Sunday, October 25, 2009

Feeding the garden during an emergency

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Q. In a survival situation, if I could not go to a store to purchase the raw materials to mix my fertilizer, what would I do? What would I need to add to the soil to get the same results?

A. What would you do if you couldn't go to the grocery store and buy everything you need off the shelf? First off, while you can do it, you wouldn't blame the stores for having so much good food, but be thankful it's there, and use it properly (and don't blame mineral fertilizers for being so good).

Secondly, many wise people buy more than they need of items that store well, and create a "year's supply" of the essentials in their basement or other cool, dry place. This is the biblical answer, for those of you who may
remember Joseph in Egypt, who saved grain and fed the Egyptians and others, including his own family, during a 7 years' famine.

How does this apply to gardening? Seeds, triple sealed in a can and stored in a cool, dry place, will remain viable for a very long time. For about $40 You can buy a Garden In A Can, which has enough seeds to grow 2/3rds of an acre garden (more than enough for most families for a year). You can get them from the Foundation website under Materials, or, from Mountain Valley Seeds, in Salt Lake City, Utah for about $45. The website is I highly recommend you get a can. They are all open-pollinated, or heirloom seeds, so you can even save the seeds for future years' crops.

What about fertilizers, so you can continue to have great yields of healthy vegetables? FERTILIZERS WILL STORE INDEFINITELY, AND MAINTAIN THEIR POTENCY. Therefore, if you are where you can buy pre-mixed Mittleider Magic fertilizer, I strongly recommend you buy and store enough to grow at least one year's garden.

If you can't get Mittleider Magic readily, I recommend the following as a good alternative. Order enough Mittleider Magic Micro-Mix from the Foundation's website store ( for at least one year's supply. Then buy bags of 16-16-16, 15-15-15, 13-13-13, or similar mixes and Epsom Salt as explained in the directions on the Micro-Mix package. Do not mix them together until they are needed, but rather just store the materials in a dry place.

An alternative you might try, although I can't guarantee it, is Scott's Peters' Professional Pete Lite. This mix, while more readily water soluble, is fairly similar to Mittleider Magic, as near as I can tell.

For Pre-Plant mix, you should buy lime (rainfall more than 20" per year) or gypsum (less than 20"), Epsom Salt, and 20 Mule Team Borax, in the ratio 80-4-1, as recommended on the website and in the books.

Now, what do you do if the emergency goes beyond a year, and you've used up all your fertilizer? First off, don't expect the same quantity and quality of production as you obtained with the balanced mineral nutrients, but you can grow a healthy garden using manure tea. Here's how:

Get a large burlap bag and a 55 gallon barrel. Find cow or horse manure (chicken or turkey is twice as hot, so less will be needed), and fill the bag 2/3's full. Place the bag in the barrel and fill it with water. Let the manure "tea" soak or "steep" for 24 hours, then use the tea to water your vegetable plants.

Replace the bag of manure in the barrel, fill again with water and let steep for 48 hours. Use the tea, then dump the spent manure out and till into an unused portion of the garden - it has no more nutrient value, but can improve soil tilth.

Remember to plant your plants a little further apart when using this method, because they will be competing for less available nutrition. And every watering needs to be with the manure tea for your plants to be healthy and thrive. You'll likely grow a smaller garden, and spend some time finding manure.

If manure just isn't available, consider saving kitchen scraps and human waste. Many countries do it all the time, so it's not the end of the world. And all clean, healthy plant residue should be saved and properly composted for re-use in the garden - again as manure tea.

A rule of thumb for how much fertilizer you would need to store, in order to have your year's supply, is 15# per 30' soil-bed. Even though you will only feed something like lettuce or cabbage 4 or 5 times, remember that if you are really living out of your garden, you will be growing two or three crops, and doing it from March or April, right up until frost in October or November. Therefore, see the following list for suggestions on how much to store, depending on the size of your garden.

20' X 30' (4 soil-beds) 25# 60#
40' X 65' (16 soil-beds) 100# 240#
50' X 100' (30 soil-beds) 200# 480#

By the way, 16 soil-beds, properly worked and cared for, especially if combined with good seedling production, could produce a VERY large amount of food. As an example, if only one crop was grown, you could produce 8-10,000# of tomatoes, or even cabbage - if you grew 3 crops. That’s a 40 times yield on the fertilizer investment.

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