Planning Home Food Production
July 31, 2007
Even with only a relatively small area to work with, much of our food can be grown at home. This is how to start. You should have a very short list of foods you absolutely will not eat, or are allergic to. Remember, freshly harvested foods all taste much better than anything you can buy. Your goal is to be harvesting a reasonably balanced diet as many months out of the year as possible and to store foods for the rest of the year. You want to spread out the workload. I like to think in terms of months, there is no need to figure it closer than that. Every year will be a little different anyway.
You don't want to miss any possible source of food that you could eat. Look at wild herbs and berries, fish and game, but garden vegetables, field crops, grapes, berry bushes and fruit trees, will feed you more reliably. There are many mail order seed and nursery companies that offer informative catalogs to help you plan what can be grown in your area. I prefer to order from well established companies that have a reputation to protect. Look for larger companies which sell to farmers, as well as home gardeners, or specialty seed companies serving a small market. Avoid any catalog that looks and reads like a tabloid newspaper. Any good Seed company will have trial gardens where they test what they sell. They will have a "days to maturity" from seed or from transplant for their location.
Look to a company in a harsher climate than you have, with similar rainfall, and see what variety's they recommend. Most all the seed you buy from large companies will have come from wholesale seed growers, located where it's ideal to produce it. You can buy the recommended variety from any retailer. It's how well the seed is stored and tested by the vendor that really counts. Nursery stock is usually propagated by the established sellers, at there own facility. You need disease free stock which is vigorous, and well packed to arrive in good condition, and that will cost more. It will be well worth the extra money, and your harvest will come sooner. The biggest part of your food will probably be dried beans and corn or grains you have bought and stored, or grown yourself. Fruit is very important for providing vitamins and energy though. I am harvesting at least one kind of berry or fruit every month from strawberries in June, all the way until I pick our last late apples in November.
If you can, add a small flock of laying hens and a couple roosters. The manure will feed your garden, orchard and vineyard. Choose from an old breeds that will set on their own eggs or "go broody". They are better at foraging for more of there own feed and living on home grown grains. Mail order hatcheries will need to ship about 2 dozen day old chicks at a time, so feed stores and neighbors often pool orders together. I've raised most every kind of poultry, but I think a laying flock of chickens is the most efficient way to make high protein food, and the others are fine as a hobby if you like them. I really can't tell you if rabbits can actually be raised efficiently or not, although I am sure you could raise the food for them on a very small scale. I have seen the story told of how you can produce huge amounts of meat because of how quickly they reproduce. I would look for someone with years of experience raising rabbits to eat, not to sell as pets or for some specialty market, which pays high prices.
There are many rare new breeds of livestock promoted as being so profitable, you just have to get in on the ground floor. They seem to turn out to be Ponzi schemes. If the breeding stock costs more than twice what they get at a live animal meat auction, its only for people who really know what they are doing. I am going to continue on here about other livestock, but its only for the few that are interested.
I have raised both sheep and dairy goats for many years, and they only need a few acres in this part of the country. If you have active farms in your area to buy from, raising up a young pig or steer on home grown foods is practical. The pig needs a very sturdy pen, in or near the garden, but shaded. You bring the food to him. He eats things similar to us, grains like corn, cooked potatoes, and any of our food that has spoiled, as well as acorns. The steer needs grass to eat, only a half acre here. Much more in dryer areas.
Now let's get back to planning. Make a list for each month of the year, and show what you will need to be doing, and what you will be harvesting. Here is an example of some entries.
JANUARY - Review any notes from last year. Plan for garden and any new fruit, eat from root cellar and other stored foods.
FEBRUARY - Make Maple syrup, start Peppers and early cabbage and broccoli indoors. Eat stored food.
MARCH - Start tomato plants, check on spinach or other crops you tried to winter over in the garden.
APRIL - Plant peas in the ground, as soon as the frost is out, Dig parsnips and turnips that have wintered over and collect wild salad greens to supplement stored foods. Plant any new trees, vines or bushes. A good root cellar will still have good potatoes, if you break off eyes that grow long through the winter. You get the idea, once you have the framework, you can start figuring, how many months will I be eating those potatoes I raised? Once you get to Summer, eating what you are growing is easier until late autumn.
Now you can look at your own plan to figure it out. I have ever bearing raspberries that ripen briefly in June, and bear a few through the fall, and also the regular varieties that yield one large crop in July or August. When the peaches come in, they have to be canned right away, so I don't want to be canning corn at the same time, but I do want to be eating it fresh. Start with a reasonable number of projects for each month, and build up from there. You don't want too much of any one thing, but many small crops, spaced over as much of the year as possible. Being organized will greatly speed your progress, and keeping notes to review, your learning.