Friday, May 6, 2022

Growing Zones

Winter is over, so it's time to get into the fields and gardens and start growing things. 

I've been seeing a lot of interest in growing food as a result of increases in food prices and reductions in availability in stores. The reasons for inflated prices and shortages are varied and get into the arena of politics, which we don't enter. This is not a blog that places blame; we're here to help people get through tough times no matter who or what is the cause. Believe what you want and blame whomever you want, the methods of surviving bad times are the same.

When food is being rationed, and it can happen again, being able and willing to grow at least some of your own can make life more bearable and might open up lines of barter with neighbors. 

Growing your own food isn't anything new. As little as 80 years ago "victory gardens" were encouraged during WW2 in order to free up food production for the soldiers, sailors, and marines fighting overseas, and they were common practice for everyone who had the space. If you look back more than 100 years, growing your own food was essential for anyone living outside of cities. Go back even further, or look at other areas of the world, and you'll see that growing food is a personal responsibility that we've seemingly grown beyond. This reliance on industrial food production is an aberration in human history, a temporary pause in the way things normally work. It can change rapidly, and history shows that is has happened before. 

Does the Irish potato blight ring a bell? A system of tenant-farmers with no control over what they planted led to a monoculture agricultural scheme (nothing but potatoes, which meant high profits for the landowners) ripe for a plant disease outbreak. Millions starved, or were forced to move in order to stay alive.

Early settlers in North America ran into the same issue with tobacco: the profit margin was so great that they grew tobacco rather than food and ended up starving in early Virginia history*.  The prevailing land grant system didn't help matters, and ended up being one of the causes of chattel slavery in US history.

Even today, a crop failure can mean the loss of everything to a farmer. It only takes one bad year to wipe out savings and force the sale of the land they rely on to make a living. The "500 year" floods that we've seen three times in the last 20 years have pushed many families off of land that has been in their families for generations. Reports of farmers on food stamps are real, even if they are hard to believe.

Grow Your Own
Growing your own food can be a major part of your everyday preps if you have the space. Land is nice to own, and I'd rather tend a garden than mow grass. If you made the mistake of buying into a HOA-controlled area, you may have limits on how big your garden can be and where it can be placed, so check your by-laws. 

The next step is to find out what will grow in your area. The USDA has produced a "Hardiness Zone" map that most seed and plant sellers will use to determine is a specific variety is suitable for your location. Even though it's called a "Hardiness" map, it also serves as a good representation of the growing seasons for each region. Here's the map, courtesy of the USDA so it's in the public domain:

As you can see from the legend, each zone is designated by the minimum low temperature for each location. I'm in the middle of Zone 5, which means that it will get down to -10 to -20 °F in the dead of winter. This limits what perennial plants will survive a normal winter to the more hardy plants. I can forget about the bananas and papaya, at least if I want to grow them outdoors. 

Seed sellers will also use this map for annual plants, usually printing a range of zones that a specific variety is suitable to grow in. If I see "suitable for zones 4-7", I can be reasonably certain that I will have good results in zone 5.

Find your zone and memorize it. You'll need it when you go shopping for seeds and plants.

* The last paragraph mentions lack of food because it was more profitable to grow tobacco. 

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