*By a great blogger Gallimaufree
Whether the times are post-apocalyptic or merely desperate, a tidy, well-tended garden could attract unwelcome attention unless it’s part of a large number of other tidy gardens. The Victory Gardens of World War II were so successful because we were both nearer to our agricultural roots and so many people had such gardens. Now, so many of us are so distant from our agricultural roots that some people have never seen food in its natural state. At a cooking class I taught, I actually had people bewildered by a cabbage. They thought it was a funny-looking lettuce. But even they knew what a vegetable garden was supposed to look like and knew if they were desperately hungry, they could find those tidy rows and find food.
Keep a normal tidy vegetable garden by all means. In good times, you’ll have delicious, safe food close at hand. Your garden will be safe from most two-legged invaders, and you may meet new potential survivalists over an excess crop of okra.
That tidy garden is a comfort, for sure, but what if it were wiped out – by a flood, a tornado, a bomb? What then? Do you have a back-up plan?
I do. Not only do I cache supplies in accessible places, mostly buried but a few are cached above ground, I cache garden.
Cache gardening is a fusion between wildcrafting and deliberately naturalizing edible food plants in places to which you have access, or along routes you may take to bug out. Consider it enhanced wildcrafting, with the bonus that you know where edibles are because you seeded the area with the food plants. Because it doesn’t look like a traditional row garden, it becomes secret and hidden.
Cache gardening grew out of the concept of guerrilla gardening. In guerrilla gardening, people take over land that doesn’t belong to them and plant things. It’s not a new concept. The Diggers of 1649 were a political group in England that felt they had the right to plant vegetables on common lands, and even then, it was an old concept, harking even further back in time to the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and beyond that back to the common revolts of the poor to grow their own food even in pre-Christian times.
The right to eat, to grow edible food, has been an undercurrent throughout human history. Some groups were more vocal and political about it, and therefore suffered attacks, beatings, arson, and court judgments against them and others were more secretive. Usually, it is the wealthy people who do their best to prevent their poorer neighbors from converting wide expanses of grassy lawns and other unused spaces to food gardens. Using private land without permission from the owner can cause all sorts of expensive hardships from expensive court battles to acts of violence. The poor have always had better luck claiming common or public lands for growing food, which is why some countries (like Germany) offer allotments where people are allowed to go and grow whatever they want, from flowers and trees to vegetable gardens.
In America, we lack allotments, although we had Johnny Appleseed, Victory Gardens, and community gardens. We lauded Johnny Appleseed as a hero, but then, he was using unclaimed lands to plant his apples, not lands the wealthy considered their own. In Utah, the workers who dug the canals there planted apple trees and asparagus along the banks of those canals, and they grow there still – again, public lands. Victory gardens were planted on private land and belonged to the landowner. Community gardens are the area of contention in America – volunteers may take over what they see as an abandoned lot, only to discover once the garden is well-established, that the owner objects to the use of their land. That has often resulted in court battles and the land abandoned once again. Only rarely does the community garden of that sort survive and become a part of the community.
Today, guerrilla gardening takes many forms. Some are political acts whereby groups of people secretly plant flower bedsin traffic circles or other public places to make a statement. Others are political groups that plant vegetables in abandoned lots(scroll down to the Alemany Farm paragraphs) – some of these have gone on to be supported by the community, providing food to the food banks and homeless shelters. Others are the act of frustrated gardeners who simply want to garden and lack the land because they live in urban asphalt areas.
Looking at all these different forms of guerrilla gardening, and being a survivalist, it struck me that we could use their techniques to hide food plants wherever we felt we might need them. Sure, we hope that if we need to evacuate and head out to a bug-out spot, we can get there in the comfort of our bug-out SUV. But is that a realistic scenario? What if the roads are clogged or blocked, or the gas stations empty of gasoline to power the vehicle? What if you’re involved in an accident that leaves it undriveable? What if the car gets stolen or hijacked? What then?
I decided burying caches of supplies wasn’t enough. These caches were limited in what I could bury in them and fresh food was right out of the question. So I decided to “cache” growing plants. As a long-time wildcrafter, it made sense to me to make sure I knew where the edibles were. Sometimes, I “helped” wild plants along by casually cultivating my patches of wild plants – surreptitiously thinning them, adding fertilizer, mulching, and replanting the “culls” nearby so they weren’t crowding themselves out. Why not grow foods I wanted to eat as well as the ones I could find growing naturally in the wild?
While I have a regular garden at my house, I also have cached edible plants among the ornamentals. I have dandelions and violets growing wild in the lawn, I have a redbud tree and a pecan tree, and a couple of dwarf fruit trees, I have roses with mint and cauliflowers growing beneath them, and I have a mesclun mix of lettuces and greens growing as a border to my bulb bed, which has edible daylilies in it. I have a hedge of asparagus ferns along one edge of my patio, and the front yard is hedged with blueberries, bush cherries, and elderberries. There’s a bramble of raspberries under the bathroom window. Carrots grow among the sunflowers and dill, and thyme and chamomile blossom between the flagstone pavings. I have vines of honeyberries and malabar spinach growing up trellises in front of windows to provide privacy, pretty flowers, and food.
A surprising number of edible plants do well growing in the wild. Yes, it may take time to harvest from these plants, and you might only get enough from a patch to feed yourself and a few others. These aren’t mass-production crops. The intent isn’t to provide an entire community with food. The intention is to have food available in places where you will need food. Naturalized in this fashion, the edible plants will have smaller harvests. You’ll have to hunt for them as they won’t be growing all neat and tidy inside a white picket fence.
I like the seed bomb method of planting food. You can scatter edibles everywhere easily this way. No tilling, no weeding, no fertilizing, and if the plants go unharvested and go to seed, why, that just means more food later that you didn’t have to work too hard to get.
There are several ways to make seed bombs. My preferred method is to use eggshells. Mix wet peat moss with pelletized fertilizer and organic compost into a “dough” that holds together well. Knead your seeds into this mixture and pack it into half an egg shell. Glue the egg shell halves together using something like Elmer’s school glue – or tape it together, or tie it with a biodegradable ribbon or string, and poke a few small holes in it, then lob these bombs where you will. Try to lob them in areas where the plants will be happy to grow: wheat in meadow areas, potatoes in moist loamy soil, tomatoes in well drained areas with lots of water, that sort of thing. Some people suggest putting this seed dough into recycled materials that will degrade or break on impact, like glass Christmas ornaments or small cardboard boxes.
Another way is to take 5 parts finely ground clay, 3 parts organic compost, 1 part seeds, and 1 part water – just enough water to make a thick pliable clay “dough”. Shape the “dough” into balls somewhere between marble and golf ball size (the smaller size is better except with really big seeds like sunflowers and melons). Let the balls dry, then carry them around with you to toss or drop in likely places.
Another way is to make the seed dough by either the peat moss or the clay method and pack a fist sized amount of the dough into a thin water balloon. Fill the balloon with water, tie it off, and give it a good shake. Lob these wet balloons in suitable places, and the balloon will explode on impact, scattering wet seed dough.
For bulbs, you want a different method. Bulbs usually need to be buried, so carry corms and bulbs and a bulb shovel with you when you go out walking or hiking. When you come to likely places, stop, dig a hole, and plant your bulbs.
Make a map and mark the locations where you plant your edibles. I hesitate to call them “crops” because that implies cultivation and the aim here is to naturalize the plants so they start growing wild, thus providing you with secret cached fresh food.
Try not to plant invasive plants. I know the purpose of cache gardening is to make sure you have lots of growing edibles cached around to provide you with food and seed for real crops if we do end up in an apocalypse. However, you don’t want one food plant crowding out all others. Look at kudzu – this is a food plant. Kudzu is edible in most forms, and when it’s too old and tough to eat, it makes good fodder for domesticated herbivores and can be used to weave baskets, hats, and shoes, as well as broken into fibers to spin into threads for more flexible clothing. And yet – it’s a nasty, invasive weed that’s taking over swathes of the south and destroying native plants and crops. Don’t plant kudzu – we have more than enough even for post-apocalyptic times.
There are other caveats to cache gardening. Don’t use the seed from “seedless” plants – they won’t produce enough viable seed to make planting them worth your while, and if they do happen to produce viable seed, the resulting offspring won’t be true to the parent plant. Try not to use seed that is patented as this seed and all the plants that grow from it and the seed it produces belong to the patent-holder, who will aggressively pursue anyone they feel is infringing on their patent. Don’t seed bomb too close to roadsides and cultivated croplands where the landowner or government will spray herbicides and pesticides that might contaminate the food plants you hope to establish in the wild.
Things that grow well in this sort of benign neglect: almost all herbs, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, radishes, eggplants, peppers, peas, string beans, Malabar spinach, honeyberries, grapes, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, passionfruit, wheat, oats, squashes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, lettuces, kale, cabbage, collards, cabbage, chicory, corn salad, cress, dandelion, violets, pansies, mustard, orach, beets, sorrel, turnips, melons, sunflowers, broccoli, cauliflower, lentils, rice, asparagus, leeks, fennel, celeriac, kohlrabi, bamboo, burdock, jicama, parsnip, salsify, rutabaga, elderberry, okra. And don’t forget the lesson of Johnny Appleseed and plant trees and shrubs with edible fruits and nuts: apples, of course, and peaches, apricots, pecans, mulberries, cherry, plum, pear, persimmons, pawpaws, figs, olives, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, almonds, pecans, walnuts, white oaks (sweeter acorns), hazelnuts, hickory nuts, and pines that produce pinenuts (Colorado pinyon, stone pine…).
Go through this list and pick what you’d actually eat that grows in your growing zone (or add foods I left out), collect the seeds/bulbs for them, make your seed bombs, and then plant them. Check back periodically to harvest what you sowed and lob more seed bombs.
When you get comfortable with caching edible gardens, consider the next step in cache gardening: medicinal plants.