Saturday, July 25, 2015

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Musings on Food Self Sufficiency if TSHTF


Someone asked me this question about living in North Idaho and got me to thinking:

"How long would natural resources there last if it hit the fan? Plenty of people must own cabins there, or at least land for hunting. Of course, if it hit the fan, it would be no different here. Game would be gone in a few weeks."

In order to answer this question, I think you need to divide it into SHORT TERM and LONG TERM.


In my opinion if the one in a billion disaster/end of the world/zombie apocalypse happened, hardly any place is self sufficient in food given population densities at this time. Even so-called "bread basket" areas are dependent on tractors, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, irrigation, seeds, etc. You may live in the midwest and surrounded by fields but how are you going to harvest the crops, store them, process them, prepare them???? And when spring time comes around, how are you going to plant the quantity needed without modern technology and fertilizers?

This is why I am such a proponent of having a deep larder and plenty of food storage. You have to be able to last through the die off and transition stage. Over several years, the population will level out to the natural carrying capacity of your area. I think that having SEVERAL YEARS worth of bulk calories (i.e. wheat, rice, corn, beans, split peas, lentils, sugar, cooking oil or lard, oatmeal, etc.) would be wise. Yeah, the diet would be pretty monotonous but that could be supplemented with other food storage, gardening, foraging. The big thing you are looking at are the total quantity of calories. Budgeting for 2,500 to 3,000 calories per person per day, would not be excessive by my reckoning. Luckily for us, most of these bulk calorie items are easy to store long term.


Again, this is imaging a total collapse with no modern technology available (not very likely IMO, I think some smart folks would be able to get something cobbled together). How would we fare in North Idaho? One word -- potatoes!

Seriously though, lets look at what you need to be food self sufficient:

WATER: You need a dependable water source or rain that does not rely on irrigation or a deep well pump. Unlike southern Idaho, North Idaho normally gets good rainfall. There are also plenty of rivers, lakes and streams. Some areas irrigate but that just makes for a consistent, higher yield. Even without irrigation, you would still harvest something. On our homestead, I do not have a well. We rely on a rain water collection system and have a couple of ponds to draw water from. Currently, I use a small Honda gas-powered water pump for watering the yard and garden. However, our irrigation pond is right next to the garden and we could set up a pitcher pump or haul buckets. Wouldn't be fun, but it would be possible. It would take a lot of time and labor, though.

FERTILITY: Your soil needs to be fertile without relying on chemical fertilizers. I recommend that even if you don't garden, that you still do whatever you can to raise your soil's fertility in case you need to plant. This means hauling in manure, making compost, etc. My soil is glacial clay from the last ice age. I started with no "dirt" to speak of. Over the years, I have created a wonderful garden area that I use to grow food for my family. I also go through and bring in truckloads of manure and use it to level out areas of my forest. I don't plant anything there right now, but if I ever needed to....... I also mulch a LOT. This enables me to use less water and as the organic material decomposes, adds to my fertility.

Also, potatoes love to be planted in "new" soil. They really don't care for too rich of soil. So if the unthinkable ever happened, I would till up a new area and plant it in potatoes and use my fertile area for those plants that needed it.

DOING THINGS MANUALLY: So imagine that you couldn't get any gas/diesel or your modern equipment wouldn't work like tractors, rototillers, etc. How do you plant and harvest? Personally, I turn all my garden by hand using a garden fork in the spring. I just go out and do one area at a time as the snow is receding. I do wide row planting so I rarely walk on and compact my beds. I have also added sand and organic material so my garden soil doesn't get too packed down. 


The only time I use a rototiller is when I relocate my strawberry bed every five years. After sitting for five years, the soil is rather hard to turn by hand. Mulching also helps keep the worms happy and they help loosen your soil. 


If I had to expand my garden and had a little time before we lost all technology, I would prioritize using the last of my diesel fuel in the tractor (This is assuming that the tractor still runs) to till up new areas. Once the initial tilling is done, I could keep them up with my garden fork.

HARVESTING: I do all my harvesting manually so I would just continue doing the same thing. Though I do own hand sickles and scythes for grain and hay harvest if needed.

Speaking of grain, I have experimented to see what grain grows best at my location. I have had excellent luck with MILLET, WHEAT, and PAINTED MOUNTAIN CORN. I am planning future experiments with hull-less oats, sunflowers for oil, and rye. I have had bad experience with buckwheat. It was hard to thresh out and the chickens didn't care for it anyway.

Hay harvest was really bad up here this year due to the abnormal heat. Even with a dozen phone calls, I have yet to locate even one ton. We have 1 goat and 2 sheep to feed over winter.  So this year I am experimenting with drying our grass clipping and storing them in old feed sacks. When we planted our yard, we used pasture mix. So we have a mixture of grasses, clover, plantain, dandelion, etc. I have several old sliding glass screen doors that I set on sawhorses and put the grass on to dry. I turn it once and usually in one or two days it is dry enough to store. 


I am also going to try a fodder system this year and sprout barley. So hopefully between the lawn clippings and fodder, my animals will be well fed. I am still planning on getting some hay but I am curious to see if I can get more self sufficient in our animal feed.

So how do I feed my chickens? Currently, we buy our lay pellets and grain. If the unthinkable happened, I would butcher out some chickens so I would only have enough to produce eggs for our family. I would stretch our grain to last as long as possible. During the summer, we weed the garden and feed all the greens to the chickens. All of our scraps from the kitchen also go to them. I don't usually let them free range because we live in the middle of the woods with predators all around. 


I have thought about setting up a string of mouse traps to catch mice for protein. Plus it would keep the rodent population down. I do have portable pens I could put them in so they could get bugs. I would expand the garden and grow some grain for them. I think chickens are a great homestead animal because they provide eggs/meat and they act as garbage disposals.

STORING THE BOUNTY: I have read several sources that stated that pioneer families would often can 1,000 jars a year. If you divide that by the number of days in a year, that is a little less than 3 jars a day to eat. Obviously, you would use less in the summer while eating out of the garden and more in the winter. So I make sure that I stockpile lots of jars, lids and Tattler lids. Meat, vegetables, fruit, juices, jams, etc are all fairly easy to can. Get yourself the equipment and a Ball Canning Book and you're ready to Rock and Roll.

I am also a big proponent of root cellaring. It is less labor intensive than canning. Carrots, potatoes, beets, cabbage. apples, celery, onions, and garlic are all things that I put away for the winter. If you don't have a way to root cellar and you believe that hard times are coming, I would make putting in a root cellar a priority. Check out the book, "Root Cellaring" by Nancy Bubel.

Produce can also be dried. I do a little of this. I dry lovage, basil, celery leaves, apples, and jerky. In the past, I have also dried zucchini, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, berries, pineapple, etc. During the fall, I use collapsible cookie cooling racks on my wood cook stove. I can stack them four high.

HUNTING: In a long term survival situation, I am not sure how much you could count on hunting. During the Great Depression, many animals were almost hunted out. If disaster struck, I would probably make it a priority to hunt early before I needed to and then can the meat to save it for later. If you wait, there might not be anything left.

FORAGING: Make it a point now to start including various wild vittles into your diet. Mushrooms, berries, greens like watercress and nettle, are a good place to start. Rose hips and fir/spruce needle tea are good sources of vitamin C. We also harvest mint that is growing wild for teas.

Overall, I think my best advice is to make sure that you could produce at least some of your food using the lowest amount of technology or modern input, have plenty of long term food storage for bulk calories and be able to expand your growing operation as the situation warrants.


Idaho Homesteader


  1. Idaho Homesteader: Nice article! Thanks.

    Water is the most important thing. I've looked at Bonner County and noticed an average of about 30" annual precipitation, but there are microclimates that get up to 60 inches (like Seattle or Portland, but only if you count all forms of water/ice/mist). 30" is acceptable, but 50+ inches is GREAT for gardening.

    The Permaculture people have some interesting suggestions for gardening without irrigation, or at least without city-water (powered) irrigation.

    Fire danger seems like a thing in the dry places with tall fuels. It takes a lot of muscle and diesel to keep fields clear. Fire-resistant buildings cost extra. A Bison Prepper hole covered with earth is pretty fire-proof, for stuff, but the people had better run.

    Rule of thumb for canning jars: 250 quarts per person, per year. Fewer if you plan on having operational freezers (not unreasonable with some -1KW- PV and the thriftiest DC super-insulated chest models, until your battery bank dies all-the-way), more if clumsy. Tattlers are the bomb. One-time seals for gifting and trade. Cardboard cartons with the correct dividers (what new jars come in) seem to wear out/get wrecked before the jars. Jars need dark and cool to preserve contents, so cartons (insulation/chip protection/light blocking) are important unless you have an underground hidey-hole with shelves, and even then, make stacking/sorting easier.

    Hunting: Yep. Wild critters will be lacking. Over-hunting and aggressive trapping may reduce the predators on your chickens, except the 2-leg predator. The meat you will eat is the kind you have preserved or are raising and keeping as livestock. Cows will require a young man or 2 with carbines to lead and secure them when not locked in a barn. Trapping will probably generate some fresh meat sometimes, but not the kind you want. Defending livestock from "hunters" will be a Very Big Deal as wild critters become impossible to find with a rifle or shotgun.


  2. Idaho you have a nice place because of years of work . One thing I would add is lots of plastic sheets . Its cheep and would allow for Kale spinach turnip greens fodder beets and chard well into winter. Suitable for both man and small stock feed.

    1. I do use some plastic sheeting to extend my harvest, but not over winter -- too much snow. Some years I get over six feet on the ground. There have been several winters that I wasn't able to drive back to my place for months at a time -- we had to rely on snowmobiles, ATV, snowshoes and cross country skis.

      I love to collect windows. A sliding glass door window on it's side makes a great 'picture' window. I use these to make my greenhouse walls. I use ribbed polycarbonate for the roofing material. These can handle the snow load.

      By the time the garden season is over, I am ready for a break. Then it becomes soup, stew, casserole and homemade bread time.

      Idaho Homesteader

  3. Chad from Wisconsin - father of tenJuly 26, 2015 at 7:06 AM

    When it comes to survival hunting... how many people will use force to protect "their" hunting territory?

    Buckshot Hemming places a big emphasis on traps and snares. You can get a real nice set up of professional made snares, #110 and #220 traps for the same price as a new rifle.

    1. But you can also do it a lot cheaper, just a starter kit, and a back-up plan with a book on making your own.

  4. Chad from Wisconsin - father of tenJuly 26, 2015 at 7:22 PM

    You can totally do it cheaper... but having read a half dozen books on it, stole a bunch of home-built designs off of websites... You can hardly build something equivalent to a #110 or #220 that will last as long or work as good. Our local farm store has #110 for $4 and #220 for $9. You can find online supplies slightly cheaper but you have to buy by the dozen and pay shipping. I accumulated mine by ones and twos as extra money is available.

    18" Fishing leaders make decent small snares. I think Canterbury gave me that idea.

    1. Sorry, miscommunication. You are talking wire snares, all cheap enough for what you are getting. I was thinking as a back-up snares made from natural materials.

    2. Chad from Wisconsin - father of tenJuly 27, 2015 at 2:26 PM

      I've tried making cordage. My fingers are too big. I do have a lot of old video tapes and a battery operated hair braider... The test VHS tape had 200 feet of tape in it... so braided... should get at least 50 feet of decent cordage... much better than I can make using grass and hair.

      Using regular wire... I haven't had much luck... the varmints seem to twist until it breaks. fishing leaders... seem to work pretty good.and at a buck something per half dozen... I grab a couple every now and then.