Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tips for Successful Seeds Starts

For those of us who live in the north, starting some types of garden seeds indoors several weeks before the final frost is essential. Otherwise, they don’t have time to mature. Even gardeners who live in warmer southern climates often have better success starting certain fruit and vegetable seeds in a sunroom or greenhouse. 

One big advantage of indoor sprouting is protection birds and insects. Also, you don’t have to worry about weeds stealing nutrients and sunlight from your indoor sprouts. Once you transplant your starts in the garden, you are likely to see an earlier and more productive yield. Also, because each seed is a tiny power pack of nutrients, you don’t need to add fertilizer to your potting mix.

Garden plants that adapt well to indoor sprouting include:

  •   Tomatoes
  •   Corn
  •   Beans
  •   Bell Peppers
  •   Hot Peppers
  •   Cucumbers
  •   Pumpkins
  •   Winter Squash
  •   Cantaloupe
  •   Watermelon
  •   Broccoli
  •   Cabbage
  •   Eggplants
  •   Strawberries

What You’ll Need:
  1. Soil
    Potting soil designed for seed sprouting is the best medium for indoor starts. It should be fresh and sterile. I’ve also had success with peat pellets – those flat circles that expand with water. When it’s time to transplant, you can put these right into the ground, and they will eventually dissolve. Meanwhile, you don’t have to disturb your plant’s tender root system, so you minimize the shock of transplanting.

  2. Seed Trays
    You can buy plastic seed trays at the local mart, but all you really need are a number of small containers. Those little plastic pots you saved from last year’s garden work fine, and so do empty yogurt containers. The main thing is making sure the pots you use are clean and sterile. Peat pods or pots work great for sprouting and transplanting.

  3. Warmth
    Garden seeds need warmth to germinate. Put your trays or pots in a warm but not hot place, like on the clothes dryer. You can also purchase heated mats designed for germinating seeds.

  4. Light
    If you have a greenhouse, a sunroom or a bank of south-facing windows, you’re set for sunlight. Otherwise, you may need to set up some fluorescent lighting to ensure your young plants get enough light to thrive. If your seedlings look thin and rangy, you should provide more light.

  5. Water
    Naturally. But how much? During the germination stage, the soil should be moist but not wet. Use the clear lid that came with your sprouting tray or a loose square of plastic wrap to hold in humidity. Once the sprouts are up, uncover them and water them from below so that the plants can draw only what they need. Surface watering may encourage mold or bacterial growth.
Next week: Transplanting Tips for Indoor Plant Starts

Do you have some advice to share about your own seed sprouting experiences? Please help broaden everyone’s gardening know-how by leaving a comment below!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Blog Series: Survival Gardening for Self-Reliance: Tips and Tricks

Part Four: How to Design A Successful Emergency Garden

When your goal is feeding yourself and your family in a crisis, you have to plan ahead. Earlier in this gardening series, we talked about buying heirloom seeds packed for long-term storage. We discussed choosing a mix of fruits and vegetables for balanced nutrition. Now, armed with your gardening know-how, you are ready to draw up a strategic garden plan.


Selecting the right space

Keep in mind the basic needs of plants when choosing a good space for your garden:

  1. Full sunlight

    Site your garden to the south of buildings and away from trees that cast shade. Most heirloom fruits and vegetables do best with 6-8 hours of full sun per day. Place the tallest plants, like sweet corn, at the northern edge of your plot, so they don’t cast shade on shorter plants.

  2. Good drainage

    Consider soil and slant when selecting your garden spot. Healthy plants need good drainage. If your soil is mostly clay, for example, you should prepare your site by bringing in better soil. Don’t plan to plant in a hollow where rainwater collects and sits, and don’t put your garden at the base of a bare hill where a heavy rain could wash away your hard work.

  3. Water

    Your plants need a consistent source of water throughout the growing season. Take this into account when choosing your garden site. In a crisis, you may have to source rainwater or creek water, so you should have a plan for making that possible, and ideally have the components, such as a cachement system, in place.
Layout considerations

Once you have chosen your garden spot, figure out how much space you have to work with. If you are planning a big garden, remember that the larger it is, the more work and water it requires. The biggest plus of a large garden, of course, is the big harvest. Plan a garden as large as you and your family can reasonably manage.

To make the most of the space you have, you could:
  • Grow upward instead of out – plan to trellis peas, beans, cucumbers and melons. Trellising improves yields, makes harvesting easier and saves horizontal space.

  • Combine plants to maximize space. For example, combine corn, squash and beans. The beans climb up the corn stalks while the squash spreads below.

  • Plant new rows of certain crops every few weeks to expand your total yield of food. Crops like radishes complete their growing cycle quickly, so plant more rows throughout the summer to have a continuous supply.

Drawing it up

Use graph paper or garden planning software to draw up your emergency garden plan. Start with the outer dimensions, and then decide how to divide up your space – in a grid, in a series of rows, in hills or in groupings of plants.

Don’t forget to give each plant enough room to thrive. Check the spacing requirements for each variety as you plot your layout. Also, include pathways so that you can easily reach your plants throughout the growing season.

Are you interested in seeing some sample emergency garden layouts? If so, let us know, and we will post some in the coming weeks!

Illustration for article:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Blog Series: Survival Gardening for Self-Reliance: Tips and Tricks

Part Three: Finding Balance With Your Survival Garden

We both know that fresh fruits and vegetables are among the best natural fuels. The way I see it, your emergency garden could someday be your main food source. Careful planning today will give your family a nutritional advantage in a crisis, so fill your emergency kit with the heirloom seeds that will yield the best nutritional balance.

1. Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Spinach and Kale

These four vegetables are the leaders in vitamin A, an essential nutrient for healthy vision and a strong immune system. It is also essential for cell growth, bone metabolism and reproductive health. Cantaloupe and leafy greens are also top sources for vitamin A.

2. Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Strawberries

Serving for serving, all of the above provide your family with more vitamin C than an orange. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron and produce collagen, a protein that supports skin and bone health. Even your brain needs this essential vitamin to stay healthy and effective. Other good sources of vitamin C in your garden include green beans, leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, peas, cabbage, zucchini, cantaloupe, raspberries and watermelon.

3. Collards, Asparagus, Dried Beans, Potatoes

B vitamins relieve stress, boost your mood and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. All of these functions are especially critical when you are dealing with a crisis. Additional plants that yield big B benefits include chili peppers, beets, corn and broccoli.

4. Lima Beans, Swiss Chard, Kidney Beans, Beet Greens

Red meat is a good source of iron, but greens and dry beans provide plenty of this essential nutrient too. You need iron for healthy blood. Iron fuels your metabolism, helping it convert calories into energy. Include legumes and leafy greens in your emergency garden plan so your family has a renewable source of iron.

Of course, you also need minerals like calcium and potassium in your diet. The great thing about fresh fruit and vegetables is that they provide the minerals you need to stay strong. They are also the best sources of dietary fiber.

Now that you know what to grow for a balance of nutrients, you are ready to draw up a diagram for your emergency survival garden. I’ll walk you through it in my next blog. With seeds and plan at hand, you’ll be prepared to weather whatever crisis comes your way!

Pooling resources is an important part of getting prepared. We’d love to hear your ideas about garden planning. Please post your comments below!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Blog Series: Survival Gardening for Self-Reliance: Tips and Tricks

Part Two: Choosing Seeds for Your Survival Garden

As I pointed out in my last blog, planning for a survival garden takes a different mindset than planning a yearly pea patch. Selecting the right seeds could make the difference between feeding your family in a crisis and seeing them go hungry.

When you put seeds away in your emergency garden cache, you have to choose carefully. You want seeds you can depend on to produce a safe food supply, seeds packaged for long term storage and seeds that are easy to grow.

      1.      Heirloom or Engineered?

I recommend sticking with heirloom fruit and vegetable seeds, even though hybrid seeds developed in labs are far easier to find. The word “heirloom” on the seed package is one way to identify an older cultivar that is true to its heritage. In general, an heirloom variety predates the mid-20th century when hybrids began flooding the market. In the truest sense, an heirloom seed is one that gardeners have passed on through the generations because it is a reliable producer and a hearty strain. This is just the type of fruit or vegetable you can depend upon in an emergency.

      2.      Open-pollinated?

Open pollination is a trait that makes heirloom seeds the best choice for survival gardening. This means that wind, birds or insects fertilize them as nature intended. Open pollination produces viable seeds that you can save and replant year to year for an ongoing source of food. Most hybrid varieties do not produce viable seeds, and manufacturers do not recommend saving or replanting those seeds.

      3.      Shelf Life

Because you are purchasing seeds for your survival seed supply, longevity is a critical issue. Look at how the seeds are packaged and their expiration dates, if available. Heirloom seeds designed for getting prepared should not come in paper packets, and they should stay viable for several years. Look for specially packed, airtight foil seed pouches that keep the contents fresh over the long-term.

      4.      Are They Easy to Grow?

I like a challenge just as much as the next guy, but I don’t gamble with survival seed selection. Experimenting with exotic plants might be fun (?), but I want dependable, robust fruit and vegetable varieties I can count on in an emergency. I recommend choosing tried-and-true varieties that will work in your climate and with the type of soil you have. If in doubt, call the company for advice.

If you’re with me so far, check back soon for Part Three of this survival gardening series. We’ll talk about choosing plants that provide your family with the best balance of nutrients in an emergency.

Do you have any tips when it comes to choosing survival garden seeds? How about advice about the best varieties to grow? Please leave your comments below – we’d love to have your input!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Blog Series: Survival Gardening for Self-Reliance: Tips and Tricks

“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.” Abraham Lincoln

Part One: How is a Survival Garden Different?

My favorite garden is the year almost everything went wild. The harvest was amazing – an abundance of greens, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, pumpkins and watermelon. We even managed to attract a fat toad who made the strawberry patch his temporary home.

Clearing the land, drawing up plans and planting seeds is an act of self-reliance. No other experience is quite as validating as picking and eating the food you grew yourself.

This is especially true during a crisis. It’s incredibly empowering to have tools to feed your family even when the grocery store shelves are bare. In the next few blog posts, I’ll discuss how to prepare, plan and care for your emergency garden, so when the time comes to deploy your heirloom seeds, you’ll be locked and loaded.

How Is a Survival Garden Different?
(Look for more details on the following topics in upcoming blogs)

You may think that all gardening is pretty much the same. You select the seeds, map out the beds, do the grunt work, and then sit back and enjoy the harvest. That’s true except in the case of survival gardening. You need a whole different mindset when it comes to:

1. Choosing seeds:

Hobby gardeners love to experiment with unfamiliar varieties, but in a survival garden, every square foot of growing space counts. You have to choose those fruit and vegetable seeds you can rely on to thrive in your climate and yield abundant harvests. Your family’s survival is at stake.

2. Balancing nutrients:

Normally, gardeners tend to select their favorite fruits and vegetables to grow. They know they can fill in the gaps with grocery store produce. As a survival gardener, you must assume that other produce will be unavailable, so nutrition plays a key role in deciding what to grow.

3. Planning the garden layout:

For many backyard gardeners, drawing up a garden is part of the fun. They might pencil in a bench, a koi pond or brightly hued flowerpots. In contrast, when you map out your survival garden, your prime directive is growing as much food as possible in the space you have. Efficiency, not aesthetics, is your focus.

4. Harvesting

Hobby gardeners can afford to be relaxed about harvesting. They may opt to cut a few lettuce leaves and grape tomatoes for a quick meal, neglecting to pick that monster zucchini that has already reached epic proportions. As a survival gardener, you must pick methodically to widen your harvesting window and make the most of every precious seed.

Many hobby gardeners hang up their gloves and trowels once the first frost of autumn arrives. In contrast, you will still be busy, harvesting and saving seeds for next year’s garden.

Post your own questions below, and we will try to answer them as the Survival Gardening series progresses!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Recipe: Patriot Pantry Hasty Rice Pudding

“I sing the sweets I know, the charms I feel, My morning incense, and my evening meal --The sweets of Hasty-Pudding. Come, dear bowl, Glide o'er my palate, and inspire my soul.” --Joel Barlow, American Poet and Diplomat, “The Hasty Pudding” 1793

Patriot Pantry Hasty Rice Pudding

This old-fashioned dessert dates to the 13th century in Europe and even earlier in Asia. Patriot Pantry Emergency Food Supply kits, ranging from a 4-Week supply to a 1-Year Emergency Food Supply, provide the majority of the ingredients you will need to make this delicious comfort dessert. It is easy, relatively quick and likely to become a family favorite during emergencies, campouts, hiking trips and at home.


2 teas. cinnamon
½ cup sugar
1 cup plus 1 T water
½ cup raisins


Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the rice pudding starts to boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook 5-7 minutes longer until the mixture is thickened. Remove from heat and divide into 4 serving dishes.

*If you are using water from a lake, stream or unfamiliar well, purify it prior to use with a filtering device from My Patriot Supply.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Franklin's Finest: More Than Just A Great Cup of Coffee

"Among the numerous luxuries of the may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it never followed by sadness, languor, or debility." -          Benjamin Franklin

As the newest addition to the Patriot Pantry, Franklin’s Finest Coffee is collecting rave reviews. Packed to retain its rich flavor and enticing aroma for 25 years, it is nearly impossible to resist opening up a pouch for immediate enjoyment.

Franklin’s Finest is ideal for a cozy fireside coffee break, a backcountry ski expedition, hunting parties and snowmobile treks because it is designed to travel. All you need is a campfire or gas stove, some fresh water and a mug.

Our freeze-dried coffee is more than just a hearty hot beverage, however. You can use in iced drinks and in recipes that call for a flavor boost. Below are some simple ideas for putting a spectacular spin on some sweet treats:

  • Sprinkle a few pinches of Franklin’s Finest Coffee on top of an iced chocolate cake for a tasty twist
  • Top a hot fudge sundae with a sprinkling of Franklin’s Finest and some crushed oreo cookies to make an easy mud pie dessert
  • Add ½ teaspoon dry Franklin’s Finest to frozen vanilla yogurt and enough milk – use reconstituted Settler’s Whey Powdered Milk if desired -- to make a delicious mocha smoothie. Just blend well.
Try the following recipes for an instant pick-me-up on your winter ski or hunting trip:

Backcountry Iced Latte

1 - 2 teaspoons Franklin’s Finest freeze-dried coffee, to suit your taste
2 teaspoons Patriot Pantry sugar
1 T Settler’s Whey Powdered Milk, pre-mixed with 1/2 cup warm/hot water*
Fresh snow

In a sealable container, mix together Franklin’s Finest Coffee, sugar and the pre-mixed Settler’s Whey Powdered Milk. Snap on the lid and shake well. Stick the container in the snow to cool. Fill a coffee mug nearly full with fresh, clean snow. Shake the cooled coffee mixture and add to the mug. Enjoy!

Servings: 1
Calories: 100
Protein: 3 g
Fat: 2.6 g

Finest Sweet Coffee Biscuits

Yield: Approximately 40 cookies

2 cups unbleached flour
2 T Franklin’s Finest Coffee, dry
3/4 tea. baking powder
½ tea. salt
2/3 cup margarine
1/3 cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
½ tea rum extract

Mix the dry ingredients together and set aside. In a large bowl, cream margarine and white sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in brown sugar and mix well. Add the egg and rum extract and stir to combine them.

Add the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined to form a crumbly dough. Form the dough into two logs that are each about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and refrigerate for 8 hours.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray cookie sheets with non-stick coating. Unwrap the dough and slice each log into 1/8-inch rounds. Place each slice on the baking sheet approximately 1-inch apart. Press a pecan half into the center of each cookie. Bake 7-9 minutes, just until the cookie edges begin to brown. Remove them to a cooling rack.

Hints: These thin cookies bake quickly, so watch closely after 5 minutes or so. Cool the cookie sheet between batches.