Monday, January 23, 2012

Garden of Eden in a bucket

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could pop the lid on a huge bucket, open it up, and have an instant homestead? Inside that bucket would be a ready-built off-grid cabin, a huge raised-bed garden area fenced against the deer, a well with a hand pump, a pond, an acre of wheat, two milk cows, a flock of chickens, and all your seeds sprouted in pretty little containers, ready to plant.

Well I’d like that too, but it doesn’t exist.

While I applaud any and all efforts for people to adopt a more preparedness lifestyle, I must point out a dangerous tendency: the mindset that someone can stash away all kinds of supplies and equipment, but they won’t bother learning anything about it until such time as the bleep hits the fan. Bad idea.

It’s a whole lot easier to talk about doing something than to actually do it. Preppers must learn how to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. A mark of a real Prepper (versus an armchair Prepper) is the determination to make sure that his efforts won’t be wasted. This means testing your theories, supplies, and equipment; and it means learning how to do things by alternate means. And this must be done before the bleep hits the fan.

There are some people – the “garden of Eden in a bucket” types – who would have you believe the skills to run a self-sufficient homestead can be acquired after the fact as long as you have the equipment.

This is not only a foolish assumption, it’s a dangerous one. If the bleep ever really and truly hits the fan, you are going to be stressed, scared, desperate, panicked, and unfocused. If you think you’ll suddenly have the leisure and the interest in learning the intricacies of cooking from scratch, growing a one-acre garden, or plinking at targets, think again. Because make no mistake: all these skills take practice.

Remember, preparedness is a three-legged stool: supplies, knowledge, and community. You might have all the supplies in the world, but without the knowledge of how to use those supplies, they’re useless.

A reader once wrote, “My Grandmother was a true child of the Great Depression. She tried to teach me to garden, can, sew, knit, etc. I had little patience or interest. Now I find myself struggling to learn to do the things I thought were passĂ© at the time.”

Sadly, such is the fate of most of the modern generation. For most of us, the mantra was “Study hard and go to college.” Our parents and grandparents were anxious to spare us the hardship and struggle they themselves experienced while growing up, little realizing they were doing us a disservice in the long run. Struggles and hardship breed knowledge and experience.

Let's face it, most of us didn't grow up learning homesteading or survival skills at our parents' knees. If we want to acquire the wisdom of our pioneer forefathers and their seemingly (emphasis on seemingly) effortless techniques for living a low-tech rugged lifestyle, we have to learn them the hard way. I had to teach myself to can, to milk a cow, to make cheese, to garden, and an endless list of other skills. And let me assure you I fail all the time. That's the price I pay for having grown up living a soft and modern life.

Today, almost everyone lives a soft and modern life. It's not meant to be an insult, it's just the truth. If you want to overcome that handicap, you must work very hard to do so. The dangerous part is when we think we can just effortlessly – tra la la – waltz into a pioneer lifestyle in a "bleep" situation and expect everything to be just like it is in the books. If we plant a garden, it will grow. If we get a cow, she'll be gentle, healthy, give endless milk, never get mastitis, and can get pregnant without breeding. If we buy a farm, fences will never break down, barns will never need repair, and cougars will never take a calf.

The pioneers didn’t launch themselves into the unknown without adequately preparing their brains as well as their supplies. They knew they would be without convenient “rescue me” resources. They brought what was necessary to ensure their survival in a new land, but they also brought the know-how and wisdom to understand the use of their supplies and equipment. Anything less would have been suicide.

Buying a “garden of Eden in a bucket” will not make you competent to run a successful homestead any more than buying a fancy rifle will make you a marksman. The time to make mistakes is NOW, while you can still purchase food from the grocery store if your garden fails.

My friend Enola Gay summed it up very nicely: “Walking the preparedness walk requires effort, commitment and inconvenience. You will be in for an expensive education, but an education that will serve you well when the grid goes down. Don't be the smartest guy in the room – the guy telling everyone else how to do it – with no real life experience backing you up. Be the guy who has done it. Be the guy who knows how to do it, not because you have read about it but because you have lived it, because you have practiced it. Be the guy who walks the walk - not the guy who talks the talk.”

I encourage any and all prepping efforts, but please – please – don't think homesteading or low-tech living will be easy or trouble-free if you spend enough money or read enough books. You need to go through trials and errors and endless failures at a time when those failures won't mean the difference between life and death.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Sweat in practice saves blood in battle.”

I suggest you start sweating.


  1. Hello Patrice, a reminder of the nature lesson :
    Good day to you .


  2. Amen! Mormons have been taught for decades to store food, especially whole grains, but few know how to use it and the comments at the women's meetings are things like "I can't eat what I've stored because it will cause diarrhea" or "my family doesn't like whole wheat bread." DUH, you're supposed to be using it all along so you and your family gets used to it, learns to like it, and so it won't be a shock to your system. I've raised our children on whole grains and the stuff in our food storage. We store what we eat and eat what we store. I'm still working on the gardening skills though, I used lots of excuses over the years, but have decided to work past the excuses and be obedient to a prophet's counsel. It does take practice to learn the idiosyncrasies of an individual garden location and soil. Thanks for the timely reminder.

  3. I suggest you start sweating.... and learn to love it!


  4. I believe a lot of armchair preppers fear failure and don't venture beyond their chair because of it. After all, what would people think if I had read every book on cow-milking, but then couldn't get a single drop in the bucket? While I am far from the advanced prepper that you are, I am learning a lot from my flops. My first bread making adventure didnt go so well (ok, maybe my first 15 loaves were so bad the dog couldnt even chew them...) but now everyone asks me to bring bread to potlucks. There is a steep leaning curve with many things, and being terrified of failure will not get us any closer to our goal. We cannot be afraid to fail, or else we will never try.

  5. Patrice, wise advice. Trial and error are still the best tools for learning new skills. In fact, our errors usually end up being far more educational.

    In a way we're lucky because we still have time to practice and get experience under our belts. Failure should not be the bugaboo, never even trying should be!

    Anonymous Patriot

  6. Greetings Patrice and Rural Revolution readers, I have read this blog for several years but never commented...but something about this posting really struck me. The idea that stepping away from the system and becoming more self-reliant is a LIFESTYLE change and takes ON-GOING time, effort, practice, and dedication. So many people are either still caught up in a busy, consumer-driven, American Idol culture OR stressed because of challenges to their finances, illness, relationship takes a huge effort to step back and analyze things and take determined steps in the direction you want, and need, to go...with reinforcements and encouragements (like your column!) along the way.

    God has blessed our family with a rural homestead with water and good soil, but as we've only been there a year, we have an overwhelming "to do" list..and a large mortgage which strains our budget. The garden is started, fruit trees are planted --- but no fencing. There is a spring and two wells --- but no hand pumps, no filter and a rusty, unusable cistern. There is a barn --- but no doors, no stalls, no storage/shelving. We were able to put in a wood stove to supplement the ancient, inefficient oil boiler/radiators --- but need to seal/insulate enough to keep in the heat we generate. There is a basement with the startings of food/water/light preps --- but a temporary kitchen as we gutted the old one and are slowly reconstructing a new one as funds and time allow.

    There is a such a tension between the wants and the needs, between the immediate and the long term, between the worldly way and the Lord's way...your blog beautifully demonstrates this in many aspects. You write about wonderful, peaceful days at home, homesteading and prepping and faith... balanced with occasional trips to the city and all its enticements. A balance of where we are, what we have now, and what we may lose in the future. I see friends with large incomes traveling and shopping with no cares, then watch as other friends struggle with finances, health issues, marriage problems and so much stress (already "TSHTF" for them).

    The wonderful youth development organization 4-H focuses on experiential learning...learning by doing. Your column completely captures that idea, there is just no "instant homestead". In 4-H, youth get to do things normally only adults do...raise a pig, sew a dress, cook bread, photography, build a robot, keep financial records, have a business. And with experiential learning, you acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes for a satisfying life. You can watch a YouTube video or read a book, but the actual experience of doing something yourself is the best way to learn and incorporate these skills into your life.

    The past few years my gardening focus has been "garden like it matters, before it really matters"...and your column has helped reinforce and re-motivate me to keep focused on these important --- yet sometimes boring or exhausting or tiring or expensive or keeping me from short-term "wants" --- homesteading and preparedness tasks and skills we must be doing to prepare for hard, challenging times in the future. Thank you and may God continue to bless you and your family.

  7. All very well said posts.

    Here is the English version of Trysia's post. Sounds like some of the members of my family who plan to show up at our place wtshtf. Boy will they be in for a rude surprise.
    God Bless

  8. I keep forgetting how much sweating I do in winter until the snow and ice come along.

    Spending hours behind a snow shovel - like you did getting that truck out of the drift - always reminds me. I never realize how much I'm sweating until I'm already soaked.

    Now. I bought 6 packages of yeast. I'm going to start learning how to make REAL bread, not just baking powder biscuits or pumpkin bread....though my pumpkin bread is awesome. You start with an actual pumpkin.

    Just Me

  9. Thank you for this timely post. I want to ask you a question..... do you and your family feel as if you have been.... "called out"? I am not sure that is the correct description for it. My husband and I just know that years ago-- before children--- we felt led by God to just live this different life. There were no great trumpet blasts or anything like that but we simply cannot contentedly live as most of modern society lives. I love my microwave, DVD player and this wonderful curse of a computer that steals my time if I let it but....
    I learned to can, cook, sew, bake, milk cows and goats, garden, and a whole bunch of other life skills by reading and watching others and then jumping in with both feet.
    I figured out early that since I can read, there is very little that I can't do.
    Somehow, that concept is lost on a great many people. I get calls all the time from people wanting me to teach them something. What they really want is for me to spoon feed them or-- actually do it for them.

    I have been approached by a pastor in our community to begin teaching some of these skills at his church... I have not decided yet.

    1. My father wrote a post on his blog about exactly that:

      I call it the remnant path- where some answer the call to live in the way of our ancestors. So yes, I think being "called out" is a very good description. Nice post btw, I found this blog through Enola's. Lots more stuff to read :)

  10. The other thing besides the instant homestead I think people are fooling themselves about is the "completely independent" homestead. You NEED your neighbors - no matter how far removed they may be in the country. It's wise to get to know them and help them out before TSHTF and you need help from them - and you WILL need their help!

  11. Love this article. And it definitely hits home with me. I will be the first to admit that I am definitely a bit soft, but have plans on hardening up, will be working my first garden this coming summer. Am excited and scared at the same time.

    1. Tin Pails: I'm trying out the "reply" button....did it work? Anyway --- GOOD for you! Go get 'em with your first garden! I remember my first garden. Takes me back. Keep in mind how much power you have. When you put in a garden, you change the very face of the planet with your bare hands. That's power! If you're willing to sweat, you'll be great.

      Just Me

  12. This would make a good WND column. I've been gardening for many years and still learn new things each year. Anybody who thinks they can just throw a few seeds down and have a great garden is in for a big surprise. You always provide good advice in your columns. Keep it up - you're an inspiration.

  13. I have been thrilled to find your is refreshing. Your points about living a life of more DOING rather than THINKING about being prepared struck home. I've had much experience in the wilderness, but live in the city. However, I've also come from a family who loved to live on the land and have gone through some hard moments because of it. Those moments make you respect the dedication and knowledge and ACTION it takes to do it day in and day out. Canning is something I'm aching to learn how to do. I can't wait. We are about to put our city house on the market in about ten days so that we can build a cabin on acreage we've owned for The Big Thicket in Texas. I'm going to be catching up on some of your blog posts...glad to be reading your interesting perspective that is VERY valid in today's world.

    I've sent both my kids to college; first has her biology degree, second is finishing her Child Life Specialist degree and I'm suddenly very saddened on a new level about the lack of teaching that today's children receives about SELF-sustainability. Augh.


    1. Welcome, Lana! I'm cheering you on, I hope you achieve your dream!

      - Patrice

  14. Great column again. Wanted to note you got a mention by 'ol Remus at Woodpilereport this week in case you didn't see it. He liked your comment at Backwoods Home about strike anywhere matches.

    And I thought your WND column was great also. Caused me to drag out my old copy of "Dictionary of Classical Antiquities" from freshman humanities. Note that it is available free online. Professor was an archeologist who was credited with discovery of a submerged city in Greece. His REAL claim to fame was that he taught Sophia Loren how to SCUBA dive for her role in "Boy on a Dolphin".

    Happy Chinese New Year. Started yesterday and lasts 15 days. Year of the Dragon. Should send a note to dragonsnack. :)


  15. I live in rural north Alabama and am 54 years young. I have discovered there is a vast difference between growing up country and pretending to be. Country, to me, is growing your own food - be it vegetables to beef. Learning to sew, crochet, to mend what you can and make do until such a time money is plentiful enough to buy new. We take care of our families and neighbors. Having been called everything from backwards to a bumpkin, when the BLEEP comes, I will be the one sitting in MY home, eating MY food, and protecting me and mine with MY gun. Excellent blog!