Here’s part two of the guest post from Marie James at The Homesteader Kitchen. If you missed part one, Thoughts on Sustainable Food Production, go back and read it…
So here’s my updated list of points to consider as I keep moving on toward long-term sustainability. As you look at the list, see which ones will help you meet your own goals.
Due to space considerations, I’ll just touch briefly on each point. But detailed information is available online and in reference books.
Heirloom/Open-Pollinated Garden Seeds
Since hybrid seeds may not produce reliably, it’s important to buy or save seeds that will. Each year you can save seeds from your ripe veggies to plant the following year. One idea is to keep a “seed bank” with seeds for all the vegetables you’d like to grow. Each year that you can still buy or save your own seeds, replace the seed bank seeds in the FIFO (first in first out) system.
I don’t recommend commercially-produced seed banks that don’t give you the option of choosing the seeds. Instead, spend some time studying a good heirloom seed catalog or two and order an assortment of seeds for foods you and your family enjoy eating. And don’t forget some flowers—a feast for the eyes and the soul.
While many seeds can be planted outdoors directly in the soil, there are some plants that must be started indoors in most climates. These plants include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and some herbs. If nursery starts are unavailable, you’ll need to start your own seeds each year.
The basics include containers to plant the seeds in, covers for germination, seed starting medium or fine potting soil, warmth, and light. The setup can range from a plastic-wrap covered tray on a sunny window sill to a shelving unit equipped with grow lights. One inexpensive mini windowsill “greenhouse” is just a clear or opaque plastic shoe box upside down. The lid becomes the base for seed planting, and the rectangular box becomes a removable greenhouse lid. A tray warmer keeps the soil at germination temperature. Aside from plastic wrap, most of the equipment will last for years.
Prolific Fruit Trees and Berry Plants
A variety of tree fruits and berries will provide a diverse array of flavors and nutrient value. Fruit trees may take several years to bear a bounty of fruit, but most berry plants and grapevines will produce well the second or third year and continue to flourish from there as long as they’re properly pruned.
Most fruits and berries can be frozen, dried, or canned whole or in chunks or slices. Fruit is one of those things that can cheer the taste buds in the dark of winter when nothing fresh is available. It’s usually tasty and satisfying and can be used in many different ways, from perfectly plain to part of a fancy dessert.
Consider how you’ll replace your livestock from year to year if you can’t buy baby chicks or weaner pigs. Do you need to keep some breeding stock? It’s fairly simple to keep a rooster with your laying hens, but maintaining a boar or bull is more involved. Think it through and evaluate what stock your neighbors have. Traveling studs and “lady visitors welcome” policies might one day become a very practical need in rural communities.
After much consideration, I nominate the Buff Orpington as the ultimate sustainability chicken breed. Buff Orps are pleasant and easy to maintain in confinement or free range situations. They tolerate heat and cold, and in some surroundings their coloring makes them less conspicuous to predators than white or dark chickens. The hens are good egg producers, tend toward broodiness, and make good mothers. Retired hens and extra roosters make excellent stewing chickens.
What if you run out of stored feed and can’t get more? What could you feed your livestock to supplement pasture and whatever else they’d find to eat?
Chickens are omnivores that can actually eat extra eggs and even chicken meat. Garden veggies can be planted just for chickens and pigs. Some soil testing labs will evaluate the nutritional content of pasture forage material—you can find out what’s growing on your place and what you might add to increase the nutritional value.
Food Processing Equipment and Supplies
Personally I rely on a combination of dehydrating, canning, and freezing. This way I’m not dependent on any one way to process or store the foods. But freezing is out if power is unavailable. Food can be dehydrated in any warm location; canning can be done on a wood-burning cookstove or campfire. Dehydrated and canned foods do not require electricity for storage.
My basic food processing equipment would include a pressure canner (not cooker), a water bath canner, a dehydrator, and a vacuum sealer. Additionally, I’d want accessories that assist in the preparation: a good blender, food processor, knives, and canning tools. No less important is a good supply of containers—canning jars and lids, vacuum sealer bags, and freezer cartons.
First and foremost would be to understand the concepts of safe food processing—that information is available from your local county extension agent or www.extension.org.
Those are starter ideas, but I’m still thinking. Thinking outside the box…thinking beyond tomorrow…thinking long-term sustainability.