I Finally Read It
A friend loaned me her library copy of Carol Deppe’s latest book, The Resilient Gardener since my hold on a library copy seemed to be taking forever. A lot of people left comments on the blog suggesting I should read this book, ( most likely since I recommend her book, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties for getting your feet wet saving seeds.) A very heady book I might say for beginning gardeners, but it was very good. I don’t think I will buy it, but I enjoyed reading it. Since our farm is located in Oregon the same as Carol’s extensive gardens are, I was curious about her big 5 things to grow in the coming years of unrest and resource depletion. I wanted to see how much her ideas echoed our thoughts on our farm and what the future holds for us here as far as feeding ourselves. I found similarities and differences. On our farm we also consider potatoes and winter squash at the top of our staple food stores for winter, growing about 500 pounds of each to take us through the winter, both are high calorie foods grown in a relatively small area of our garden. Where we differed though were the other two sisters, corn and beans. In my area, and much of Western Oregon they are marginal crops that require a lot of attention to get a harvestable crop reliably. Carol happens to live in the middle of the Willamette Valley, which is nestled between two mountain ranges and is the terminus of the Oregon Trail. Many people came here in the mid 1800’s to farm that valley, and they were successful. The valley floor is warmer and drier because of its geography. My cousins farm in the central valley, the difference in their growing conditions and ours are remarkable. Heat units are everything to a warm weather crop and if you don’t have them, you spend all your growing season cheering on those crops that need them, hoping for a win.
Another difference was her choice of ducks for eggs. Ducks have a longer egg producing season, and are excellent at eating slugs which are a huge problem in the Pacific Northwest due to our moist conditions. We keep chickens for eggs and while I enjoy my chicken eggs, poultry of any kind would be the first livestock to go at our house, if times got tougher. Due to housing and feeding requirements, poultry would be off of our list because they consume grain, another hard to grow crop in my area. Ideally I could grow enough grain to sustain chickens, and in a best case scenario they could free range and scavenge for all their diet. But keeping them safe enough to do that would be hard in my area. But the premise of the book is not feeding yourself during an ideal time, it is feeding yourself during times of strife. All that being said I would still recommend that people read this book, it is very good. Everyone writes from their own experience, as they should, but each and every food provider has to find out what is best for their area. Whether is be crops and/or animals.
For us, this book and Steve Solomon’s Gardening When it Counts, Growing Food in Hard Times are reminders to stay on the path we began in earnest in the early 90’s when the hubbub du jour was Y2K. Things have been on a steady decline since then. We have for the most part stuck with changes we made in our lifestyle at that time. We have water, and heat and can grow and store enough food using dry land techniques to get us through until the next growing season. But we have luxuries too, right now I have some contraband in my pantry, namely – olive oil, coconut oil and some white flour and sugar, freezer luxuries include chicken and pork. In the barn pantry I have Icelandic kelp, milk replacer, some expensive minerals and a couple of bags of grain. If times were tough – all that would go. And we would have to stick to our master plan and hope our hard work would see us through.
I can’t narrow our list down to 5 unless I lump some things into a category, but here goes:
1) Milk cow – provides milk, butter, cheese, beef, tallow, leather and fertilizer enough for a large garden, and possibly could work as a draught animal if necessary. I can grow all a cow needs right here to thrive. A cow is less predator prone than smaller dairy animals and worth the risk of guarding compared to a small flock of poultry. Second choice for me would be a dairy sheep. Goats would be a good choice if your farmstead lends itself to more woody type plants than pasture. Breeding of course would be a sticking point for many, and speaks volumes for forming community. Not everyone is comfortable having a bull or ram in their backyard but cultivating friendships with people who do would be a worthwhile cause.
2) Winter squash – specifically for me it would be the Sweet Meat that I have grown for decades. Winter squash is easily stored for months without processing and is high in vitamins.
3) Potatoes – again a staple that is easily grown and stored until needed.
4) Root crops – carrots, parsnips, beets, celeriac and rutabagas. I counting root crops as one item because in my garden these all fit the bill of being crops that don’t take a lot of fertility, making them invaluable in a crop rotation, and they are easy to store, and are a staple in the milk cows diet during the winter months. Plus I think if the ne’er-do- wells show up at your doorstep demanding food, they will want corn, not rutabagas. 😉
5) Hardy greens – kale, chicory, plantain, mache and possibly chard. All easy to grow, again crops that don’t require much more than medium fertility, and many can survive winters with a minimum of cover depending on your area. Not to mention there are many hardy greens that can be foraged.
6) Potato onions, and garlic to season all that food we’re growing.
7) Cereal rye mainly for the massive amounts of carbon it produces in the form of straw and because it would be the one grain that grows here without fail and makes a great sourdough if I were to admit I am nothing, if not a good German who loves dark rye bread. Oats would be second, but don’t put out near the biomass that rye does.
It’s hard to narrow it down to just 5 for us, we would be scaling back, whereas if you’re just starting you would be needing to scale up. And for that reason alone I think Carol’s book is a worthwhile read because it makes you think about your own situation and what you may need to do for your future as far as providing your own food and possibly food for others.
What are your 5 – 10 reliable things you would grow/are growing for resiliency? I think regional differences and community will be telling here. Results may vary…