let’s just say that us and several hundred or thousand-odd like minded folks needed to go backpacking for a long period of time, and going to the grocery store would be against the rules. we could have friends bring us some food and supplies. but our friends might not be reliable or they might get lost. we’ll probably be doing a lot of hunting out in the woods so our pals can bring us ammunition and the like, but it would be tough to feed all of our camping friends and still be able to go hunting every day. how are we gonna eat?
with some resources and four or five years of prior preparation we could set up hundreds of distributed self-propagating garden plots scattered throughout the area we plan to be conducting people’s w-backpacking. there is a lot of overlap between tsinava’s permaculture concepts and our goals. small clearings could be opened in wooded areas, berms and hugelkultur beds created, and the land prepared for plantings in ways that maximize soil fertility-building and moisture retention. sheet mulching and other forms of nutrient banking would be extremely helpful in setting up long-term fertility in our gardens. companion planting and forest gardening (layering edible understory plants with tree crops to maximize crop yield per unit area) will be key to good food production.
some considerations about what we’d want in these gardens:
low-maintenance: you’ll be too busy backpacking and hunting to devote time and labor to tending crops. the plants in these gardens must be hardy and able to thrive with a minimum of care. favor plants that spread rapidly and bear prolifically. fruit trees like apples, pears, and cherries are too finicky and disease-prone for our needs.
long-lived: these crop plants should be perennials if at all possible, any annuals must be able to self-seed prolifically to ensure adequate supply from year to year. you’ll be camping for a long time, probably.
nutritious: these crops, when eaten together, must supply a full complement of protein and enough calories to fuel rigorous athletic activity. favor nutritional value over flavor. backpacking is tough work and your pals will be hungry. you can’t have tasty food every day and you’ve got to to take what you can get in order to keep on backpacking.
reliable year-round: select crops that bear for an extended period, have edible roots that will not be damaged by frosts, or whose edible products can be easily stored for extended periods.
concealable: you don’t want nosy neighbors and the cops to find your gardens. they should blend into the landscape and be able to grow well in remote areas. no neat rows of vegetables and no carefully-pruned orchards, here.
so, what gets planted? a short herbal for the hungry guerrilla:
1.nut crops: low-maintenance, easy to store, and prolific. nuts will be the cornerstone of our diet. just wait till the nuts are ready and gather them from the ground. large mast crops will also attract game, which can supplement our diet with valuable protein.
oaks: in precolombian north america, the acorn was one of the staple sources of quality carbohydrates. one pound of processed acorn nutmeat contains 1600 calories and 28 grams of protein. consumption has been largely abandoned because acorns contain large amounts of tannins that give them an extremely bitter taste. with proper processing, however, they can be rendered very delicious. simply gather acorns and place them in a basket or sack and soak them in a stream for several days. the running water leaches out the tannins and the nuts can then be shelled and eaten. acorns also can be toasted (to kill bacteria and nut-eating grubs) and stored in pits or elevated granaries for years at a time as long as they are protected from pests. another advantage is that the oak is the climax-stage hardwood in the majority of north american forests. high-quality nutrition literally falls from the sky each autumn in these areas.
chestnuts: the chestnut was another staple of eastern native americans. although the native chestnut population was largely destroyed by an invasive fungal blight in the mid 20th-century, many hybrid blight-resistant varieties are now available. while the chestnut is less calorie-dense than the acorn (only 592 calories and 9 grams of protein per pound ) it is very delicious and requires almost no processing. like the acorn, chestnuts can be toasted and stored for years. dwarf varieties of chestnuts, the chinquapins, have a large, spreading, bushlike habit and can tolerate shade.
other calorie-rich nut crops like walnuts, hazelnuts, filberts, and butternuts should also be intermixed for variety and nutritional variation.
2:tree beans: unlike the beans we’re used to in our sedentary dinners, trees in the legume family live for many decades, while still producing nutritious edible seeds. like all beans, these seeds are valuable sources of protein and vitamins that can be dried and stored for long periods. they also improve soil fertility in our gardens by fixing nitrogen.
honey locusts: these trees last many years and are known for their distinctive spines, which are so hard they were actually used as nails in times past. a mature honey locust tree produces thousands of edible seedpods every spring and into the summer. young pods can be cooked and eaten like green beans, larger, still-immature pods contain a deliciously sweet, syrupy pulp between each developing seed (this pulp gives the honey locust its name), and mature dry seeds can be collected and cooked like any bean.
siberian pea: originally introduced to the US by russian settlers who used it for food, the siberian pea is a sadly neglected crop. it produces thousands of small pea pods each spring, and is a prolific grower (young plants grow as much as three feet a year). they are decried as invasive pests by gardeners and farmers. they spread quickly, grow fast, and are resistant to heat, cold, drought, and floods. they are short at maturity (6-15 ft), allowing for easy harvesting, and can tolerate shade.
3: tubers n’ roots:another staple of our semi-nomadic agriculture. they stay hidden underground and can survive winter frosts, only to be dug up when needed.
jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke: along with the acorn and the hog peanut, the jerusalem artichoke is one of the kings of our foodscape. they are unstoppable once established and rapidly spread to fill any available space as many a hapless housebound gardener can attest. their roots overwinter well. surprisingly, fresh jerusalem artichoke does not contain many calories in the form of carbohydrates, as the plant stores its energy in the form of inulin, and indigestible polymer of fructose. however, with storage, this inulin breaks down into calorie-dense fructose. the jerusalem artichoke is also extremely high in protein for a tuber, containing 10% protein by weight as well as large amounts of potassium and iron.
groundnut: the american groundnut is a climbing vine that produces numerous edible tubers that taste a lot like a nutty potato. its climbing habit makes it a great choice for scrubby areas or at the edges of larger plantings. its tubers have 16% protein by weight and are a good source of calcium and iron. it also fixes nitrogen.
hog peanut: the hog peanut, a close relative to the more famous regular-type peanut is another native american staple who fell from favor with the advent of cracker monoculture. the hog peanut is an extremely shade-tolerant nitrogen fixer that spreads rapidly along the forest floor. it produces large numbers of seedpods just at the level of the soil surface. the pods each contain several beans that are nutty in flavor and store well. the hog peanut is an excellent companion plant with the jerusalem artichoke as they both thrive with neglect and their invasive habit can quickly turn a small scattered planting into a huge one.
4:fruits and vegetables: apples and other commonly-farmed tree fruits are too delicate for our needs, but that doesn’t mean we can’t eat tougher fruit. there are also many nutritious plants that thrive without human care that are very edible when properly prepared.
pawpaw the pawpaw is a tasty native fruit that is related to the mango. they have a delicious, custard-like flesh that is studded with small shiny seeds. it thrives along streambeds and produces for most of the summer.
persimmon the persimmon gets a bad rap: most people complain that its fruit is disgustingly, puckeringly bitter. the trick is to wait to harvest them until the first frost has nipped the fruit: the freezing temperatures make the bitterness disappear and the fruit becomes deliciously sweet. persimmons can be gathered and dried for storage.
white mulberry: the white mulberry yields prolific blackberry-like fruits every year, and the young leaves can be picked and steamed or boiled and eaten as a potherb.
egyptian walking onion: unlike onions that have been selected for uniform shape and ease of monoculture production, the egyptian walking onion is well-suited for our needs. every year, the walking onion produces a seedhead that tips over and plants itself nearby. one small planting of walking onions can quickly grow to a very large one, and will supply us with onions for many years without the need for replanting.
asparagus:asparagus is a perennial that thrives without much attention. will add some nice variety to our diet in the spring
turkish rocket a perennial member of the same family as cabbage and broccoli, turkish rocket has edible leaves, stems, and produces flower heads that can be eaten like broccoli.
misc. potherbs: perennial weeds like common plantain, sorrel, and skirret can be steamed or boiled like kale and are a valuable source of vitamins and minerals. stinging nettle is also a very delicious potherb (if annoying to harvest). when cooked , it loses its sting and tastes a lot like spinach. it also has the double benefit of deterring nosy neighbors if planted thickly around our gardens.
so there you have it. these gardens would be easy and cheap to plant, just putting a few seedlings in the ground, scattering seed, or plating saplings in sleeves to deter browsing deer. if preparations began well in advance of our adventure, these mature plantings could feed us and our friends for a really long time!