Important Factors to Consider When Purchasing and Storing Emergency Food
Copyright © January 9, 2008 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
Normal commerce could be easily and unexpectedly disrupted by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, snow, ice, or a manmade disaster. In situations like these your family may need to survive for days (or weeks) on the food you had the wisdom to purchase and store before the unexpected event occurred.
If a disaster were to strike your area, and you and your family survived, and you knew it would be at least one week (or longer) before any help arrived, then how would you feel if you looked in your kitchen pantry and you saw a situation similar to the picture on the right? If you don't like what you see in the picture then perhaps now would be an excellent time to start buying and storing some emergency food for your family's future survival.
A basic emergency food storage plan should be simple and economical. It should include:
- food that you normally eat on a regular basis,
- food that has a long shelf life,
- food that could become part of a balanced and nutritious meal, and
- food that does not need to be refrigerated or frozen.
How to Purchase a One-Year Emergency Food Supply
If you wait until after a hard times tragedy event devastates your area, then you will probably discover that food is not available anywhere at any price. Therefore the best time to purchase an emergency food supply is before you desperately need it.
If an unexpected hard times tragedy event does impact your area, then you will probably not want anyone to know that you have a supply of emergency food. Therefore you will need to purchase your food discretely during normal times and move it into your residence in small quantities to avoid attracting the attention of anyone. No one, except your spouse, should know about your family's emergency food supply. Neither you nor your spouse should tell anyone about your emergency food supply.
If possible, pay cash for your purchases. If you use a debit card or a credit card then the financial institution will have a record of your purchases.
Do not use a store shopping card. If you use a store shopping card then the store will have a record of all your food purchases.
It is not a good idea to buy all the food in one category before you start buying the food in the next category. In other words, don't buy a one-year supply of white rice, and then buy a one-year supply of dry beans, and so on.
Instead you should build your emergency food supply gradually in all the food categories, to the extent possible. This will avoid attracting the attention of a checkout clerk at the grocery store. And if a serious hard times event were to occur before you finished buying your entire emergency food supply, then you would have some food in each of the major food categories, and not simply a lot of rice, beans, and cornmeal, and nothing else.
As you gradually purchase your emergency food supply you should keep a hand written record of what you have already purchased, and you should keep that piece of paper with your emergency food supply. Before you go to the grocery store you can look at your list to see what you have already purchased and then add the food items to your grocery list that you need to purchase that week. This will help you to strategically build your emergency food supply without purchasing too much of one type of food and too little of another type of food.
As you add food to your emergency reserves you should record the date you purchased the food on the outside of the food container or on the cardboard flat of canned food. You could write the date on the cardboard flat or you could write the date on a small piece of paper and then tape it onto the cardboard flat or onto the food container. If you vacuum seal your dry food then you should write the date on the outside of the vacuum bag.
More information about an affordable one-year emergency food supply is on my website here.
Storage Area: You should carefully consider where you will keep your emergency food stored for the following reasons:
If possible, store food at temperatures between 40ºF to 70°F (4.4°C to 21.1°C). A higher storage temperature will shorten the shelf life, reduce the vitamins and other nutrients, and change the taste of the food. More detailed information about a suitable environment for storing food is on my website here.
- It takes a reasonable amount of space to store a one-year supply of food.
- It will take a significant amount of time and effort to move all your food between locations.
- The food should not be located where it may be accidentally discovered by anyone.
- Absolutely no one, except your spouse, should know about your emergency food reserves.
- The food needs to be stored in a temperature controlled environment for a variety of reasons.
- If a disaster unfolds rapidly and unexpectedly then you will need to be able to get to your food without drawing any special attention to your family.
Heavy-Duty Storage Totes: The tote shown in the picture on the right can be purchased at most Walmart stores for less than $11.00 each. It is a heavy-duty tote. These totes can be easily and safely stacked on one another.
Walmart has two sizes of this brand of tote. The one illustrated in the picture is the smaller of the two totes that are available. It has inside dimensions of approximately 21 inches long, 13 inches wide, and 11 inches high. It is called a DuraBilt 15 gallon Tough Box. It can hold between 60 to 90 pounds of food. If safe lifting procedures are used then the average adult in good health could lift this tote. Do not put more food in one of these totes than you can safely lift.
The larger tote is more expensive and it is too big for food storage purposes because it will weigh too much to be moved by one person if it is filled with food.
You will probably need between 6 to 8 of these totes for a one-year emergency food supply, depending on what foods you actually purchase.
Mix It Up: If most of your cans are approximately the same size such as 15 ounces, then you should consider mixing your canned foods together on a single cardboard flat. For example, some people have canned corn, pinto beans, mixed vegetables, canned salmon, spaghetti with meatballs, and chili with beans, and these cans are stored 24 cans per cardboard flat. However, instead of having 24 cans of exactly the same thing on a single cardboard flat it would be smarter to mix the canned foods together and put some of each type of canned food on each cardboard flat. For example, a cardboard flat that contains 24 cans could hold:
- Dry Food: Do not put all your white rice in one tote, and all your dry beans in another tote, and so on. Instead I suggest that you put some of each type of dry food in each tote so each tote contains approximately the same foods as all the other totes, to the extent possible. This will make it easier to get to your food and it will help you consume your food in a balanced manner. It would also make it very easy to transfer your food to your vehicle if you were forced to evacuate your current location. If you could not take all your food with you then you would know that you had a good mix of food items in each of the totes that you could fit into your vehicle.
- Canned Food: If possible you should purchase your canned food on cardboard flats for easy convenient stacking when you put it into your food storage area. In other words, purchase canned goods in multiples of 6, 12, or 24 depending on the number that fit onto a standard cardboard flat. Take the cardboard flat with you through the check-out line when you pay for the food. If your store cuts one side off the front of the cardboard flats then take two cardboard flats and turn them end-to-end one inside the other to make one new cardboard flat that will hold your canned goods without collapsing. When items are on sale at your local grocery store they sometimes leave them on cardboard flats at the end of an aisle. Just pick up an entire cardboard flat of food and put it into your shopping cart. If appropriate, put two, three, or more flats of food into your shopping cart and then pay for them at the cashier station. It would not hurt to have a little more food than you think you might need. I suggest you store your canned foods on cardboard flats inside your food storage area beside your totes. Sometimes a water packed food will gradually eat its way through its container and create a nasty, smelly mess. If this happens then any food that is in contact with that ruined container may also become contaminated, depending on how much time passes before you discover the problem and take corrective action. Always wear disposable vinyl gloves when putting the bad cans of food in the garbage.
- Other Items: These heavy-duty totes are also really nice storage containers for any emergency clothes and emergency equipment that you may wish to store for an unexpected hard times event.
This would be advantageous for all the following reasons:
- 4 cans of corn,
- 4 cans of pinto beans,
- 4 cans of mixed vegetables,
- 4 cans of salmon,
- 4 cans of spaghetti with meatballs, and
- 4 cans of chili with beans.
Rotation: Long-term food storage advice usually includes the recommendation that you use your emergency food on a regular basis and replace it as you use it by employing a first-in first-out inventory strategy. This is good advice but it is very difficult for most families to execute. The sheer volume of any reasonable emergency food supply makes it very difficult to rotate your food without a tremendous investment in time and effort. Therefore most families simply buy their emergency food, put it into a suitable storage area, and then forget about it. May I suggest a compromise between these two extremes. Most of the recommended long-term storage food items have a shelf life of five years or longer. However, some foods have a shorter shelf life, such as cocoa powder. If you will store your short shelf life food items where you can easily get to them then you could gradually use these items and replace them as they are consumed. If you discover that two or three years have passed and some of these short shelf life items have not been used then you should consider replacing them with fresh food. However, the balance of your emergency storage food should still be safe and enjoyable to eat, even though you did not rotate it the same way you did your short shelf life foods.
- Plan A (Staying Home): If a hard times tragedy event were to occur and you were forced to start consuming your emergency food, then some of each type of food would be in the cardboard flat on top of a stack. You would not have to move everything to get to a food item that was on the bottom of the stack. This would also help you to use your emergency food in a more balanced nutritional manner because you would know you should consume all the food on one cardboard flat before eating food items off the next cardboard flat.
- Plan B (Living with a Relative): If you were going to transfer some of your canned food to the home of a close relative, or into a storage area at a distant small rural town, then you could move a few cardboard flats of food to that location and you would know you had a reasonable assortment of foods on each cardboard flat.
- Plan C (Disappearing into the Wilderness): If you were forced to quickly evacuate your current home and you only had a few minutes to load your vehicle, then you could add as many cardboard flats of food as you could and you would know each cardboard flat contained a reasonable variety of canned foods.
Consumption: Carefully ration your food at the beginning of hard times. Don't wait until half your food is gone before you consider rationing.
Cooking and Personal Hygiene
If you store your dry food in the above recommended tote containers, or if you store your food in something similar, then I suggest that you consider adding the following small items to each of your food storage totes:
There are a lot of other things that you would need during a hard times event, but the above items are all directly related to your consumption of your emergency food. The above items are consumable items and they will gradually be used up. Therefore it would probably be a good idea to have all of the above small inexpensive items in all of your food storage totes so that you would find a fresh supply of the above items waiting for you each time you opened a new food storage tote.
- Matchbook containing 20 Paper Matches: If you had one or two matchbooks of 20 paper matches that were vacuum sealed inside a vacuum bag, then you would have the ability to start a fire during a hard times event. This would allow you to boil water to kill any pathogens that might be in the water, and it would allow you to cook your food over a small fire. It would be a shame if you had enough food to eat for a very long time but you didn't have any way to start a fire to cook that food.
- One Bar of Ivory Soap: If you had a bar of Ivory soap that was vacuum sealed inside a vacuum bag, then you would be able to wash your hands and your face before you eat, and you would be able to wash your dishes and your cook pots after you eat.
- One container of Dental Floss, one tube of Toothpaste, and one or two Toothbrushes: Wouldn't it be nice if you could brush your teeth and floss your teeth after you finished eating? If you had these items in each of your food storage totes then you would be able to maintain good dental hygiene during a hard times event, regardless of where you might be when you started consuming your emergency food.
Food Freezer: Do not invest in a food freezer for an unexpected hard times event. Do not invest in frozen foods for an unexpected hard times event. During a hard times event you may not have any electricity. If you produce your own electricity using solar panels or a generator then you will need to use that electricity in the most efficient manner possible. A food freezer is not a good way to use that electricity. The reason is because you can currently purchase a huge variety of delicious foods that do not require refrigeration or freezing. The money you would have invested in a food freezer would be much better invested in a larger inventory of foods that do not need to be refrigerated or frozen.
An Oven for Baking: During a serious hard times event you may need to cook and bake using a wood burning fire. You have two options for baking as follows:
Can Opener: Every family should invest in an old-fashioned manually operated can opener. This type of can opener is placed on the top of the can, then the handles are squeezed together to puncture a hole in the top of the can, and then the crank is rotated to open the can. If the electricity is off then you will be very glad you have one of these manually operated can openers. It is okay to have a "Dollar Store" quality manual can opener as a backup but each family should also own a high quality stainless steel can opener. Being able to open your canned foods safely and quickly will help to prevent a wide variety of accidents during hard times. (Note: Rinse the piercing/cutting edge in clean water after each use to keep the can opener clean and sanitary and to significantly extend its useful life.)
- Cast Iron Dutch Oven: Instructions for using a Dutch oven for baking are at the following link on my web site: Cast Iron Cookware.
- Folding Camp Oven: You could purchase a folding metal camp oven and bake over a propane stove or a campfire. These folding ovens come in a variety of different sizes and they may be purchased at some Army/Navy stores, some hardware stores, and some Walmarts.
Vacuum Food Sealer: Dry foods should be vacuum sealed to significantly extend their shelf life. Additional information about vacuum sealers is on my web site here.
Quantities: You should have enough food for each member of your family for at least six months. If you are an experienced farmer or rancher living on your own land, then you should also have enough vegetable seeds (heirloom or open pollinated) to replenish your food supplies on an annual basis. You will also need your own canning jars and lids or you will need to know how your ancestors preserved food without electricity or canning jars. If you have no previous experience with farming then you would probably be better off with a two or three years supply of food for each family member.
Calories: An active adult engaged in normal physical labor could burn 3,000 calories per day without gaining weight. However, if you were not very active during a disaster event then you could easily reduce your calorie intake to 2,000 calories per day, or less, and still maintain your weight.
Brand Names: Generic brand foods are usually cheaper than name brand foods. However, taste is a very personal experience. Two people in the same exact family can have entirely different opinions about the same exact food. You will need to make your own decision about which brands of food your family will eat. If you are already happy with a specific name brand then it would probably be a better investment than a generic brand you are not familiar with. However, if there is a big price difference between the brands, such as 52 cents for the generic brand and 94 cents for the name brand, then it would be a good idea to buy one can of the generic brand and take it home and eat it to see how it compares to your preferred name brand food item.
Package Sizes: Larger packages are usually a little cheaper per ounce. But if half the package spoils after you open it and before it can all be used, then you lose. Therefore resist the temptation to buy the large one-gallon size cans of food. If you need more food per meal than one regular size can then you can always open two cans. However, instead of opening two cans of the same thing you might consider opening one can of two different food items to provide more variety during the meal.
Appetite Fatigue: Your emergency food supply must have a reasonable variety of different food items. If you only have a limited number of different food items to eat then appetite fatigue will result in your starvation even though you have food. Your mind and your body will simply reject the thought of eating the same food again and again and again. If you doubt the truth of this statement then conduct a simple test. Pick your favorite four food items that you enjoy eating more than anything else and then only eat those four food items for one month. Before one week has passed you will be repulsed at the thought of eating those foods again. Try it and see if you can force yourself to only eat those four foods for an entire month.
Appetite fatigue does not occur when there is no food available. For example, long-term war prisoners in a P.O.W. camp will generally eat almost anything. Each day they do not have the option to eat or not eat. On many days they get nothing to eat. When they do get fed there is never enough food to satisfy their hunger and therefore they will eat almost anything at any time and be grateful for whatever it happens to be.
Appetite fatigue occurs when you have food to eat and you have the choice to eat or not eat. This is one of the reasons old people in a retirement home usually lose weight and their health. The cafeteria serves the same basic bland food over and over again.
To avoid appetite fatigue you should have some reasonable variety in your emergency food supplies.
White Rice: Ordinary white rice should be one of the primary emergency foods every family has stored in their home. White rice goes well as a side dish with almost any meal (including wild game and fresh fish). White rice is normally enriched with several vitamins and it is a complex carbohydrate which is something the human body needs.
White rice is extremely cheap when compared to other foods. A ten pound bag of white rice can be purchased at many grocery stores for about six dollars (or a twenty pound bag for about ten dollars). At approximately 60 cents per pound you are buying 1,500 calories per pound or 15,000 calories per ten pound bag. That is a true bargain. And white rice has a shelf life of between twenty to thirty years if it is stored in an oxygen free container in a cool, dry area that is kept between 40 to 70 degrees year round. (Note: Brown rice has a shelf life of six months or less.)
However it should be noted that white rice has two disadvantages in a hard times survival situation:
There are a vast multitude of recipes that use white rice as a primary ingredient. Unfortunately most of those recipes require an assortment of herbs, spices, and many other ingredients that most of us don't have in our kitchen pantries. The recipes listed on my website are unique in that respect. Most of the white rice recipes on my website only require a few ingredients, and many of those ingredients are ones that most of us already have in our kitchen pantries. Therefore the white rice recipes on my website will help to minimize the problem of dietary boredom or appetite fatigue.
- White rice needs to be prepared with fresh clean water. Therefore each family must determine how they are going to address the water issue. Additional information about water is on my website at:
How to Find Water and How to Make Water Safe to Drink.
- White rice has a tendency to become very unexciting after it has been eaten on a regular basis for an extended period of time.
Beans: You may wish to consider purchasing some canned beans and some dry beans.
Salt: Almost all canned food and commercially processed food contain salt. However, you should still purchase some salt so you can cook, season, and/or preserve any fresh vegetables or meat you may be able to obtain during a long-term disaster event. Salt is one of the basic ingredients the human body requires to maintain good long-term health. At the present time salt is very cheap but during a disaster event it may become very difficult to acquire. Pure Salt may be used to help preserve food. Iodized salt should not be used as a food preservative. However, iodized salt is the best salt to use when adding salt to your food just before you eat it. Your body needs a little iodine on a regular basis and a good way to get iodine is by adding a little iodized salt onto your food at the table. I recommend the Morton Lite Iodized Salt because it can also be used to create an electrolyte beverage. Therefore, in addition to Pure Salt, it would probably also be a good idea to purchase one or two 11-ounce Morton Lite Salt containers and add them to your emergency food supply. More information about salt is on my website here.
- Canned beans are fully cooked inside the can and they will be edible many years after the printed expiration date on the can. (Note: I have personally eaten canned beans that were ten years old and they tasted just like they had been recently canned.) If the electricity is off then after you remove the top from a can of beans, you can then heat the beans inside the metal can over a small fire.
- Dry beans require a long time to prepare them for human consumption. More information about dry beans is on my website here. Dry beans can be planted as seed in a garden and they will produce a new crop of beans at the end of the summer growing season. Dry beans are sold at most grocery stores inside 1, 2, and 4 pound plastic bags and they are usually located near the white rice in the grocery store.
Black Pepper: If your family enjoys the taste of black pepper then you will need to store some black pepper as part of your emergency food supplies. You have two options: ground black pepper or whole black peppercorns. Whole peppercorns have an indefinite shelf life if stored in their original packaging in the dark in a temperature controlled environment. Or you can vacuum seal the peppercorns to completely eliminate any aroma or taste loss as a result of exposure to the air or humidity. If you invest in peppercorns then you will also need to invest in a pepper grinder. I suggest you purchase a refillable normal pepper grinder and not one of those little pepper grinders in the spice rack of your grocery store that contains a small amount of peppercorns. The majority of those little pepper grinders cannot be opened and refilled. More information about black pepper is on my website here.
Yeast: Freeze store bought yeast until it is needed. (Note: I tested some package yeast that had been frozen for 12 years and the yeast quickly multiplied in a glass of warm water with a tiny bit of sugar added.)
When you need some yeast, remove a yeast packet from the freezer and allow it to gradually warm up to normal room temperature. Then stir a little crumbled yeast into some warm water (105ºF to 115ºF or 40.6ºC to 46.1ºC). Test the water on your wrist. It should feel warm but not hot. If the water is too hot it will kill the yeast. If the water is too cold it will slow down the process. Adding a little sugar (about 1/4 teaspoon) to the water will speed up the process. Adding salt or fat will slow it down. Good yeast will become foamy and creamy in about 8 to 12 minutes.
Don't waste your package yeast. After you have added yeast to some bread dough, pinch off one handful of the bread dough after the first rise and save it in an airtight container in a cool dark place. The next day thoroughly mix (knead) the old dough into a new batch of dough. The yeast will multiply and spread throughout the new batch. After the first rise, pinch off a handful of dough and save it. Continue this process each time you make yeast bread and you will be able to make bread for a very long time from that one original package of yeast.
Baking Powder: Both yeast and baking powder will cause your bread dough to rise. But both yeast and baking powder have relatively short shelf lives at room temperature. The good news is that you can make your own baking powder as follows:
Baking soda, corn starch, and cream of tartar have an indefinite shelf life if properly stored.
- 1 part baking soda.
- 1 part corn starch.
- 2 parts cream of tartar.
- Mix together to make fresh baking powder.
However, after you mix them together a slow chemical reaction begins and the shelf life of the resulting baking powder is much less.
Therefore make your baking powder as you need it and do not make more than you will need in a specific recipe.
Seasoned Meat Tenderizer: Seasoned meat tenderizer is really cheap at the current time and it will make it a lot easier for your entire family to gradually adjust to the flavor of any "wild game meat" you may be able to acquire during a long-term hard times event. The "5th Season" brand seasoned meat tenderizer is available at most Walmart stores for approximately $0.70 for a 5.25 ounce container.
Comfort Foods: You should purchase some Kool-Aid, Tang, Coffee, Tea, Soft Drinks, Beer, Wine, Miniature Tootsie Rolls, Caramels, Assorted Hard Candies, or whatever else appeals to you. These are referred to as "comfort foods" and they can definitely help make the hard times more bearable.
Long-Term Storage Foods: Freeze dried and dehydrated foods are also an outstanding choice for long-term food storage and you should include them in your food storage plan if you can find them available at a price you can afford. More information about freeze dried and dehydrated food is on my website here.
This is not medical advice. This is not a medical recommendation. Please consult a licensed medical practitioner to have your medical questions answered.
If food is properly stored in a reasonable food storage environment, then that food will retain most of its calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein for a very long time. However, the vitamins in most foods will gradually degrade with the passage of time. There are a number of documented health problems that have been attributed to a deficiency in a specific vitamin. For example, a lack of vitamin C will gradually result in scurvy (bleeding gums, loose teeth, depression, fever, jaundice, and eventually death). Therefore you may wish to consider adding a one-year supply of a good multivitamin to your one-year emergency food supply.
May I suggest that you rotate your vitamins. When you have finished taking your current bottle of vitamins, then remove the bottle of vitamins that you have in storage and begin taking those vitamins on a regular basis. Then immediately purchase a new bottle of vitamins and place that new bottle of vitamins in your emergency food storage area.
During a hard times event if you are not sure how long it will be before you can replenish your supply of vitamins then you may need to ration your vitamins and only take one vitamin every two or three days. This is a decision you will need to make yourself.
Reasonable Food Safety Precautions
- Do not buy dented cans of food or canned foods that show any sign of aging such as rust on the outside of the can, or labels that show visible signs of aging.
- If you do not protect the exterior of the cans from the natural moisture and humidity in the air then the cans will gradually rust and the food inside will be lost. One easy way to protect a case of canned foods from moisture and humidity is to place the entire case of food inside a standard kitchen sized garbage bag and then carefully force all the air out of the bag and either twist tie it closed or tape the bag down tight against itself so air and humidity cannot enter the bag easily.
- Some canned foods are packed in water and the moisture in those cans may find a weak spot on the inside coating of the can and gradually eat its way through the can. If this happens then you will need to discard the entire can of food.
- High acidic foods, such as tomatoes, will gradually eat right through the can. However, some canning companies use a special coating inside their high acidic food cans to help minimize this problem.
- When selecting moisture packed canned foods, purchase and open one of the cans and then carefully examine the inside coating of the can to determine if the canning company is using a quality coating on the inside of their cans. If you are satisfied with the coating on the inside of the can then you could purchase additional quantities of that food item for long-term food storage.
- If a can of food appears to be expanded around its center section (bulging) then it probably contains poisonous toxins. Do not open the can. Instead dispose of the can safely. If necessary, bury the unopened can at least one foot under the ground.
- Before using any item that has been in storage for a long time, open it and then carefully examine it. It should look okay and it should smell okay. If it doesn't look and smell okay then it is probably not safe to eat. Never, never eat any food that has an offensive or unusual odor, or that has something growing on it.
- Boiling a food item before you eat it, or cooking it until its internal temperature exceeds at least 200ºF (93ºC), will kill almost every harmful microorganism that might be present in the food item. Therefore all canned meats and all canned vegetables and soups should be cooked at a high temperature before eating them.
(The following information is being presented for fair use and educational purposes only.)
The following list of foods have an indefinite shelf life if the food is sealed in an oxygen free atmosphere, kept dry, stored in a dark place, and it is not exposed to high heat.
If possible the foods should be stored in a temperature controlled environment between 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (or 4°C to 21°C).
If these conditions can be met then the following foods will still be edible many, many decades from now:
The following foods will still be edible for up to 30 years if all the above conditions are met:
- Baking Soda.
- Cream of Tartar.
- Corn Starch.
- Granulated Sugar.
- Brown Sugar.
- Confectioners Sugar.
- Vanilla Extract.
- Wheat Berries.
- Honey. (Note: If the honey begins to crystallize into sugar then put the jar of honey into some very warm or hot water, but not boiling water, and the honey will gradually melt back into a honey consistency.)
Instant Nonfat Powdered Milk will last up to 20 years if properly stored.
- White Rice.
- Potato Flakes.
- Rolled Oats.
- Dry Pasta (Spaghetti and Macaroni).
- Dried Corn.
- Canned Meats.
- Canned Vegetables.
- Canned Jelly or Jam or Preserves.
Indefinite Shelf Life: Indefinite does not mean infinite. Infinite means forever and no food lasts forever. Indefinite means undetermined. In other words, when the food shelf life test was terminated the food item being tested was still edible and there was nothing wrong with it. Therefore the shelf life test could not put a specific expiration date on that food item and it was simply labeled as having an "indefinite" or undetermined shelf life.
May I suggest that you consider storing a few small packets of heirloom vegetable seeds in your refrigerator for hard times. (Note: Look for heirloom or open pollinated seeds and not hybrid seeds. This information will usually be printed on the front or the back of the small seed package.)
If you have a window that receives good sun for at least six hours each day then you could grow a limited number of fresh vegetables in a planter box in front of that window. The planter box could be a clay pot, or a plastic tray, or a long wood box. The box should be at least 5 or 6 inches deep and it should have holes or narrow slots in the bottom of the box to allow excess water to drain out of the box into a tray placed below the box. The planter box could be as wide as your window. Fill the planter box with any type of planting soil, or topsoil, to within one-half inch (1.2 cm) of the top of the box. Put the planter box on a short table so the sun shines directly on top of the soil in the planter box. You will also need to purchase a box of Miracle Grow fertilizer (follow the instructions on the box of fertilizer).
Do not plant the same vegetable in the same exact spot in the dirt two times in a row. To the extent possible, you should rotate your vegetables and plant each vegetable where you planted a different type of vegetable the last time.
I recommend the following vegetables. The following vegetables are all "root vegetables." This means the edible part of the vegetable grows below ground out-of-sight. This could be a significant advantage during serious hard times because most people would not realize that something edible was growing below the leaves that appear on top of the soil.
The above vegetables and dandelions will grow their own seeds. If you harvest those seeds then you will have fresh seeds to plant on a regular basis for the rest of your life.
- Beets: Detroit Dark Red, a heirloom variety since 1892.
Detroit Dark Red beets will reach full maturity in 58 to 65 days after planting. The Detroit Dark Red beet has edible green leaves above ground and edible beets below ground. You can usually harvest the green leaves several times while the beets are growing without hurting the beet below ground. This is a significant advantage during hard times because your body will crave fresh green leafy vegetables. Rinse the fresh green leaves under hot water to reduce the fuzzy texture of the leaf. The beet leaves taste great in a salad. I also enjoy beet leaves on sandwiches and on hamburgers instead of lettuce. The Detroit Dark Red beet also stores well for winter consumption.
Planting Instructions: Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep and 6 inches apart.
- Carrots: Danvers Half Long, a heirloom variety since 1871.
Danvers Half Long carrots will reach full maturity in about 75 days after planting. The Danvers Half Long carrots may be eaten raw or they may be cooked. They are also excellent carrots for storing, freezing, or canning.
Planting Instructions: Soak the seeds in warm water for about 3 hours. Then plant each seed 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart.
- Radishes: Cherry Belle, a heirloom variety and an "All American Selection" winner in 1949.
Cherry Belle radishes will grow to full maturity in about 20 to 24 days (or about 3 weeks). Most radish varieties will mature in about 20 to 25 days. However, some radish varieties require about 50 or 55 days to mature so you should read the seed package very carefully before you invest in radishes.
Planting Instructions: Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep about 1.5 inches apart. Radishes do not keep well so you should plant a few radish seeds each week. This will provide some fresh edible radishes for your family to enjoy on a regular basis.
- Flower Seeds: During serious hard times you may not want anyone to know that you are growing root vegetables. An easy way to disguise your small vegetable box is to plant a few random flower seeds in the box with the vegetables. When the small flowers bloom they will add some color to the planter box and this will create the illusion that you are growing flowers in your window box and that the other green leaves are simply flowers that haven't bloomed yet.
If you can find Dandelion flower seeds then I recommend using them as your flower disguise. The stems, flowers, leaves, and roots of a dandelion are all edible. More detailed information about dandelions is in my cookbook Grandpappy's Recipes for Hard Times.
Detailed instructions for growing vegetable seeds are on my website here.
Detailed instructions for harvesting, processing, and storing vegetable seeds are on my website here.
Click on www.grandpappy.org for Robert's Home Page.
Grandpappy's e-mail address is: RobertWayneAtkins@hotmail.com