Gardening during the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic outbreak; growing your own emergency rations to become more self-sufficient
First of all, wow. I did not expect to be writing something on this topic right after the launch of my blog. As I have stated in my inaugural post, I have been aiming for self-provision rather than self-sufficiency. About three days ago, the wheels in my brain were turning and I feel like I am going to have to push closer to self-sufficiency. Seeing image after image of grocery stores cleared out and people hoarding food, I started to get an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. My own local shops were clearing out as well. I bake nearly all of our bread and baked goods, but our stores were out of flour and so was I. I started to think about what the grocery stores would look like in a week. A month? Three months? Six months? Yes, supply chains for retail stores have reserves in place but at what point do they become impacted as well, if at all? It would be naive to not expect a cascade effect from today's circumstances. I have a number of questions racing through my head. I have a family to feed and care for. People around the world have very real concerns about their job security, food security, healthcare access, and economy. At this point, things are likely to get worse before they get better.
What is "food security"?
Food security is "the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food" (lexico.com). This is something that we usually take for granted. We usually go to a presumably stocked grocery store, with our list in hand, to buy the things we need and we know we can afford. But what if those foods are no longer available? Or affordable? Those are questions that we should have been asking ourselves, not in this past week, but perhaps the past decade or more. It was nearly ten years ago when I went to see a speaker talk about food security and how truly precarious it may be. The food and agricultural industries are changing, supply chains are changing, and our climate is changing. Our circumstances that we are living right now may affect our food security. Are you ready?
The mystery of what happens next
We are all doing what we can to keep our family well during this challenging time. Hopefully you are not participating in the hoarding (and especially reselling!) of much needed supplies right now. I want to make sure that my family will continue to be able to eat good, healthy fresh food in the coming months. This situation at hand is dynamic and lends itself to a lot of guesswork. One of my concerns that I feel I have some control over is food security. I have the skill and experience to supply my family with fresh, stored, and frozen foods. I worry in the coming months that food prices will increase and availability will decrease due to operational and labour disruptions. I am not the only one predicting this. Furthermore, travel restrictions will impact harvesting labourers as well.
Planning for the unknown
My perspective on gardening and 'micro-farming' has taken a bit more of a serious tone. While I would usually plant things based on trying new foods or things that require fussy care, I am now shifting my efforts to family staples and vegetables that can be prepped to store for longer periods. I am already thinking toward fall and winter, yet it is only March.
Right now, I want FIVE things 1) reliable harvests, 2) trouble-free crops, 3) long harvest periods, 4) heavy yields, and 5) storability. I want vegetables that freeze or can be stored for long periods in root cellars. I have not forayed into canning, but maybe that is something that I might want to consider as well. In the event that I grow too much, I can share with family and friends.
I recently shared that I am working on a sizable front-yard foodscaping project. I currently have no front beds or lawn. Now I am rethinking the proportion of the edibles which I will include this year. Maybe I need to dedicate more space to berry bushes, squashes, and cut-and-come-again crops? I am back to the drawing board in some ways, but I'm going to have to commit to a plan quickly as we enter our prime growing season. I have two of my DIY polytunnels fully planted and I am currently using the third as a greenhouse for starting some cool weather seedlings. I have been furiously sowing seedlings indoors as well. I have planted trays and trays of everything from broccoli to tomatoes.
The thing about food is that it is not instant. Ingredients are derived from crops, which take time and resources to grow. If you miss a window of opportunity to plant a crop at the specific period of time during which it optimally grows, you may have missed the opportunity for the entire year to grow it. You need to start planning now to ensure that you will be able to grow in optimal conditions to ward off bolting, pests, disease, and other considerations.
My priorities have changed. I want to grow more, for longer, in less space. And I need to start now. Thankfully, this winter I will have my polytunnels, so I am hoping to eat fresh food from the garden all year long. If I have too much, I can share with family and friends which is a good problem to have. If I don't have enough, I may be paying more or not getting any at all which is a different kind of problem all together. In some ways, me growing my own food will leave more for other people as well. People who don't have the ability or space to do so.
I encourage you to consider planting fruits and vegetables this year, if you don't do so already. You can plant in your beds and borders. You can even add fruit trees in containers. Grow vertically on structures and trellises to give yourself higher yields in smaller spaces. You can take small steps to provide yourself and your family with more to eat, therefore improving your food security. You may be practicing social distancing or voluntary self-isolation. What better way to spend it than outside in a garden?
This post probably doesn't have the same cheery, lighthearted tone as my previous ones but I think it reflects how I'm feeling at this moment in time. We will come out of this ok. Hopefully as many people as possible will come out of this ok. We all need to take responsibility in this, for ourselves and for each other. We are in this together. Let's flatten the curve. Let's make sure that there is enough for everyone. Let us all be good human beings during this time which is testing us all. This is also a time of reflection; thinking about what is most important to us and recalibrating our priorities in life.
Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will make recommendations for things to plant to get you through the possibility of a food shortage.