Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Gardeners New Normal~Seedlings and Covid-19





Life as we know it has changed.
Now, I don’t mean to sound alarmist and pessimistic with that statement, but it’s true.
Our ‘normal’ has changed. Only time will tell if it reverts back to what there was before.
But whining about it does no one any good. What we have to do is remain calm and adapt.

How do we adapt if we have no idea how long this new global emergency will take to play out?

Look to the past.

Many people’s ‘normal’ was upended during WW2. They had to learn how to bake with less flour as factories were mandated to make less of their ‘normal’ product and help make MRE’s for the soldiers. People had to learn to mend, patch, darn and make clothing from sources they might not have previously thought of otherwise. Like flour sackcloth. Now, I don’t think the supply of clothing is going to be a big concern, but someone brought another issue to my attention yesterday.


Much of our food is not made in our own countries. Here in Canada, quite a lot of it is imported, including fruit and vegetables. Our food supply chains are going to be impacted as borders close to all but freight, as panic shopping reveals empty meat, bread, pasta and produce sections. This has already happened. How do we adapt?

Learn to make, and enjoy more meatless meals. Learn to make our own bread, buns, rolls and the like. Those who already know how to make their own pasta are one step ahead of the rest of us. Grow our own lettuce and potatoes. But consider this for a moment…

If people are self-isolating by the thousands now, who will start the seeds and man the greenhouses? Who will care for the seedlings until they are big enough to ship out to landscape centers and grocery stores in the spring, where gardeners have been known to cart home flats and flats of the little seedlings?

As the count of confirmed Coronavirus cases rise, as more and more people fall ill (and hopefully eventually recover), as more people self-isolate and work from home or do not go to work at all...how many seedlings do you think will be a priority as spring approaches?

I’ll give you a minute to ponder that…

Yes, even a gardener’s hobby will be touched by Covid-19. There will be fewer seedlings to run our palms over, to study the growing tips and roots, to spend time choosing the very best there is. So how do we adapt to this?

We grow our own.


We sit down and honestly look at why we garden. Perhaps the hobbyist who has always grown roses should consider planting things that can be used in a salad, thereby improving their diet, their immune system and their overall health. This simple change will also result in fewer things needed at the now-overtaxed grocery store.

Now is the time to honestly assess if our occasional treat of sweet corn is worth the big plot of garden that would be better used for a staple like potatoes. Perhaps you’re sick and tired of mowing the lawn and would love more tomatoes in your diet. Learn what you need to do to convert the lawn to a food garden. (Even if your neighbours object now, they won’t when you share some of your bounty of sweet, juicy tomatoes with them at harvest)

So, my advice for you today...your “homework” if you will, is to sit and honestly asses what you want out of a garden. How can you modify your current situation and adapt to an ever-changing food landscape? Feel free to share your thoughts or concerns in the comment section. We’re all in this together!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Why Do I Need To Prepare?



(I thought I'd update and re-post a popular installment today that maybe some folks haven't seen. I'd love to know what you think, leave your thoughts in the comments!)

"Do your best to change the world, Do your best to be ready for changes in the world"
~Chinese proverb~



When was the last time you had a power outage that lasted for more than three hours? Has your neighbourhood ever flooded or come through a landslide? Have you ever been laid off and unsure where grocery money was going to come from? Has wildfire ever threatened your home? Have you ever been suddenly thrust into an unsafe situation?

The world as we know it is different for everyone. The many ways our world can, and is, changing is staggering. Just listen to the news for ten minutes for proof of how much our world has changed in the past two years! A radical change to our world as we know it can be anything to suddenly being without power for days (which happens to more people than you may realize), to a massive flood (been there, done that), to an unforeseen job loss, nearby chemical spill (which yours truly has lived through) ... you get the idea. Even in a minor power outage, we cannot pump gas, pay for anything electronically, and eating out if there's no power at home is likely not an option either. You will not be able to cool your home by either A/C or fan in a power outage, you won't want to be looking in the fridge every 15 min, and what about flushing the toilet? Let's not forget food shortages brought on by a massive snowstorm or being cut off without transportation after a flood or snowstorm (been there, done that too). So, the number of ways our world can change radically is staggering. But we don't have to wring our hands and moan, we can do something. Quite a lot in fact.

I am well known for having backup plans on top of backup plans. Once, it was only for childcare, but as the kids grew, having a Plan B, and Plan C, and so on, spread throughout my life. In these challenging times, we can plan for many life surprises, and not only end up in control of our lives but also change our mindset. Think about it, if you can plan for a sudden layoff, your attitude changes. Let's say one day, you and 150 of your co-workers are informed your factory is closing next month. This has happened to so many people, I can't count that high. So, how do you plan for this BEFORE it actually happens to you? Times are hard financially and you're only living two paychecks ahead of panic, so investing $200 in stocks isn't going to happen anytime soon. But let's set aside the investing, money security for a minute. Let's think about something more basic. Food.

If you're laid off and you have some food put by, your attitude towards this crisis will be different than the outlook of someone who has not planned for just such an occasion. It will still be a huge upset, but you won't have to wonder how you'll feed the spouse, two kids, and the family dog. I've been there, and I can tell you that visiting a pawn shop to trade in jewelry so I can feed the kids isn't fun. So, when you go grocery shopping, make a list. If your grocery list calls for three cans of kernel corn, buy four cans. If you were going to get two pounds of ground beef, and you can afford it, get three. I know you might not be able to do this all the time, very few people can. Every time you go shopping, look realistically at your list. One week get a couple extra cans of vegetables, the next shopping trip, get a bit of extra meat. The next shopping trip, consider getting a home first-aid kit or improving on one you may already have.

The next thing you need to do is keep track of these extras. I used to work in retail, and we had a system of rotation that is summarized by FIFO. "First In, First Out". If it's easier for your family, get a permanent black magic marker and write on the can or box the date you bought it. Meat can be wrapped and sealed in a freezer bag. Be sure and write the date purchased on the bag before the meat goes in. If someone in your house bakes, consider buying an extra bag of flour. (TIP: if you can, freeze it for a few days before putting it in a storage container. That way you won't be unpleasantly surprised by small, black, wriggling things. We found this out the hard way)

Using this method of buying a few extras as we could, we've been able to set aside large tubs of coffee, drink crystals, peanut butter, meats of all kinds, yeast for baked goods, pasta, a variety of sauces, and the list goes on. I remember when I had to visit the pawnshop before the grocery store. I remember all too well that feeling of fear, depression and hopelessness. I also remember living in Northern Ontario and being snowed in with my spouse-at-the-time being gone already for a few days. I didn't drive, but I had a toddler to feed. Again, having food stores made all the difference in my attitude and outlook.

TL:DR:
The wisdom of food storage cannot be overstated. Everyone, regardless of income level, tax bracket, location or age should consider doing what they can to put some food by. The more, the better. Give careful thought to storage, record keeping and how all that can be achieved cheaply.

What challenges do you think your area might face that you can plan for? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Who Is Eliot Coleman, And Why Should You Know Who He Is?

Who is Eliot Coleman, and why should you know who he is?



He is an American farmer, author, agricultural researcher and educator, and proponent of organic farming. Back around 1969, he taught himself how to farm organically in the sometimes harsh Maine climate and developed the cold climate farming techniques that he's known for. In 1989 he wrote his first book, The New Organic Gardener. It would be one of many that would change the minds and methods of gardeners everywhere, including myself.

Eliot advocates for feeding the soil, thereby manipulating weed growth, disease, plant health and our eventual health as a result. You might say he was organic cool before it was cool. Eliot taught me what sustainable agriculture was, and the hook was set. I've been an enthusiastic student of his ever since, even when I couldn't garden in the traditional sense. In his quest to understand the land better, he has often turned to published works on agriculture in an effort to continually improve his farming methods. A method of learning I've adopted from time to time. Over time, Eliot has become a mover and shaker in the organic world, as well as the market farming community. He is a mighty voice and a well-respected advocate for healthy soil.

So what difference does this make to you, a humble blog-reader?

No matter if you have a backyard garden or a collection of pots where you grow some salad greens on your balcony, Eliot Coleman's wisdom can teach us all about how simple soil can make us healthier people. Over the next few weeks, I'll be studying as much of his written works as possible, discussing them here and trying to understand how I can utilize his wisdom here on our less-than-an-acre property.

Along the way, I'll be writing to Eliot here on this blog, as if he and I were on such terms where correspondence back and forth might be possible. (Yes, I know it isn't) Much like the foundation for 'Letters To A Young Poet' in which ten letters were written to a young man about to enter the German military. His name was Franz Kappus, he was 19 years old, and he wrote to R. M Rilke looking for guidance and a critique of some of his poems.


Or more for my purposes here, 'Letters To A Young Farmer'. This book was written by some of the most influential farmers, writers and leaders of our time. They share their wisdom and insight in an anthology of 36 essays and letters. Barbara Kingsolver speaks to the tribe of farmers—some born to it, many self-selected—with love, admiration, and regret. Bill McKibben connects the early human quest for beer to the modern challenge of farming in a rapidly changing climate. Michael Pollan bridges the chasm between agriculture and nature. Dan Barber, Temple Grandin, Wendell Berry, Rick Bayless, Marion Nestle and more offer advice and inspiration. And in the spirit of this endeavour, I'll be writing the next series of blog posts to not just Eliot but to all these other learned and wise proponents of the land and farming.


So as we settle in for an interesting conversation with Eliot, Barbara, Michael, Marion, Wendell and the rest, tell me...do you garden?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

It's Time To Look At Agriculture Differently



Sometimes certain posts, with bits of wisdom that needs to be recovered, bears repeating. Here's one that I've had a lot of comments on...


My partner and I were talking about our future one day when she made a statement that still has me thinking weeks later. I was telling her about my plans for the not-quite-an-acre property, and how I plan to eke as much food from it as possible. She nodded and said, "Your job will be growing the food and mine will be preserving and cooking it" Now, obviously there will be more to it, but she has the essence of it right. With the core of our new roles put like that, I realized I can't take a break from learning all I can about agriculture.

John Michael Greer talks about two agricultures in his blog entry, Two Agricultures, Not One 
He talks about how the mega-farming as we know it today is an industrialized and chemicalized version of the intensive farming that fed our ancestors, and he also shares the opinion that intensive gardening is going to help us pad our food shortfall, 

"A team of researchers at pioneering organic-gardening group Ecology Action found, on the basis of extensive tests, that it’s possible to feed one person year round on a spare but adequate vegetarian diet off less than 1000 square feet of intensively gardened soil... In the more troubled parts of the future ahead of us, some of us may have to do just that; a great many more of us will need to be able to garden in order to pad out potential irregularities in a food supply that’s desperately vulnerable, over the short term, to fluctuations in the price and availability of fertilizer feedstocks and fossil fuels. The victory gardens of past wars are likely to be a useful template for the survival gardens of the deindustrial future."
 
I completely agree, and I've begun to see it already. All of that only frustrates me on another level, because here, I can hardly grow anything, facing north and being in shade. So on one hand, I could sit and whine about it, or I could shut up and do something. Months ago, I chose the latter. So it has become my secondary job, if you will, to learn everything I can about growing as much as I can on very small acreage. Starting with the soil. I already knew that compost is better than any chemical fertilizer we can manufacture. It's better all round, for the plants and for the environment, and it goes hand-in-glove with the various micro-environments in one's garden. I've been learning exactly how earthworms break down plant matter, how plants use the nitrogen from the air and how the no-till method is better than churning up our soil every spring and fall. I've also learned quite a bit about why seaweed is a better fertilizer than one that relies on ever diminishing oil supplies. Did you know that plants require not only the big three (nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium), but also micro-nutrients? Without those micro-nutrients, the plant cannot grow to it's true potential, and the resulting food lacks in nutrients also. Hence the mystery of the tomato with less Vitamin C.

So, the answer then I think, is to go back to farming, or at least gardening, the way we used to. Those that can need to turn away from chemical fertilizers, away from row gardening, away from the way 90% of all gardening books tell us it should be done. We need to learn all we can about organic gardening, intensive gardening, square-foot gardening, composting, vermi-culture, soil tilth, extending the growing season no matter where we live, and the value of the old-style farmsteads. The inter-relations of soil, air, food, animals, trash and what our culture has done to our planet cannot be overstated. But in the end, we will all come to a point where we must put down the books, turn away from the computers and do something about it. More of us need to focus on food production in a way that will not poison ourselves and our environment. We need to get back to basics, we need to take that first step.

Once we take control back over our food, we can begin to take more control over our lives and hand less of ourselves to the government. Once we get back to basics, many of us will need less and be happier with less and realize the folly of our culture's demand for the latest, best and fastest gizmo of the week. (I write this while admitting I spend more time on my computer than I probably should) I also admit that getting back to basics will inevitably improve our health, give us clearer vision when we look at what's going on around us, and in many cases, shift our priorities.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, it's true. We all need to start thinking about what's coming and how we might each be responsible for changing our corner of the world.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Future Will Belong To Those Who Prepare For It




(I thought I'd re-post a popular installment today that maybe some folks haven't seen. I'd love to know what you think, leave your thoughts in the comments!)

"Do your best to change the world, Do your best to be ready for changes in the world"
~Chinese proverb~

When was the last time you had a power outage that lasted for more than three hours? Has your neighborhood ever flooded or come through a landslide? Have you ever been laid off and unsure where grocery money was going to come from? Has wildfire ever threatened your home? Have you ever been suddenly thrust into an unsafe situation?

The world as we know it is different for everyone. The many ways our world can, and is, changing is staggering. So a radical change to our world as we know it can be anything to suddenly being without power for days (which happens to more people than you may realize), to a massive flood (been there, done that), to an unforeseen job loss, nearby chemical spill (which yours truly has lived through) ... you get the idea. Even in a minor power outage, we cannot pump gas, pay for anything electronically, and eating out if there's no power at home is likely not an option either. You will not be able to cool your home by either A/C or fan in a power outage, you won't want to be looking in the fridge every 15 min, and what about flushing the toilet? Let's not forget food shortages brought on by a massive snowstorm or being cut off without transportation after a flood or snowstorm (been there, done that too). So, the number of ways our world can change radically is staggering. But we don't have to wring our hands and moan, we can do something, lots in fact.

I am well known for having backup plans on top of backup plans. Once, it was only for childcare, but as the kids grew, having a Plan B, and Plan C, and so on, spread throughout my life. In these challenging times, we can plan for many life surprises, and not only end up in control of our lives but also change our mindset. Think about it, if you can plan for a sudden layoff, your attitude changes. Let's say one day, you and 150 of your co-workers are informed your factory is closing next month. This has happened to so many people, I can't count that high. So, how do you plan for this BEFORE it actually happens to you? Times are hard financially and you're only living two paychecks ahead of panic, so investing $200 in stocks isn't going to happen anytime soon. But let's set aside the investing, money security for a minute. Let's think about something more basic. Food.

If you're laid off and you have some food put by, your attitude towards this crisis will be different than the outlook of someone who has not planned for just such an occasion. It will still be a huge upset, but you won't have to wonder how you'll feed the spouse, two kids, and the family dog. I've been there, and I can tell you that visiting a pawn shop to trade in jewelry so I can feed the kids isn't fun. So, when you go grocery shopping, make a list. If your grocery list calls for three cans of kernel corn, buy four cans. If you were going to get two pounds of ground beef, and you can afford it, get three. I know you might not be able to do this all the time, very few people can. Every time you go shopping, look realistically at your list. One week get a couple extra cans of vegetables, the next shopping trip, get a bit of extra meat. The next shopping trip, consider getting a home first-aid kit or improving on one you may already have.

The next thing you need to do is keep track of these extras. I work in retail, and we have a system of rotation that is summarized by FIFO. "First In, First Out". If it's easier for your family, get a permanent black magic marker and write on the can or box the date you bought it. Meat can be wrapped and sealed in a freezer bag. Be sure and write the date purchased on the bag before the meat goes in. If someone in your house bakes, consider buying an extra bag of flour. (TIP: if you can, freeze it for a few days before putting it in a storage container. That way you won't be unpleasantly surprised by small, black, wriggling things. We found this out the hard way)

Using this method of buying a few extras as we could, we've been able to set aside large tubs of coffee, drink crystals, peanut butter, meats of all kinds, yeast for baked goods, pasta, a variety of sauces, and the list goes on. Now, I'm employed, but it's been less than a decade since I had to visit the pawn shop before the grocery store. I remember all too well that feeling of fear, depression and hopelessness. I also remember living in Northern Ontario and being snowed in with my spouse-at-the-time being gone already for a few days. I didn't drive, but I had a toddler to feed. Again, having food stores made all the difference in my attitude and outlook.

The wisdom of food storage cannot be overstated. Everyone, regardless of income level, tax bracket, location or age should consider doing what they can to put some food by. The more, the better. Give careful thought to storage, record keeping and how all that can be achieved cheaply. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Canadian Culinary Conundrum



While reading an essay this morning on food in the South, it occurred to me that I haven't spent much time exploring food here in the North. Do we even have what can be described as 'Northern Food'? With Southern food, it's easy. Grits, collard greens, okra, Creole, and the list goes on. For the record, the only item on that short list that I've not tried is collard greens, and I hope to rectify that as soon as the baby collards on my front porch are big enough. My Southern partner has educated me well in the ways of shrimp creole, handmade biscuits so soft you think they're a religious experience and proper sweet tea.

But back to Northern food...do we have any food that we can point to and say is a good representative of our Northern experience? If you ask my sons, they will tell you that bacon is the quintessential Northern food. If you ask any "good" Ontarian, they'll likely tell you that the most Canadian food is the humble butter tart. (It was invented here in Ontario, you know) Some folks will tell you that Beaver meat is a Northern food, others will point to poutine. You know what poutine is, don't you? A plate of french fries (cut from russet potatoes if you're looking for quality fries), smothered in beef gravy, salted and peppered and covered in cheese curds. Not grated cheese. Cheese curds.



Certainly maple syrup is a proper Canadian food. We produce some of the best here in Ontario, and I'm not talking about the weak-tea coloured stuff you buy in a plastic bottle! No, I'm talking about the dark, sweet liquid that can only be produced after someone has trekked through the bush for hours collecting sap buckets under dripping taps hammered into trees, and then spent many more hours boiling the stuff down over a smokey fire, slapping away the earliest bugs. There's a reason entire tractor trailers loaded with Grade A maple syrup have been stolen away. Good maple syrup has a certain quality...it's the taste of all that time and smoke and dedication.

Other folks will argue that Canadian cuisine is a collection of foods that were brought to our great land from its first immigrants. The Dutch, the Mennonite, the Ukrainians, the displaced Creole, the French, the Japanese, the Germans, and let's not forget the Jewish influences on Montreal Smoked meat!

You know, it occurs to me now, that I eat just as 'Northern' as I do 'Southern'. Perogies, Rueben Sandwiches, heaping plates of Poutine, I've had venison a number of times and enjoy it greatly, and I've even tried bear meat sausages. I can appreciate a fine bottle of Northern Ontario maple syrup, and I've frequently made enough Perogies to feed a branch of our Canadian Armed Forces.

I guess I'm safe in my culinary Canadian-ness after all.

What food does your home region point to proudly?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

McBride on Medium!





I'm pleased as punch to let you all know that I'm writing on Medium now! I'll be writing more often about preparedness, increasing self-sufficiency, gardening and relying less on the grocery stores.
I plan on branching out into some less discussed topics as well.

I invite you all to come and visit me there. I look forward to engaging and productive discussions on how we can all increase our self-sufficiency.

(P.S: I'll still be updating here as well, I just wanted to let everyone know where else I can be found online)

McBride On Self-Sufficiency at Medium