April 2, 2020
"Be Prepared". That's the Boy Scout motto. And it applies to every one of us. As I look back on the last several weeks, I've been appalled at the level of unpreparedness of Americans across the country. Even in Cheyenne, the mass hysteria over the COVID-19 virus has run rampant. I have been fortunate not to have to go out into that madness as I'm recovering from surgery. In fact, my doctor called me in early just to get it done before the hospital closed the surgical suites. I want to take a moment to thank Penny and the rest of the staff at the Post for covering for me during this period. I'll be recovering for quite some time, so articles may be sporadic, but I felt compelled to write this one.
So, why the strange intro? Preparedness used to be a part of the American culture. We were prepared for just about anything and we've always come through our trials stronger than we were prior and we learned, at least something, each time. But watching the news footage of the empty aisles at the grocery stores and listening to the stories behind them I just can't believe people are acting like this. It's like living in a Socialist country. People have even been injured and killed in fights over items in the stores. Mostly because we let our lack of preparedness and fear get the better of us. We can help ourselves out immensely with just a little planning and effort.
Keeping even a small stockpile of necessities will go a long way to easing the panic people have been feeling. Farmers and ranchers for the most part understand this. Often they live far enough out that trips to town for groceries are planned to coincide with other errands and they understand that they could be snowed in for weeks at a time. So they plan ahead and keep a stock of food and essentials.
Does anyone remember the "freedom gardens' of World War II? Growing and storing vegetables for the future is a good way to keep from feeling the panic when our world is disrupted. We're getting into the planting season soon and now is the time to start planning how you can put food aside for times such as this. It will probably mean increasing the size of your garden and the amount of effort you put into it, but it's definitely worth it in the end. You may even have to educate yourself on growing vegetables and especially food preservation. Too many of us have forgotten what was considered common knowledge just a few decades ago. We've become so used to being able to walk into a store and find anything on the shelf that we want. Shortages are rare. There wasn't a need to stock up. The good side of the COVID-19 crisis is that it can serve as a wake up call to all of us. Get the education you need to take care of yourself and your family.
Start your planning by determining what your family likes to eat and let that be the basis of what you plant in your garden. Then determine how much of each item you consume in a year. Looking at each item decide how you want to preserve it. There are more methods than "canning". Some foods freeze well, such as peas, green beans and corn. Others can be stored virtually forever by drying. Dried beans are a great example. And they're a terrific source of protein. Traditional canning, done properly, will store foods for many, many years. Canned foods dating back to the Civil War have been found in perfect and edible condition. Most of the fears some may have of their grandparents' pressure cookers are unjustified with the modern equipment we have today. As long as you follow the instructions, you won't have a problem.
I had to educate myself on food preservation to get this far and then put forth the effort to grow the plants. My method is probably quite different than most. I plant enough of each type of vegetable to last four years. Then I plant something else the next year and continue the rotation for the four year cycle until I come back to the beginning. That keeps the inventory up and rotates the crops for good soil management. But even if you only grew enough for one year, it would help alleviate panicking in a crisis. If you're not in a position to grow your own, at least keep a small stock of what you would need for at least two months. Good for both safety and peace of mind.
Primarily I've alluded to growing a garden in the ground, but there are many methods of gardening. Container gardening is great for a small area and apartments. Basically it's growing your plant in pots. Don't discount 5 gallon buckets either. I canned 48 pints of salsa last year from one tomato plant growing in a 5 gallon bucket. You can also grow in hanging baskets. Strawberries, cucumber and some squash do especially well in baskets. Straw bale gardening was a fad a few years ago, but it works. If you don't mind giving up some floor space, there's always hydroponics. That will take a bit more of an investment, but yields are great and the time to harvest is dramatically reduced. Herbs can even be grown in a small countertop unit. I'll cover more about hydroponics in the future. If you still can't grow your own, buy in bulk from the farmer's markets then preserve it for your future.
There are other benefits of growing your own vegetables beside what I've been discussing. The greatest benefit is that you can control what goes into you fruits and vegetables. Pesticides or no? What nutrients? What kind of fertilizer? All your choice to make. Then there's the flavor. If you haven't tasted vegetables right out of the garden you've been missing out far too long. Growing up I despised tomatoes. Then I grew some and suddenly I love tomatoes. Flavors are vibrant and exciting when the produce is fresh.
I understand that most people have no experience in growing their own food and preserving it. But there are many resources available in Laramie County to learn. Most can be accessed through the UW Extension offices at LCCC. Not for a few weeks of course, but they will be back and it is their greatest pleasure to help people grow and preserve foods for their own use. As the sports coach will say when the team has had a terrible loss, "back to the basics". The same goes for us. We've suffered, and are still suffering, through this crisis. Now it's time to go back to the basics. To help with this, the Laramie County Master Gardeners are opening up the Mother's Day Plant Sale to modified online sales. You can check our website at http://www.lcmg.org to see what plants are available and you'll be able to pick them up directly from the grower rather than pushing through a group of a thousand people to find what you are looking for. I know right now that cucumber, pumpkin, yellow squash and borage are ready. I invite you to call me direct if you need help at 307-640-2445. As always, if you have questions, ask a master Gardener. It's what we do.