How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

Considerations For Sustainable Food Production

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.

Seed-Starting Setup

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.

Sustainable Livestock

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.

Livestock Feed

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.

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2 Responses to Considerations For Sustainable Food Production

  1. We also just decided to add more Buff Orpingtons to our flock. My kids love the one we have. We have assorted hens and some just don’t lay enough to merit all the work and feed.
    We just started our worm bin for castings and will be raising meal worms for our hens.
    Thanks for the post. It will keep me busy for the next few weeks.

  2. A great article, but it must be remembered that no matter what you have in your store, if it has not either been grown or made by you, it is going to run out when for any reason you are unable to source it elsewhere.

    The storage of commercially prepared food takes up room, resources and cash that I believe could be better utilised by getting your own gardens, orchard and water storage organised.

    Although we do keep a stock of certain food items that we cannot grow in our store, we try and keep only enough for no more than a years supply as we hope that it would take us less time than that to grow either a substitute or learn to go without. An example, because we are tea drinkers we grow a variety of easily grown herbs that make good teas and if you believe the blurb are beneficial.

    Keeping poultry has its own issues. If most of your poultry food, like ours, is not grown by you what happens when it runs out? Are you able to grow any of your poultry food or would the time, effort and area be better spent growing grains for your own family?

    Ducks and geese are good foragers and the eggs and meat are high value foods so if you have the right pasture and safe grazing areas they are good value. We do not run incubators, we use silkie bantams as brooders and they work extremely well. We also use the silkies for keeping the orchard free of codling moth and other ground dwelling grubs.

    Glass jars are great for preserving and when you run out of the lids they are great for storing dried beans, peas, herbs and a multitude of other items. We have standardised the sizes and shapes of our jars by the sizes of their lids which make it easier when purchasing them in bulk. Lids are one item of that we keep several years of supply in stock.

    Being the male I do the bulk of the gardening and use only open pollenated seeds.

    I find it best to have at least three years of seeds in stock so that if ever I plant the previous years seeds and for any reason they fail I then have the previous two years of saved seeds to fall back on.

    With carrots and parsnips I grow only one variety so that there in no risk of cross pollination.

    I grow three varieties of onions but only allow one variety to seed at any time so I have a three year seed collection cycle with them.

    With brassicas I only allow one to flower at any given time and it has been my experience that if you are able to save enough seed from one year, a good to very good percentage of them will stay viable for about five to six years.

    Cucurbits are where the main problem lies. We grow pumpkins, three varieties, water melon, two varieties, zucchini, cucumber and rock melon and to date I have never saved my own seed from them as I do not have the available area that would allow me to have the necessary 1.5 kilometres of isolation so that there would be no risk of cross pollination. I keep three years supply of seeds in stock.

    Tomatoes are no problem. Just keep about three metres between the varieties. Most of the books say a metre but we have had cross pollination in the past so now we keep to the the greater distance.

    Bush beans we keep at least a metre apart and runners we keep about twenty metres.

    Make sure you grow asparagus and rhubarb if you can. If the children don’t like it force feed them as its medicinal properties are well worth the effort.

    Strawberries, who would be without them? Jams, syrups or just eat them fresh.

    As you say, starting seeds can be difficult and for some areas there is no easy fix. Make sure your seed raising mix is the best you can get.

    With your fruit trees do not just go for the prolific fruiters as in hard times, weather wise, some of the older less prolific varieties will prove they are worth having.

    Don’t forget grape vines as they are good value and add variety to your diet and there should be at least one variety suitable for your area.

    Berry fruits are great for making jams and sauces for pancakes and are a must for a survival garden. If I were to ever replant my raspberries I would plant them away from the other berry fruits and have them inside a stock proof fence so that any livestock could eat off the suckers instead of having them invade my main berry fruit growing area.

    Livestock is only sustainable if you can grow all of the food they need and are able to tend to any disease or other problems they have. The idea of not having your own sires is good but if you are going to raise your own breeders make sure you access to a number of sires to help eliminate inbreeding. Don’t forget the fencing and predators.

    The ability to process food for storage is a must. I grow a lot of soft fruits that my wife makes into jams and syrups but they do use sugar that we have to source from commercial outlets but we do keep about two years supply on hand.

    The amount of fruit we preserve per year depends on how good or bad the season is and if it is a year with too much to preserve we juice it with one of the best investments we made, a steam juicer.

    We have thought about sun drying fruit for several years but there are only so many hours in a day but if ever push came to shove we would get around to it.

    A survival garden is a great idea but for many it it not practicable because of time restraints.