Coping: Thoughts on Survival Gardening

It’s that time of the year. The mind rotates around to food and plantings…

No one in my family has ever been much of a gardener, except for my mom. And frankly, I didn’t learn a whole bunch: Let her and mi sisters pick the Hiumalyana black berries that grow up in the Northwest – and let them do the cheesecloth and dripping. My role was to play with the melted parafin. And I still got some pie and jelly in the deal – great family value stuff.

When we moved to the Outback, Elaine did most of the gardening. She is spectacularly good at it.

Because of the airplane, though, we weren’t around the past couple of summers to look after the garden. Brother-in-law was courting so his attention was (rightly) elsewhere.

So this year I burned out the garden and we’ll put in some real crops this year.


After a while you get a practiced eye from reading about gardening. The most obvious defect with the Ure garden plot is that the fence gate is too damn low. So one of the first projects this weekend will be to put up some re-bar, well on some cattle panel, and then spray with Rustoleum primer.

A couple of years ago, I got real interested in hydroponics. One reason is it involved zero weed-pulling. But that still doesn’t produce a plant to go in the net pots that go into the liquid. Those still have to be “hatched” and put into grow media.

I did a fair planting of tomatoes and broccoli on January 30th. But here’s all I got for the efforts:


Not much there, right?

But from a similar batch of seeds, I decided to plant using a planting stick and plant in starting and potting soil. World of difference!


You can’t read the dates on the ID sticks well, but these all went in on February 6th – so this is (right side) tomatoes and left side squash at the six day mark.

The (simple enough for even George to follow-along) lesson is simple: Don’t waste your time on those “look like they oughta work” peat pellets.

Granted, these are pellets that had been in storage for, um….maybe 4 or 5 years. But that’s the point of prepping to see what works and what doesn’t. You can see the “doesn’t” real well.


Left: two weeks in pellets, right 6 DAYS in real soil.

These are same seeds, different containers and all on the same heat mat. To be sure, the right-hand plants are on a cookie sheet (metal) to hold the water around the bases. But the use of a plastic mat shouldn’t make any different. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of Dr. Wilhelm Reich.

He’s the fellow who came up with the idea of “orgone energy” and some claim it’s the “orgasmic power” of the Universe. A rare book I have argues it’s the orgasmic power that runs antigravity for aliens and lots of other froufrou, which is even more outlandish.

Still, there may be something to this metal plan being used.

Reich’s idea was that orgone energy could be “accumulated” by containing things in alternate layers of organic and inorganic (some say metallic) material.

Thing of it as growing things in a kind of “capacitor box.”

Remember that a capacitor is nothing more than two conductors – separated by some insulating material – and a “charge” may be stored in the insulated field between the metal plates.

What Reich did was build up “accumulators” with different materials, sometimes wood and metal, other times other things.

There actually may be a bit of fringe science to some of his odd ideas: There is a small but measurable electric field around everything living and perhaps, with the high kind of containment, the materials could be selected to keep more of a plant’s “orgone” (life force/orgasmic) energy in the same region and not be frittered away through the plastic tray which was used for the peat pellets.

I have a good photo here of the plants at six days. So when I get some time later this week I’ll put in still more tomatoes and see if they pop up faster or slower.

One footnote on this: There is a pretty well defined lunar effect, so we would expect similar seeds to germinate a bit slower during the waning part of the moon’s cycle.

Ain’t science fun?

Another little wobble on Ure’s part…well two actually.

One is that although I love our reliable old Flexogen hoses, I’m ordering a 50-foot “drinking water safe” hose for the garden.  Camco 22803 TastePURE Drinking Water Hose (5/8″ID x 75′) – Lead Free for $30 bucks works.

Get a longer hose than you need and get some hunks of rebar so you can pound them in so the hose doesn’t run over plants when you move it around.

If I was a plant and got some of that plastic/hose hose water smell on me, I’d want to craw back into the ground.

Instead, for the past few weeks, I have been taking up a full bucket of water and letting it come right out of the faucet. We ran a pipe up to the garden years ago – a fine thing to have.

By letting the water sit overnight or longer, it gets rid of the chlorine smells and other dissolved gases…which shouldn’t be a bad thing.

Final point is about gardening as prepping:

As I say, I’m not a big fan of gardening. But that’s because I stupidly wanted to just toss seeds in the ground and get vegetables the following week.

Turns out, my earlier efforts involved a lot of unnecessary hard work. I spent time pulling weeds and all kinds of stuff. There are several good books on weedless gardening – everything from  Square Foot Gardening A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work to Weedless Gardening for good openers.

Any of these will be a step in the right direction. But more important to me has been this greenhouse thing. It will be raining down here today and I can be in the greenhouse puttering away. The payoff will be plants that will be probably 5-6 inches high that will go in right after the tiller pass and the amendments to the soil.

My friend Perk – former fire chief hereabouts (off traveling last heard) – was a Master Gardener and he used tricks like putting down a row of weed cloth, planting his veggies in small holes and then mulching over the cloth. Made sense, if I’m remembering his technique correctly.  But it seemed like a lot of work,…so mulch and till it under in the fall.  Bring in worms, too.

Heaven knows we have pine needles enough and with lime to keep it from going to acidic…

Still, in survival gardening you’re really after minimum labor and maximum food output, so I may even skip the tilling…just burn things out, turn over a small hand shovel worth of ground, transplant into that and mulch over the burn ash.

Absent the airplane, which will go at some point regardless of the events this week, I’m trying to wrap my head around “survival gardening.”

So if I accidentally write “This is not work, this is a new fun…” That’s just me, turning the homestretch at 68 trying to stay in shape and emphasizing nutrition.

But it does make me wonder: Isn’t there some way we could harness all that wasted human efforts in gyms and fitness clubs and lay some of that “orgone”-like energy in community gardens, or such?

So when will Melania be planting the back yard of the White House?

Don’t forget this is Valentine’s day.  Remember to pick up a treat or you will be sleeping in the greenhouse or worse.

Write when you get rich,

15 thoughts on “Coping: Thoughts on Survival Gardening”

  1. If you are going to adopt this survival gardener handle you reallyshould consider expanding your vision to include fall or winter gardening. I live about 50 miles north of you and for the last 4 years I have enjoyed fresh spinach, kale,Swiss chard all thru the winters. Cabbage did spectacularly last year but that one day with the temperatures in the teens did it in this winter. Have also had carrots winter over. Less bugs less weeding….and as always it’s an experiment. I usually try to plant my winter garden during October. Currently have spinach and lettuce which I planted 2 weeks ago seedlings sprouting in garden beds as the ground is warm enough. If’n you’re not winter gardening seems like you’re leavin’ money on the table. Best of luck. Have I really been following your ramblings for 16 years…..amazing…..thanks

  2. George,
    Like you, I was born with a very brown thumb; we’re talking Eddie Albert from tv’s GREEN ACRES! Season after season found me pouring time, sweat and money[!]into patches that produced nothing. Finally, I decided to try indoor gardening and I had found my niche.

    I put together a basic [organic soil] tent setup in my basement using a 600w HPS/MH lighting system; since everything was controlled by a dimmable digital ballast those expected high electric bills never materialized. But, my crops did! For the very first time I was producing organic
    veggies I could actually eat… with no bugs/critters/weeds/weather issues to worry about it was a win-win for this old gentleman farmer! The biggest drawback is space… don’t expect to grow a corn crop unless you just tent an entire room [which many people do] and create your own Little-Eden!

    The downside was that HPS/MH lights get very hot and aux ventilation fans are essential. So, after my first successful harvest two years ago I tried LED’s and then CFL’s. Both have pros/cons but high heat/energy consumption was not among them. I’ve always started my seeds with CFL’s and they work quite well before transplanting to the tent. And, by careful shopping on Ebay auctions I was able to assemble an 1100w CFL lighting package for under $60! [HINT: high-output photographic lamps work GREAT!]. Currently I’m growing under that system, augmented with a small quad-spectrum LED panel and my plants are going great guns. This year’s first harvested salads will be late-spring while others are still worrying about frost! BTW: I tried hydo decades ago when living in Cali [it was all the rage even back then!] and found the whole process just too involved… and expensive [those nutrients are costly!].

    Since this is a “growing industry” there are scads of companies offering great all-inclusive packages [which were pretty rare even just two years ago when I started] that simplify everything. I’ve always turned to “Gro-Ace” for their product range, pricing and sales support. And, no I don’t get a kickback… I just like the quality of their business.

    But, best of all… I can now call myself a gardener! True, my efforts usually only involve strolling downstairs with a cold beverage in hand to admire my handiwork, but I’m still a Mr. Greenjeans. Of sorts!

    One final advantage? Portability. If you do eventually move into more urban housing with little/no acreage, no problem-o! Likewise your location. Truly no-sweat gardening.

    And that goes for pulling weeds, too!

  3. Oops..I’ve been using pine needles to get acidity for my berries, based on what I’ve read. Wonder which is right.
    Also, my favorite scientist (John Hutchinson) built an “Ark of the Covenant” under the assumption it was an energy generating device. For the angels, he used Harley eagles or some other yard sale find. It went into flames.Nice Youtube on it.
    Another hydroponic point: IKEA has had a nice kit for years called “vaxxer” but after a few years it’s STILL not available in the US.

  4. If we are going to garden, then maybe we should strive for superior produce to that in stores? So we supplement our soil with green sand that has no lead, but virtually all other elements
    , Also, we add chicken poop mixed with wood shavings, plus compost of all our “waste”. This year, mealy worms got going in the compost, and the chickens found them. Amazing transformation in about a week, into much bigger and happier birds. This time of year, in central Tx they also graze on the fresh winter grasses, so the eggs are amazingly good. After a predator cleaned us out last summer while we vacationed, we got new hens, but no rooster. Much quieter.

    Anyway, I suggest studying ways to add trace minerals, which vary, based on soil type. A foliar spray may be needed, or the Irish seaweed and fish carcass method may work. But most soils are really poor these days, and improving them is relatively simple.

  5. Just to let you know. I ran the exact experiment you did, two trays, one with rapid rooters and one with light, premium potting soil. Had the exact OPPOSITE result, the premium potting soil tray had NO GROWTH, the rapid rooters had almost 100% germination! I’d rather use soil, it’s cheaper! It just didn’t work for me at all. Your mileage may vary, abra.

  6. Dear friends of mine are a farm family. The son, now 29, began seriously gardening as an adolescent. Some years ago, he and his dad built a big hoop house and a small potting shed addition to the house. Josh has been to Detroit to train in urban gardening, too. They have a huge compost bin that is also a pig pen (the pigs turn over the compost and fertilize it.) The hoop house has irrigation piping in the soil and direct air blown in from the wood stove heater in the house. He did CSA gardening for several years, but could not make enough profit out of it. He now faces having to grow his operation and hire some help to make a big enough volume to make it profitable. Since you are feeding only yourselves, you should be able to make enough to really help. Also, better learn canning since electricity for a freezer might not be available in crisis.

      • American citizens picked and harvested their crops for centuries. Once the big and small farmer stops selling us out and hiring citizens again, we can find our true equilibrium. Just like all the publically traded home builders and construction companies who have willing and purposefully not hired Americans will have to turn back to America. All my family members used to do these kinds of jobs, now they cannot get hired. This is the same all over, hypocrites all!

      • Cj is right BS, being a small dairy farmer we were screwd over by illegal alien labor. They work for a fraction of the cost. They need to be deported now. Yes food prices will rise but food has been basically free for the past 20 to 30 years.

  7. George, I notice you didn’t mention soil temperature, which is the most important factor in the germination of seeds. Use of a heat mat or a warm location is important, as well as light weight soil medium with, perhaps,a coconut husk mixture seems to work well, as it holds moisture well.

  8. Damping off can take out a tray of seeds/seedlings, whether in peat pods or potting soil. Watering with Chamomile tea is one option to help prevent that.

    Till, let the weed/grass roots dry out/die. Till again, let dry a bit again. Plant. Surface till between rows with small cultivator to create a fluffy dry layer and knock back weed seed sprouts. This also will drive the roots of your garden veggies down deeper, especially the corn.

    Or use a shuffle hoe to just disturb the sprouting weed seeds in the top inch or so of soil. Like this one:

    Once your veggies get the upper hand, very few weeds can even sprout. Some weeds, like the deep rooted thistles, are your friends as the burrow through the hard pan and bring up minerals and water to the surface.

    There is extraordinary knowledge available for those who would wish to know and grow. A couple of my favorites.

    Grow well.

  9. Well, George, I’m 78 so I have ten years on you. The first thing people should do is ask what they are trying to accomplish. Do they want a few fresh vegies or are they trying to produce all their own food.

    We’ve gardened forever including a few years as a certified organic farm. However, as age has crept up, we have switched from beds to self-watering containers. I made mine but they can be purchased. It is pricy but there is no work involved.

    There are many other options such as using straw bales and on and on.

    But the key is to know what your purpose is before doing anything.

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