Nutritious food: More ways to eat well for very, very low cost.

(...continued from How to Live Well on Very, Very Little)

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(latest update of this section on or about 1-15-03)

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Back to How to Live Well on Very, Very Little...

In many cases constructing a greenhouse can allow food to be grown all year round (The homestead greenhouse by Charles Sanders Issue #67 offers some related info). Integrating into the design of the green house the most suitable ideas from earth-sheltered housing, passive solar heating, and other environmental and self-sufficiency concepts may even allow a very advanced system to be built which can fulfill virtually all the essential nutritive needs of a family indefinitely, for minimal cost and relatively low maintenance requirements.

More specifically, a mini-ecological system in its own right may be set up within such a greenhouse, where plants, small animals, and fish are all cultivated for food, and the various waste products produced recycled through the system in particular ways.

In one such system described in the book The Survival Greenhouse [shop for this], rabbits, earthworms, and Tilapia fish are raised alongside hydroponic gardens of food crops.

Simply Hydroponics and Hydroponics For The Home Gardener are other reference sources for this subject.

-- The Survival Greenhouse [shop for this] by James DeKorne, Peace Press, 1978

In some cases it may be appropriate and useful for a home to be constructed from the ground up to act as both home and self-sufficient greenhouse. However, in that case care must be taken that human wastes do not become dangerously intermingled with the food production process.

-- The Integral Urban House [shop for this] by the Farallones Institute, Sierra Club Books, 1979

When I use the words self-sufficiency above, I do not mean that total independence from re-supply via the outside world would be gained from methods like the above, but only that such re-supply needs might be minimized, and with them their attendant costs and risks of disruption.

For many families/households, much of their food production means will depend on where they live, how much land they may use, and what type of growing conditions they face. In some cases families may wish to band together with neighbors to design and develop one or more large plots, or build a communal greenhouse, etc.

What domesticated animals might offer the greatest food (and other) values, for the lowest cost and maintenance effort?

A priority list for a RURAL household with access to significant land acreage might look like so:

#1: Geese can be a source of meat, fat, eggs, feathers, and down, for perhaps the lowest cost in feed and effort of any other poultry. Their diet can consist of up to 95% grass. Hay and grain are alternative feeds. They do not reproduce as fast as other domesticated birds, so a geese flock may need to be larger to provide the same amount of meat on a continuous basis as other poultry types.

Farm geese do not fly and do not require a pond or constructed housing. Adults even adequately defend themselves from small predators.

-- page 30, Practical livestock for the homestead by Amelia Porter, Backwoods Home Magazine, November/December 1999

#2: Dairy goats usually will do well even on relatively poor and substandard land, and in poor climatic conditions. Pound for pound, goats generate more milk than cows. Goat milk is generally more easily digested by human beings than cow milk.

-- The Owner-Built Homestead by Barbara and Ken Kern, Charles Scribner's Sons publisher; 1974, 1977

Besides drinking purposes, milk can also be used to make cheese, soap, paint, and feed other livestock (like chickens). Goat meat can be added to the family larder as well.

-- page 30, Practical livestock for the homestead by Amelia Porter, Backwoods Home Magazine, November/December 1999

Note from dad: During his farm childhood he got the impression most folks preferred the taste of cow milk to that of goats. Plus, keeping cows seemed to offer more financial and barter opportunities than goats as well, in his neighborhood.

Rebuttals to dad's view include references which say goat's milk and cow's milk can't be told apart in taste if the goat's milk is processed properly.

Goats also help clear brush from land by eating it, can be trained to be small pack animals, pull small wagons, or power water pumps, clothes washing machines, and other household devices.

-- page 30, Practical livestock for the homestead by Amelia Porter, Backwoods Home Magazine, November/December 1999, and other sources

#3: Fish farming may be accomplished in a couple of ways: One is by stocking an existing pond or creating an artificial pond, and raising the fish that way. The other is raising the fish in tanks indoors. The first method is best for rural inhabitants with considerable land to work with, the other perhaps for urban or suburban environments.

#4: Ducks typically do well in adverse environments, are less prone to illness than chickens, and produce larger eggs than chickens. They also possess longer useful laying lives than chickens, and conveniently do their laying at night, when their roaming about the fields is over. Some types of ducks even lay more eggs per year than chickens, too.

-- The Owner-Built Homestead by Barbara and Ken Kern, Charles Scribner's Sons publisher; 1974, 1977

-- page 30, Practical livestock for the homestead by Amelia Porter, Backwoods Home Magazine, November/December 1999

Note from dad: During his farm childhood folks didn't like to kill their ducks for meat, as they prefered the animal's other benefits instead (such as feathers for insulation purposes). Ducks and their eggs also weren't as easily traded or sold as chickens and their eggs.

#5: Pigs

#6: Rabbits are one of the most efficient and convenient means of meat production available to small scale operations like that of a household.

-- The Owner-Built Homestead by Barbara and Ken Kern, Charles Scribner's Sons publisher; 1974, 1977

Note from dad: During his childhood dad's family didn't even consider raising rabbits for food. Why? Their rural area offered plenty of wild rabbits for the eating.

#7: Bees help insure good crop yields due to their pollination efforts, plus provide honey which is a healthier substitute for refined sugar in the diet (and also is less likely to cause tooth decay than sugar). Honey also offers various medicinal uses. Wax for candle-making and other purposes may also be gleaned from beehives. In the developed nations some people earn a living from farmers by making their hives portable, and moving them to pollinate farmers' fields for a fee. You can also sell honey (if you can make more than your own needs require).

Other possible benefits of bees include huge increases in yields of coffee crops pollinated by them, plus they can be trained with sugar-water to locate mines and other explosive hazards for disarming/destruction.

A trace of the type of explosive you're looking for is mixed with sugar-water to train the bees to believe the explosive scent is related to food. This will cause trained bees to swarm onto explosive locations such as mines in 99% of cases.

-- Pollination by exotic honeybees increases coffee crop yields by more than 50 percent.

-- Had your morning coffee? Thank a killer bee; 12-Jun-2002; Contact: Elizabeth Tait taite@publicaffairs.si.edu 202-357-2627 x129 Smithsonian Institution

-- Bees to 'sniff out' explosives;14 May, 2002; BBC News

A priority list for an URBAN household with access to negligible land acreage might look like so:

#1: Chickens can act like natural garbage disposals, eating practically anything you give them, whether meat or plant-based. They'll eat snakes and mice too if circumstances allow.

-- page 30, Practical livestock for the homestead by Amelia Porter, Backwoods Home Magazine, November/December 1999

Note from dad: During his farm childhood his own community appeared to prefer their poultry meat be chicken, rather than something else. Chickens and their eggs also seemed to offer more opportunities for sales and barter than other poultry.

#2: Rabbits

#3: Fish

There's a wide variety of ways to hunt, trap, or collect various wild foodstuffs, as well as safely keep them in long term storage and prepare them for eating, at relatively low cost. Obtaining a detailed how-to book for such methods (especially one tailored to your particular climate and surroundings) could keep you well fed indefinitely. Many of the books in this vein are of the 'survivalist' variety.

Wilderness survival guide and directory and become a hardcore forager by Larry Cywin Issue 47 may offer some online leads in this area.

-- Survival With Style by Bradford Angier, Vintage Books, 1972

Spinning third world straw into gold (making the amazingly versatile grass pea safe for long term consumption)

Lathyrus sativus, or the grass pea, has for millennia often served poor farmers in Asia and Africa as an animal feed and human food of last resort. Some reasons why include the fact that the plant can flourish under some of the worst conditions imaginable, including terribly depleted soil, flooding, and drought. Plus, every speck of the plant is useful for feeds for various domesticated animals, and the seeds can be made into various human foodstuffs.

So why has the grass pea always been the crop of last resort? Neurotoxins. Ingesting a lot of it over several months causes lathyrism spasms, and if other food substitutes aren't found soon the people could become permanently crippled, unable to walk. Local men in their prime may be the most vulnerable to the condition, and so a village could easily lose the core of its manpower to such food sources in short order.

Fortunately, the natural toxin levels can be somewhat reduced by properly boiling the seeds, prior to processing them into foodstuffs. Unfortunately, such pre-treatment may not be done at all in some cases due to shortages of water or fuel, or to neglect, or ignorance. Or it may be done improperly, thereby reducing its effectiveness. Plus, even when this pre-processing is performed-- and performed correctly-- there's no guarantee it will make the seeds as safe as they should be.

Fortunately, in 2000, ICARDA (the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas) based in Aleppo, Syria, announced it had developed a version of this plant almost completely devoid of the toxin, but still boasting its beneficial characteristics. Morden lab of Agriculture Canada has also been working on producing less toxic variants of the plant.

Unfortunately, again, the labs were having trouble in 2000 getting the new and safer seeds out to poor third world farmers.

It seems that a concerted long term effort to replace all the potentially crippling varieties of Lathyrus sativus both in the wild and current agricultural efforts with the new much safer versions would be one of the most cost-effective projects which could be undertaken by local natives or developed nation aid agencies.

-- Detoxifying Desert's Manna Science News Online, July 29, 2000 By J. Raloff; Science News, Vol. 158, No. 5, July 29, 2000, p. 74

Short Term Food Preservation

Fruit, vegetable (and even poultry) leftovers may keep a bit longer if thoroughly mixed with dark honey.

-- The Color of Honey By JANET RALOFF; Science News, Vol. 154, No. 11, September 12, 1998, p. 170

Anaerobic storage of root crops can be a cheap way to make items like turnips, carrots, potatoes, and others last up to eight months without significant spoilage.

Choose only the best quality specimens of your vegetables, with their skins intact and uninjured, and no signs of disease or other damage. Carefully wash each in flowing warm water. Dry in the Sun, then allow them to cure in well ventilated baskets in a dry and cool environment. Around the first official day of winter, move the vegetables into the metal tubs described below.

The tubs should be made of well-cleaned galvanized steel, and topped with wooden panels wrapped by newspapers, or by sheets of metal. The tubs should be no larger than around one foot deep, two feet wide, and two feet long-- and smaller is better. The interiors of the tubs should be lined with half a dozen layers of fresh newspaper sheets. The closed tubs don't require air tight seals-- just sufficient closure to keep out pests.

Intersperse apples with the root crops in the tubes. At least 12 per tub of the size described above. Those types of apples with the longest natural shelf lives are the best for this procedure. Rhode Island Greenings and Hunt Russets in good condition appear to be the very best for this method. But even imperfect Hunt Russets will work well.

The tubs should be placed somewhere like a root cellar or basement.The humidity of this storage area may not matter much, but it should be cool.

All the vegetables and the apples consume what little oxygen there is in the tubs as part of their ripening process, and exude carbon dioxide. The apples also produce ethylene, which helps prevent sprouting. Soon the tubs contain negligible oxygen, but significant amounts of gases which will slow sprouting.

By summer it'll be time to move whatever tub vegetables haven't already been eaten to your refrigerated storage.

-- page 90-91, Fresh Food, Dirt Cheap (All Year Long!) by Organic Gardening Magazine, Rodale Press, 1981

Long Term Food Preservation

Canning is likely the lowest cost and most reliable long term preservation method under most circumstances. Freezing may be the most convenient, and retain the freshest taste in food, but is also perhaps the costliest money-wise, and least reliable (both of these due to the requirement for reliable electricity and plenty of it).

If the energy costs and reliability problems can be solved, freezing could save you considerable time and effort compared to canning.

-- page 71-72, Fresh Food, Dirt Cheap (All Year Long!) by Organic Gardening Magazine, Rodale Press, 1981

At last check the sites below were offering free information regarding food preservation and safety online:

| Canning Foods | Food Safety | Home Canning | Drying and Curing Food | Food Freezing Resources | Freezing Basics | Food Storage | Noah's Ark Food Preparedness Info | Noah's Ark Long-Term Food Storage |

Note that armed with the proper knowledge, tools, and supplies, you might be able to start up a business of putting food away for people of your local community, or teaching classes on the subject for a profit, or selling people the supplies to do it themselves.

The production and preservation of food often entails much trial and error. Maximizing your learning from both your successes and failures will save you time, money, and frustration. The heart of such learning is maintaining as detailed a log as possible of your activities in these areas, along with their results, problems, and solutions. Make sure to include all dates, costs, and sales (if any). The more years you maintain this log, the more useful it will be.

Such a log will be searchable and more easily 'backed up' for less risk of loss (as well as offer other advantages) if it is kept on a computer, perhaps in a spreadsheet file or database of some kind.

Miscellaneous unorganized links

The links below are some I'm considering for inclusion in one or more categories above, or other reference for future updates. Some of the links may end up being discarded later for reasons of broken URLs or others. So consider this list to be 'raw'; that is, not all of the sites will necessarily be good and valuable links for the purposes of this page. I include them here because (A) this is a handy place for me to personally check them out when I get the chance, and (B), where some of the links do prove valuable, having them here gives YOU the earliest possible access to them. I've included my personal first impressions on various sites too, where available.


Bees keep elephants off crops
Serving method and portion size affect the amount of food consumed at a single meal Cola soft drinks satisfy hunger as well as orange juice or 1% milk
Knapweed Chemical May Be Basis Of 'Green' Herbicide

termite vitamins
Portion size matters Given too much, we eat it
Bee farms honey and wax
BUILD A COMPOST BIN INSTRUCTIONS
Composting At Home, HYG-1189-99
RRFB Resources - Guide To Composting
Supercrop thrives on saline soil
How Garbage Fueled Ancient Agriculture
Low-cost irrigation technologies for food security in sub-Saharan Africa, E. Perry
milk a fungicide
researchers turn conventional thinking about canned corn on its ear
Beans and fungus may improve corn crop without expensive fertilizer
Rainforest researchers hit pay dirt
Home Dairying by Marcella Shaffer Issue #64
Noah's Ark Farming and Livestock Menu
Trees That Bear Multiple Fruits
creative way to protect your plants from animals


If you have suggestions for improvements or additions to this page, please send them. You never know: it might be your idea that saves the world.

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The above article(s) come from and make references to a collection copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 by J.R. Mooneyham (except where otherwise noted in the text). Text here explicitly authored by J.R. Mooneyham may be freely copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes in paper and electronic form without charge if this copyright paragraph and link to jrmooneyham.com are included.

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