Our grow-your-own project is underway. Right now, we’re in the planning stages. In February, we get a month of “business as usual,” to order and plan for the upcoming decrease of fossil fuels in our food system. Starting in March, we’ll only have a quarter of our trips to the grocery store and less shipping available. Planning has begun in earnest and in this post, I want to go over some of the basic food stats we’re up against.
Two Million Calories in a Year
We are a family of two and a half people, plus a dog and seven chickens. Two adults eating 2,000 calories a day need 1.46 million calories in a year (2 × 2,000 × 365). A one-year-olds need 1,000 calories a day, so 356,000 calories for the year. We’ll need that again for our dog. Each chicken needs about 230 calories per day, so we’re looking at 578,650 calories (7 × 230 × 365). That puts us well over two million calories (closer to 2.8 million total).
We’re going to meet that caloric need through vegetable gardening, foraging from our neighborhood, and gleaning what would be left over from the fossil-fuel agricultural system if those fuels disappeared.
Vegetable and Fruit Gardening
We’re going to try to grow more than we think we need because gardening is never a sure thing. The Inca and people living in the unpredictable Andes grew a variety of foods and potato varieties in a plethora of environments to ensure that something would thrive each year. That’s because they had to deal with the El Niño every two to eleven years: imagine your climate being inverted once every decade. By diversifying their food system, they could be sure they’d have enough to eat, come what may.
We typically grow a wide variety of vegetables (or at least try to):
Full Sun: Tomato, cucumber, pepper, beans, corn, beets, garlic, carrot, broccoli, potato, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, eggplant, sweet potato, sunflower, kale
Mostly Sun: Peas, lettuce, mustard, parsley, mint, basil, thyme, oregano, cilantro, squash, pumpkin, kale, carrots
Partial Sun: Onions, radish, spinach, arugula, chard
I’ve made a list of the calories per pound of much of what we grow.
|Bean, bush, dry||1440|
|Bean, pole, green||141|
While we’ll be living well in the summer, by the winter, we will have moved on to what we can store. The big calorie sources will be potatoes, dried peas, dried beans, squash, onions, beets, carrots, kohlrabi and sweet potato. To that we’ll add what we can can (tomatoes, green beans, pickles, okra, applesauce, etc), and dry (tomatoes, strawberries, apples, etc.). Finally, we’ll have our greenhouse going, which should provide kale, spinach, and other cold-hardy greens.
The first year of such a scenario would be easier than those that follow because a lot of crops will be put in before diesel runs dry. Therefore, we can hand harvest wheat, corn, soy, and whatever else is within biking distance of our home. These will be big calorie sources. Additionally, we’ll be growing our own oats, flax, amaranth, and corn to supplement what we can harvest. Maybe we’ll try some upland rice. Also, we should be able to get bushels of apples from the various abandoned apple trees around here, as we have in previous years. Here’s the calorie break-down.
Preindustrial people were constrained by what they could store and it is no coincidence that wheat, corn, and other seeds, which store well, were depended on for settled life.
We’ll also be eating out of the “uncultivated” resources of our neighborhood. This spring we’ll tap the maple trees across the street in the town commons for syrup. We also have an oak grove that will give us plenty of acorns to mill down into meal to cut our flour. The village is also rife with black walnut trees. All of these are great calorie sources.
Our final source of calories will be both domestic and wild animals. These will form a small but significant portion of our diets. At home we have bees that make honey — a sweet treat as sugar is less available. We also have egg-laying hens. This year we’ll let them hatch out some chicks, half of which will be males. Once they reach full size, they’ll be butchered.
We may try to get milk from a neighbor and make cheese to store for the winter.
The Badfish Creek will provide us with fish. We plan to net suckers in the spring and fish for other species throughout the year.
In the neighborhood there are tons of squirrels and rabbits, but we haven’t decided if those are a resource we will tap. Rabbits are so prolific that eating those that venture into our yard will not significantly reduce the local population. We will also go deer hunting in the fall, as this wild meat is healthy and abundant here.
|Food||Calories/lb or unit|
|egg (per egg)||78|
|chicken (per lb)||1037|
|venison (per lb)||715|
|fish, smoked (per lb)||530|
|cheddar cheese (per lb)||1831|
|rabbit (per lb)||784|
We can talk about the ethics of meat in an upcoming episode, but if you’re interested in my thoughts on meat now, you can listen to Low Tech Podcast, no. 8.