In light of the uncertaintly facing the world these days, we have decided to publish a series of chapters from Edible Plants for Preppers. Available from Amazon Kindle for £2.50, it provides a lot of useful information for UK preppers on a vegan or plant-based diet. Please note, while it encourages food to be eaten uncooked, and in its natural state, it is not a raw food book.
Links to other chapters
Growing, using & eating plants
Example of a basic food garden
The following are a list of basic plants which can be relatively easily grown in the British Isles. Check out seed catalogues and nurseries for the best varieties. If this is all a bit overwhelming, or the worst comes to the worst, just grow potatoes or parsnips. They make a good basis for a filling meal, provide much needed energy, and are easy to grow and store. n.b. parsnips can be left in the ground until required, even if the ground is frozen or covered in snow.
Beans & peas
Nuts and seeds
Pumpkin (seed from the pumpkin vegetable)
Traditionally gardeners in the British Isles have grown fruit and vegetables in the ground in back gardens and allotments. Those without gardens often use pots and containers. Growing methods are many and varied, the difference often being between those using chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and those growing organically without any artificial chemical inputs. Organic growers often use techniques such as permaculture, forest gardening, stockfree organic growing, agroforestry, raised beds and deep bed cultivation.
It is not necessary to use human manure, animal manure or chemical fertilisers to produce healthy plants. Stockfree (vegan organic) methods of cultivation are proven ways of growing food and are already used to feed people commercially in the UK. Soil fertility originates from plants and can be maintained and even increased by using certain methods of plant-based cultivation such as crop rotation, mulching, composting, by applying green manures and seaweed meal.
Tolhurst Organic is one of the longest running organic vegetable farms in England. It has held the Soil Association symbol since 1976 and the Stockfree Organic symbol since 2004. There are no grazing animals and no animal inputs, such as fish, blood and bonemeal, on any part of the farm. By removing animal inputs there are fewer pathways for pathogens which are an increasing concern with regard to diseases such as E. coli. Tolhurst Organic currently supplies food to 400 families.
Those living in inner city environments will have more of a challenge to grow food since land will be at a premium. There are very successful urban food production projects in the UK largely centered around allotments, community gardens, school gardens and city farms. However, just about anywhere with space can be used to grow food in a city such as back yards, windowsills, conservatories, roofs, balconies, walls, abandoned yards and buildings. If using containers, be prepared to acquire a large amount of growing media e.g. bags of compost.
An estimated 15-20 per cent of total global food production is produced by and for people living in city areas (van Veenhuizen, 2006). The positive side to urban agriculture include health and social benefits for residents as well as a greener food production system which includes a short supply chain. The challenges include access to land and water as well as the problems of soil contamination from urban industry and traffic.
There are specialised systems of growing food if space is at a premium. Biointensive growing is an organic closed system, based on deep soil cultivation producing large amount of food using far less land, water and energy than conventional growing systems.
Hydroponics is a soil-less growing system where food is grown indoors, in small spaces, all year round and using a liquid feed. A ready-made hydroponics system can be expensive to set up but secondhand systems are available and even cheaper diy systems can be devised. The Babylonians and Aztecs were thought to use an early form of hydroponics.
There are also a variety of vertical planters that can be purchased which allows plants to be grown up walls. They are often seen in cities as green screens, green walls or living louvres. These can be expensive but as with hydroponics, hand made systems are feasible.
Of course, a cheap and easy way to grow fresh food is to sprout seeds in jars and other containers indoors. Sprouting is a good way of obtaining fresh food within days and during any season of the year. Although this is good in the short term, it isn't a sustainable way of growing food because the plants never grow to maturity and will not produce seed stock for the following year.
Seed and equipment
Purchase seed for planting now and include extra packets to place in storage. Put in place plants, shrubs and trees. Get an edible garden established and get a feel for the best growing techniques for the soil and surroundings. For those who don't have much time, and even less inclination, put in place a selection of perennial plants, shrubs and trees. Grow the big fruits e.g. apples, pears and plums. Add some hazelnut bushes as they are really easy to grow and can just be left to their own devices. Allow an area at the bottom of the garden to go wild and where native plants like brambles, chickweed, dandelion and nettles can grow. Areas of lawn, preferably in a sunny position, can be left ready to be dug over to grow basics like root vegetables and greens should a crisis strike.
Stock up on organic open pollinated or heirloom seeds and practice seed saving. Unlike some of the genetically modified hybrids of today, these will flower and produce seed that can be saved and used to produce next year's crop. Also keep a stock of professionally collected seed from a reliable company. This seed is less likely to have been cross pollinated or carry any diseases. Keep these seeds in an airtight container such as Timebags or Mylar bags in the fridge or freezer and replace every few years. Freezing seeds won't damage them and will extend their lifespan and is better than refridgeration. Ensure seeds are completely dry before saving. The enemy of the seed saver is moisture and a fluctuation in temperature. At the time of writing only American companies sell special packs of 'survival seeds'. Some are guaranteed to germinate after 20 years in storage.
Buy tools and equipment. Useful items include a hand trowel and fork, long handled fork and spade, hand hoe, long handled hoe, rake, secateurs, pruning shears, saw, hose, watering can, wheelbarrow, gloves, netting/fleece, potting soil water butt, compost bin and a coldframe, greenhouse or polytunnel. Most vegetation can be composted and fed back to the soil to feed it but it takes time. To make a fine seed compost choose a separate container for the task and add seed-free vegetation chopped into small pieces. Include layers of leaves and grass cuttings. Those with larger areas of land, such as allotments or smallholdings, may require machinery.
Purchase gardening books on growing, pruning, composting, pests, diseases and food preservation ahead of time. Make use of books which work within an organic system rather than with hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers, products which may be hard to get hold of further down the line.
Using and storing plants
Try to leave plants in situ until needed where they will retain their nutrients and beneficial properties. Pick green leaves a few minutes before they are eaten or cooked. Otherwise keep produce whole and place in appropriate storage.
Generally food should be stored whole rather than processed since food deteriorates more rapidly after processing. Store whole nuts not ground or chopped and whole grain rather than flour. Having said this any food dried and stored to very a high quality, such as freeze-drying, will last for years.
There are many ways of storing food: cold storage, drying, freezing, bottling (canning: USA), salting, smoking, fermenting (sauerkraut or kimchi), pickling and making jelly, jam, preserves, sauces and chutney. Some methods are better for good health than others.
If food cannot be eaten immediately or stored whole in cold storage then one of the best ways of preserving food for the prepper is drying. Dried food preserves more of the nutrients, is light to carry, stores in a smaller space and is flavour intensive. Drying doesn't require salt, sugar, vinegar, oil, alcohol or water, all of which may be scarce or non-existent.
Drying food using an electric dehydrator is certainly one of the quickest and safest ways of preserving food. Other ways of drying food include the using the sun on hot days, a warm dry airy place or an oven on a low heat with the door slightly open. Food needs to be dried as quickly as possible to retain nutrients and avoid spoiling. Once the moisture has been removed, food can be stored in airtight containers or bags.
Solar driers can be made but they need to be designed with a long shute to direct hot air into the main drying box to help things along in the unreliable climate of the British Isles. During periods of really hot dry weather, food can be dried in the open air or under a sheet of glass in the sun. Keep flies, birds and other animals away from the food wth a fly screen. Do not attempt 'open air' drying in the British Isles unless scorching hot sun and low humidity are absolutely guaranteed for several days. This particularly applies to drying food with a high water content, such as fruit, that might take several days to dry properly.
General recommendations suggest using dried foods within a year. If keeping dried food longer it should be vacuum sealed, which removes the oxygen, and stored in good quality containers such as Timebags or Mylar bags with little sachets of oxygen absorber. Foods dried and stored under high quality conditions can often be stored indefinitely. Most commercial companies producing camping and survival foods use freeze drying techniques for this. Freeze drying can be carried out at home using a freezer, a freezer and dehydrator, or dry ice.
Freezing food should never be relied upon unless a reliable energy source is available. The main grid may or may not be working and if it is may only provide intermittent electricity. Frozen food is only as good as the energy source which supplies the freezer.
Getting the best out of food
It is crucially important to remain as fit and healthy as possible. The wrong food will make people sick and vulnerable. Healthy food is that which has retained all its nutrients and is as natural as possible. Food which is considered uncooked, raw or living, contains the most nutrients and is highly beneficial to health. However, there are times when cooking is essential no more so than during times of crisis.
Cooked food will be a comfort for people who are used to eating mostly cooked food. Many of us have been brought up on cooked foods. It is not always a good thing. Cooking can reduce the amount of protein, enzymes, vitamins, phytonutrients, minerals, and insoluble fibre which is important for the excretion of carcinogens from the body. Cooking some common foodstuffs such as bread and meat may produce many potentially hazardous chemicals, some of which can damage the human genetic material or cause cancer (The Heatox Project, 2007).
Food is also cooked to tenderise it and make it easier to eat. While cooking can sometimes improve the digestibility of some food, so does blending (using a high quality blender), soaking, germinating and fermenting. Germination actually reduces phytic acid more effectively than cooking and improves the quality of the protein.