Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More Than I Bargained For

In Better start working on Plan B I concentrated on hunting in a survival situation.

In response W wrote:
If we really had to live off our 1 acre of land, I would plant it mostly in potatoes. I’d raise chickens and small rodents (like rabbits and/or guinea pigs) for meat. Even though deer are plentiful here today (in fact, I sent out my border collie to chase one out of the garden 10 minutes ago), they would quickly disappear if people hunted them without regulation.

I wrote back:
"Good ideas (planting potatoes & raising guinea pigs). I'd always thought in terms of planting string beans & raising rabbits and stuff like that.
May I reprint your comment anonymously in my blog?"

W replied:
Sure, you can reprint my ideas.
I mentioned potatoes and guinea pigs because they are the survival basis in one of the toughest environments on earth – the Peruvian Andes. Potatoes are native to Peru. They have hundreds of varieties. Andean women and children grow guinea pigs in their homes. Small morsels of protein, easily kept on little resources. You don’t have to butcher a whole cow and possibly waste the protein. Just kill what you need that day.

When potatoes were brought to central Europe in the mid-1600s, they caused an immediate increase in the peasant population, because they are so nutrient-dense (including some Vitamin C) and loads of calories. Potatoes yield much more calories per acre than any other food that I’m aware of. I have a friend who raised 60 lb of potatoes in a 12-foot row in his garden. That’s why Irish, Russian and German peasants grew potatoes.

"When you wrote “String beans” you showed that you don’t understand the problem yet.
The issue is CALORIES for survival!!"

I think you would enjoy the book “Catching Fire” [by Richard Wrangham], about the effect of cooking on human evolution. The point is pertinent: in a survival situation, anything that increases energy absorbed from food is essential. People who live on raw and/or vegetable diets lose weight. Not good if you are about to starve!

String beans don’t have a lot of calories and they also don’t store well. Even canned, they have a risk of botulism.

If you want to grow a high-protein vegetable, grow a legume which will grow easily and produce a large bean that will dry well for preservation (e.g. kidney beans) or a South American high-protein seed, such as quinoa or amaranth. I buy quinoa but I wouldn’t grow it – the seed is too small and hard to handle. I’d stick to kidney beans.

Personally, in a survival situation, I would go for low risk and high production. That means potatoes in a northern climate. I would build fences for the beans to climb on to use the vertical dimension on the north side of the potato row (to avoid shading the potatoes). Beans, being legumes, won’t take nutrition from the potatoes. The potatoes use about 3 feet below the earth. The beans use about 6 feet over the earth. That expands a small garden into 3 dimensions. Both potatoes and dry kidney beans store well.

Animal protein would be low-risk, too – chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs. The lowest-risk, highest protein/fat source is insect grubs, but I would avoid those for cultural reasons unless truly desperate. They are widely valued in Africa and Asia and are a cinch to raise on vegetable waste that would otherwise be composted.

By the way, my neighbor (a very bright retired
[military guy] with lots of survival training) suggested an outdoor movable rabbit enclosure on the lawn with a cover to protect the rabbits from predators. He also suggested llamas as the most versatile animal for transportation, milk, meat and clothing. They are also a lot tougher than European livestock, due to their Andean origins.

In hunter-gatherer societies up to 80% of the food is obtained by gathering. That's nuts, fruits & vegetables not deer, elk & bison. As W says the issue is calories and it doesn't so much matter where you get them as that you get them.

Bottom Line
Maybe your Plan B ought to include Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Potatoes & Kidney Beans.

[In a follow up email W added:]
In cold areas, such as mine, it would be better to plant peas for drying than beans. Peas are cold-tolerant, while beans require a lot of heat to ripen.

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