Help! The Grocery Store Shelves are Empty
(Editor's note: Nan Hayden is the proprietor of Seeds for Security, one of our sponsors. The following missive should serve as a wake up call to those of you who have yet to consider the possibilities. - JSB)
Think this couldn't happen? Think again. Supermarkets typically have only 3 days of food available. What if delivery was interrupted? This could, of course, be from a natural disaster or from a terrorist attack.
The idea is to plan ahead, especially if you are like me and have many mouths to feed. O.K. So what do you do?
Do not panic; think! Have at least 4 weeks of food on your shelves. By this I mean canned meats, hearty vegetables such as beans, corn, and some starch. Pasta or rice are good choices.
There are cans of food in almost every room of my house. Well-organized cabinets hold a lot of food. If worse comes to worst, we will eat. Will you?
What if the problem is not going to be solved quickly or not in the foreseeable future? Again, plan ahead. This is where seeds come in.
I have been learning how to save vegetable seeds since I was a young child. My grandfather taught me. It used to be a way of life and it needs to be relearned.
In 2007 I decided to start a business selling vegetable seeds, which combines my passion for gardening and what I have learned about saving seeds. In addition, I feel that I am really helping people help themselves. People are most happy helping their fellow man. I have seen this time and time again in addition to experiencing this firsthand.
Saving seeds is not difficult, but first you need to do some research. Seeds from open pollinated varieties are the ones that you want to save. Hybrid seeds will not produce the same vegetable as the parent. It will most likely be a strange combination and may not taste good.
Make sure the seeds that you save are taken from fully mature plants. By this I mean the seed pods have fully dried. They usually turn brown and are very hard to the touch. Collect on the third dry day in a row and mid-day is a good time to gather. Once you have your seeds inside spread them out on a flat surface. I use flat boxes with low sides and I line the boxes with newspaper. Then put them in a well ventilated room away from an open window. The idea is to keep the seeds dry. For bean seeds I keep baskets of them in my kitchen and shuck them little by little. Once out of the dry pods I place them in flat boxes in the manner that I described. Each box is dated and the beans are left in the box about 3 weeks. A good way to tell if your beans are dry enough to store is to hit several on a hard surface with a hammer, if they shatter, it is time to put them in an air tight container. Our corn is picked fully mature and dry but it is further dried on racks in the sun. I bring crates of corn into my kitchen each evening and bring them back outside every dry day for about 2 weeks. Then the corn can be taken off of the cob and stored in airtight containers. If I have an especially good harvest I freeze some. Always save some seeds for next years planting.
When harvesting seeds from pumpkin or squash be sure they are fully ripe. Be careful not cut or damage the seeds when removing them. I use my hands to separate the seeds from the membrane. Next rinse the seeds in lukewarm water. After this I place the seeds in a colander to drain. Lastly I place them in a flat box with low sides that has been lined with several layers of paper towels. The next day separate the seeds with your fingers as they stick together and do not dry well. I always date my seeds, just make a note on the paper towel. The drying time depends on the humidity in the air but usually takes about a month. You will know they are dry enough to store by breaking one in half. If it breaks easily and does not bend it is completely dry and ready to be stored in an air tight jar.
I do germination tests on my seeds regularly. The government sets germination standards that must be met by people selling seeds. I am pleased to say that my seeds far surpass these standards.
My family and I manage about a half acre garden. We raise our own food, which I freeze, can or dry. We have raspberries, blackberries, currents, elderberries and grapes. The berries are used for jam and jelly. The grapes make their way into wine vats. I also sell berries to a health food store. I grow fruit and produce naturally. The only farm animals that we currently have are chickens. Chickens are great , they eat weeds and bugs. The eggs have dark orange yolks and taste so good. I eat eggs every day and by the way, my cholesterol level is great. Just a little plug for chickens!
So don't put it off; grow a garden! You don't need a lot of space. A small raised bed will yield a lot of food. Gardening is great exercise, and the food is so much better than grocery store produce. By learning to save seed you will have a never ending supply of food come what may. In my grandparents time, it was a necessity and it just might be that way again soon!