Um… not so fast on food self-sufficiency…


I had to laugh when I came across a post on Gab claiming “That’s how much you need to become self-sufficient“.  Click the image for a larger view.

Um… not so fast.  That’s an illustration of perfection, showing a garden with very fertile soil, a favorable climate, no pests to speak of, and enough people in the family to do all the work to keep it that neat and tidy.  Most of us don’t have the benefit of all those blessings.  As one respondent on Gab wrote:

My garden had a mind of its own. 2 months of high 90s-low 100s with no rain. Hours spent watering before dawn or at dusk, and the squash, cukes, pumpkin, watermelon went EVERYWHERE, and carrots, celery, broccoli, beets, beans, peas, never sprouted or sprouted to die. That image is perfect, but my plants seem to resist regulation.

Our own (very minor) attempts at a garden have been rather unsuccessful, at least so far.  Cedar Sanderson, who now lives nearby, is also battling to develop a North Texas garden.  She’s also learning about one of the less… ah… popular aspects of gardening around here.

It’s Monday, and I’m sitting at the desk feeling like my brain is oozing out through my tearducts. Not really, it’s the congestion causing me to weep gently and constantly. You see, it rained… 

Which is a good thing and I’m very grateful it did. I love that I can plant a fall garden, and have another harvest before winter sets in. God bless Texas! I now have a little flower bed, and leads on some native shrubs, perennials, and fruits that will navigate the harsh summers better than me importing what I’m familiar with. I’m adapting! And so is my immune system. I hope. Given time, because right now it feels like it’s under siege and for the last two weeks I’ve been quite literally under the weather as everything around me burst into jubilant bloom, pollen, spores and what-have-they for reproduction. It’s all part of life but ow, my poor sinuses. I could do with less holes in my head, at least if they’re going to keep filling up with mucus.

There’s more at the link.

However, I’m not knocking gardening, not at all.  If you have favorite foods and you can grow your own supply, that’s an excellent thing.  For example:  do you use a lot of tomatoes?  Are you aware that California’s tomato harvest is in trouble?

Lack of water is shrinking production in a region responsible for a quarter of the world’s output, which is having an impact on prices of tomato-based products. Gains in tomato sauce and ketchup are outpacing the rise in US food inflation, which is at its highest in 43 years, with drought and higher agricultural inputs to blame. With California climate-change forecasts calling for hotter and drier conditions, the outlook for farmers is uncertain.

. . .

“Yields are way off this year,” Blankenship said in an interview. “Coupled with drought, we’ve had high temperatures and that in itself creates an issue where the tomatoes are so hot that they just don’t size properly — so you have a lot of tomatoes on a plant, but they are smaller.”

. . .

The California crop has been below the recent production peak of 14.4 million tons in 2015 for the past six years, and 2022 is shaping up to continue the trend, according to US Department of Agriculture data. The industry expects this year’s harvest to fall below the USDA’s 11.7 million tons estimate.

Again, more at the link.

I’ve heard from contacts in the farming areas of California that the tomato harvest this year may be as much as 50% below what’s needed to meet national demand.  The news is spreading fast.  I laid in a few dozen extra cans of tomato products over the weekend.  Sams Club – which normally has pallets full of the stuff – was down to only a two-deep layer of 12-can cartons of diced tomatoes, and they were going fast.  The same went for tomato sauce, paste, etc.  Therefore, if you can grow part or all of your own supply of tomatoes, you’re ahead of the game.  Those of us who can’t are going to be paying a lot more for them, and will probably be restricted in the varieties and quantities that are available.

So, I loves me some good vegetable gardens:  but it’s by no means as easy as the “perfect picture” above makes it out to be.  I daresay many of my readers can confirm that from long and bitter personal experience.



  1. There's a lot of material out there on self-sufficiency on a small plot of land, but as you point out, it requires a lot of work. Full time job for at least one person, probably two.

    I've been researching for nearly a year, getting ready to start a garden here in TX. There are things I won't be able to grow at all, things I'd have to fight the climate to grow (so likely won't), and things that will thrive. For that last, I'm looking at what grows wild in my area, to get an idea of the domestic varieties that may succeed. I'm also planning a variant on permaculture for the gardens I'll be creating over the next couple of years. But I've been gardening since I was big enough to toddle along with my parents, and mostly using permaculture principles, so I'm not… average? I also have no illusions about self-sufficiency. In tomatoes, or any other thing. Best I can do on a town lot is supplement the grocery bill.

    If you're going to garden (broad you, here, not necessarily Peter) you want to look at what costs a lot to get. There's not much point in growing, say, corn and beans if they are cheap and easy to buy. However, herbs are almost always expensive, and most are forgiving to grow. Very limited growing space or regulated (ie HOA)? Look at edible ornamentals, or mixing in your veg with flowers to do guerilla gardening.

  2. If big dinners, canning or re-canning is possible, look at the gallon cans of pizza sauce from GFS or Sysco as a base for additional vegetable complexity. It is thicker and more flavorful than most spaghetti sauces. Check them also for large packages of dry milk at more reasonable prices.
    Like all stores, some prices are more reasonable than others. :- 》

  3. Peter, I have the same living in FL. However last year we went to square foot gardening and the felt pots on amazon and for the very first time here we actually grew food. 4 tomato plants did very well in the felt pots 7 gal. This type of gardening cuts down and water, weeds and bugs and is so much easier had big gardens in Michigan but this is the way to go. Get the stuff out of the ground get it up some and you will be much happier, no nematodes and cut worms to deal with. Use compost not dirt and vermiculite. We had to use garden mix which has dirt but still mixed 50/50 with compost. The results were stunning, give it a try before you surrender even if it's only 4 plants.

  4. @Dee, I have to ask how you dealt with fire ants in your garden. We had a bumper crop of tomatoes, only to see then trashed by the damn ants. We had to pull our beets, turnips, and radishes early for the same reason. I cannot figure out how to get a garden that is proof against fire ants – even the pots on our deck got infested.

  5. Like so many skills written about in books, survival and homesteading skills require more than books. There is always more to learn and the subtleties are the most important. I homesteaded for close to 20 years and learned new things every year and the first few years were full of failure. That doesn't even cover all the factors you can't control.
    In my old age I still practice prepping skills and still find myself learning all of the time. When SHTF a couple of manuals may be better than nothing, but without a practical education not by much.

  6. lol SE Tx here, even when mother nature allows something to survive the weather she sends animals and misc bugs to feast on my efforts.

  7. I tried gardening in Florida. There are a number of things you need to know before you start.
    Peas, tomatoes, and most other vegetables will not pollenate whenever nighttime temperatures are above 75 degrees F. Corn won't grow when daytime temperatures are above 95 degrees.

    That means no flowering vegetables other than peppers and leafy greens. Except:

    It rains every day at around 3 pm in the summer. That means lots of water, which causes mold and mildew.

    Then there are the bugs. Florida is rotten with them.

    The one time I tried a raised garden, the ear worms ate the corn, as in I shucked it, and there were caterpillars in the ears, eating all of the kernels into mush. These beetles that looked like ladybugs, combined with birds and mold, killed off the tomatoes. The pea plants grew, but never produced anything. Then a hail storm destroyed most of the bell peppers. The only thing I wound up successfully harvesting was 4 bell peppers, a few small tomatoes, and two purple carrots. Total outlay? 6 months of growing, and a $400 outlay in lumber, drip irrigation, and other costs. For a total of $3 (maybe) worth of vegetables.


  8. Depends on where you live and how much water you have access to, as to what kind of gardening you are going to do. The picture you showed was someone who had access to a lot of water, the summers don't get over 90 degrees, at least a 6-month growing window PLUS that is an established garden by a MASTER gardener. Yes, my folks and I had a beautiful garden on a half/acre lot in Peck, KS. BUT, he and Mom were raised on farms, they knew how to deal with heavy clay soils, the high summer temps of Kansas, so all I had to do was follow instructions. We poured the water to it. When pests got stupid, the insecticides came out, there was end-less hoeing and on your hands-n-knees weed pulling. We feed two household plus gave away tons of tomatoes and green beans every year I lived there.

    I wouldn't try that here in Phoenix, AZ.

  9. Don't forget that in a SHTF or extended famine situation that you also have to have to resources to PROTECT your crop from two legged predators 24/7. What is your tomato worth to you to protect it from roaming groups of hungry scavengers?

  10. I'm having lessons in just how much work is involved in keeping a proper victory garden.
    This year, I expanded last year's garden area to about 1/4 acre, with pretty good soil. Most of the plants started out well.
    Unfortunately, while I was busy with household complications and not working regularly in the garden, the weeds got entirely out of hand, and outcompeted most of my plants. (Funny how good soil, rain, and heat promote growth of crops and weeds alike. I had notions of setting up drip irrigation, but since most of the time the water just falls indiscriminately out of the sky here, that wouldn't really have helped with weed control.)
    We did get a surfeit of tomatoes, cantaloupes, and various sorts of squash – but a lot went to waste because we weren't checking regularly and/or access was problematic with all the weeds.
    I'm accumulating notes, especially regarding timing. Looks like the best approach for a lot of things is to sprout them in the basement, let them do some growing before planting them out, and meanwhile let the first couple of waves of weeds sprout and till the heck out of them. Melons, among other things, call for staggered planting so as to have them ripening throughout mid to late summer.
    And: squash and melon vines will expand to fill the space available, so giving them as much room as possible is a good idea.
    Fertilizer… I stocked up, and now have a many-year supply – enough for at least three years of indiscriminate use, and I rather suspect that selective application might be a better approach, favoring crops over weeds and stretching the supply out to a great many years, while I ramp up alternative arrangements (such as compost fortified with chicken guano).

  11. As mentioned above, you have to know your area and have prepared the soil, sometimes for years.
    If you have the resources, but not the experience in that location, it will take at least a couple years to be successful – a can of seeds or a handful of tools won't do squat without the knowledge and preparedness, which unfortunately too many don't realize.

  12. Gardening has a learning curve, at least I had a learning curve…a big one.
    Could be tough times if you were planning on learning AND living off what you grew.

    Dragon Lady- Have even see those videos of people pouring molten metal (aluminum mostly) into a fire ant nest? When things cool they dig up a neat piece of sculpture. Can't be good for the ants.

  13. Here in the Copper Valley Alaska we started with a big early snow last fall and had to shovel snow off the potatoes to harvest. Then we has -30s in November and -50 later with a record snow fall and a late spring so I got my garden in late because of wet ground. Looks like the 550 feet of potato row will yield ok but the peas may freeze before we get a major picking, the beets will be light and the carrots very light. The tomato’s in the green house but they did suffer from a hot spell in July during which I could not keep day time temps below 100 with the doors open 24/7. So that’s gardening in Alaska. The cole crops did fair and the summer squash in the hoop house did well.

  14. I've had a reasonable amount of luck here in N. Dallas.

    My cucumbers did well, as they always do, but they succumbed to the heat. Peppers do well, as do radishes. I did mediocre with string beans. I got a few meals worth. This is my second failed year with tomatoes.

    Last year, I got maybe 3-4 moderate sized ones. You have to plant smaller varieties, like cherry or roma here. Beefsteaks won't get beefy, and will split. This year I screwed up and got a small cherry tomato. Damn things are the size of marbles. They are sweet enough though. Plants got as tall as me with flowers everywhere. Then the heat hit. Now that it's cooler, I'm getting some but nowhere near what a carton's worth at the supermarket. Those will have to go in pots, planted early in my sunroom. I see some other gardens, Okra does well as do onions. But all that stuff is pretty cheap.

    I've read and watched a lot of David the Good, especially survival gardening. I think he's wrong. He suggests planting staples, like potatoes and whatnot. A lot of that is ubiquitous here, as are beans, rice, corn. Basically, anything you can buy dried is a waste to grow.

    But herbs, peppers, anything that can add taste and vitamins is worth it to grow.

    I have more beans, beets, Bok Choi, and cabbage for the fall. Last year, that was a mixed bag.

  15. I gave up. To begin with, we don't really have soil. We have a thin layer of clay-e stuff over rocks. And then there's the deer, groundhogs, tomato horn worms, slugs …. Put up a fence? I've watched deer go over a 5 ft fence from a standstill and not even touch the top.

    But wasn't there a candidate in 2016 who said all you had to do was dig a hole and drop some seeds in?

  16. TechieDude sez: " I think he's wrong. He suggests planting staples, like potatoes and whatnot. A lot of that is ubiquitous here, as are beans, rice, corn. "

    It certainly makes less economic sense… if it's available to buy.

    I think you may have missed the part where survival gardening is how you get food when it's not available.

  17. There are many variables which you can’t control, but what you can control and must is the soil. My native Sierra soil was very hard red clay. I added many truck loads of compost and the necessary minerals to get up to a good baseline, and a few years later, some of my tomatoes will grow over the top of a 4 foot cage, droop all the way back to the ground and still go another foot or so. While being heavily laden with fruit. Feed the soil, the soil will feed the plants and the plants will feed you.

    Experiment with varieties. Some will do better than others in your climate. Lemon cukes go absolutely crazy where I live, as do hard shell squash, which when harvested in October, will keep through Memorial Day next year if stored right.

    It’s always a challenge, but always worth it. You’d be surprised what you can do with a well amended small plot.

    And read. Read read read. Anything Steve Solomon or Eliot Coleman will help.

  18. Here in the UK it used to be that several acres were needed per family. More if the land was poor.

    And if you're planning for a SHTF situation, perhaps you might consider the population density of Texas a thousand years ago.

    As for tomatoes in California, isn't one of the problems there that the farming industry is wasting much of the water? Perhaps they should try drip feed systems instead of just spraying water everywhere?

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