Food Security for the 21st CenturyDecember 15th, 2007
I offer the finest open pollinated garden and grain seeds. None of my seeds are genetically modified. They are time tested varieties with proven reliability. I have many years of experience saving seeds. I have selected the most important varieties to choose from. How did I determine which foods are the most important? The first criterion is to select varieties which are reliable every year, and can be grown in both colder and warmer areas of the USA. There may be global warming or cooling in our future; either way, my seeds will grow. You need crops whose seeds are easy to save, and have a long shelf life. My free web site is filled with practical information to get you started producing your own food and seeds.
All the seeds I sell may be planted directly in your garden, except for tomatoes and peppers which we added for 2010. For some other vegetables you need a heated greenhouse or grow lights. Supplies like potting soil and seedling trays are essential. Artificial lighting, heat and supplies may not be available. Spring broccoli needs to be started and grown indoors for about two months here in Connecticut. Then the plants are ready to be moved outdoors. Cabbage is much hardier, and may be sown directly in the garden. Tomato plants need 2 months in a warm greenhouse or under grow lights to thrive. If it gets too hot or too cold, they can easily die. Pepper plants need to be started indoors even earlier.
I am very concerned for people who buy large 'survival garden seed' collections and rely on them for growing all there own food. They usually feature small amounts of many diet vegetables. Lots of radishes, cucumbers, lettuce, string beans, melons and summer squash. Those are nice summer vegetables, but they have almost no calories or protein. Under difficult conditions, you will need complete nutrition. The great civilizations of the world have been built on grains like wheat, corn or rice. To increase protein in the diet some mature dry beans are widely grown too.
Many tiny seeds like lettuce, carrots and onions require a finely worked seed bed. It should be soft and finely ground like potting soil. To do this you will want powered equipment. It can be done with with hand tools, but it's a lot of hard work. Seeds like beets, spinach and cabbage are small, but vigorous. They will thrive in rougher conditions. The seed you produce from them will also keep for years, unlike lettuce, carrots and onions.
In order to save seeds, you must not plant varieties which will cross pollinate with each other. Beets and Swiss Chard are closely related. You can grow both of them to eat, but if you save seeds, they will have crossed, and be useless. Only beets have the high calorie root, which also stores well in a cellar. A few beet greens can be harvested from each plant as you need them, through out the growing season. It is easy to choose which one of those two crops grow. Seeds saved when raising more than one variety of the same vegetable will also cross pollinate too. You have to choose which is the most important to grow, if you will be saving seeds. For example, if you grow both hot and sweet peppers, and save seeds, next years plants will be a mixture of hot and sweet. The same is true for tomatoes. If you grow a paste variety for canning, a slicing variety for the table and small grape or cherry tomatoes for salads, the seeds you save and plant next year will be some random mix. There are four major families of squash and pumpkins. you can't grow more than one from each family, and save seeds that year. Onions, garlic and parsnips all cross with wild plants at our farm. The common weed red root, crosses with amaranth. That is too bad because it is a hardy grain from central America. There are some advanced seed saving techniques to get around these problems, but they are not for beginners.
Now let us look at how much equipment it takes to keep the harvest. I have freezers, and all sorts of canning and juicing equipment, but they require a lot of energy. Wine making requires some equipment, and ten pounds of sugar per batch. I am not giving those up, but crops which don't need the equipment or energy are the ones I can really rely on.
No single garden crop can provide reasonably balanced nutrition. I need a few different crops we can eat together. Today when people talk about diet, they usually are thinking about a weight loss diet. To grow our own food, we first need to provide enough calories to maintain our weight.
Next we need enough protein to maintain our body. We can only assemble complete proteins from a full array of amino acid building blocks. These can come from animal sources, or we can combine plant foods, such as grain and beans. Usually a ratio of one part beans to four parts grain is about right.
Once those needs are met, we can look to supply vitamins and minerals. Most all the vitamin deficiency diseases were identified many years ago. They are rare now, but could return in the future. For example, cabbage is a good source of vitamin C, and it is easy to store in a number of ways. Winter squash and pumpkins both provide vitamin A, and store for Fall and Winter use in a cool dry room. Beet greens and spinach are rich in iron and vitamin K. Dry beans keep well and are an excellent source of B vitamins.
Once I considered all these things, I came up with a very familiar looking list. It is the same food crops raised by Native Americans. They sometimes called them the three sisters, corn, beans and squash.
The flint Indian Corn I offer is the highest yielding one I have ever grown. It produces dry hard kernels for use as grain. It can be ground with a hand powered mill, or soaked and boiled. Always plant corn in blocks of at least four rows so each ear will grow kernels over the entire cob. My Garden Security Collection includes about 300 seeds of Indian Corn, That is enough for 60 hills or four 25 foot long rows. The amount of dry grain corn you can produce, in a given size area, is more than twice the yield of wheat, spelt or rye grain. My Hulless Oats yield a little closer to corn. Harvesting dry corn is far less work than gathering and threshing the other grains.
I sell a number of reliable varieties of dry beans which yield well, and are easy to shell by hand. Beans in the dry, fully mature stage are the best plant source of protein, and also are rich in B vitamins. String beans are a nice summer diet vegetable, but have almost no calories or protein. The bean family is almost completely self pollinating, so you can grow many varieties, and the seed are very unlikely to cross pollinate.
The hungry gap is the month or so just before the new harvest. To help bridge that time, I include sweet peas and shell beans in some collections. Both are good to eat in the 'green' or soft stage, but can be eaten as they gradually mature and dry. Don't forget to allow some of your best looking plants to fully mature to produce next years seed. Shell beans like my French Horticulture are ready to eat as a starchy vegetable before the baking beans are fully mature and dry. Vermont Cranberry beans are usually grown to the late dry stage, but can be picked as a shell bean too.
For squash, I chose Waltham Butternut. It keeps much longer than any other variety, except perhaps some of the huge Hubbard's. They are so large, how would you keep all that food once you cut into one? I store my Waltham Butternut Squash in a cool dry room, at about 50 degrees. It is not unusual to have some still good enough to serve at Easter. I guess that's why they call it Winter Squash. I include about 25 seeds, enough for five hills. You should harvest at least 40 Winter squash.
Most Pumpkin varieties are too large to eat up before they spoil, and many new varieties are just for jack-o-lanterns, or decoration. I chose the Small Sugar Pumpkin. These will keep in the same storage conditions as the squash, but are best used up before the new year. I include about 25 seeds, enough for five hills. You should harvest at least 40 sugar pumpkins. Both yellow and green summer squash will cross with pumpkins. You have to choose one or the other.
I also offer the small grains Hulless Oats, and Rye. They offer variety, and the soil can be prepared with a disk harrow behind a small garden tractor. If you have plenty of space, or live where corn cannot be grown without irrigation, they would be a good choice. Most of the small grains I grow are fed directly on the stalks to our chickens, but I thresh a little for the table as well. Corn yields so much more food, it is my primary grain.
I hand pack all of my seeds. I seal each collection in a food grade aluminum/poly vapor proof bag. This protects from both moisture and light. A moisture absorbing packet and complete planting instructions are enclosed. The pouch is padded on all sides by bubble wrap, and shipped via US Postal Priority Mail. My Grains are packed directly in the vapor proof bags with a moisture absorber. Shipping charges are based on USPS costs. I offer a few varieties of seeds in oversize individual paper packets, which are shipped free in padded mailers.
Each of my garden seed collections and grain pouches have close to a pound of seed. All of my seeds are germination tested and surpass government standards. Collections are packed for long term storage, and plant a manageable sized plot. You can mix and match them to meet your needs. They are an ideal size for bartering with friends and neighbors. Starting with a smaller garden is the best way to learn how to grow your own food. You would be overwhelmed starting too large. Plan on doubling the size of your garden each year, until it is large enough to feed your family. Focus on the simple basic food crops first, then add in your favorite table vegetables or flowers later.