Food Independence (even if you don’t have a green thumb or time)

How to Achieve Food Independence

Food is such an important consideration for preppers. Whoever controls your food supply controls how long you live and how productive you can be. In many cases after a major disaster, either nobody is in control of the food supply or there isn’t much of a food supply to be in control of. That’s why it’s so important to have food storage to help bridge the gap in the event that your food supply chain gets broken.

Going one step beyond food storage is generating your own food supply with gardening…which gets into the most efficient way to generate food for your family, especially if you don’t have a lot of extra time or developed gardening skills.

Timing is another important consideration with gardening…plant too early and a late frost can kill your sprouts. Plant too late, and your still-to-ripen produce can freeze in the fall. If you happen to be busy, distracted, or out of town when your zone’s planting season hits, you’re either going to need to find a short season variety of what you want to plant or write off the season.

That’s one of the reasons why I question the validity of buying millions of seeds if you don’t have a solid plan in place to take those seeds from seeds to edible food and back to seed for the next year.

Don’t get me wrong…I’ve got seeds stored up and I’m continuing to buy more, but I’m not holding out the false hope that I’ll miraculously be able to flip a switch and feed my family from our garden if the balloon goes up tomorrow.

–An interesting aside on “when the balloon goes up.” During WWI, artillery spotters would go up in hot air balloons right before an artillery attack to help walk the barrages onto their targets. When the balloon went up, it was a very reliable sign that significant turmoil was soon incoming. Many people know what the phrase means, but I used the phrase for 30 some years without REALLY knowing the history of it.–

Gardening is a peculiar dilemma for the prepper. Using conventional methods, you could very easily use all of your time simply growing food to feed your family. This makes sense for some people, but for most people—especially city dwellers—it makes more sense to do something else for income and pay someone else to grow your food.

The other route that some people go is to build up commercial growing operations and sell their excess at farmers’ markets and to stores and restaurants…and this is a great thing, assuming that your equipment and land doesn’t get confiscated in a disaster situation.

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but until you can feed yourself, or know the source of your food and have something of value to trade for food, you’re going to be subject to whoever controls the food supply.

So, what I want to suggest today is some alternatives to traditional plant-in-the-ground gardening that could allow you to plant ANY time of the year, increase the amount of food that you’re able to generate per square foot, and decrease the amount of daily effort that you need to put into food production.

Square Foot Gardening in Raised Beds in a Greenhouse

Many people are familiar with or own the book, TV series, or DVD by Mel Bartholomew or are at least familiar with the concept. If you’re not, square foot gardening is a strategy that uses a 4′x4′ or 2′x8′ or similar planting box with 1′ square sections inside that each contain a different plant.

Having every plant within 2′ of the edge means that the ground doesn’t get compacted. Having different plants helps resist the spread of disease. Set up correctly, this type of arrangement will use less water than a traditional garden and, since the ground is not compacted, weeds are easy to pull.

A common improvement over on-the-ground square foot gardens is to put them in raised beds so that you don’t have to bend over to do any planting, weeding, or harvesting.

A further refinement is to put your raised beds in a greenhouse. Three of the big advantages to using a greenhouse are that:

  • You have increased control over what insects and weeds are introduced into your garden.
  • In the winter, you can keep your garden warmer and extend your growing season by using dark materials and partially buried water tanks. In some cases, you can use this same partially buried water to keep your greenhouse cooler in the summer.
  • You have increased protection from GMO pollen, polluted rain, hail, late frosts in the spring, and early frosts in the fall.

Hydroponics & Aeroponics

Hydroponics and aeroponics are two disciplines of growing plants without soil. Basically, you suspend roots and bathe them occasionally in a water/mist that contains all of the needed nutrients for the plants.

The big advantage of hydroponics is that you can grow significantly more produce per square foot of floor space by going UP. Simply put, instead of having 10 spinach plants spread out across 10 feet of ground, you could drill 10 holes in a section of PVC pipe, hang it from the ceiling, and have a spinach plant coming out of each hole.

The other major advantages of hydroponics and aeroponics are that you can compress growing cycles, grow bigger produce, use less water, and reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides.

I can tell you from personal experience that these technologies are FUN and they work, but they’re not all sunshine and rainbows…I’ve lost multiple crops because of the pH of the water getting bad because I wasn’t monitoring them like I should have been.

Aquaponics

Aquaponics takes hydroponics and aeroponics one step further. With hydroponics and aeroponics, you still have to add fertilizer. Aquaponics takes care of this by adding fish (mainly tilapia) and beneficial bacteria to the mix.

Fish secrete ammonia, which bacteria converts to nitrates in a 2 step process, and the plants eat up the nitrates. The other upside of this system is that you can harvest the tilapia and add fish protein to your diet.

There are a couple of “gotcha’s” with aquaponics too…you’ve got to monitor and control temperature and water quality. If you eat the fish, you need a plan to get new ones, and if you’re not growing food for your fish in the garden, you need to buy fish food.

That being said our family plans to use multiple independent/redundant aquaponic systems to be able to generate more food than we consume by the end of this year.

Share Cropping

Do you have the space and money to set up a raised bed, hydroponic, aeroponic, or aquaponic garden but no time, physical ability, or skill? One strategy that I’m hearing about from more and more people is share cropping.

As an example, family A has space and buys the equipment for a setup that will generate 8 times what their family can consume. Someone from family B has the knowledge, time, and inspiration to do the work to plant, grow, and harvest the crop.

Family A gets to eat to their heart’s content. Family B gets to eat to THEIR heart’s content. Family B agrees to find channels like farmers’ markets, co-ops, and barter networks to sell the remaining produce and split the proceeds with family A at an agreed upon ratio.

I’ve become a big fan of the share cropping approach over the last couple of years. It not only gets high quality food onto people’s plates, but it also fosters resilient communities and beneficial inter-dependence. What are your thoughts…not only on growing your own food, but also on ways to compress the time, money, and space necessary to generate enough food to feed your family?