In zombie apocalypse scenarios, many people assume that if you could somehow find a secure location (such as a prison – as was the case in The Walking Dead, or as I’ve suggested elsewhere, vertical farms housed in multi-storey buildings), it would be a relatively easy to grow all the food you’d need to survive.
I can see why this idea is so attractive, since there’d be little need to venture beyond the safety of your perimeter to search for supplies, but my own experiences suggest that, for the inexperienced, things are not going to be as straight-forward as you might otherwise think. There’s four basic reasons for this. The first is that you need good soil in order to grow enough high quality food to keep you alive. This means that you cannot simply grow food anywhere. For example, a prison yard is unlikely to have the types of soil you’d need to grow food, not unless you could add things like compost and fertiliser to improve it, and where are you going to get that from?
The second is where you get the seeds from, after all you can’t grow food if you don’t have any seeds to plant in the first place. In the first year, you might get lucky and be able to find a suitable stash in a farm store or garden centre, but after that you’d need to collect and store your seeds from your own plants in order to have more to plant the next year. While this has been the way that both large and small scale farmers have operated for millenia, now-a-days, both commercial farming and backyard gardening simply don’t work this way. This is because most seeds sold are either what are known as F1 hybrids, or have been genetically modified (at least in many parts of the world, like the US – the situation is rather different in Europe). While this gives better yields in any individual year, it has the disadvantage that you cannot use the seeds from one year’s crop to grow the next. This is inconvenient not only when trying to feed yourself during a zombie apocalypse, but also for small farmers in the real world who are now tied into a system where they have to buy expensive seeds from commercial growers each and every year rather than being able to produce their own from their previous year’s crop.
The next issue is the quantity you’d need to grow. For those, like me, who dabble in a bit of home-grown veg from time to time, you’ll find that you can make the occasional meal or two, or maybe be self-sufficient a few specific items. However, when you can’t simply nip down to the nearest store to top up your fridge when you run low on supplies from your own plot, then you need to make sure you actually manage to grow enough to feed you.
Now, think about how much fruit and vegetables you might have to get through in a single year. Look through your weekly shop and start adding it up: If you get through a pound of potatoes a week, that would make it 52 pounds a year, and that’s just for you. What if there were 20 of you? To feed all those hungry mouths, you’d need to grow roughly 1,000 pounds of potatoes a year. Now, you get about 10 pounds of potatoes from each pound of seed potatoes planted. That’s probably in the region of almost 500 or more plants, and you’d need about 500 square feet of land to grow them. This means it’s not something you could do in your average back yard.
This is all assuming that you don’t lose any of your crop to pests and blight, and this is just the potatoes. What about all the other crops you’d need to remain fit and healthy? Where are you going to find somewhere that’s safe but still has enough space to grow all this? Then there’s all the time you’d need to spend tilling the ground, tending the crops and harvesting them once they’re ready. Basically, it’d be a pretty much full-time job, leaving you little time to do anything else, such as maintaining your walls and fences to ensure your crops aren’t over-run by the undead that would most certainly be gathering at your defences from the end of day one.Finally, there’s the issue of when your crops are ready for you to eat. In the western world, we’ve become so used to having fresh food being flown in from all over the planet that we’ve forgotten that fruits and vegetables are by their very nature seasonal. This means that when growing your own, if you can’t work out a way to store the fruits of your labour, you’re going to be faced with a glut of produce at some times of year and a virtual famine at others. I know this from my own experiences, where I have more strawberries than I know what to do with in June (there’s only so many home-made strawbery daiquiris you can drink before you get fed up with them!), followed by a wealth of peas in July and then tomatoes in August, and in mid-winter there’s nothing beyond a few straggling Brussel sprouts, which I’m really not too sure why I grow in the first place as I don’t like them anyway.
Of course, if you know what you’re doing, then you can store your food quite easily by drying, pickling and turning it into jams and chutneys, but there’s two problems here. Firstly, you need to know how to do this, and secondly, you’ll need other ingredients, such as sugar and vinegar if you’re to be able to do this, and where are you going to get that?
A hundred years ago, many more people would have had all the knowledge that they’d need to grow all their own food and store it in times of plenty so that it was there for them when they really needed it, but in the modern world, this is something that few people now know. And I can only think it leaves us more vulnerable, both to fictional disasters, such as zombie apocalypses, and to real world ones, such as disruptions to our over-interconnected and corporate-driven world. After all, we live in a world where traders bet on crop failures by hording staples, such as wheat, just to make a profit by artificially driving up prices. This is something they wouldn’t be able to do if more of us retained the knowledge and skills to grow our own food, yet we’ve blindly handed over the production of the very food we need to survive to people who want to exploit it for commercial gain, and, even if the dead don’t rise up and bring civilisation to its knees, surely that can’t be good, can it?
So is growing your own the answer to getting fresh food in a zombie apocalypse? Yes, but only if you actually know what you’re doing, have access to seeds, have a way to store the excess and have a sufficiently large area which you can zombie-proof with relative ease. If you can’t do this, rather than trying farming, perhaps you’d be better off resorting to more ancient human strategy of the hunter-gatherer. That is, you don’t tie yourself to a specific point in space, but instead move around the local landscape exploiting whatever local bounty is available at any time of year.
As I’ve previously posted, Autumn will be a particularly fruitful time of year, but if you know where to look, there’s plenty of food out there, just waiting for you to come along and pick it up. There is the down side to this, and that’s that you’ll be exposed to attacks by the undead whenever you go out to search for it, but as long as you’re careful, you’ll probably eat much better than if you try to grow things yourself.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.