Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Nutritious Garden for the Prepared Family -- Guest post

This is a guest post by Mackenzie Kupfer, who writes for Avant Garden.

A Nutritious Garden for the Prepared Family

Since I was small, I’ve been raised to be able to take care of myself in case Something Bad were to happen. I grew up foraging, sewing, shooting, and cleaning the deer my father brought home. On the east coast, where I was born and spent much of my childhood, there just don’t seem to be quite as many people preparing their kids with these kinds of skills. That’s one of the reasons my father decided to migrate out west, here to Idaho. I was always a little bit of an outsider out east because no one else went mushroom hunting and shooting with their dads. So it was nice to come out here and realize that I wasn’t alone in my upbringing!

By far, my favorite skill I’ve learned is gardening. Dad’s mother, my Nana, has let me trail along behind her in her garden since I was six, gathering tomatoes off the vine and peppers to grill over the fire pit. She taught me that what how you use your land is sacred and that you must respect what you put in it if you want to get good things out of it. Growing food for your loved ones and then cooking it for them, she said, is the best way to provide for them and prepare for hard times.

I don’t have a ton of room for things like corn in my Boise yard, but I am blessed to be able to raise up a fair number of crops in the space I have. What I’ve learned from my family and from trial and error is that there are some vegetables that are worth your time, space, and effort more than others.

Cucumbers and celery are two tasty veggies that haven’t given me much trouble to grow, but what nutrition they offer might not be worth the time and space if you’re trying to support your family. While new research suggests that they might be more worthwhile than they seem, I’d prioritize other options.

Spinach and kale are two of my favorite additions to a garden. Both are pretty low-key when it comes to maintenance and both tend to like the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. They’re also powerhouses of nutrition! They both contain tons of vitamins that help with eyesight and heart health and manganese, which is good for healthy bones.

Summer squash is a yearly staple in my yard, especially because it’s such a prolific grower! It doesn’t take much to get a big harvest. Primarily it gives a lot of Vitamin C, but it also contains molybdenum, which helps prevent anemia and tooth decay.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the root vegetables – in particular beets, radishes, and potatoes are all fairly easy to care for. And the turnaround on radish is nuts! Within a month of planting, you can start pulling up tasty, spicy gems.

For My City Friends
Some of my friends in the city aren’t as lucky as I am in terms of space. A couple of them don’t have much room to garden- one even has a cluster of garden boxes on her balcony! For them, I always recommend pole beans because they can be trellised vertically to take up less space. Unfortunately, the other trellis plant I can recommend is tomatoes, which are finicky in my experience. Otherwise, apparently beets, radishes, and peppers do pretty well cooped up in a pot.

I applaud their efforts. While it might not sustain them for very long if things went badly (and being in a city at all certainly wouldn’t be good), they have an appreciation for their food and a connection to where it comes from that all vegetable gardeners gain. I really have to respect that.

No matter which of these vegetables you choose to nurture in your garden, you can rest assured that you will have access to precious nutrients in case Something Bad happens. If you pair vegetable gardening with the skills of canning and preserving, and remember to save your seeds for the following year, you’ll be in good shape to begin surviving on your own. I’m grateful to my father and my Nana for teaching me these skills and this mindset – I know that I can provide for my family as I indulge in my favorite hobby.

Mackenzie Kupfer is a writer and gardener. She believes that everyone should have at least rudimentary gardening skills for practical needs, peace of mind, and strength of body. She writes with Avant Garden, the folks from whom she got her cast iron fire pit.


  1. Oh, cabbage for sauerkraut and kimchee. I'm slobbering over the kraut jars (that I can't afford) at Lehman's.

    1. Great addition! Mmm sauerkraut! No pantry is complete without it!

  2. "On the east coast, where I was born and spent much of my childhood, there just don’t seem to be quite as many people preparing their kids with these kinds of skills."

    I grew up on the north east/east coast and I am still here. It hasn't changed much in the void of drive and passion for skills. I have come to the conclusion that it is due the media blitz of radio, magazines and television, the homemaker, the main role of the wife/mother up until the early 60's, should be "modern." By the 70's, my mother stopped using her skill base as most of the mother's of that era. That meant disposable, pre-made, and purchased. Today, not only are parents not preparing their kids with skills, they do not have the skills themselves. Skills have little value

    I have lived the frugal, skilled life for 30+ years. When I extol the virtues of frugal living coupled with a strong skill set, my enthusiasm usually elicits the person to declare, "I'm not going to do that!" The problem is that I didn't ask them. I know better. I was just enthusiastic about the lifestyle. This translates into a skewed perspective of money. Reducing expenditures through doing, creating, and making is the same as cash. The extra bonus is that your efforts have reduced taxes or tax free depending on the supplies needed. Unfortunately, it isn't viewed that way in our society. They feel it is a gross waste of time.

    By making and doing, it creates a sense of satisfaction, a personal "joie de vivre," that contributes to a longer, healthier life.

    1. Your "disposable, pre-made, and purchased" comment rings true! I feel very lucky to have been introduced to a responsible mindset when I was a child. It's why I'm able to see the dangers that such a pre-packaged society is open to.

  3. I wanted to encourage fellow readers who are interested in gardening, to check out the Agricultural Extension office in their state for specific advice on local gardening and recommended easy crops. Easy in one locale can be very hard in another.

    For example, in my climate tomatos are far from finicky- they grow like weeds, and we have more volunteers from the compost pile than we know what to do with (those volunteers are also hardier and more productive than the seeds we purchase)
    Summer squash, on the other hand, can be problematic as our winters do not always get cold enough to kill back the squash bugs and borers overwintering in the soil. We have never been able to to get more than 1-2 squash per plant before they are decimated.
    Certain crops, such as broccoli, will grow well here in the fall but NOT in the spring. Conversely, snap peas are bountiful in spring but fail in the fall. Yet they are commonly listed as "spring and fall" crops together.
    We have found our local extension website, as well as advice from fellow gardeners in the area, to be invaluable. The USDA zone map is helpful, but does not take into account microclimates, elevation, soil composition, and humidity/weather patterns that can make a HUGE difference on your garden's productivity.

    1. These are great resources! Thanks for posting them, Ellen! There are certainly big differences in climate across our beautiful country, so keeping your zone in mind is an excellent point.