The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Category: Preparedness

The Southern Agrarian Last Ditch List

Okra pods and flower

Most of us garden primarily for pleasure. It’s what we do because – well, because we are Southern Agrarians. Yes, what we grow ends up on our table or given to friends and neighbors; however, what our garden produces generally does not determine whether we eat or starve.

But what if it did? What if our very fragile system were to collapse leaving the grocery store shelves empty and the streets too dangerous to venture out in? Part of Southern Agrarianism is being independent of that complex system, so this is very much a topic for discussion.

My garden tends to be planned more around what we enjoy eating and growing rather than for maximizing food production when lives depend on it. The Last Ditch List is what I would be planting if lives did depend on it.

 

The Southern Agrarian Last Ditch List

Sweet Potatoes (Centennial)
Incredibly easy to grow; I’m still growing them from the very first slips that I got about eight years ago. I keep moving them around to avoid soil-borne pests and diseases, and they will take transplanting without any problem.
ꔷ The taste is delicious
ꔷ High in nutritional value
ꔷ Will last for months if stored in a cool, dark place
ꔷ The leaves are edible

Okra (Clemson Spineless)
ꔷ Continuous production through hot weather
ꔷ Very resistant to disease and pest
ꔷ Each plant will produce one or two edible pods about every two to three days
ꔷ Easy to save seeds
ꔷ Delicious when fried

Eggplant (Florida Highbush)
ꔷ Highly productive through hot weather
ꔷ Easily prepared and makes a good, filling meal
ꔷ Minimal problems from disease or pests
ꔷ Relatively easy to save seeds if you know the technique
ꔷ Should plant a fairly large number to maintain genetic diversity in seeds

Seminole Pumpkin
ꔷ Fruit can last up to a full year when properly stored
ꔷ Almost impervious to disease or pests
ꔷ Huge vines that drop roots along the way making the plant very resilient and able to thrive on relatively poor ground
ꔷ Lots of organic matter at the end of the season to keep the ground rich
ꔷ Needs good care and lots of water to get started; once established, requires almost no care

Collards (Georgia Southern)
ꔷ Winter crop
ꔷ Other greens will not reliably produce seeds in this area

 

Second Tier crops

These are ones that I am still working with but don’t have enough experience yet to put them on the Last Ditch List. Nothing other than lack of a well established track record keeps me from putting them on the Last Ditch List.

Potatoes (Yukon Gold)
This is only my second time planting these, but all indications are that they should make the Last Ditch List in the next year or two.

Squash (Tromboncino)
The variety makes all the difference. I have given up on the more typical yellow squash; bugs have destroyed them every single time I have tried. Tromboncino, on the other hand, is highly resistant to pests due to its tough outer skin. The fruit is pale green, long and thin, and grows on a vine. I have them growing along a fence.

 

Not On The List

These are crops that I grow now, but they don’t meet the criteria for inclusion on the Last Ditch List.

Beans (Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake) – Too many poor results. Sometimes I get a good crop, and other times it’s a poor crop. Inconsistent. May be moved to the Last Ditch List once I learn more, but not yet. Good potential once I learn more.

Corn (Reid’s Yellow Dent) – Low yield for the amount of space it takes up. Heavy drain on the garden soil. If any crops would be available for purchase following a collapse, it would be grains. They are well suited for large scale, highly mechanized farming, and they transport and store well. I keep some seeds on hand for use in corn meal or for chicken feed – just in case.

Tomatoes (Homestead 24) – Too easily damaged by bugs or disease or blossom end rot. They stop producing when the weather gets hot.

Peppers (Carolina Wonder) – Susceptibility to Blossom End Rot keeps peppers off the list. If I can get the calcium deficiency solved, this might be moved to the Last Ditch List.

 

Final Notes

Vegetable gardening is very location-dependent. This Last Ditch List is what works for me here in north central Florida. There is a really good chance that your Last Ditch List would be different. Maybe very different. Perhaps the most value from this list is in the criteria – why I chose what I did for this list.

What is on your Last Ditch List – and why?

Tools For The Garden

Gardening can be very time-consuming, hard work – unless you have the right tools for the job. The right tools can make the work fast and easy, and they can allow someone to reasonably produce enough food to feed their family where it would not be possible without them.

The top photo shows my current collection of manual garden tools. This does not include the BCS two-wheel tractor and implements that are stored in another area. I tend to collect garden tools like some folks collect guns – better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. One can never have too many garden tools. I even have a broad fork – a beast of a tool that I might even need some day. In future posts, we’ll look at some of the more interesting tools in my shed.

The second photo shows two extremes in tools. One item is a Rogue Field Hoe (reviewed here) – a great example of a high quality tool that should last a lifetime or more. The crude stick with a metal spike driven through it is not an ancient relic from an archaeological site or something sold to tourists. It is a hand hoe that is in routine use today in Africa. Specifically, this one was purchased at a village market in Sierra Leone, West Africa by missionaries there that I work with. This could correctly be called state of the art technology in most of Africa today. Yes, there are certainly tractors and modern tools in use there also; however, those are imported. When it comes to tools made by the locals, this pretty much says it all. There are some lessons to be learned in this.

Western hoe and African hoe – both manufactured about the same time, and both routinely used in their respective areas.

OK. What’s the point of this post? Ask yourself how you would produce enough food to feed yourself and your family if you had to work the soil to feed them. Stored food doesn’t count – that eventually runs out. Power equipment is great, but it doesn’t count either – fuel very quickly runs out. What you’re left with is muscle powered tools. Most of the world will reply with rolled eyes and a smirk. “It couldn’t happen here” they would say. Perhaps they are right. I certainly hope they are right; however, I’m not going to bet my family’s life on it. Do you?

Our Precarious Agriculture System

A lush crop of corn being grown for silage.

A lush crop of corn being grown for silage.

Last month, our family held its sixty-first annual family reunion. It’s a chance to talk with a number of my cousins who have been farmers in that area all their lives. When I remarked about how lush and beautiful the corn looked, I learned a lot about just how precarious our food supply is. It is almost entirely dependent on vast quantities of fertilizer and diesel fuel to work the land and to irrigate it.

The situation varies, of course, depending on the type of soil found in different parts of the country. The ideal combination of local climate and fertile, well-drained soil is really quite rare. The reason that the world’s farmers are able to feed a huge and rapidly growing population is the enormous input per acre, of fuel, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. Much of today’s farmland is not a whole lot more than a growing medium to which water and nutrients are added – similar to hydroponics.

I will also point out here that we haven’t even touched on the complex system of transporting and delivering that food from the farm to your table. That is even more fragile than the agriculture system, with its near-total dependency on a functioning financial system, available credit, just-in-time ordering system, trucking system, and a coordinating system totally dependent upon the Internet.

There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but the fact remains that without the continuous flow of cheap diesel fuel, irrigation water, fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides, the food available to the consumer would be a tiny fraction of what is needed. Proponents of organic farming point to that as the solution; however, there simply isn’t enough organic matter available nor is there a high enough yield for organic farming to even approach the quantity of food needed. (I’m a big fan of organic gardening, but the issue here is one of scale rather than method.)

If you’re looking for a solution to the overall problem, I’m afraid that there is none. Mankind has grown completely dependent on highly mechanized, high-input farming to feed the population. There is simply no getting around that – as a wide scale issue, anyway. On an individual scale, it is a different story. Growing and producing a portion of our own food for our own family is something that we can all do. Very few will be able to produce more than a token amount of their food to begin with, but it is a learning process. When the day comes that our complex food system no longer functions, make sure that you have the skills and the tools to feed your family.

Irrigation, powered by diesel fuel, keeping that corn growing.

Irrigation, powered by diesel fuel, keeping that corn growing.

Food Security and Social Unrest

IMG_5554-1200x800

In a report published yesterday (06/26/2016), a FEMA contractor reported on a simulation called “Food Chain Reaction”. The scenario was to simulate a food crisis brought about by “food price and supply swings amidst burgeoning population growth, rapid urbanization, severe weather events, and social unrest.” You may want to read the full article yourself, but that’s not really our concern here.

As Southern Agrarians, our goal is to isolate and insulate ourselves from the chaos and anarchy of a world in collapse. Growing a portion of our own food – even if it is only a small portion – gives us a base from which to ramp up our food production to the point of being relatively self sufficient. Right now, I have a rather small part of our one acre being used to produce food. Every year brings new lessons in how to be more productive: what grows well and what doesn’t, learning the best time to plant, the best plant spacing for the soil in my garden, and a hundred other things to learn.

That small garden can be easily expanded by turning lawn into garden in order to multiply the amount of food being produced. Having the tools to do that is a key part of it. I recently purchased a two-wheeled walk-behind tractor made by BCS. It is an Italian company that owns Ferrari (Ferrari used to make tractors before they focused on high-end sports cars). With the roto-tiller attachment, I can quickly turn new ground into ready-to-plant garden area. I also have several high quality hoes that allow me to efficiently maintain the garden.

There is so much more involved in becoming more self-sufficient. How do you provide water for your family, your garden, and your livestock? How do you preserve what you grow for the rest of the year when the garden is not producing? How do you feed your chickens or ducks or other livestock? Those are the kinds of questions that we try to answer here in addition to the cultural and social aspects of Southern Agrarianism.

Being self-sufficient is a very comfortable feeling in these unstable times. Make sure that you can provide for your family, no matter what the future holds.