Thursday, October 2, 2014

More on seed banks - where are the cover crops?

I went to Amazon today to look at many of the survival seeds banks for sale. Many claim that if you purchase their product you will have enough seeds to plant an acre of food crops. So how does this hold up in practice. We will make three assumptions so we can skip to some key points for this posting.
1)      That you have enough actual experience to grow your own food. Growing crops for the winter is not the same as having a few tomatoes and peppers in a small area or in containers. That is a great way to get started learning but you need to step up your game from there.
2)      You have all the tools and resources you need to put your knowledge to work. You would be surprised what a difference having the correct tools and materials available can make. Think of framing a house using a pipe wrench as your hammer. It can be done but why?
3)      You have an acre of land that can meet the growing conditions of the plants in your seed bank.
Many of the plants in the seed banks have a Ph. range around 7, need full sun, and need good drainage, etc.
So with these three assumptions we are ready to go right? We have the knowledge and the tools so off we go. Now if you visit many prepper or survival sights they talk of organic gardening or permaculture. I am very familiar with both and they are good systems. Now a big part of a survival garden is the ability to put the required carbohydrates, fats, and protein away. You have many other nutrients but for this conversation we will assume you are good with all the vitamin and minerals you will need to stay healthy. When it comes to storable carbohydrates we are talking grains or root crops. When we are talking about storable protein sources we at talking legumes and nuts as our main sources. Remember crops are seasonal and if you cannot store your crops it becomes feast and famine based on what is ready to harvest.

When you look at your average seed bank the crops are annuals that you are expected to plant and grow enough for food and for next year’s seeds. The seed bank will come with basic growing instructions and maybe a YouTube video showing you a great garden and how you can have one also. Now you purchased this seed bank for a SHTF disaster where you need to grow your own food. If it is a true SHTF disaster that is going to last long enough for you to grow a crop than it is likely to disrupt what you can purchase. It may be likely that it becomes a situation of what you have is all you will have for now. So you have to make do with the resources you have. But that is ok because you have your seed bank that can grow an acre of food.  Now a permaculture food forest can take years to establish. So if you have not established one that is productive now a SHTF situation will likely not be the time to try to establish something that will take years to pay off. Permaculture is something you should be doing now.

Ok so permaculture is out. But you did not want to store and use all those nasty chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. You are going to go the organic option! My first question is, are you growing anything using organic practices now? Now you will read about all types of organic systems that allow you to go from grass to productive garden in one season! Each of these will have their pros and cons. But one thing all these organic systems seem to require is lots of mulch and compost. I am talking inches of mulch and compost that translate into many cubic yards of mulch and compost. Do you happen to have several cubic yards of mulch and compost ready to go in your back yard?

The next thing you will find with current organic practices is that if you go beyond a small garden to an acre of crops you will have to use cover crops. “Cover crops primarily serve to conserve topsoil, prevent erosion, improve soil structure, increase organic matter, and capture and hold nutrients for the following crop. Some legume cover crops have the potential to produce a lot of nitrogen that can significantly reduce your fertilizer bill. Typically the crop following a cover crop is a lot more productive than a crop grown without one”.

Below are some seeding rates for cover crops:
·        CCS Crimson Clover - Seeding rate is 12-18 lbs. /acre drilled or 20-30 lbs. /acre broadcast.
·        KB Royal Annual Ryegrass - Cover crop seeding rate 15 lbs. /acre drilled, 20-25 lbs. aerial seeded.
·        Tillage Radish - Seeding rate 10-12 lbs. /acre broadcasted, 6 lbs. /acre drilled, 2-4 lbs. /acre in cover crop mixes, 4 lbs. /acre precision planted.
·        Yellow Blossom Sweet Clover - Seeding rate 5-15 lbs. /acre.
·        CCS Hairy Vetch - Seeding rate 20 lbs. per acre drilled; 25 lbs. per acre broadcast; 15 lbs. per acre precision planted.
·        Buckwheat - Seeding rate 50-60 lbs. /acre.
·        VNS Cereal Rye - Seed at 150 lbs. /acre.
·        Mammoth Red Clover - Seeding rate 12-20 lbs. /acre.
·        Austrian Winter Peas - Planting rate 40 lbs. /acre drilled, 25 lbs. precision planted, 90-100 lbs. /acre broadcast.
·        CCS Winter Peas - Seeding rate is 40 lbs. per acre drilled or 26 lbs. per acre precision planted when planted alone.
·        CCS Sweet Blue Lupine - Seeding rate 50 lbs. per acre drilled, 30 lbs. precision planted.
·        CCS Sorghum Sudangrass - Seeding rate for forage 45-70 lbs. per acre, for cover crop seed 35- 45 lbs. per acre.
Now please note the pounds of seeds per acre of cover crop. Somehow I do not seem to find these in your average seed bank. Now assuming you have purchased enough to last you for a few years, you may be ok for a few years. This is because no matter how much you store (unless you have prepared to freeze cover crop seeds) the germination rate of many cover crops drops off after one to five years, depending on the plant. (Low moisture content in seeds combined with freezing can extend viability). This means at some point you have to grow and collect your own cover crop seeds! Most of these seeds are today grown in large plots of many acres and harvest by combine. For some species like the clover just trying to harvest a pound is a lot of work if you are just plucking clover heads by hand.
Some of you have read of Masanobu Fukuoka, author of the book “"The One Straw Revolution". As part of his rice growing, “In the fall, he seeded white clover, a winter grain (rye or barley), and rice all at once into a field.  The seeds were rolled in balls of clay so that they could simply be dropped onto un-tilled soil rather than being pushed beneath the surface”. Where does the clover seed he uses come from? He purchases it! It is the same with most organic farmers. They purchase their cover crop seeds form organic producers who use combines and special machines to processes it. So the dirty little secret is that many of these organic systems depend on outside inputs to function! They may purchase or have donated the organic matter that they will compost, the mulch they may use, and much of the cover crop seeds they use. There are a lot of outside inputs that you may not have access to in a true SHTF scenario.   
Is growing your own food a hopeless effort? I would say no, however it does require much more planning than just purchasing a can of seeds. It requires learning the right techniques by doing them. Purchasing and becoming familiar with using the right tools. Creating the right soil conditions by building up good soil so you have it when you need it. And for me one of the hardest was finding good plant material. If you are willing to put in the work now to prepare you can reap the rewards later. If you are unable or unwilling to do so now, save your money and use it to buy storable food to give yourself a few extra weeks of food!

I will be working on addressing some solutions to the mulch and cover crop issues in the coming months. 

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