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  1. #1

    Towards food self-sufficiency

    Towards food self-sufficiency copyright 2008 Robert Henry

    This blog entry I wanted to share some experience we have gained living on the land for the last 9 years.

    Hopefully by now most readers have seen at least a few of our video series on Survival Gardening on youtube available at


    In the first 2 or 3 videos in the series I made a concerted effort to explain to folks the problems they would likely face when gardening after TSHTF. For example- water and water pressure. A tremendous amount of water is needed to cultivate an area large to truly grow enough food for a family of four. This was but ONE of the pitfalls I mentioned in the series. One person said I was being negative in discussing the pitfalls of Survival Gardening, that was not the intent.

    My goal was to disprove this idea that just because someone has a #10 can of seeds and a gleam of hope in his eyes, that he could feed his family after his food storage ran out. I believe I got the point across. As of this writing the first video in the series is pushing 13,000 views within a 5 month period!

    I should probably back up and sort of "define" what I call food self-sufficiency. To me food self-sufficiency is working towards producing through any number of methods most or all of the food your family eats. Most of us- myself included- will likely not achieve 100% self-sufficiency with our food production. There will always be things that we will have to buy, barter for or simply do without.

    Contrast this with food storage. Food storage is having food put back in sufficient quantities to get you through potential bad times. This can include long or short term storage items- though most serious survivors look to long term storage items for simplicity sake and economic savings.

    The two methods work together and BOTH are necessary for the long term survivor.

    Consider this- just having some food storage is like having a warehouse. The warehouse might be large and contain a lot of supplies, but every day you will be lessening what's in the warehouse. Eventually the warehouse will be empty.

    Having a food production program in place and working for you in addition to having food storage is like owning the factory and the warehouse! Over time you'll be replacing some of your needs from your food production efforts (the factory) and that will keep your food storage (the warehouse) from ever completely running out.

    This is essentially what our goal has been the last several years is seeing exactly how much of our own food we can produce on our own. Currently I would estimate us to be at 75-80%. This isn't where I'd like us to be, but it's a far cry from where we were November of 1999 when we moved here.

    To give an overview of what we are doing-


    95% or more of our fruits come from here on the property. We have well over 100 fruit trees. Most of these are semi-dwarf sized trees with the majority of them being apples and pears. In addition, we were blessed to have 2 established pear trees and 2 plum trees on the property when we purchased. One of the plums died, but the other remaining older trees produce in abundance. Despite being in the "Peach state" we have had a heckuva time with peaches here. Normally I try to avoid spraying insecticides on any of our food. To that end we had not had a SINGLE peach make it to maturity until we started a spraying cycle. In addition, we lost several trees and went through a period where very little fruit was making it to maturity due to an insect problem. We went first to all the organic controls. Not a one of them worked for this particular problem. For a couple years we had no production in the plum trees and the apple trees production was dwindling rapidly. Consultation with a lab provided the answers and no organic controls would work with this particular problem. We reluctantly began spraying a few times a year. After that the plums came back in full swing (we put up almost 100 jars of plum jelly this year) and the apples began making it to maturity again.

    This brings me to an important lesson. Had we stuck dogmatically to the "organic or nothing" mindset, we would have had virtually no fruit production now and we would have lost several dozen trees by now to this pest.

    I leave it up to the reader to make there own choices regarding whether or not they want to take the whole organic approach. My advice would be to at the very least stock some of the common pesticides so that if it comes down to spraying a little or no fruit, you'll at least have options.

    One thing we have not done much of is the "soft" fruits- strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc. We are blessed with an abundance of wild blackberries, however in years of drought they produce very little. Strawberries would be a good bet for those limited in land in need of a fruit source.

    We like fruit trees because of the fact that they require little attention. Less than 10 minutes per tree per year should cover all of the routine care such as pruning, fertilizing, spraying, mulching, checking irrigation systems, etc.

    With increasing food costs, fruit trees make sense for everyone that has even a small patch of land. A $7. to $15. investment can return multiples of that yearly within a short period of time.


    Our family as a rule doesn't eat a lot of meat. One of the easiest and quickest ways to save on your family food bill is to stop putting a huge slab of meat on the plate every night. Earlier this year we were both out working late in other town. We "felt" like having a steak so we bought a 'steak' from a chain store. $13. for the cheapest hunk of steak that would feed the three of us! And if it was not for the bone in the middle of it, I would argue that it was not real meat. It did not have the usual texture that beef has, it was Franken-Beef or something!

    We raise rabbits for meat, chickens and usually once a year or so, I'll shoot a deer. We buy turkey sausage maybe 10 times a year also.

    With the rabbits, we usually keep 4-6 working does and 1 buck. Lately we've kept 5 does and 2 bucks. We went through a dry spell and figured a "backup hitter" might be helpful to maintain.

    This year we opted not to do a batch of meat bird chickens. Usually we raise a batch of about 20 Cornish X Rock meat birds. Between these and the rabbits this compromises 95% or more of the meat we use at home. The remaining 5% is the turkey sausage we buy that's mentioned above.

    You would think that someone that lives in the country would hunt every chance they had. I go out once or twice a year and usually shoot something in the cooler months. This rounds out our meat for the year.

    We also have a couple of ponds but rarely do we fish. They were stocked 10 years ago or more now, so there is no shortage of fish.

    The only trapping efforts we had made in the 9 years here have been to control nuisance animals. This has provided us with some experience in trapping, but I would certainly not depend on it solely for food.


    We began keeping bees a few years ago and built up to 10 hives this year. The first year or so you can't expect to take too much honey. Actually, they call it "robbing" honey for a reason. Your actually threatening the bees survival if you take too much. It will vary depending on the climate in which you live, but a good rule of thumb is to leave at least 30-50 lbs. on the hive for over wintering of the bees. Some years if it's been dry, you may not be able to "rob" any honey. Some years you might have an abundance of honey. It's takes some experience to know how much you can take and still have the colony over winter well.

    A few years back we experimented with growing sugar cane. This is grown in this area and "cane juice" is a popular treat. We used a couple of methods from several "old timers" yet never had any luck with growing it. Persistence may pay off though, so we will try again soon.


    I think this is going to be the tough one for most folks, it certainly hasn't been a cake walk for us. When you consider the amount of grains consumed not only by a family of four but by a flock of laying hens, feeding rabbits and potentially other animals, it becomes apparent that a lot of ground will be needed.

    We have successfully grown wheat, oats and corn. None of these have we grown on the scale needed to support our family on. I believe we have the space to do so, we have just not yet done so.

    Depending on the condition and type of your soil, it could easily take an acre or more to grow the grains you need for a family and livestock.

    This is the number 1 that I advocate that folks should put up another year of basic grains after they round out their 1 year supply (see Food Storage link above).


    I stopped drinking milk regularly back in 1998 and my wife never much drank it either, so a dairy animal has always been a low priority for us. We did buy a couple of goats not long after first moving. We were VERY UNPREPARED for them. Can I tell you that goats are a PITB if your not setup for them?

    We are seriously considering get a pair of female goats this next spring. We will use the time in the winter to set up several well fenced pasture areas for them.

    The main purpose of the goats will be for cheese, which is one of the regular items we do still purchase at the store. Also, our son is getting older and is a huge help around the homestead, especially with the animals.


    Course you have to plan and prepare to put up some of the food you've produced. Most of our veggies and fruits are canned in gl*** jars for storage. We have food like this that was kept in cool, dark place that was still good 5 years later. Your plan should be to rotate your home canned foods every 2-3 years if possible. Some things we have went to a 2 year cycle on. We found that if we put up about 150 quarts of green beans, that's pretty much a 2 year supply of beans for us. This makes crop rotation easier also.

    This is about the time of year (late Oct/early Nov) to start watching your local Walmart for the canning supplies to go on clearance. This has been going on in our area for about a month now. Most items sell for half original price or less.

    While we are off grid with our power we try not to put anything more than we have to in freezer space. Normally this is reserved for meats. Something about the look of gl*** jar canned meat- reminds me of a lab experiment... Like a head in a jar or something! The other reason for the emphasis on small animals is that we can keep them "on the hoof" and butcher as need be for dinner that night if power becomes an issue.

    We do maintain a small smokehouse. Usually when I get a deer we end up making some jerky as well. It never lasts more than a few weeks though, but you can chalk that up more to our appetites than longevity in storage! It would be an easy project for any homestead to build a small smokehouse. Ours was put together with scrap lumber and "slab wood" from a sawmill project.


    While it would be very tough to be able to produce EVERYTHING you consume from your own property it's important to realize that ANYTHING you can produce yourself puts you in a better position than a sheep that expects the government to "ensure health and safety" for them. Also, if we ever face a long term situation, you will be much better off with the experience you've gained and the systems in place to maintain at least some semblance of self- sufficiency.

    As with anything, any experience and preparation we can do AHEAD of time, the better off we will be if something ever does happen. Good luck!


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  2. #2
    re: gardens
    we had a family reunion recently.
    a good cousin who's an engineer was there. has a bunch of kids and doing a good job raising them.
    his kids got to talking about all the work they were doing in the garden.
    finally i had to ask how big this garden was?
    about 3/4 acre, plus the wheat.
    they're trying wheat for the first time this year!
    as i started asking details, he just started grinning.
    he knew why i was asking and getting nosey.

    our schedule was tight, and i didn't have time to go by. my loss.
    two old tractors that he's salvaged and now they operate.
    (he's done one each with his first two sons)
    his third son wants a backhoe, so they are looking for a dead backhoe to refurbish.

    the milkcow is producing. they buy wheat and make bread...
    he's found an old wheat combine. it's now functioning.
    it's just living for them.
    folks are paying attention.
    beginning to make changes.
    i need to get my rear in gear!

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