others to have food in their yards too.

I was influenced by Marjorie’s first DVD series, Backyard Food Production as well Linda Runyon and targeting specific weed in our garden as keepers. The soil is always going to grow something, my idea is to keep it loaded with friendly weed seeds that will work for us. This includes lamb’s quarters, chickweed, purslane. We gleaned seeds for these on country walks and even vacant yards. They are easy to uproot so if they migrate to the flower beds or vegetable patch the are easily dispatched. Lamb’s quarters is delicious, a snap to uproot and chickens love it. We can serve it for dinner too. Yes, in September of 2010 we added 3 chickens to our backyard. We found that our back yard was too small to endure the appetites and excavations of our chickens. After 3 months we fenced them in after the formerly verdant back yard resembled scenes from the dust bowl. Why not have greens growing in sleepy nooks and crannies of the yard for chickens? Something is going to grow there anyway. I added in the invasive Salad Burnett to give them green earlier in the Spring and longer into the Winter. This is a pleasant looking, tough as nails plant that in European cultures was a valued food source for people and has a cucumber flavor, odd little flowers are also edible. These extras delight the chickens and we want eggs from happy chickens. Our chicken girls also enjoy leftover potatoes, one of the least costly foods in our area. On an esthetic note, it was serendipity that the Floribunda ornamental cherry tree was in the back yard. When it’s blossoms come snowing down they are completely absent from the chicken are as they are delighted devoured. We spring for a GMO free organic chicken food because eggs from healthy chickens are a bargain. What I have not yet shared is that our lot is just 3,485 square feet and our house is slightly under 600 ft. The dwarf apple trees did not thrive as we planted them too near the gas line in unamended fill and it just was not comfy for them and they were besieged by disease..

When we added the chickens 4 years ago we increased our composting efforts and now have 3 4′ by 4′ bins. Being in our 60’s we are not as high energy as is optimal and our compost was very slow to work as it get scant sun and warmth. Our neighbor allowed me to glean the droppings from their 3 outdoor rabbits. When I dug these droppings they were alive with earth worms which thrived in our compost and helped it work faster. After reading an article online. some comfrey was planted in 5 gallon buckets to prevent spreading and also some yarrow. Both of these are cut through the growing season, minced with scissors and added to the pile as compost activators. Nettles work for this to. We pop into local Starbucks for their spent coffee grounds to add to the straw bedding in compost bins. All these extras have helped the compost work faster without laborious turning by us. So we have much mineral rich soil to return to the garden or use in large containers used to grow tomatoes up high to help them ripen faster and save tension in our backs.

Hoping this gives you some ideas for how to have a true emergency garden, a place that produces food for you even under austere conditions. The plants that thrive in your local will differ but the principles stay the same. Grow what will grow in your in you area. Value the nourishing easy to pull weed for the emergency nourishment they offer as well as being a friendly weed cove that chokes out the less friendly weeds. My contacts in landscaping share that most of their work is in making plants grow in a place that they do not want to grow, while keeping plants that do wan to grow there from growing. Does that make sense? Be a gardening maverick, do it your way!

What blesses one blesses all.

The prize for the winner of this months contest is valued at $100 and includes a copy of the “Grow Your Own Groceries” video set,“Alternatives To Dentists” video set, and 3 months of free membership in the Core Community.  If you want to enter this month’s contest, write an essay on “How You Got Started Growing Food” and submit it here at this link: http://growyourowngroceries.org/contribute-here/

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This post was written by Anthony Tamayo


  • Vanessa says:

    I didn’t get to read your article very far. “Fill dirt” doesn’t exist. “Broken Glass” in gardens needs to be reported to 1-800-CALLFBI. Please! They’ll look at the situation and be able to resolve lots of crimes!

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