Friday, January 01, 2010

Gardening During Hard Times or Emergencies

Author: Jim Kennard

Gardening During Hard Times

Q. I worry about always having to rely on mixing fertilizer(s) from store purchased materials. What could I do in a survival situation, if I could not go to a store to purchase mineral nutrients?

A. What would you do about your store-purchased food? Many wise people buy more than they need of food 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. As many of you may remember, Joseph in Egypt saved grain for 7 years and then fed the whole Egyptian nation, as well as his own family and others, during the next 7 years of famine.

I submit that the same approach will work even better for gardening – with both seeds and fertilizers. For about $25 you can buy the Garden In A Can, which has enough seeds to grow a 1/2-acre garden (more than enough for most families for a year), from Mountain Valley Seeds (, in Salt Lake City, Utah. These seeds, which are triple sealed in a can, if stored in a cool, dry place, will remain viable for a very long time. I highly recommend you get a can. They are all open-pollinated, or non-hybrid, so you can even save this year’s 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, if it’s done properly. Therefore, if you can buy pre-mixed Mittleider Magic fertilizer, I strongly recommend you buy and store enough extra to grow at least one year's garden.

If you can't get pre-mixed 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 16-8-16, 13-13-13, 16-16-16, 20-20-20, or 10-10-10 (listed in order of preference) 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.

Another alternative you might try, although I can't guarantee it, is Scott's Peters' Professional Pete Lite. This mix, while more readily water-soluble and thus more subject to leaching losses, is similar to Mittleider Magic in NPK ratio, and has most of the micro-nutrients as well.

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 ratios of 80, 4, and 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 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 and let steep for 48 hours. Use the tea, then dump the spent manure out and dig into an unused portion of the garden - it has almost no 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 should expect to 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 preferably 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 12# per 30' soil-bed. Even though you will only feed 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# 50#

40' X 65' (16 soil-beds) 100# 200#

50' X 100' (30 soil-beds) 200# 400#

By the way, just 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. Even in poor countries that could amount to $2,000, and many people in those countries live on $200 or $300 cash per year!