Practical steps to developing food security during uncertain times

Not much is more sobering about the fragility of human life than a pandemic.

Beyond the consideration of our own mortality, for many, COVID-19 has been their first experience of even a remote possibility that goods and services we all take for granted might not always be so readily available.

This initial thought can cause a lot of fear and anxiety. This is easily observed in the “great toilet paper rush” in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. Large swathes of the population suddenly feel very insecure about their long-term prospects for wiping their arse and have gone to great efforts and expense to ensure the best possible outcome for their derriere.

Unfortunately, toilet paper is likely to be only the beginning.

When these same fearful and panicked hordes have similar thinking about some other commonly available item – soup, beans, cash, bandaids, or god-forbid coffee!!!… the result tends to be a run on those things. This causes mayhem and deprives others in the community access to those same items, in turn, furthering panic.

See… most people are reactive instead of proactive – responding to events instead of anticipating them. Many get away with this only because of the capacity of large infrastructures to endure such things. However, those systems cannot do so indefinitely, and for those accustomed to depending on reacting always working for them, this can produce very uncomfortable and perhaps even fatal outcomes when the breaking point of those systems draws near.

Panic, like most fear, undermines good decision making. It is rooted in our mid-brains where our fight or flight responses come from. When we panic, we are not using our strong, thinking, pre-frontal cortex brains. Therefore, it becomes imperative that our first step in any practical steps to think about long term food security that we start from a place of calm, panic-free thinking.

Calm yet? Good! Keep reading!

Like other areas we’ve written about preparedness, following a strategy is important. Food security is no exception.

The first practical step one should take when considering their food security is to identify a reasonable and achievable goal. This goal needs to be rational. The reality is… there is really no such thing as total food security. We can’t ever be 100% certain of our ability to feed ourselves any more than we can any other area. We must come to grips with that truth in order to make effective decisions.

What is a good goal for food security? If you’re uncertain of a specific goal, start with this: aim to multiply your current supply by three. Have a week’s supply? Great – aim for three week’s supply. Have a month? Aim for three months. Have three months? Aim for nine months. Keep doing this until you and your family believe your on-hand supplies provide the level of resiliency to best equip you for uncertain times and to help others in your community to do likewise.

Next, if at all possible, don’t rush to reach this goal. You’ll make fewer mistakes, waste less, and avoid causing others to go without if you build up slowly. Instead, increase your supply buying by 10% per shopping trip until you’ve met your first goal. Continue to do this until you’ve met your second goal, third goal, etc.

Once you start to build your supplies, purchase shelf-stable or freeable foods that you already consume. Food that you and your family do not eat will go to waste if there is no occasion to need it otherwise. Develop a  “FIFO” (“first-in, first-out”) system where you eat from your pantry the oldest food first and continue to do so as you add new supplies.  Organize the good so that the closest food in reach is the oldest food in your storehouse. In this way, the food is always fulfilling a practical every-day use in family meals instead of rotting on a shelf.

Remember, the goal is resiliency, not to become a doomsday prepper fearfully anticipating loss and demise.

Following the above steps will lead most individuals and families to a reliable supply of food to meet their anticipated needs within a relatively short period of time and without blowing out most budgets. Having a hard time finding the funds? Let us know and we’ll show you some ways we’ve found to squeeze more out of almost any budget.

This plan also allows one to slowly, calmly adapt and scale to their own needs over time and proactively add more pantry, shelves, or freezer space as needed instead of creating yet another situation to need to react by making hasty, unnecessary, and costly decisions.

For those interested in going further

Food security for most will be tied to the supply chains in place in their community. Any supply chain has vulnerabilities and there is no way to entirely mitigate against those risks. What should a calm, rational and resilient person do? Shorten the supply chains.

Whether food comes from a far-off country or one’s own backyard, it comes from a supply chain. The grocery store, the garden… those are both supply chains. The shorter the supply chain, the more resilient it is. Most North Americans rely on very long supply chains for their food. Resiliency is found in finding and using shorter supply chains.

The simplest supply chains are those that are self-managed:

  • Home gardens
  • Backyard chickens or other small animals (ducks, rabbits, other fowl)
  • Hunting, fishing, and foraging

The second-simplest are supply chains within the community:

  • Food co-ops
  • CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)
  • Local farms
  • Farmers markets
  • Produce auctions

The most complex supply chains

  • Large grocery stores
  • Big box retailers
  • Online vendors (Amazon, Walmart, etc)

Our family has found the best workable strategy for us to be a combination of all of the above, not placing all of our eggs in any one basket – including those supply chains right here on the homestead. Those also are not without risk. Animals die, gardens fail, fruit trees fail to grow fruit. That is just an inescapable reality.

We happily purchase from the cornucopia of delightful foods available to us in North America in combination with our own self-produced and other locally produced foods. We will continue to do so as long as we are able.

Conclusion

Resiliency is a journey and as with all journeys – the hardest parts are often in the getting started and the patience to enjoy the journey without rushing through it.

Take your time, think about your goals, plan your food security journey, then get started.

In doing so, you’ll produce in yourself more resiliency and in doing so, a more stable family, community, and nation.

Did this article strike a chord with you? If so, we’d love for you to share it.

 

Raised beds with pressure treated lumber?!

Pressure Treated?!

If you’ve ever looked into raised beds, you’ve likely looked for the materials to build them out of and, if wood, probably come across mixed advice when those discussions center around using pressure-treated (PT) wood.

Out of the abundance of caution, we’ve always steered clear of pressure treated wood – that is until recently. We decided we’d do our best to safeguard against what some worry about and see how it goes. We can’t help but believe that fresh produce grown in pressure-treated beds is any worse than most of the contexts where food comes from commercially. Furthermore, gardens near populations where pollution is a problem likely pose a higher risk of causing health issues.

To be clear, we’re NOT recommending you do this. We just decided to give it a shot and describe here how we built our beds. These instructions would be just as useful for non-treated lumber – they’d just last a lot longer.

Materials:

We started with these nifty raised bed blocks from Home Depot:

Next, we purchased our pressure-treated lumber. We were aiming to make long beds that were as wide as possible but still allow adults to reach the center of the bed from the edges. We ended up making beds that were approximately 5′ x 15′ and about 16.5″ deep (three courses of lumber) followed by another 1.5″ cap layer, so 18″.

Each bed required:

  • Beds
    • (12) corner blocks
    • (2) 1/2″ by 10′ rebar cut into 4 x 36″ pieces.
      • This leaves about 18″ of support in the ground.
    • (8) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 16′
      • 3 for each of the long sides
      • 2 for the long sides of the top frame
    • (4) pressure treated 2″ x 6″ x 10′
      • 3 cut at about half to form the short sides
      • 1 cut at about half to form the short sides of the top frame
    • Misc scrap wood for supports and accouterments
    • Screws
    • A dozen or so standard poly feed bags (scraps from animal feed).
    • Staples
    • Wood chips
    • Soil
  • Waterers:
    • (3) 10′ lengths of 4″ solid drain pipe (with flared ends)
    • (3) 90° drain pipe or schedule 40 PVC elbows
    • (2) 4″ PVC caps
    • PVC glue (primer probably not necessary here)

Tools needed

  • Circular saw
  • Small sledgehammer
  • Digging tools for leveling
  • Cordless driver (for screws)
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Tri-square
  • Stapler
  • Tractor (filling 15′ x 5′ beds without a tractor is no fun!)

The process

We live on a mountain. Nothing is easy when you live on a mountain, except falling down the mountain or finding runoff water where it ought not be! Garden on a mountain long enough and you’re likely to have one leg grow longer than the other 😉

Our first step in building the beds was to excavate flat areas for our beds. Oh, what fun. We used a combination of a backhoe, shovels, and many curse words.

Once excavated, we placed the corner blocks, leveled and plumbed them to one another, then drove rebar into the ground through the first block of each corner, leaving ample rebar for the two additional courses. You don’t pound that all the way in until the bed is complete and ready for the top “frame”.

We then proceeded to place the lumber into the “grooves” of the blocks. They just sit in there in slots – no screws or nails. We added three “courses” to get the depth we desired. We used scrap wood to cut braces to screw vertically to the long sides to keep them tightly together (see two in the picture below).

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We used the scraps cut off of the top layer (45 degree cuts) to make side supports as seen on the end here. We fastened it all together with screws.

Now, we still have our concerns about pressure-treated lumber and want to minimize exposure as much as we can…

We have a massive amount of used feed bags so we decided to line the bed with them to keep the soil from having any direct contact with the pressure-treated wood.

Unfortunately, we got the idea for that after we put the top frame of the beds on, so we took the top frame off, stapled them to the top edge of the last course of the bed, and also to the bottom of the sides, making it nice and tight. We did it this way to keep the feed bags firmly attached and to avoid ugly fraying bag edges. Once the top frame goes on (with screws), it makes a nice clamp for the bags. The bed material holds the bags up against the wood.

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Here you can see the feed bags lining the bed. Only the brick edges have contact with the soil

Watering

We had prior experience with copious watering chores and decided to borrow some concepts from Hügelkultr for our raised beds. We did so first by adding about 1-2″ of wood chips to the bottom of the bed. This does a few things…. first, it helps to wick water up into the bed when it does rain, and then it holds it there quite well since there isn’t any easy opportunity for evaporation.

To be double sure that we would have drought-tolerant beds, we also added custom waterers made from 4″ PVC drain pipe. We drilled 1/32″ holes every few inches along each side of the pipe. If you were to look down the pipe so that the opening appeared as a circle, we drilled holes at about the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions, and about every 6 inches down the length of the pipe.

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The pipe is capped at one end and then has a small stack that extends out of the bed and is loosely capped for filling. Then the whole waterer pipe gets buried with wood chips.  We added wood chips to about the top of the pipe.

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Note: We added horizontal braces (made of cedar) to add support across the bed and prevent the sides from bowing under the weight of the soil. These also pin the waterer down firmly.

This approach results in about 6″ of woodchips in the bottom of the bed and an expedited way to get water into them. This left us with a remaining 12″ or so of planting depth.

The idea is to saturate the woodchips so that they retain moisture and cause deep rooting of plants. It is also to prevent water loss. For what it’s worth, just from our common rainfall, we did not do any watering on these beds this year and had pretty nice results. We used these waterers in other beds with the same result – NO watering.

Most people water the surface of their garden beds, which requires a substantial volume to soak the root zone of the plants. It’s a waste of water and time in our experience. It also discourages deep rooting. This approach soaks all the rainfall UP into the bed as well as down from the surface and saturates the wood chips. From there it maintains an even moisture level that is almost impervious to evaporation through heat and wind. It is a huge time saver even without the watering pipes. We just used those so that if ever there is a long drought, we can maximize our watering efforts.

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Finally, we add a mix of mushroom soil, topsoil, and rabbit manure to the beds, followed by another thin layer of wood chips (to prevent evaporation and for mulch). All that was left was to plant them.

Note: We’ve had plenty of armchair gardeners critique using woodchips like this, but we can’t argue with our success. Forests don’t demand only composted leaf litter and debris take residence on the forest floor so demanding only heavily composted wood chips in garden beds is erroneous. We aren’t using as a soil amendment but as a soil cover. Even a cover of newspapers would be better than nothing! I’d rather have a cover of plastic than no cover. There is a word for uncovered landscapes – “desert”.

Lastly, we stained the outside exposed wood using Cabot Australian Timber Oil (“Carribean Walnut”). We love that stuff!

Summary

If we die of cancer, you the reader can point to this post and proclaim where we went wrong. If we don’t, we can at least enjoy these beds for a a decade or more and the fruits that we grow in them.

Please feel free to ask questions or share your experiences with pressure treated garden beds in the comments below.

Pastured Pork Pros and Cons

We’ve had a few seasons of raising pastured pork and are starting to understand the pros and cons. We aim to share them here for those who really want to understand some of the potential blessings and hardships associated with raising pastured pork.

We love Joel Salatin. It was largely his videos on pigs raised in the forest that got our feeble minds thinking we could do this. Nevertheless, an hour or two of his videos don’t adequately portray the months of experiences one will have raising pigs in a forest, meadow, field, or pasture. Joel Salatin makes it look easy! It isn’t super hard, but it’s not super easy either.

First, the pros…

If you have a good docile breed, your pigs will be very happy in a pasture or woods vs a concrete slab (a common approach). Pigs are intelligent animals that enjoy exploration, space, community, and movement. Pastured pigs enjoy these in abundance.

If you plan on eating these pigs, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they lived a very happy life (except one day).

Your pigs will taste better than the average pig (assuming you feed them good food). Remember, you are what you eat and you are what you eat eats!

They’ll clear your land of more or less all vegetation minus large trees.

They’ll fertilize your land and any land downstream from your land

If you intend to sell them, there is a potential market for pasture-raised pork.

Your pigs will taste better than any pork you could purchase at the store.

Pigs -especially piglets- are fun to watch and be around.

Pigs don’t require much infrastructure. If you get them young enough to train to an electric wire/fence, you can house them for very little. This is a huge plus compared to other homestead/farm animals. Only rabbits are simpler.

Pigs will make good use of your quality garden and kitchen waste. More of the calories you purchase or grow will end up feeding you if you have pigs.

Example. When we buy bushels of peaches to can, we skin them, can the fruit, then run the skins through a juicer. This gives us peach juice to freeze, can, or use in smoothies, and then some skin pulp and pits. The pigs will eat the skin pulp and the pits, leaving us with zero waste!

Now, the cons…

If you raise pigs in a field, forest, meadow, or pasture, that is where they’ll most likely be when you go to round them up for slaughter. This is NOT an easy task in many cases. Many YouTubers, movies, and bloggers have idyllic photos and videos of homesteaders and farmers frolicking with their pigs. That may be true for about 5 minutes, or on days when you and they have nowhere special to be. As soon as you roll up with a trailer and they see you salivating at the thought of eating them as ham and bacon – you’ll soon find out how belligerent a pig can be!
A pig is a like an impetuous 300lb bodybuilding two-year-old. Catching them requires work and ingenuity. It might also take some nerves. A caught pig makes a lot of unsettling noise. If you have to deliver a live animal to the butcher, it’s going to take some effort. On average, it takes us 70 minutes per pig to gather and place in a trailer. Oh, and that is for 4-5 strong and fit men (over the age of 16)!Pigs can feel intimidating, even if nice. They make noises that can be unnerving to some. When they do this while swarming you, especially when over 200lbs each, this can make a gal or fella a bit uneasy. They probably won’t hurt you, and are likely just wondering what goodies you might have brought to the party. Nevertheless, this can be a scary experience for new pig owners.Pigs create mud out of thin air. Seriously. You can have a nice dry patch of woods and inside of a few weeks, it will look like a scene from a National Geographic report on catastrophic mud slides. Pigs create muck and in copious supply! Walking in said muck is tough. Add rain to that muck and it is very easy to be in mud up to mid-calf. In our very wet mountainside, this is discouraging at times. Your “pasture”, unless quite large, will likely be mostly a mud lot when the pigs are through with it.

Pigs can feel intimidating, even if nice. They make noises that can be unnerving to some. When they do this while swarming you, especially when over 200lbs each, this can make a gal or fella a bit uneasy. They probably won’t hurt you and are likely just wondering what goodies you might have brought to the party. Nevertheless, this can be a scary experience for new pig owners.

Pigs create mud out of thin air. Seriously. You can have a nice dry patch of woods and inside of a few weeks, it will look like a scene from a National Geographic report on catastrophic mud slides. Pigs create muck and in copious supply! Walking in said muck is tough. Add rain to that muck and it is very easy to be in mud up to mid-calf. In our very wet mountainside, this is discouraging at times. Your “pasture”, unless quite large, will likely be mostly a mud lot when the pigs are through with it.

Pastured pigs take longer to raise (potentially). You can’t go by books written for commercial or economical pig-raising. Pigs raised on a 16′ square of concrete who cannot forage or root are going to fatten up much faster than a very fit and active pig galavanting throughout the forested glen or meadow.

Pigs that are being raised in the cold will dedicate some of their calories for staying warm rather than growing larger. This means it takes more feed. If you’re raising pastured pigs, you’re most-likely using quality feed, which means you will need MORE of it. All around, this makes for a more expensive pig. That’s okay! Just be realistic about it.

Pigs we start in October are ready in May. Pigs we start in July are ready in late Fed/March. This is a slower approach than most approaches geared toward solely economics. If you’re buying pastured pork, keep this in mind and don’t haggle with your farmer over the price. Pastured pork is more resource-intensive to raise to maturity

The majority of people who might want to buy your pork are used to grocery store prices. Most of those people will not understand and therefore purchase your more expensive pork. All most consumers will think is that the sale paper pork is way less than yours. Ah, but you say you can raise them cheap!  If your feed is entirely free – maybe.Pigs might eat anything/everything, but it doesn’t mean they should or that eating a pig that has eaten everything/anything is a good idea! Don’t get pigs thinking you’ll feed them the scraps from your town or community. Yes, they will eat it and get fat doing so – but you will be eating them and therefore eating the same scraps. Feed pigs quality feed and they’ll give you quality meat.

Pigs might eat anything/everything, but it doesn’t mean they should or that eating a pig that has eaten everything/anything is a good idea! Don’t get pigs thinking you’ll feed them the scraps from your town or community. Yes, they will eat it and get fat doing so – but you will be eating them and therefore eating the same scraps. Feed pigs quality feed and they’ll give you quality meat.

Pigs cannot always be butchered when you need them to be. Butchers have busy schedules and many butchers have seasons they do and don’t butcher pigs. Getting your butchering done when you and the pigs are ready might prove challenging. Select your butcher and understand their schedule before bringing home your pigs.

All in all, raising pigs has been a great experience – one that we intend to keep doing. However, it’s not without its challenges and knowing these beforehand can be helpful. Have a question or comment about raising pigs? Chime in below!

Homestead uses for Thermacore panels

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Thermacore panels (these are 8′ x 24″)

Thermacore panels are the technical/trade name for insulated garage door panels. They have many valuable uses on a homestead or farm. At $.70/sqft (in our area), they are among the least expensive options for most cases where they can be used.

Thermacore panels are painted steel panels filled with about 1 – 1.5″ of solid foam. They have an Insulation value of about R-9 and because they’re steel, have the possible added benefit of being compatible with magnets. Because they’re metal, they cannot easily decay and are easily cleaned with a power washer, etc. Remember… these are made for garage doors.

The panels are easily cut with standard power tools. We use a circular saw with an old blade installed in reverse. We make finer cuts for fixtures and such with a jigsaw with a long metal blade.

Walls

One of our favorite uses for Thermacore panels is for finishing walls in outbuildings, basements, etc. Compared to installing (and more importantly, finishing) drywall  (“sheet rock”) which takes several cycles, Thermacore panels go up very, very fast by screwing them to the framing.

With some forethought in framing, they are very structurally sound and stiffen up walls much more than drywall does. If one is okay with the white-colored finish, the attached panels provide a surface that needs no other finishing aside from a wipe down with a damp rag.

We prefer to install the panels vertically because of the paneled appearance of the panels. When doing so, we have found it adequate to fasten with self-tapping hex screws (3″) at the top and bottom and if possible, the middle of the panels. Usually this requires about a dozen screws per panel. This also sometimes requires horizontal blocking in wall framing About half way up the wall.

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Thermacore panels used as wall sheeting

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These panels are about 1.25″ thick. There is a .25″ gap between the panel and lumber above because it has not yet been fastened tightly.

If  installed horizontally, just fasten to the wall studs as you would with drywall. The panels are designed with edges that slightly overlap the next panel creating a nice fit.

Thermacore panels make great wall sheeting for barns, mudrooms, root cellars, rabbitries, some animal stalls (and with great care to handle sharp edges!) and more.

Shelves

Thermacore panels are very strong. We’ve seen them used for canning shelves, with vertical supports about every four feet. We use them ourselves for barn shelving that hold the largest of plastic tubs filled with all manner of supplies. They are very quick to put up and much less expensive per square foot than a comparable lumber solution. Further, since they’re metal, they’re more forgiving to spills and such.

Raised Garden Beds

Thermacore panels make for very quick and easy garden beds. We’re able to secure them locally in 21″ and 24″ widths and just about any length. Married with 4″ x 4″ corner posts and decorative caps and you have some very nice (and deep) raised garden beds. These panels are metal, and as such could potentially rust if areas without paint are exposed to ground moisture for long durations, but we feel that is less likely to happen compared to wooden beds that would likewise rot.

See an example here: http://yourhouseandgarden.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Garage-doors-into-raised-garden-bed.jpg

Cold frames

Thermacore panels would also make great (though opaque) walls for cold frames. Since these panels have an insulation value of R-9, they provide a very easy means for insulating the sides of a cold frame. Too tall for your liking? Just bury them a few inches into the ground.

Ceilings & Ceiling Sheeting

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Thermacore workshop ceiling

As with wall sheeting, Thermacore panels make for a very fast ceiling solution. Our bank barn has a lower level that is exposed the elements. Thermacore panels attached to the underside of the floor above not only insulate the floor above, but also prevent bees, birds, snakes, and mice from utilizing the space between the rafters.

Inexpensive plant edging

We were growing tired of trying to keep the grass encroaching on our blueberries, so we decided we needed to surround them with some sort of barrier. Unfortunately, most of the barriers sold at big box stores were over-priced and not the most fun to install.

In our neck of the woods, barrels like the one below can be purchased for about $8 used.

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Photo from bascousa.com 

We had the idea of taking a barrel, cutting off the top and bottom, and then cutting the barrel into slices horizontally. Doing so, we were able to get about 6-8  slices, leaving us planting rings that were roughly 3-4″ tall and about 24″ in diameter. The size was just right for surrounding our blueberries.

We then lightly tapped these into the ground and mulched only within the planter ring. The rest of the patch we filled with left-over decorative gravel from our kitchen garden bed project.

The results looked like this:

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Here is a slightly better angle:

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Land/Auction Update

Just realized today that we neglected to post any updates regarding our recent trip to auction to bid on a 37 acre farm.

Well, we went there ready to bid. We set a price we all agreed on. We were ready to go.

The bidding quickly got beyond our max price. We never even got to bid. That’s a good thing because we learned enough about auctions to know NOT to bid until certain times, and also never to go over your max amount. We felt good that we didn’t do anything stupid. As it was, the winner paid about $100k more than we would have. That’s about $100k more than the land was worth. That buyer is gonna have a hard time getting a bank to finance the deal and/or will have more invested in their property than the property is worth.

So… this farm was not for us. At least not at this time. We have no idea what Jehovah has in store for us. We’re content with the outcome. More than that, we’re excited about the relationship opportunities that happened because our consideration of this endeavor. When people think about doing something like this, there HAS to be some intense discovery and conversation about one another. For me (Andrew) that was the big reward of this experience. Way more important than getting land. We were able to work together, lay aside petty differences, past hurts, future fears and a whole lot more and still decide that we could love one another despite those things. Truly amazing! I don’t care if we ever get land if we can keep growing in those kind of relationships!

So, we’re still looking for viable land and the means to acquire it. In the meantime, we’re endeavoring to help one another live simple, pleasant, and rewarding lives together. We’ll keep you posted!

Open-Pollinated, Heirloom, Organic, or Hybrid – I’m confused!

There can be some confusing information about seeds when choosing to plant a garden. Who would have ever thought there could be so much strong opinion and controversy surrounding the kind of seeds we plant in our gardens! If you’ve shopped for seeds, you may have noticed several terms related to the type and origin of the seeds. These include “heirloom”, “open-pollinated”, “organic”, “hybrid”, and “bio-dynamic”. You might even find some more terms in your shopping!

So what do each of these mean and how do they affect you and your gardening? Let us explain…

Hybrid

Hybrid seeds are those that are derived in the labs of universities or large multi-national corporations. In nature, seed varieties emerge as plants naturally pollinate and the DNA of separate species combine to produce a new species that combine the two. Hybrid seeds are those where that process is purposefully performed in a lab, skipping all the happenstance of nature and replacing it with careful, calculated measures intended to produce a desired result. Furthermore, Hybrid seeds are often created by combining genetic material from species that would not typically combine in nature. This is done to create plants with more favorable characteristics such as color, growing season length, taste,  disease resistance, pest resistance, etc. Because this process occurs in a lab, the typical hybrid result – once grown, is unable to reproduce in kind. Therefore, if one were to keep the seeds of a hybrid variety and plant that seed, the result would not be the same as the parent, but of one of the original contributors of the genetic material of the hybrid seed. This is if the seed grows at all. Oftentimes, these are sterile, or have been “programmed” by the producers to not be able to reproduce.

GMO or Genetically Modified Organism

GMO seeds are those that have been engineered in a lab in such a way that genetic material is modified to produce a certain result. It would be fair to say that all GMO seeds are hybrid seeds, but not all hybrid seeds are GMO. In some cases, the genetic modifications simply mimic nature’s process but in a matter of weeks rather than millennia. Other GMO seeds are far more concerning and at times combine even non-plant genetic material with plant material to produce “super plants” that are resistant to pests and diseases and in some cases even produce their own pesticide! GMO seeds are hybrid and therefore cannot reproduce in kind. It is this family’s opinion that many GMO seeds should be avoided because of the “frankenseed” nature of them. These seeds may contain genetic material that would not normally be found in foods consumed by humans.

Heirloom

Heirloom seeds are simply seeds that are not mass-produced or engineered by large multi-national corporations, but rather come from the slower, manual process of individuals and families preserving the seeds of their best crops over time. . These seeds have been chosen from seasonal crops over many years or decades because of their unique and positive attributes.  Technically, these seeds are not necessarily “open-pollinated” because a farmer of gardener could have manually pollinated their plants in a greenhouse or field for the desired result. Nevertheless, heirloom seeds were produced under circumstances that are harmonious with the natural order of the plant world.

Open-Pollinated

Open-pollinated means that the plant has naturally pollinated in nature without human interruption in a lab. These are varieties that emerged by chance “as the wind blew” genetic material from one variety to another.

Organic

Organic seeds are those that were grown under organic growing conditions and have met the requirements for considering seeds to be certifiably organic. This usually means that the seeds were produced in an environment free of harmful pesticides or chemicals. Some would debate the impact this has on seeds themselves since the resulting plant would not necessarily be effected by the environment in which it’s parent was created. However, others would argue that the DNA of such plants could be damaged or unfavorable altered by being produced under such conditions. In general organic seeds are non-GMO and usually non-hybrid but open-pollinated varieties as well. If you plant these seeds, keep the resulting plant’s seed and re-plant it, you’ll get the same variety of plant. It doesn’t make your plant or garden “organic” all by itself . You’d still have to maintain organic conditions and processes to do so. That’s the topic for another blog – not this one 🙂

Biodynamic

According the wikipedia.. Biodynamic agriculture…

“is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food. As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided.

Biodynamic seeds are those that were created under such conditions and/or are intended for those wishing to plant the seeds under such conditions. Usually, this means that the seeds have been certified to be Biodynamic by organizations that define and maintain the standards for such. Most gardeners will not need to concern themselves with using certified biodynamic seeds unless they’re looking to start or maintain a certified biodynamic garden. This is not the interest of the average gardener, but usually a commercial pursuit.

Which is best to use?

We’ve been asked this question plenty of times. There’s no single answer to this question. As a family, we  endeavor to use organic, heirloom, open-pollinated seeds. We do so because we want seeds that were not created in a lab by those driven by profits. We also want to be able to save seeds from year to year in order to maintain a sustainable food production system. However, doing this carries some risk. In general, hybrid seeds are often going to produce higher yields and more resistance to pests and disease than most open-pollinated varieties.

Growing food can be similar to investing in the stock market, some (like us) want a balanced “portfolio” of produce that maximizes reward and minimizes risk. Therefore,  because we try to grow large volumes of our own food, a portion of our planting is often hybrid seed. We still try to avoid most GMO seeds. We choose this mix (at the moment) in order to get more return on our labors and less risk of loss. Were we to plant all open-pollinated varieties, or even single varieties of hybrid seeds, we’d be vulnerable to loss if a pest or weather pattern wreaked havoc on our crop.  However, our “emergency” seed supplies are entirely open-pollinated should we ever need to use them. No matter what you plant, consider planting a variety of the same fruit or vegetable. This minimizes risk and can also provide more enjoyable result.

Conclusion

People garden for a number or reasons. The choice of what seed to grow should be based on the reasons one gardens, the desired outcome, and the convictions of the gardener. We garden to grow our own sustainable food. We also don’t care for the immoral and deceitful business practices of some of the companies who produce hybrid and GMO seeds. We choose what we choose for our environment. At the end of the day, you must make your choices based on your needs. Take the time to learn more about the seeds you buy no matter what kind you decide to use. By doing so, you’ll become a healthier, wiser, and better gardener.