7 Secrets to Grow Your Own Food
Cut the umbilical cord to the system. Unleash your native ingenuity and go all-out for food freedom.
Use these 7 secrets from the Seed Corn Auxiliary to jump-start your efforts. Learn the lessons revealed here so you don’t have to repeat hammer-headed, fatal mistakes on the hard anvil of experience. I am happy to share my own very biased opinions in the interest of our mutual and successful endeavors going forward. The first 2 secrets are hidden in the palm of your hand. The 3rd through 6th secrets are of a pragmatic and scientific nature whereas the 7th and final secret ventures into more hidden territory — the Great Way of the natural world.
All Seed Is Not Created Equal
You’ve heard this one before but I am going to repeat it. Plant quality, non-GMO, non-hybrid, heirloom seed from proven, reliable sources to avoid catastrophic crop failure when your life may depend on it. Forget about those little seed packets of unknown provenance from the grocery or hardware store.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Do not buy those survival seed canisters stuffed with all the varieties of all the seed you will ever need and touted to grow all your food regardless of where you live. I call this shotgun seed.
You might as well load it up in your shotgun and shoot it over the field for all the good it will do you.
For your primary crops plant only proven varieties that thrive in your region and particular micro-climate. Do the research based on your own experience or on the experience of successful growers in your area. Go out and meet those successful growers with a respectful and teachable attitude. Talk less and listen more. You might learn something.
Go ahead and experiment on a much smaller scale with the new and interesting possibilities that come to your attention but don’t take chances with your main crops.
Energy Return on Energy Invested
• Mechanical Advantage • Companion Planting & Born Enemies
• Subterranean Super-Food
Grow maximum calories. Grow protein. Grow nutrition density.
All the veggies and leafy greens are nice but you can’t live off of them alone. You need more heft — more calories and balanced proteins that store well. Scale up to maximize Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). Use mechanical advantage as a force multiplier. Yes, you can do this entirely by hand if you have to (I certainly have), but I am not an ideological purist. Use all the means at your disposal to get the job done.
The Plow and the Pinto
As a little boy, I can remember my grandfather plowing with a horse, shouting “gee” and haw” to steer the horse left or right.
I never got into plowing with horses but the memory served 30 years later, circa 1974, when a friend and I were faced with a large fertile field that had been fallow for ten years.
The field had previously been irrigated with the effluent from a hot springs that was blown up during a minor water war. Yes, that’s right, a water war.
The locals tried to run off new settlers who were occupying what once was traditional Indian land. Direct intimidation had mixed results. The bullets flew and there were some casualties, but the settlers held on.
They held on until the locals attacked the settler’s water system. Then, it was all over. In that dry country water was everything.
My friend and I re-engineered and rebuilt a defunct aqueduct across an arroyo that had been shot up and destroyed.
While repairing the ancient gravity fed irrigation system, I discovered an old horse plow laying in the weeds. The rusty metal was still good but the wooden handles had long rotted away.
Surprise, surprise! The general store down in the village had a set of oak handles that fit the plow with a little shaving. Our only problem then was the lack of horse.
But we had a namesake…
My friend stepped up and volunteered his Ford Pinto.
We jury-rigged the plow with ropes to the Pinto, with me behind the plow and my friend doing the driving. We had a mud-splattered, clutch-burning, slap-stick shouting match as we roared along and plowed that field.
The Pinto was pretty well wrecked in the process and we never used that plow again but we did have huge crops with all that perpetually-flowing warm water.
If you don’t own a horse or tractor, get a neighboring farmer to plow your field. Buy or rent a rototiller or invest in a high wheel cultivator with a stirrup-hoe attachment for weeding.
Save your back and increase efficiency by installing long handles on hand implements, hoes, rakes and shovels so you can stand upright while you work.
Buy a Hula Hoe for weeding, another great labor-saving invention.
Do what you can to reduce the energy spent in planting, cultivating and harvesting, and increase the calories produced in your crops. As I said in The Secret Weapon,
Forget those romantic notions of a nineteenth century life illumined by the cozy glow of the family circle around the fireplace at night. Been there — done that. It’s OK for a time and a season but I don’t want to repeat it unnecessarily as long as I have a choice. You don’t have to spend all your time and energy scrambling in bare subsistence. In that state, you have no time or energy for anything else.
Plant companions. Some plants are natural symbiotics. Others are enemies. Native Americans had the companion plants all figured out so follow their example and grow the Three Sisters for amazing yields. Grow corn, squash, and beans.
The Three Sisters will not only increase crop yields, but will also give you food staples to sustain your family and community through the winter. Legumes like beans and peas do not have all the amino acids humans need for balanced plant-protein. A grain, like corn, provides the missing amino acids for a complete plant-based protein. Winter squash provides starchy carbohydrates and sugars in a form that will keep for a year or more (read on for the tale of the Cannonball squash). Grow beets and potatoes as well as the Three Sisters for a balanced, nutrient-dense, super-food garden that produces the calories you need to survive and thrive.
Three Sisters Jungle
I remembered that first year we homesteaded — I had barely gotten a garden in after hauling truckloads of manure from the dairy farm across the valley. The Three Sisters got way out of hand. They were producing so much food I could not keep up with them. The mass of vegetation was chest high and I was about ready to take a machete to it but the kids persuaded me to let them handle it. I was leery of rattlesnakes in the bean-vine tangle understory of the kudzu-like squash-leaf canopy.
I could still hear that frantic call over the CB radio in the pickup, “Dad, come home quick, there’s a huge rattlesnake under the squash leaves”. Well, the whole family soon learned what that single shot .410 was for.
I learned about snakes in the garden from my grandmother. She always had a sharp hoe in her hand and would have the head off a rattlesnake or copperhead before you knew what she was doing. Snakes were a fact of life and they were routinely dealt with.
The good ones like king snakes were welcomed and encouraged to go about their business of keeping the rodent population under control but the bad ones were dispatched if they were in the way of children.
We learned to take a long stick if we were headed down to the blackberry patch. The protocol was to poke the stick into the briars and give them a good shaking before we waded in, smiles on our faces and scratches up to our armpits as we reached way back in there for handfuls of plump berries, half-confident and half-scared about the efficacy of our bush-beating efforts in driving off any lurking snakes.
Realizing that we planted too much squash, too close together and that it was growing so fast that I could never find all of it even with twice daily harvests, I stood by with a shotgun and #8 shot while the kids tunneled underneath, crawling on hands and knees while poking ahead with a long stick to stir-up any rattlers.
They would emerge periodically with huge grins on their faces dragging a sack of squash that had gone rogue. Some of the winter squash varieties had crossed with summer varieties and we got some interesting specimens — two foot long striped zucchinis with hard shells that stored well for a year along with the Squisito winter squash and 8-ball zucchini crosses that we christened “Cannonballs.”
Learn from our experiences and give the squash extra room, and keep the varieties separated to avoid cross-pollination and weird results.
The Three Sisters don’t like potatoes. So keep them apart. In a separate area plant potatoes all to themselves and then move over a little and plant beets.
Yes, beets. It turns out that the lowly beet is a super-food that boosts testosterone levels, oxygen efficiency uptake and overall athletic performance.
Don’t worry girls, beets are good for us too. Read on…
— Chief, New Ordnance’s daughter
Beets are rich in boron, an element known for it’s bone-building properties as well as aphrodisiac effects in both men and women. According to Jo Robinson in her book Eating on the Wild Side:
Beets…rank among the healthiest of all our most commonly eaten vegetables. They taste sweet, but they have a surprisingly low impact on your blood sugar. They are also a good source of fiber, folate, and potassium. It wasn’t until 1991 that their most remarkable property was discovered…. They have nine times more antioxidant activity than the typical tomato and fifty times more than orange carrots….
A dietary survey revealed that people who eat beets on a regular basis have a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and diseases of the digestive tract than those who don’t eat beets.
Head’s up athletes:
Beets can reduce your blood pressure, increase blood flow to your muscles, and reduce the amount of oxygen required by your muscles during exercise. What does this mean?
A 2012 British study determined that fit men and women who had eaten a serving of whole beets daily for several days could run faster…. The difference in speed would have been enough to shave off forty-one seconds from a five-kilometer run, which could make the difference between winning and losing. Motivated by these findings, a number of British athletes who competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics drank beet juice rather than Gatorade before their events, including Mohamed (Mo) Farah, who won the gold medal for the men’s five- and ten-kilometer races.
Gotta have beets for the strenuous life and those potatoes are going to give you good carbohydrate calories — the fuel you need, running up and down those mountains.
Bear in mind that there is a vast difference in the nutritional quality and nutrient density of varieties within the same plant family. The precise variety you select to grow can make the difference between surviving and thriving.
I’ve learned from Eating on the Wild Side to favor nutrient dense vegetables like beets in garden planning and always pick varieties with the highest nutrient density.
These are my picks for the best varieties that work in my area of operation in the mountains of Montana:
Purple Viking Potatoes have white flesh and purple skin. They are one of our staples but we are trying others.
Purple Majesty looks very promising. It was developed by Colorado State University with non-GMO traditional methods in the 8,000 foot San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. It is deep purple in and out.
Potato eating tip: Store cooked potatoes in the refrigerator for 24 hours before eating to drastically lower the glycemic level in support of healthier carbohydrate metabolism. From the book Eating on the Wild Side. I am still reading and studying the paleo-fast-forward revolutionary implications therein.
Grow potatoes to maximize calories and increase your energy return on the energy you invest in the garden.
Grow food and feed your family with an organic heirloom garden! Premium hand-cultivated seed: non GMO, heirloom… rockymountaincorn.com
Read more at RockyMountainCorn.com.
My family enjoys cornbread, tortillas, hot cereal, and parched corn made from this brilliantly multicolored and nutritious grain.
We even make birthday cakes out of it!
Squisito Squash for its amazing productivity, early maturity, fast curing and long shelf life (ever had a 3 year old winter squash for dinner? It’s not bad at all.)
While there are certainly other winter squash with sweeter flesh or more exotic flavors, Squisito won, due to the sheer quantity of hefty squashes that matured within 90 days and kept through more than one winter, sitting on top of bookshelves in the house, year-round.
Squisito out-performed Hubbard and other much-touted fast-maturing, mountain varieties. After saving our seed and replanting for several seasons, we realized we had accidentally crossed the Squisito with the “Eightball Zucchini,” and created a new sub-variety that was even more prolific, with an even bushier and more compact growth habit.
The newly dubbed “Cannonball” produces such enormous crops from our small squash patch that frankly, we’ve had to throw away more than we’ve eaten, frozen, or preserved. Amazingly, this Cannonball squash that begins life tasting like zucchini matures and ripens with a hard outer shell and firm, Squisito-like flesh. It keeps through the winter easily, just like a Squisito.
Notes from Chief on dry beans and peas:
We have grown a variety of beans and peas over the years, searching for the varieties that can produce heavy crops despite the harsh and unpredictable weather in the high-altitude mountain valleys of Montana. There are a few keys we have learned to look for, in addition to the usual hardiness and days to maturity data:
This criterion applies to bean variety selection. Believe it or not, we’ve found that colorful seed is more resilient and produces vigorous plants that are able to establish themselves regardless of unpredictable spring weather. Give black- and purple-seeded varieties first consideration, then red and brown, then speckled and striped.
We’ve had to learn the hard way to ignore enticing descriptions in seed catalogs and focus on the plant’s height and tendency to vine. Relentless wind and wildly fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels dehydrate and stress legumes, stunting growth and killing the crop.
We’ve learned that our beans and peas require the Three Sisters Food Jungle, to protect those skinny stems and soft leaves and create a micro-climate that buffers the extremes of a mountain summer. So we choose varieties that will create a short, dense tangle of foliage, sow the seed in thick bands, and never thin.
Shell & Dry Maturity:
We’ve all known the nightmare of a beautiful crop frozen, only a week or two before it was mature; or put up with bland and scrawny beans and peas, harvested before they developed their full flavor. Our family has discovered a way to relax about those late summer freezes and put down our cold-frames, bed sheets, and straw.
Grow legume varieties that mature in stages, with a partial (shell) maturity time significantly shorter than your growing season and a full (dry) maturity time that matching your growing season. If a freeze threatens and you have to harvest early, pull up the whole plant and let it dry out slowly, and you will enjoy full-flavor, delicious beans and peas every winter.
Plan how you will harvest the crop when you are choosing seed varieties. My family prefers to harvest beans and peas after the pods are completely dry, by cutting the plants, gathering them in sheets, beating them to break open the pods, then winnowing. Choose varieties with pods that don’t shatter easily, so you can harvest with confidence, knowing your crop won’t be scattered to the wind as you chop through the dried foliage of the Three Sisters Food Jungle.
Black Coco Bean, Vermont Cranberry Bean, and King of the Early Bean are our most successful dry bean varieties. Early Frosty Shell Pea has been a winner for us, year after year, with Progress #9 and Green Arrow coming in close seconds. Choose varieties that will work for you in your climate, just don’t get drawn into beguiling seed catalog descriptions. And keep your peas producing through the heat of mid-summer with Carla Emery’s advice — plant them densely and don’t thin them.
I knew Carla and was listed as a resource in an earlier edition of her book. She is sorely missed since her passing. Others have carried on her work in subsequent editions. Carla grew up on a ranch near Clyde Park, Montana if memory serves.
The indispensable Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery
One book from our library that inspired our kids as they grew up.
Read free here
Have perfect timing and catch the Great Cycles as they move through the natural world.
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3. William Shakespeare
Quite simply, suit up and be at the right place at the right time. Claim the window of opportunity and catch the great cycles that speed you on your way.
Don’t try to keep rolling that boulder up the mountain of your hubris like a latter day Sysiphus. Stop the materialistic chicanery with mother nature
To Everything There is a Season
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3. KJV
I confess to using The Old Farmers Almanac to surf through the cycles.
Tried and true, I use it because it works, particularly as a planting guide with the phases of the moon. Science and not superstition — the moon exerts tremendous influence on the earth and its liquids (the liquid oceans and the liquid bodies of plants and animals).
I carefully plan the planting windows for the main crops. Above-ground crops are planted when the moon is waxing and root crops are planted when the moon is waning. Pragmatic and scientific creature that I think I am, I find that the closer I adhere to the details of the astronomically, astrologically and climatically derived planting windows, the better the crops.
There are cycles within cycles ad infinitum at work here and I don’t pretend to know how they all relate. I simply catch a ride to where I’m going and then jump off without debating the merits of the origination of the system.
Consider a corollary to The Secret of Perfect Timing:
The Law of the Attention
What you keep your attention on is what you tend to draw into your life.
Use the technique of world-class athletes. Take command of your attention and visualize the results you want to obtain, a beautiful and bountiful harvest free of any conditions that might adversely affect it. You don’t have to be a Panglossian idiot.
Just maintain the visualization of the desired results and add it to your bag of techniques.
Tip for Night Ops
Tear out the relevant Almanac pages of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset tables for your nocturnal excursions. Keep them right there with your night vision equipment.
Vegans can skip Secret # 5 and go directly to Secret #6.
Don’t worry. I’ve been there myself.
Develop local sources of quality fat, meat, wild game and fish
Up here in the northern Rockies, the rainy season is in the spring. We get grass, tall grass, in the high mountain meadows and valleys where the growing season is too short for most agriculture.
So we grow critters that eat grass — both wild and domestic. Elk, deer, moose, bison, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas and yaks.
Half Circle Ranch Tactical Equipment
Yep. They have their own private shooting range at the ranch. The outfit is owned by some former Marines — getting the job done Montana style.
The venerable Ma Deuce (M2).
Standard ranch equipment for 70 years, thanks to the magnificent genius of John Browning.
Remember, I said local sources…
The Yak Daddy Ranch down in the Wyoming Bighorns raises and sells yaks for meat or live sales for starting your own herd.
“Free Yourself, Feed Yourself.
Become an organic, free range meat farmer.
You Will Not Survive by Hunting.
You Will Survive by Trapping.”
— The Meat Trapper
If you are in the city or suburbs, you need to find a friend like The Meat Trapper.
The Meat Trapper is an IT professional with a family who maintains a suburban lifestyle on the outskirts of a big city.
He keeps his family well-supplied with wild, organic, free-range meat.
Road Kill Burgers
Back in the 1990’s I traveled quite a bit up and down the Rockies with the kids. One of our favorite places before the yuppie encroachments, and where we always stopped whether coming or going, was Pinedale, Wyoming at a roadside stand that was the “Home of the Roadkill Burger.”
If we were headed south we had probably camped and had a frigid bath in the Hoback River near Jackson. In either case, the approach to Pinedale was easily detected by the rising clamor in the backseat for roadkill burgers.
The kids were probably wearing their Roadkill Burger T-shirts acquired on our road trip the prior summer. I recollect the caricatured rendering of a moose with his long legs all awry sandwiched between two big hamburger buns.
Aside from the juicy burgers I reckon that road stand did a right smart business with T-shirts during the tourist season.
Now, with all the new people moving in I don’t know if the Road Kill Burgers are still available right there on the side of the highway or not. I heard the newbies were trying to clean up the image of Pinedale. They introduced some sort of resolution to ban the open carry of guns in bars.
Last I heard the locals were pretty outraged and voted it down.
Last year Montana legalized the harvest of road kill, making it fairly easy to print out a permit on the computer.
The Dawn Patrol
I know places where you can feed a community on road kill…
Every morning at first light the Dawn Patrol heads down to the highway with two men. Within a few miles there will be several fresh carcasses, primarily doe mule deer. Its only a matter of a stop and 30 seconds for two people to load one up.
This works 365 days a year.
The locals know about the night time critters and have huge front bumpers. A bison through the windshield can be fatal and not just to the critter. Most folks slow way down at night but there are always out-of-county travelers and wobbly drivers when the saloon closes that insure the nightly harvest.
There’s another idea for ya.
The legendary story of Hemingway as an impoverished 20-something young man in Paris, who had given up journalism to become a writer with a wife and new son to support.
In his strolls through the Jardin du Luxembourg, he learned to capture young pigeons and take them home to Hadley.
Utilize specialization of labor.
“New Ordnance, I can’t grow crap. Why do you keep haranguing us with these stories?”
O.K. I have a question for you.
Who is going to feed you?
Obviously, not everyone can grow food but you better find someone who can in your extended family or ostensible tribe.
We all have different talents and some of us can do many things. You may be a polymath or savant. But there is one skill-set you need more than any other — one skill set that transcends all boundaries and individual circumstance — one skill-set of universal application that acts as a social solvent.
It may be the most difficult practice for the self-reliant individualist but we all have to cultivate a certain enlightened self-interest in this boot-strapped endeavor to free our hearts, minds, souls and corporeal bodies from the sticky detritus of a decaying civilization. It may be particularly difficult for those of doctrinaire libertarian persuasions.
My family is prodding, goading and dragging me down a spring-thawed slippery slope, out of my wound-licking pontification lair to practice what I preach — the skill-set that runs counter to my reclusive grain.
Notice the “voluntary” part. We are not talking about a Chinese collective or Nazi forced labor brigade. Simply don’t try to do everything yourself. Look again at how ol’ Jim Bridger did it.
Jim Bridger 2015 Update
I had a meet-up with Jim to get an update.
It turns out that he had a State Representative from his county lined up to grow Painted Mountain Corn in the 2015 season.
That’s progress! Get out there while maintaining OPSEC. You’re on a food growing mission that more and more of the population can relate to.
Enlist the help of friends and neighbors who might grow some items better than yourself. Not everyone has a green thumb. Let people do what they are good at.
Who knows? You might discover a hedge fund driver lurking in the bushes that will underwrite your activities for a piece of the action.
Develop networks of friends and neighbors. Build tribe and auxiliary for mutual security. Promote trade amongst the liberty-minded. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Enlist the help of friends and neighbors who might grow some items better than you.
Not everyone has a green thumb. Let people do what they are good at. Trade and barter essential goods and services.
Use these secrets and ideas as a springboard. Develop your own secrets. Obviously the path to food freedom is very elusive and few people are there yet, but you have to start.
Start by inspiring people to action — your family, friends and neighbors.
That’s why I’m putting out the call for everyone to go all-out for food freedom.
Address the other necessities of life as well, including water, shelter, clothing and defense. You need to have these basic necessities if you are going to be able to resist the forces of tyranny that come to strip you of these essentials so they can control you. While in point of fact almost all of us are already under their thumbs — that doesn’t mean it’s too late. Start wherever you are, and start now.
You want to shut off the noise of the Matrix, the faux creation without and within, so you will apprehend the reality that flows through the natural world.
DISCLAIMER: RockyMountainCorn.com are growers and sellers of Painted Mountain Corn Seed. We have no financial interest in and receive no consideration from any of the products or services recommended herein. Considerable poetic license may be exercised in these expositions. As such, they are wholly the authors’ opinions and are presented for information purposes only.