Not the Halloween type of zombies or the ones that dance with you while you and your teen-aged girlfriend try to walk home from seeing a movie.
Real, honest to goodness Zombie Apocalypse type of zombies. Over the years we have read a number of survival books from true accounts of people stuck on boats or on mountains to fictional accounts of little boys crashed in the Canadian wilderness to full on TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It). The main character of a book I’m reading is a big fan of guns and beans (who isn’t?), owns a cabin as a BOL (Bug-Out Location) and has plans to use an abandoned lot nearby for a garden if he has to bug-out.
It’s that last point that bothers me. It’s as if to say, all you have to do is turn some soil over, tip the seed envelope toward the ground and “Voila!” – food. Haven’t these people seen Second Hand Lions?! You know, where they planted a garden out of various seed packets and it all grew up to be corn.
Gardens take time. Gardening is a skill. Canning is darned near an art. Heck, all of it is an art, one that has to be developed over time in your own climate with seeds that are well-suited to grow where you live…viable seeds that haven’t been sitting in a can on a shelf in a storage unit for 10 years.
So our hero in the current book spends his Sunday afternoons shooting with the guys, practicing tactics for urban warfare. He has to know how to use his weapon so he is ready if he needs it. It’s preparedness. He fills a cabin with beans, rice and pancake mix (yes, pancake mix) because he wants to eat beans and rice and pancakes. He buys a couple of seed packets at the big box store just in case. Just in case?
I don’t even know what to say.
Well, I guess I’ll have to figure it out because I can’t drop off the blog post here.
Now, look. I’m very much in favor of arming your family with an array of handguns and ARs customized to fit each member of the family from ages 3 to 60 (younger than three can pass the ammo!). You wouldn’t say, “Well, yeah, I now own a Glock so I’m ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.” You learn how to use it! I’m very much in favor of beans, rice and pancake mix but you can’t just stop there and call it macaroni! You have to learn how to cook it. If gardening is part of your survival prep, plan for it. Learn how to do it! I mean, the author is very pointed about the fact that our ‘hero’ is rather useless around the house and doesn’t know anything about gardening. He just buys guns and beans and pancake mix. Months worth of beans and pancake mix. (And he expects his wife to be pleasantly surprised that we’re having beans for dinner. For the next 9 months. (Oh, and we might have to shoot the neighbors to keep them from eating our beans!))
Do you know how to garden? Most folks grow a good crop of weeds every year. Not necessarily bad if you know which weeds are best to eat but not ideal if you’re trying to grow onions.
And you can’t keep onion seeds in storage for more than a year!
I have gone astray. Let’s get down to it.
Soil. It takes roughly 7 years to get decent soil in your garden plot. You need manure, animal or human. It takes 3-5 years for a grafted fruit tree to grow. It takes 10-15 years for a fruit tree to bear if grown from seed (and if it’s an apple you might be unpleasantly surprised). Did you plan that timeline into your SHTF scenario? No? Well, good thing you’ve got a Glock. Maybe you can help someone with a garden defend it from marauding vegetarian Zombies.
My friend Linda Brady Traynham died not quite a year ago. She and I discussed this topic at length over the phone one evening. She had written about it in 2009 but she makes the point better than I can as she reviews the book Patriot. Here are the highlights:
I had been using the term”survivalist” as convenient shorthand, but Mr. Rawles showed me the error of my ways: we want to be prepared to thrive, not just to survive. We’re capitalists … and we want a better ROI than just living through the breakdown of commerce and law and order.
“I may have to live through wars in ‘injun territory,’ but I refuse to do so without ample supplies of whipping cream, fresh porto bello mushrooms, and a lifetime supply of OPI nail polish.” Two years into the bad times our heroes have fended off assorted attackers and formed a Dudly Do Right squad to patrol a big chunk of territory assisting those they think worthy of it. Their standard breakfast is dried wheat softened with heated water. Lunch is a big pot of steaming rice. Period. Dinner is the elk or venison du jour when hunting is good and more rice. Dehydrated peanut butter or jerky if it weren’t. Yeech. The calorie count is a bit higher, but other than that we’re talking Gulag food. On special occasions they have a tasty MRE.
…Call me effete, but I’d have turned some of the ingredients into elk-fried rice and told those men that they had enough trenches, go hunting and don’t come back without something that can be milked, and I don’t care if it is domestic or a mountain goat. One of you other idlers go find a bee hive.
Three years into their communal survival experiment they still haven’t planted a garden! They keep wonderful around the clock lookouts, of course. They make terrific IED. Nothing was more important than a garden, and couldn’t someone not on duty have built a still? They couldn’t even have made soap out of ashes for lack of sufficient spare fats.
Nail polish. LOL. She hit the nail on the head. In your Red Dawn fantasy scenario you should plan to dig more than the graves of your fallen enemies. You should plan to garden. You should find a source of milk and convenient protein. If you can keep a couple of chickens at your house now you should. You can pack them with you to your Bug-Out location if needed. Same for rabbits. It’s more than just bullets, beans and exploding zombie heads. Learn to do this stuff now and plan to be comfortable. What if you get there and the zombies don’t find you? You just going to watch each other field strip your guns for years? You need something to do! Garden. Keep chickens. Grow something. As Linda points out, it may even enable you to make a valuable contribution to your gun-toting community.
Heinlein said, “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Learning to do anything is simply a matter of putting in the time. If you want to learn about gardening, the time to start is now. I can teach you to hit a target at 15-20 yards with a 9mm handgun with an hour of instruction. You’ll need the rest of your life to learn to garden well. Start now. I still have a long way to go myself.
Now, we can’t talk about a well-armed family thriving with a productive garden (and composting their manure for said garden) during the ongoing zombie apocalypse without noting a couple of problems. These are from Survival Mom’s list of 28 Inconvenient Truths About TEOTWAWKI:
22. Growing your own food is a bigger challenge than you ever thought possible.
23. A green garden can be spotted from miles away, thus endangering your food source and your family.
So. If you believe there is any possibility of a zombie apocalypse, post-nuclear apocalypse, trucker strike, currency disruption, ice storm, 7 fat and 7 lean years or long-term unemployment (nothing stretches unemployment like not buying food!) and, as Linda points out, thriving sounds better than just surviving, maybe you should take a first step. Besides, who needs that much lawn?
I agree completely with your point about the gardening (though I hate the zombie reference). Waiting till you retire, waiting till you have an acreage, waiting for more time. Ain’t gonna happen. No one gets younger just waiting. Skills and muscles take time to develop. You posted about the muscles and fitness once before I think. If you’re tired of counting your ammo and seed packets while waiting for the apocalypse, you might as well start getting in a few push ups – strength and endurance are much needed attributes in a life of hard physical labour.
One necessity I would add is Community. We need each other in difficult times. While it’s true we’ll be our own enemies too, we cannot survive or thrive without cooperation with others around us. Build relationships now. Like muscles and gardening, they take work and time.
One of my favourite writers in this area is Sharon Astyk – http://scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook/
She has also written a few very readable books – http://sharonastyk.com/writings2/
As always, a great post. I’m a horticulturist with a 4 year degree from Virginia Tech in Horticulture. There is a steep learning curve with growing veggies. It’s one thing if an insect or fungus ruins the appearance of your blooms on your prized peony. It’s a whole different ballgame when an insect or fungus ruins your food supply.
There is so much to learn with veggies…the bugs are different…the diseases are different. When to harvest? Does the plant prefer cool temperatures or warm temperatures? Is the squash a vining or bush type. And on and on…
That said, it’s no hill for a climber. Eat that elephant one bite at a time. Besides, at the end of the day, gardening can be a win-win if you just keep your nose to the grindstone. See if you can wrap your head around this: think outside of the box because when the rubber hits the road we’re going to need some synergy here. Gardening is therapy for a day of meetings.
Office Employee #2146
I hope I didn’t come across as discouraging…that wasn’t my intention. My point was that just because you can grow ornamentals, it doesn’t mean that the same principles apply to your vegetable garden. Sure, photosynthesis occurs with every plant and fertile soil is the key to gardening success but it has more meaning when you’re relying on those plants for your food.
And veggie gardening is the most relaxing form of gardening that I can think of. And the most rewarding.
I don’t think your post was discouraging. There is a lot to know. If you are counting on a garden as part of your preps, you need to begin learning now. If you aren’t counting on a garden, as Linda says, you aren’t planning to thrive…just survive. Of course she also wanted nail polish…lol.
I’m feeling all kinds of goofy. We got some sort of virus over the weekend and we have been congested all week. Julie won’t let us take OTC medicine anymore so we have been using a ton of melaleuca, eucalyptus, and oregano (not to mention blends like breathe and on guard). The oils seem to work well but don’t change the fact that being sick takes its toll. We’re all tired.
Your posts are always appreciated.
We moved to WV 7 years ago. We grew a larger garden each year adding all our cleanings from the barn to the garden in the fall and winter or into a compost heap to be added later and rotating the crops. This past summer we had the best garden we’ve ever had. In July we sold that farm to move to a better location (not much chance of zombies here). 🙂 BUT we have to start our garden all over again. It’ll take years to grow as well as at the place we sold. UGG! But we’ll plug along and we know what works and doesn’t – at least most of the time! Great post.
You know some shortcuts this time. Good luck.
Oh, and maybe it’s just the opportunity you needed to try a Back to Eden garden. Just have a couple of loads of mulch delivered on the garden spot and you’ll be ready for spring.
I’ve heard of the Back to Eden garden. I’ll have to do a little research. Right now everything from the barn is going onto one of the garden spots. We’ll have several in order to keep our plants from crossing. I’m hoping to kill some of the weeds and grass.