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  • Vegetable Shortage in Great Britain: Time to Get Gardening

    Vegetable shortage

    In a throwback to World War II, many British supermarkets have been rationing lettuce.

    Zucchini and satsuma (Mandarin orange) supplies have also been limited. And now, market experts are predicting a global olive oil shortage.

    It’s all due to poor growing conditions in southern Europe.

    In southern Spain, which supplies half of Europe’s vegetables and a quarter of Britain’s, freezing temperatures and flooding decimated crops. At the same time, unseasonably hot temperatures in Greece and Italy damaged olive groves.

    Your food comes from everywhere. One interest group estimated the average meal in the United States travels 1,500 miles from farms to your plate. A disruption anywhere along the route – poor weather or shipping problems, for example – can cause anything from a price hike to rationing.

    Canned or dried food storage can ensure a long-term supply of many fruits and vegetables. But let’s face it, you can’t can lettuce. And other produce just tastes better fresh.

    So consider growing a garden. This time of year is the best time to plan one. In some places, you can actually start sprouting early season seeds at the end of February.

    Happy man amidst vegetable shortage

    Start by identifying a space. It can even be your porch, if you want to use a garden box or straw bales. Think about using flower beds. I grow garlic chives between my rose bushes. They have a mild garlic flavor that I use in salads and cooking. And the plants may prevent some pests in the roses.

    Consider factors like light, soil, and water. I have a fairly large space for a vegetable garden. But it’s far away from my household water sources. Every year, I have to stretch hoses across my yard to my garden and fight the corresponding loss of water pressure.

    Next, figure out what you want to grow and how much to plant. Think about what your family will eat. Consider what grows best in your area.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture produces hardiness zone maps that tell the average minimum temperature in your area. The American Horticultural Society produces heat zone maps that tell the average of number of days the temperature in your area reaches 86 degrees. You need both of those, plus the frost-free dates for your area, to know what to grow and when to plant.

    If you glance at a seed catalog, you’ll realize there are numerous varieties of each plant. They can be divided into two types of seeds: heirloom and hybrid. Heirloom seeds are nice because if you save the seeds from your plants year after year, they’ll produce the same types of plants. If you collect the seeds from hybrid plants, their genetic traits will be scrambled so they won’t work as well the next year. However, hybrid seeds can be bred for different traits like flavor, disease resistance, and quick growth. So in some areas they’re the better option.

    We sell canned heirloom garden seeds and heirloom herb seeds. Normally, most seeds are good for only a year. These seeds will last longer because they’re packed to keep moisture out. They’re recommended for climates with shorter growing seasons but are adaptable to other temperature hardiness zones. Do your research, however, because there’s a huge difference in soil type and garden pests between, say, a USDA hardiness zone 6 in Utah versus a zone 6 in Virginia.

    To get the best varieties of plants for your area, check your state university’s agriculture extension service. It will give you a few varieties that grow best in your state. (Here’s Utah State University Extension’s vegetable page.) Then, go to a nursery that grows its plants locally. Employees there can help pick the best type for your town or city or yard’s climate.

    This is only a beginning. You can find reams of information online about sprouting seeds, companion planting, and composting and soil preparation, among other topics. To get the best garden, you’ll need to do a lot of research. That’s why now is a good time to start.

    In most places, you don’t have be a great gardener to get some results. I’m a terrible gardener, living in an area where the soil is clay and rock, but last year one of my cherry tomato plants grew to 7 feet tall and produced a pint’s worth every other day for months. (I couldn’t get zucchini to grow, however, unlike about everybody else.)

    Try growing something. Then add something else. Over time, you can develop a great garden that can help tide you over in case a food supply problem elsewhere causes a shortage in your area.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner vegetable shortage

  • The Aquafarm™: What is it and How does it Work?

     The Aquafarm: What is it and How does it Work?

    If you want to grow fresh veggies at home, but don’t have the space, we’ve got a cool way to do it. All you need is an Aquafarm™.

    Using the Aquafarm™ (and a Betta fish), you can create your very own countertop aquaponics garden for fresh herbs, veggies, and leafy greens. It’s especially great if you don’t have the space, time, or energy to create a traditional garden or aquaponics system of your own.

    How does the Aquafarm™ work?

    The Aquafarm™ is a small aquaponics system that essentially creates a small ecosystem in your home. Aquaponics is a method of growing fish and vegetables together where each organism helps the other to survive and thrive. It’s symbiosis at its best.

    In essence, as you raise fish in a tank, their waste is used to fertilize the plants you will eat, and in turn, the plants help to clean the water the fish live in, helping the fish stay healthy.

    Here’s how the Aquafarm™ works:

    1. The water from the fish tank is pumped up to the plants into a grow tray at the top of the tank. The plant roots become a “biofilter” that breaks down harmful ammonia in the fish waste and turns it into nitrates that the plants then absorb as food.
    1. After this conversion process, clean water is circulated back into the fish tank—ridding the tank of all the accumulated fish waste.
    1. Your plants grow in the grow trays at the top of the tank, giving you fresh veggies like leafy greens, wheatgrass, mixed greens, and a variety of herbs.
    1. You get fresh greens and herbs with minimal effort.

     

    What are the benefits of having an Aquafarm™?

    Besides the obvious benefit of the Aquafarm™ (fresh veggies), there are some other great reasons to have one if you’re a fish owner, gardener, or interested in emergency preparedness.

    • First if you’ve ever owned a fish, you know they’re tricky to keep alive. Toxicity, swim bladder, and algae growth are all common problems in a fish tank that affect the overall health of the fish (like I've learned all too well). The Aquafarm™ helps to reduce these problems as the plants help clean the tank.
    • Second because I’m an (unintentional) plant killer, the fact that I don’t have to constantly water the plants or give them plant food works in my favor. All I have to do is remember to feed the fish and nature will take care of the rest.
    • Third the Aquafarm™ will help me get one step closer to self-sufficiency. Use the food you grow to supplement your food storage supplies if you run out or just want fresh veggies.

    So if you’re like me and want your fish to clean up its own tank and earn its keep in your home by giving you fresh veggies, consider getting an Aquafarm™!

    And if you’re interested in building your own medium-to-full-sized Aquaponics system, check out our Aquaponic Gardening series written by our guest blogger and customer, Kevin White. He tells you how to get started and what supplies and materials you’ll need.

     

    -Angela

  • Microgreens: What They are and How to Grow Them

    If you’ve never heard of microgreens before (or you’ve heard of them but don’t know much else), I have a major treat for you today.

    What are Microgreens?

    Microgreens come from the same seeds as regular greens, they’re just harvested much earlier. So, depending on the type of seed, you could actually do four things with them: sprout them, grow microgreens, grow baby greens, or let them grow to full-size heads of lettuce (or broccoli, or radishes, or whatever).

    Microgreens: What they are and how to use them

     

    What are the Benefits of Microgreens?

    “Cuteness” aside, microgreens have some great benefits for homesteaders, preppers, and urban gardeners:

    1)      Many microgreens may have more nutrients than their adult counterparts, according to this article from NPR.

    2)      They have a turnaround time of about 14 days from planting to harvest.

    3)      You can grow them in very little space—raise them in a windowsill, on your counter top, or in a little corner of an existing greenhouse.

    4)      They’re an easy, efficient way to get the familiar flavor, color, and texture into your food storage meals—think micro cilantro on your favorite tacos—and makes more meals possible, like a nice leafy salad (without the expense and labor of a full-grown garden).

    What Kind of Greens Can I Grow?

    If you’re worried about variety, you can put those fears to rest right now. A Google search for microgreen seeds landed me tons of sites to choose from, and from a quick glance at a few of those sites, here are some of the varieties I saw:

     

    Amarinth Arugula Basil
    Beet Broccoli Brussel Sprout
    Buckwheat Cabbage Cauliflower
    Celery Chard Chia
    Chives Cilantro Clover
    Collard Greens Curly Cress Endive
    Fennel Garlic Chives Kale
    Kohlrabi Leek Mizuna
    Mustard Parsley Pea
    Radish Sunflower Turnip

     

    How Can I Grow Microgreens at Home?

    It’s easier than you might think to grow microgreens. Follow these steps, and you’ll be in business:

    1)      Pick a fairly shallow tray (3-4 inches high). Make sure it has drainage holes. A lid is also really helpful.

    2)      Fill it with 1.5-2” of damp potting soil.

    3)      Scatter the seeds evenly across the soil. Don’t sow too many, but you can sow many more than you normally would if you were growing full-size veggies.

    4)      Use a board to gently press the seeds into the top of the soil.

    5)      The you can either:

    • Cover the seeds with a damp paper towel, which you’ll keep there until the greens need light
    • Use a fine-mesh sieve or colander to scatter a shallow layer of soil over the seeds.

    6)      Water well (but don’t overwater) to get things started, and keep the soil damp but well-drained until harvest.

    7)      Attach the lid, and put the tray in a sunny area. (If it gets too warm, these tender little greens can burn, so vent the lid if it seems like the container needs to cool down a bit).

    8)      Water regularly so the soil stays damp (but not soaked), and enjoy watching your greens grow!

    9)      Harvest at around 14 days. To harvest, simply cut the stems just above the soil line with a pair of sharp scissors.

    10)  Compost the used soil, and start again!

    How do I Use Microgreens in Recipes?

    Use your imagination to come up with great ways to use your harvest! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

    1)      Make a microgreen salad—treat the greens just like you would full-size greens.

    2)      Use them in place of full-grown lettuce on sandwiches, hamburgers, tacos, tostadas, or any other recipe where you’d typically use lettuce.

    3)      Add them to soups for a fresh flavor and a slight crunch.

    4)      Top off a delicious appetizer with just the right hint of flavor.

    5)      Make your food tasty and beautiful by using microgreens as a delicious garnish.

    6)      Juice them.

    7)      Add them to a smoothie.

     

    Have you ever grown or used microgreens? How do you (or would you) use them?

     

     

     

    Sources:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/08/29/160274163/introducing-microgreens-younger-and-maybe-more-nutritious-vegetables

    http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/growing-microgreens-indoors

    Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens by Eric Franks & Jasmine Richardson

    http://www.growingmicrogreens.com/microgreen-seeds?ps=60

    http://sproutpeople.org/seeds/microgreens/

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