Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Where to Live in Troubled Times

As various parts of the world collapse, one big question is, "Should I start packing my bags?" There is probably no perfectly rational way for choosing a place to live. Nevertheless, if we are brave enough, or if we have already done some travelling, the factors listed below may be those we want to consider. Unfortunately the travel brochures and retirement advertising give an impression of the "tropical paradise" that is not always realistic, and we must therefore also look at this matter further on -- the ideal country might not be what we first imagine.

By far the largest issue is that of time frame. The systemic collapse of modern civilization will consist, as I have said before, of two distinct phases, and the border between the two will be marked by the disappearance of money as a means of exchange. Each phase will entail separate considerations.

During Phase One, governments, law, and money will still exist in roughly their present forms, and these will be some of the matters to consider in choosing a place to live. What I am listing below as the issues of economic stability -- cost of living and average income -- are therefore relevant to Phase One. Even during that first period, however, the longer-term issues of arable land, climate, and family and friends will be very important.

Phase Two will be that in which societal collapse has advanced further. At that point it is unlikely that people will be concerned about the finer points of pension schemes or tax shelters. The list of qualities to consider in a place to live will then be much shorter, and the trivial will be discarded.

We should remember that the readily available information on other countries is mainly geared to tourists, but what such people experience on a 10-day package tour bears little resemblance to long-term residence in a country. Most tourists live in a silly and artificial world, and their lives are not entwined with those of the local people. In fact tourists are often hated because they regard other countries as their personal playground, and the citizens of that country as their servants.

Population Density

The tropical paradise can be deceptive. Thailand, for example, has positive and negative aspects. Perhaps in the more rural areas of that country it would be possible to live fairly cheaply. Public transport is usually available, at least for now, so a car might not be necessary. There would be no need for heating fuel or firewood in winter. Food would be cheap and good. But Thailand in general can be quite unpleasant because of its heat, and to some extent because of problems with noise, with environmental destruction, and with overpopulation.

The issue of overcrowding, in Thailand and elsewhere, must also be considered in terms of other issues of societal collapse. If, in the future, the world economy has a "bang" that is much worse than the one that started in 2007, I think I would want to be living in a country that has a good deal of uninhabited and undeveloped land where I could be somewhat independent of a money-based economy. In plain English, wherever I live I want to be able to head for the hills. For the same reason, I have no intention of living in a big city.

One thing is certain: without motorized transportation, the crowding in the world's cities will ensure that they eventually become death traps. Modern business methods only intensify the weakness: while business-management experts take pride in the cost-effectiveness of "just in time" inventory, they ignore the fact that "just in time" is only a step away from "just out of time." During the Second World War, Leningrad turned to cannibalism when the city was besieged by the Germans, and such events were far more common in ancient times.

Population per Unit of Arable Land

More important than population density in the absolute sense is the ratio of population to the amount of land that can be used to produce crops. Eventually most people will be producing their own food, or at least relying on food grown nearby. A society based mainly on primitive subsistence farming (survival gardening) can have, at the very most, no more than nine people per hectare of arable land (i.e., 900 people per km2) and many countries are already well over that density; a more realistic ratio would be 400 people per km2. A major question therefore is: Which countries have a fair amount of arable land?

The following 30 countries (in rank order) have the best ratios: Australia, Kazakhstan, Canada, Niger, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Argentina, Guyana, the US, Belarus, Hungary, Zambia, Paraguay, Bulgaria, the Central African Republic, Togo, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Moldova, Finland, Romania, Denmark, Estonia, Mongolia, Namibia, Uruguay, Mali, and Chad. Roughly speaking, the worst areas for this ratio are the Middle East, most of southern and eastern Asia, the islands of the Pacific, and Western Europe.

In terms of agriculture, there are also related factors to consider, such as temperature, precipitation, and soil degradation. Of the 30 countries listed above, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, Mali, and Chad are quite dry. Most of central and eastern Europe has serious problems of soil degradation, but these areas should not necessarily be discounted. Partly because of emigration, they have shrinking population, for example, and that will be an advantage to those who remain.

One might be tempted to suggest a sour-grapes theory of the population-to-arable ratio: one could argue that countries with better ratios are merely indicating poor living conditions of some other sort, such as bad politics or economic troubles. To a large extent this is true, but there are important exceptions. The UK and the Republic of Ireland, for example, are very similar in geographic respects, but the UK has three times the population-to-arable ratio; from the standpoint of subsistence farming, the Republic of Ireland would be a far more habitable country.

From my own point of view, good-quality arable land is the most important consideration, either for the sake of growing one's own food, or at least for being close to an area where food is produced and distributed. Political matters are perhaps in second place, while everything else would be far down the list. Nevertheless, I can see how other people would have other priorities.


To some extent the choice of climate is rather a personal matter, depending on what one is used to. Extremes of climate, however, mean that life could become uncomfortable without our accustomed access to central heating or air conditioning. One would ideally be living about halfway between the equator and the poles, but the catch is that many other people have already had the same idea.

Economic Stability

Economic stability depends on a number of diverse factors. Countries that rely heavily on exports can be quickly damaged by changes in the world market. A small country is generally in trouble if its income is based on a narrow range of goods or services. Excessive private and public borrowing often leads to debts that cannot be paid. Monoculture and foreign ownership have ruined many countries, even if the facts are rarely printed in newspapers. Modern economics is a complex subject, and when disaster occurs it seems that no one even knows who to blame.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in a foreign country is obviously important, especially for people who hope to have jobs there, but also if they have fixed incomes, or just fixed savings. The odd thing, though, is that the cost of living doesn't really vary all that much from one country to another, contrary to popular belief. A hamburger is always a hamburger, it seems. The cost of living in Moscow is three times as high as in Asuncion, Paraguay, but generally the cost of an item in one country will be about the same as its cost in another country. Life out in the countryside may be cheaper, but not greatly, and only relatively: there are no more rural paradises where goods and services can be bought for pennies. More important than the immediate cost of living, of course, is the country's rate of price inflation, which can easily make a dent in income or savings, particularly as the entire world shifts into what I have been calling the economic post-peak Phase One, which is characterized by "stagflation": stagnant wages combined with price inflation. In any case, the best way of dealing with the cost of living in any country is, quite simply, to reduce one's dependence on money by learning to grow food and do carpentry and so on.

Median Income

Average income (commonly expressed as GDP/capita) is a serious issue for anyone planning to get a job in a distant country and expecting to be paid a local salary. Average income is also a consideration for anyone planning to hire local workers. However, any figure for average income is meaningless unless it is correlated with cost of living, and if both are defined in terms of international dollars or some other universal frame of reference. Making sense of such figures is not always easy. On top of all that, the focus on GDP/capita falsely implies that societies without a money economy are necessarily poor, whereas abundant food and water, for example, are themselves a form of wealth.

There is not a great deal of correlation between a country's cost of living and its average income. There is, however, some tendency for countries with high costs of living to have incomes that are even more unusually high. In a poor country such as Malawi, for example, both the cost of living and the average income are low; in Luxembourg, on the other hand, while the cost of living is somewhat high, the average income is quite remarkable. One reason why people like to move to the US is that the fairly high cost of living is offset by the very-high average income. Most countries in Europe, on the other hand, present a bad combination of both high cost of living and low average income.

Crime Rates

For those dreaming of escape to distant places, the unfortunate irony is that cheap property and high crime rates often go together. That's true street-by-street, but also country-by-country. It's hard to beat the odds on that one, but perhaps it can be done. And by high crime rates I don't necessarily mean organized crime. A more common question may be the far more subtle issue of whether one will have as neighbours a group of people who persist in minor acts of theft and similar infractions -- what is euphemistically referred to as "having an uneasy relationship with the law." Even borderline illegalities can ultimately become heartbreaking for the victims.

Political Freedom

There are many countries where the concept of civil liberty is completely absent. In fact there are many other big political issues that should be considered: political equality, democracy, the whole concept of "the open society." One should not underestimate the pleasures of living in a country with a relatively sane form of government -- at least for as long as governments last.

Political corruption is a situation in which every day is pervaded by the question of who you know. Although there may be laws and regulations, from the federal to the institutional level, the actual decisions get made, sometimes in secret, on the basis of who has informal power over whom. Daily life is controlled by "families" and petty "mafias," without the guns and glamour of their Hollywood counterparts. There are many forms of corruption, including cronyism (favouritism toward friends), nepotism (favouritism toward family members), bribery, embezzlement, graft, influence peddling, patronage (not always illicit), kickbacks, and electoral fraud. To a large extent corruption is correlated -- both as cause and as effect -- with poverty, illiteracy, lack of democracy, and lack of freedom of speech and of the press. From the point of view of retirement, perhaps the biggest question about a corrupt country is: What will happen to your bank account after the next palace revolution?

Immigration Laws

Many countries have laws stating that foreigners cannot retire there permanently unless they offer proof of a guaranteed monthly income, a lump-sum deposit, or an investment of some sort. Having family members already living in the country is an advantage. For those who intend to keep working for a living, having a high-demand profession can make a big difference. Sometimes such laws are rather vague and open to varying interpretation, and getting an application processed may be complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. Within the European Union, it's generally easy for citizens of one country to move to another, but the even there the rules are somewhat variable and subject to change.

There are certainly exceptions, but in general it might be said that immigration laws are getting tighter these days. It's no longer a case of picking a place on a map and packing a suitcase. Most governments are realizing that immigration is often not beneficial to a country. There are far too many people in the world, and most of the blank spaces on the map are not really habitable.


Learning another country's language does not require mental ability, only opportunity (e.g., living there) and determination. Making an effort to learn some of the local language is a good way to make life in a new country more comfortable. Learning a few words of a language, in fact, is one of the principal means of becoming accepted in any society. But obviously the language of the country, or (on the other hand) the likelihood of encountering people who speak one's own language, will have many effects on one's daily life.

Friends and Family

Determined loners may be exceptions, but most people would want to consider the choices or necessities of any family members or close friends. If these people are also willing to move, so much the better. If they cannot or will not move, then one's own choices may be restricted. In any case, it may simply be safer to stay in the old, familiar locality, living next to people one has known for years. Even if they are not perfect, it is at least possible to have an idea of what can be can expected from them, whereas strangers in a distant land may offer too many unpleasant surprises.

Ultimately it may be impossible to give up one's present social network. Homesickness can be truly crippling, although those who have previously led a nomadic life may have developed emotional strengths. The move itself can be painful. Besides the emotional strain of travelling to a distant land, there is the problem of selling most of one's possessions before moving to another country, and then buying replacement possessions upon arrival -- and perhaps giving up two years later and moving back home again. Sometimes a little perseverance can solve or prevent such problems.

Going Native

In poorer countries, attempting to copy the way of life of the natives is not a good idea. For example, it is commonly said that a westerner cannot really live comfortably in Thailand for less than about $10,000 a year, and that's the minimum. Most native workers there, on the other hand, live on about $2,000 a year. What it amounts to is that westerners in Thailand would go mad if they tried to live the arduous life that is lived by most natives. Native life in modern times is really just manual labour at starvation wages. If a foreigner moves to a "tropical paradise" at 60 years of age, then to go native that person would have to start by being dead for the previous 20 years because the native would be dead by age 40.

I would say, also, that if it costs $10,000 to live in Thailand, then I would rather live in a modern western country such as Canada, which would probably cost about $15,000 for the same standard of living, but without the disadvantages. In general I have many doubts about putting on shorts and sandals and moving to tropical paradises. I'm sure there are westerners who find such countries pleasant, but my own preference would be for open spaces and a more-northern climate.

So there really is no simple answer to the question of where to live. We must each weigh all of the factors, but the measurements themselves can become a personal or intuitive matter. We always look for evidence that the best country is the one in which we were born. Thoreau said, "Though all the fates should prove unkind, Leave not your native land behind." My own home, Canada, is not entirely native to me; I didn't choose it until age 16, after living in Germany, the UK, and the US. But after so many years in Canada I will always look for reasons for keeping it as my base of operations. That does not mean it is not a land that can be both geographically and economically trying. Similar paradoxes are true for everyone else in every other country.

We should not lightly dismiss the importance of the emotional ties to our native land, even if we have been "native" to such a land for only a few years. In any case, such ties are not entirely irrational. Our reasons for putting down roots in a particular country may be somewhat accidental, but if we examine ourselves more closely we may find that when we have stopped our youthful wanderings there is a curious match between personality and landscape.

We must nevertheless remember that the reluctance to leave can be fatal. History is filled with stories of people who failed to heed warnings. The usual cry is, "It can't happen here. This is a civilized country."

Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Survive the Coming Collapse

Modern industrial civilization is based on fossil fuels; we have been burning about 30 billion barrels of petroleum every year. Fossil fuels make possible our manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, mining, and electricity. The problem is ''peak oil'': the world’s supply of usable, recoverable oil is on a long and bumpy plateau that will become less horizontal as time goes by. Production will drop to half of the peak amount around 2030. In fact, oil production per person (as opposed to oil production in an absolute sense) declined from 5.5 barrels per year in 1979 to 4.3 barrels in 2013.

Fossil fuels are in decline, but metals are also becoming less plentiful. Electricity will be in decline worldwide because it is produced mainly with fossil fuels. These three -- fossil fuels, metals, and electricity -- are highly interconnected: if one of the three fails, then so do the other two.

Alternative sources of energy will never be very useful, for several reasons, but mainly because of a problem of ''net energy'': the amount of energy output is not sufficiently greater than the amount of energy input. Alternative sources simply don’t have enough ''bang'' to replace 30 billion annual barrels of oil -- or even a small fraction of that amount.

''Peak oil,'' however, basically results in ''peak food.'' Without mechanization, irrigation, and synthetic fertilizer, crop yields will drop considerably.

The following suggestions will vary in their applicability as the years go by, but most of them will remain relevant over the course of this century. The slight bias toward the United States and Canada is partly due to the fact that these areas meet most of the criteria for a suitable post-oil habitat.

1. Preparing for the post-oil world, which is really the post-almost-everything world, is quite different from preparing for the short-term emergencies covered in most survival manuals. The future will not consist merely of "stocking up," waiting for the big moment, and then locking your doors and waiting for "the authorities" to arrive. In fact, you should stop thinking of it as an "emergency" -- after all, your ancestors lived in that same "emergency" for millions of years.

2. The world now has an average of more than 100 people for every square mile of land surface. In foraging (hunting-and-gathering) societies, on the other hand, there is an average of only about 0.1 person per square mile. Since the survivors will be living closer to a "foraging" way of life than to an "industrial" one, it would be better to move to somewhere with a low population density.

3. Those who live in rural areas will be better prepared than those who live in a city. A city is a place that consumes a great deal and produces little, at least in terms of essentials. A city without incoming food or water collapses rapidly, whereas a small community closely tied to the natural environment can adjust more easily to technological and economic troubles.

4. Learn to grow your own food. However, only about 10 percent of the world's land is suitable for crops, and nearly all of that is already being used. Also, the "10 percent" refers to the land when it was virgin soil; since then much of it has been quite depleted. Nevertheless, people have drifted into urban areas to such an extent over the years that many rural areas now have a fair amount of abandoned but arable land.

5. No matter how many books you've read, it takes years of large-scale gardening to become sufficiently skilled that you could safely grow enough food to keep yourself and your family alive through a winter. Learning to raise animals takes even longer. A further restriction is that you'll probably be living on only marginally usable land.

6. Good soil has sufficient humus (organic matter, perhaps from compost or from animal manure), and also adequate amounts of about 16 elements, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium -- naturally occurring or otherwise. Humus will do little to make up for missing elements. (Be leery of "organic gardening" -- much of it is little more than folklore.) There's no practical way to turn sand, rock, or swamp into a garden large enough to feed a family. If you're planning to grow anything, you'll need to find good land.

7. It's possible to live mainly on cultivated plants, but at least half an acre per person would be needed, because the plants need to be spread out to catch whatever water falls from the sky. (''Intensive" gardening is possible only with motorized irrigation to supply sufficient water.) Useful crops would be those high in carbohydrates and protein. Less useful would be those susceptible to diseases, bugs, bad soil, or bad weather.

8. Where farming isn't practical, you might survive on foraging (hunting and gathering), especially in areas of very low human population density. It's generally impossible to live solely on wild plants (in most of the north, blueberries are the only wild plant food worth serious attention), so it would be necessary to hunt, trap, and fish.

9. A gun would be handy until there was no more ammunition. There's no such thing as a perfect gun, so you have to make your own decisions. A .22 is quiet, with very lightweight ammunition; even large animals can be killed with such a gun (although perhaps not legally) if you hit the vital areas. A 12-gauge shotgun will take a variety of ammunition, but it's good only for short distances. Probably most people would do best with a rifle in .308 or .270 caliber. Bolt (and, to some extent, lever) actions are less trouble-prone than either pump or semi-automatic.

10. A possible problem with hunting for game, in post-collapse times, is that there might be too many people doing it. However, the shortage of fuel will cut down the number of motorized vehicles on which modern hunters depend. Also, most people in modern industrial civilization lack the physical stamina to go wading through a swamp all day, looking for a moose. Finally, there are simply not that many people who have the skills for serious hunting.

11. The only heating fuel will be wood. In a cold climate, from 2 to 10 full cords are needed for a winter, depending on many factors. A full cord is 128 cubic feet , which is 4 trees of 12-inch diameter. Two acres of trees will provide 1 cord on a sustainable basis. With a non-motorized saw, conserve your strength by cutting logs less than 6 inches wide -- also, they will not require splitting. The smaller the house, the less wood that will be needed. Rooms that are not needed in winter should be closed off; windows should be covered.

12. Except for a very few people who have the temperament and the skills, living alone will not be practical. "Dunbar's number" of the maximum practical size for a human group is 150, but in reality a tribe takes generations to form, so a rapidly assembled group might be much smaller. For the most part, it is the family -- the ties of blood or marriage -- that serves as the basic unit of any society. Groups of the size of a village are viable because everyone knows everyone, and a smaller community has a greater chance of cohesion and consensus.

Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Survival Gardening: Growing Squash

The simplest way to categorize squash is to divide them into summer and winter types. Summer squash grow quickly, have soft skins, and can be eaten either raw or cooked. Winter squash take months to grow, have hard skins at maturity, and are always cooked before being eaten. However, that division doesn't fit in neatly with their scientific classification into species. There are 4 species of squash, each with many varieties. Cucurbita pepo includes all the summer squash, but it also includes many winter squash. C. maxima and C. moschata are winter squash of various sorts. C. mixta includes cushaws and a few other Asian types, most of them not well known in North America.

Out of those many types, there are only a few that are practical to grow in the United States or Canada. Most of the summer-squash (C. pepo) types are useless because they are bushes rather than vines, so they are not drought-resistant, but Yellow Crookneck and Black Zucchini will do well. There are more good varieties of winter squash. C. maxima includes Buttercup, Hubbard, and Delicious, all of which are drought-resistant. C. pepo winter squash worth growing are Acorn, Spaghetti, and the "true" pumpkin (a lot of so-called pumpkins are a type of C. maxima); these are also drought-resistant, but Acorn squash is not especially good for storing. Of the C. moschata types, the most familiar is Butternut; while it isn't noteworthy for being drought-resistant, it is one of the best squash for storing.

It is usually the flesh of squash that is eaten, but nowadays there are several varieties of pumpkins and other squash that have naked seeds (i.e. seeds without hulls), and these plants are well worth considering as a major source of oil in your diet. In fact, in very early times squash was cultivated more for its seeds than for its flesh.

If you want to grow squash, be sure to start by digging plenty of compost into the soil. Don't do any planting until good weather in late spring or early summer. Then put 3 or 4 seeds in a hole ½ inch (1 cm) deep. Squash take a lot of room, and there should be 4 feet (1.2 m) between holes for bush-type squash, 8 feet (2.5 m) if you're planting vining squash; the vines will eventually fill this area -- and the roots can reach outward and downward by the same amount. Go easy with planting; 3 or 4 plants may be all you need. Contrary to what one may read in some books, it's better not to transplant squashes, because their roots are too easily damaged, although if you have a short growing season you may have little choice. Don't walk near the plants any more than necessary, because loose soil is needed for the roots to expand. Keep the plants watered until they develop a few true leaves, and then thin each group to the one strongest plant (not several). After they've begun to grow, they should need little or no irrigation.

Summer squash can be picked and eaten when they are quite young; the entire fruit is edible, raw or cooked. If you keep picking young fruit, the plants will keep producing more.

Winter squash should always be left on the vine until the first few frosts. The fruit can then be peeled, and the flesh is baked or boiled. By the middle of summer, you should remove any remaining flowers and pinch off the tips of the vines, so that the plants can put their energy into growing the fruits that are already there.

There are not many problems that squash are subject to. If you have to water them, you can avoid powdery mildew by putting the water on the soil, not on the leaves. Two insects you may encounter are squash vine borers and squash bugs. The former are white caterpillars that make holes in stems. Look for these holes and the "sawdust" and use a knife to slit the stems and kill the larvae. The adult is an orange-and-black moth that lays orange eggs under the leaves. Squash bugs are large grayish-brown insects that give off a bad odor when crushed. If you leave old boards on the ground, the bugs can be found under there in the morning and easily killed. The eggs of squash bugs are reddish brown and are laid on the underside of the leaves.

If you're cutting winter squash for storage, you have to be a little more careful. When you cut the fruit off the vine, leave about 4 inches (10 cm) of stem attached to each fruit. Don't carry the fruit by the stems, or you can cause damage to the fruit. Leave the squash in a place that's warm and dry for 1 or 2 weeks. (Acorn squash, however, don't need to be cured.) Don't wash off any dirt you may see. Then put the squash away for the winter in a place that's cool but not cold; squash will rot if it actually freezes. The average root cellar is perhaps too cool; an unheated room in a house would be better. Don't let them touch each other in storage.

Another excellent way to preserve winter squash is to use the old pioneer method: peel and slice it, then hang it up to dry. Although that may seem like a lot of work, you'd have to do most of that work anyway if you were preparing fresh squash for the table.

It's usually winter squash that's put away in storage, but if you're careful you can also preserve summer squash for a few months of fall or winter: let the fruit grow as big as possible, with hardened skins like those of winter squash, and then store them in a cool room.

Getting seeds for next year's crop is quite easy: just remove them from the fruit as you prepare it for cooking. Add some water to the pulp and work it with your fingers for a while, and then spread it out to dry in a thin layer before you pick out the seeds. To get seeds from summer squash, again you'll have to let them grow to maturity. The viability of squash seed is about 3 or 4 years.

If you intend to collect seeds, however, beware of crossbreeding. Which kinds of squash will cross is a complex subject. Don't grow two varieties of the same species within 500 feet (150 m) of each other. But it's even possible for crossbreeding to occur between separate species. To play it safe, grow only one kind of squash at a time.

Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Survival Gardening: Root Crops

Some vegetables are grown mainly for their underground parts, and they are collectively if somewhat vaguely known as ''root crops,'' since most of them are cultivated in roughly the same manner: beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, and so on. Potatoes are also included below, since their cultivation is somewhat similar to that of the previously mentioned vegetables. Most root crops are "light feeders," not taking large amounts of nutrients out of the soil and hence not requiring very good soil at the time of planting. All of these crops, however, require that the land be well dug before planting.

CHENOPODIACEAE / Beets (Beta vulgaris)

Beets do well almost anywhere in North America; they will even thrive in the far north. They are highly nutritious: the roots are rich in potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and iron, and vitamins A, C, and niacin. The leaves are rich in iron and other minerals, as well as vitamins A and C. Good varieties include Early Wonder Tall Top, Detroit Dark Red, Long Season, Winter Keeper, and Cylindra Formanova.

Beets can be planted in either the spring or the fall; if you are growing any type that is meant for winter storage, put the seeds in the ground about 10 weeks before the first fall frost. A beet "seed" is actually a capsule containing about half a dozen seeds. Dig the soil deeply before planting beets (or any other "root" vegetable), and try not to compact the soil by walking on it too much. Plant the capsules ½ inch (1 cm) deep, 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, with rows 1 foot (30 cm) apart.

Gradually thin the seedlings until they are 6 inches (15 cm) apart. Once the seedlings have started to grow, you shouldn't need to irrigate them; Early Wonder Tall Top is especially drought-resistant. Keep the area free of weeds, which should be removed by hand rather than with a hoe; beet roots are easily damaged.

Don't leave beets in the ground too late in the fall, because they're somewhat less tolerant of frost than the other "root" vegetables. Beets have their best flavor when the roots are about 2 or 3 inches (5-7.5 cm) wide, but for winter storage you should leave them in the ground as long as the temperature will allow. When you pull them up, cut off the tops about an inch above the root; too close, and you'll cause the roots to "bleed." The leaves can be boiled, or you can hang them to dry for later use in soups. The roots themselves should be put in a cold root cellar, packed in damp sawdust, moss, leaves, sand, or soil to retain moisture.

The plants you intend to use for seed should also be planted late in the season and pulled up in the fall. Cut the tops off and save them just as you would save them for eating. Plant them again in the spring, but well apart -- about 2 feet (60 cm) by 4 feet (120 cm). As the seeds develop, you might need to tie the plants to stakes, and you may also need to cover the heads with cheesecloth to keep birds off. When the plants mature, cut the plants off at ground level and hang them upside down until they are dry enough for you to strip off the seeds, which will then remain viable for about 3 or 4 years.

BRASSICACEAE / Turnips (Brassica rapa)

Turnips are not an ideal crop if you are trying to garden without irrigation. Nevertheless, they will provide you with a nice root crop in a short time, between 35 and 70 days after planting, depending on the variety: Purple Top and Golden Ball Yellow are good ones to try. Turnips like cold weather, so they can be planted early -- about a month before the last spring frost. Or you can plant them in midsummer, about two months before the first fall frost, and leave them in the ground through several light frosts before harvesting them. Plant them in the same manner as other brassicas. Because turnips are a "root" vegetable, however, the soil should be kept loose.

Turnips are not especially good for storing, but if you're lucky you may be able to keep them for months. When you dig them up, don't remove any of the dirt that clings to them. To keep them in a root cellar, cut off the tops and put the roots in a container with damp sand, moss, or sawdust, at close to freezing temperature. If they are allowed to dry out, they will rapidly shrivel, even more quickly than carrots.

Turnips, however, are easy to dry: just peel them, cut them into slices ½ inch thick and leave them to dry in the shade, turning them occasionally. If you want to cook them later, soak them in water overnight.

Because turnips don't mind the cold, in most areas seed can be produced by covering plants with a mulch and just leaving them through the winter so that they grow again and produce flowers and seeds the next year. When the pods start to turn yellow, cut the stalks, leave them to dry, and then beat and winnow them to get the seeds. Don't try to produce turnip seed if you are also trying to get seed from other forms of B. rapa, such as field mustard.

If you're living in a very cold climate, you may need to produce seed by bringing the roots in for the winter. Store them as explained above, then set them out in the ground early the next spring, with only the tops exposed.

BRASSICACEAE / Rutabagas (Brassica napus)

A rutabaga is a sort of big brother to a turnip, although they are different species. Rutabagas are slower to grow, but larger and more drought-resistant. Two good varieties are Laurentian and American Purple Top.

Rutabagas are even more of a northern crop than turnips. Because rutabagas prefer cold weather, they are usually grown as a fall crop. Sow the seed in the usual manner for brassicas, but about 3 months before the first fall frost. The young plants should be watered, but as they start growing they will need no irrigation.

Rutabagas do not need to be pulled up until they have been through a few frosty nights, after which they should be stored in damp sand, moss, or sawdust. Like turnips, they will shrivel quickly if allowed to dry out. Again like turnips, rutabagas can also be preserved by peeling, slicing, and drying.

Because of their resistance to cold, rutabagas do not need to be stored indoors to produce seed the following year. Just give them a good mulch of whatever materials are available, and they should be able to sprout again in the following spring.

UMBELLIFERAE / Carrots (Daucus carota)

Carrots can be grown almost anywhere, they are resistant to almost anything, they are nutritious, they produce abundantly, and they are easy to store for the winter.

Nearly any area in the United States and Canada is suitable for carrots, as long as the soil is not too shallow and there are not too many rocks. A region with cool, wet weather is best, but once they get going they can last through a long hot summer. Stay away from the types that are most popular nowadays: most people buy seeds for Nantes and other tender, juicy types, but these will fail you as soon as you stop pouring on the water. Instead, plant a more water-efficient type such as Danvers or Royal Chantenay.

Around the date of the last spring frost (or as much as a month earlier, if you like), sow your carrot seeds in loose, well-dug soil, ¼ inch (6 mm) deep, ½ inch (1 cm) apart, in rows 1 foot (30 cm) apart. Carrot seeds take 1 to 3 weeks to germinate, so be patient. As the plants grow, keep them thinned. When they've produced a few real leaves, thin them to 1 inch (2.5 cm). Thin them once or twice more, until the roots are an inch (2.5 cm) thick, and then give them a final thinning so that the plants are about 6 inches (15 cm) apart. If you want carrots to store for the winter, however, you should sow the seed about 100 days before the date of the first fall frost. You can water the seeds to get them sprouting if you like, but carrots really need little or no irrigation from sowing to harvest. Keep the area weeded, but try not to stand near the plants, because the soil should be kept loose if the roots are to develop properly.

Carrots are easily bruised, so pull them up by hand rather than with a spade or fork. The fall crop should be left in the ground until the first frost, although they are not easily damaged by cold weather.

There are not many diseases or insects that bother carrots. If you have trouble, it is more likely to be from various mammals, from rabbits to deer, that do some nibbling.

Storing carrots for the winter is not difficult, as long as they are kept from drying out. The process is practically the same as for beets. Snap off the tops and put a layer of carrots on the bottom of some sort of tub or barrel in your root cellar. (Don't wash the carrots before storage.) It's all right for the carrots to be touching. Add a layer of damp sand, soil, sawdust, moss, or leaves, add another layer of carrots, and so on. In this way the carrots should last the winter.

There are many variations on the way to produce seed. Be sure that there's little or no wild carrot (Queen Anne's lace) growing nearby, because wild and cultivated carrots will crossbreed. If you like, you can just leave your carrots in the ground over the winter, perhaps with a layer of mulch, and then allow them to go to seed the next summer; this method involves the least work, but it does not allow you to spot the plants that are producing inferior roots. A more precise technique is to pull the carrots up in the fall, after the first frost, and save only the best roots. (The others can be stored or eaten.) You then have further choices. If you're not worried about the winter, you can put the good roots back in the ground (again, 1 foot [30 cm] apart, in rows 4 feet [1.2m] apart) with only the tops exposed, and leave them till spring. Or you can store them as if for eating, and then set the good ones back in the ground the following spring. It all depends on the severity of the climate, how much risk you want to take, and how much work you want to do.

Whatever variation you use, you must let the plants grow through the next summer until the seed heads at the tops of the plants have turned brown. Pull up the plants with the roots and stack them to dry for 2 or 3 weeks, until the stalks are quite brittle. Then rub the heads to release the seeds, which will then stay viable for 1 to 3 years.

UMBELLIFERAE / Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa)

If you live in a northern climate and have deep sandy soil, parsnips are an excellent vegetable to consider. They are highly resistant to disease and insects. They keep well in storage. They are not bothered by cold weather; in fact, they need fairly cool weather to grow properly. Parsnips seem to have gone out of fashion, to judge from some of the more recent gardening books, but they are frequently mentioned in the older ones. A good variety is Improved Hollow Crown.

Parsnips have long roots, so they should be grown in loose, deeply dug soil; sand is better than clay, and sand that has had a good deal of compost dug into it is even better. Sow the seeds about a month before the last spring frost, with the same spacing as for carrots: ¼ inch (6 mm) deep, ½ inch (1 cm) apart, in rows 1 foot (30 cm) apart. Again, gradually thin them until they're about 6 inches (15 cm) apart.

However, parsnips take a long time to germinate: it will be anywhere between a week and a month before they are visible. During this time, you may lose track of where you sowed the seed, or you may have that line becoming covered with weeds. In any case, you can still use that land while waiting for the parsnips, by adding seeds of a faster growing vegetable that you can harvest before the parsnips are established.

It will take about 4 months before the roots are really full-sized, so be patient. You can eat a few before that length of time, but if you leave them to grow they can reach a length of 3 or 4 feet (1 m). They taste even better after a frost, you can dig them up during the winter (if the ground thaws temporarily), or they can even be left in the ground until the following spring. Don't pull up parsnips, however; always dig them up, or the roots will get broken. Larger roots have a woody core, but this can easily be separated from the rest of the root after boiling, at which point you can also slit the skin and peel it off.

Parsnips are stored in exactly the same manner as carrots, using some sort of material that will keep them moist through the winter, and the seed is saved like that of carrots. Unfortunately parsnip seed is viable for only about a year, or two years if you're lucky, so be sure to use it quickly.

CONVULVULACEAE / Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas)

Sweet potatoes do best in sandy soil that is not too fertile; highly fertile soil will result in too many leaves and not enough tubers. The plants need about 100 days of warm weather, preferably 150, so they are really a southern crop. Certain types will grow even in Canada, however: Georgia Jet and Carter, for example, if you can avoid frost. Sweet potatoes yield almost as well as "Irish" potatoes, sometimes better, so they serve as a warm-climate equivalent.

Like "Irish" potatoes, sweet potatoes are grown from the previous year's tubers. You need to start about 12 weeks before the last spring frost, or in other words about the middle of winter. The tubers should be half-buried in sandy soil, in a warm location -- in the north, you'll need to keep them in a large pot indoors. Keep the soil moist. Three months later, the triangular leaves will start to appear, and from then on the vines should grow at a reasonable rate. Let them keep growing until you can be almost certain that there will be no more frosty nights. That means late spring or early summer. Then break the vines off from the parent tuber and plant them in the garden, several inches deep and about 2 feet (60 cm) apart in all directions. Water them until they start to grow new leaves. After that, they will put new roots down occasionally, so weeding is not very practical.

In the north, the biggest problem you'll face is cold weather. In the south, a few fungal diseases can affect your harvest. Black rot, for example, causes dark circular depressions on the tubers. (Don't confuse black rot with scurf, which produces harmless dark spots.) To avoid such diseases, choose resistant varieties and practice proper crop rotation.

Leave the plants until they start wilting from the cold weather of fall. On a dry, sunny day, dig up the tubers and leave them in the sun for a few hours. In the south, you could leave them outside for the next two weeks to continue curing. Further north, you have to bring them inside and keep them in the warmest room in the house. At this stage, humidity is important, so you may need to cover them with a damp towel. After that period of curing, they should be packed in sawdust, newspaper, or hay, not touching each other, at a fairly cool temperature but well above freezing, with good ventilation.

Sweet potatoes can also be preserved by drying them. Peel off the skin, cut the tubers into ½-inch (1 cm) slices, and leave them in the sun. Or you can boil them first, so that the skin comes off more easily.

SOLANACEAE / Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum)

In terms of calories, potatoes can produce more food per unit of land than any other crop that is cultivated in the United States or Canada. At least to that extent, they may be a useful "survival food," except in southern regions, where they are replaced by sweet potatoes, a completely unrelated plant. Potatoes do well only if they have a long period of cool weather, either in spring or fall. Red Pontiac is early, Russett Burbank (also called Netted Gem or Idaho Baker) is excellent for storage but will not grow if overcrowded, Kennebec is blight-resistant, Green Mountain and Katahdin are also good as late crops, but there are many other good varieties.

There are mixed opinions about whether you can just buy a bag of potatoes from a supermarket and plant them. I've done it several times and had no problems. But you may find that such potatoes carry diseases, or that they've been treated so they won't sprout. You'd do better to go to a store or vegetable market that has so-called "seed potatoes" -- ordinary potatoes, but disease-free, sold to be planted rather than eaten.

Leave the potatoes until their eyes develop sprouts, but don't let them get more than a fraction of an inch long, or they'll break off as you put the potatoes in the ground. Leave the potatoes whole: there's not much to be gained by cutting them in pieces. Put each potato into a 6-inch (15 cm) hole and cover it. The potatoes should be 12 inches (30 cm) apart in the row, and the rows should be 3 feet (1 m) apart. Like grains and beans, potatoes are very much suited to dry farming; there's no need to irrigate your potato patch. Keep the plants weeded, and use a hoe to pull soil up around the base of the plants from time to time, so that they are encouraged to produce new tubers; most of the potatoes will be less than 6 inches (15 cm) below the surface, and they need to be kept covered.

Although potatoes are a possible "survival food," the one catch is that they're subject to a number of pests and diseases. The worst insect is the Colorado potato beetle, a creature with black and orange stripes. Pick them off when you see them, and drop them into a jar of soapy water. Also keep an eye out for the eggs, which are orange and can be seen on the underside of leaves; pick off these leaves and destroy them. Wire worms and June beetle larvae can also cause problems. Most insect pests can be controlled by proper crop rotation.

A number of fungal diseases attack potatoes, particularly in warm damp weather. The most famous is the one called late blight, which caused the dreadful famine in nineteenth-century Ireland. To avoid such problems, do not grow plants too closely together, and do not touch wet plants. Diseased plants should always be burned, not thrown on a compost heap.

Soil that is overly alkaline is said to cause scab, a very common disease indicated by brown or black spots over the skin of the potatoes. The theory is somewhat doubtful, however, and in any case you can't keep one part of your garden more acidic than another if you're rotating crops. Scab is harmless, in any case, and the edibility of the potatoes is not affected in any way.

Potatoes are nearly ready to harvest when the foliage starts to wither and die. Don't dig up the potatoes immediately, however; let them stay in the ground for another week or so, unless there's a serious danger of frost. Then use a fork to get the potatoes out of the ground, but be gentle with them, because all damaged potatoes have to be eaten right away. Bring them inside and let them dry for another week or so, letting the skins toughen to protect against disease.

When your potatoes are ready for storage, you can keep them in a pit or in a root cellar. A potato pit is a hole dug in the ground about 2 feet (60 cm) below the frost line, if you can estimate such a thing. Put the potatoes in the pit and cover them with a layer of hay and a layer of dirt, and with any luck they'll survive the winter. It is safer to put them in a real root cellar, dark, cool (but not freezing), and well-ventilated. Contrary to popular belief, there is no problem with keeping potatoes and apples in the same root cellar, as long as the ventilation is adequate -- and, in any case, most people with root cellars have little choice. What is most important is that the potatoes not be allowed to freeze, because frozen potatoes immediately become rotten and inedible. If you store them properly, on the other hand, they should last through the winter and even provide you with enough to start the next year's crop.

Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Survival Fishing: 7: Advanced Techniques

A ''rig'' is any assemblage of fish-catching devices at the end of a line, perhaps including such things as hooks, lures, bait, weights, leaders, bobbers, or swivels. A rig might even include short additional lines running off the main line. Some of the more-advanced rigs, or parts thereof, that are worth considering are slip bobbers, Texas and Carolina rigs, the Perfection Loop Knot, and tandem rigs.


To suspend a bait effectively in deep water, you need to use a ''slip'' bobber, also known as a ''sliding'' bobber. ''Fixed'' bobbers (floats), such as the common red-and-white spherical ones, work well when fish are no deeper than the length of your rod. When fishing deeper water, though, casting is difficult because of the long length of line between the bobber and bait. Fixed bobbers are not entirely ''fixed,'' but they are not really designed to be moved up and down the line.

A slip bobber, on the other hand, has a hole running through it from top to bottom, and the line goes through the float itself. Because the bobber slides, it can be reeled up almost to the tip of the rod. As soon as it is cast, though, the bobber floats on the surface while the line slips through until it is stopped by some device that holds the bait at the desired depth.

That device is a bobber stop. This is usually made of a short piece of line, tied with a thick knot of some sort. You can use a knot as simple as the one shown here. Whatever kind of bobber stop you use, it should be placed on the line first. Slide this up or down the line, depending on how deep you think the hook should be.

Slide a small plastic bead onto the line to keep the bobber stop from going inside the bobber. Add the slip bobber. Tie a hook on the end of the line. Add 1 or 2 split-shot sinkers a little above the hook, to help the line to slide through the bobber.

When you cast, the baited hook will pull the line through the bobber until the bobber and bead hit against the bobber stop. When that happens, the hook will stay suspended at the intended depth below the bobber. Later you can adjust the bobber if you want to change the depth at which to fish. The bobber should be vertical at the surface – if not, it means your hook is on the bottom and the line is slack.

Keep your slip bobber close to the boat when you're fishing in deep water. Anchor near the fishing spot and lower the line over the side. This way, you can set the hook with a direct pull. Avoid casting the slip bobber too far from the boat. If the bait then sinks into deep water, the bobber creates a right angle between you and the bait. It's then difficult to set the hook, because you don't have a straight pull.


You can rig plastic worms and similar lures in many ways. The easiest would involve just tying a hook on and using it without a weight. This weightless method works well in shallow water, or when fish are close to the surface.

However, in deeper water, or when fish are close to the bottom, there are 2 other ways of rigging soft plastic baits: the Texas rig and the Carolina rig.


1. Put a slip sinker (in-line bullet sinker), about the same diameter as the worm, on your line, and then tie a hook to the line.

2. Push the point of the hook through the head of the plastic worm for about 1/2 inch.

3. Pull the hook point out through the side of the head of the worm.

4. Keep pulling the hook through the plastic worm and out, until the eye of the hook meets the head of the worm.

5. Turn the hook around so that the point of the hook faces the body of the worm, and bury that point slightly in the worm.

Don't bury the hook too deeply, though, or even parallel to the worm, or it won't catch a fish. The point should be covered, but only enough that it can come back out of the plastic worm readily if a fish strikes.

Move the worm along the bottom a few inches at a time, pausing for a few seconds after each tug. You should be able to pull the worm through heavy cover such as weeds, brush, or logs, because the point is concealed and therefore unlikely to snag.

If you see the line twitching or otherwise moving, point the tip of the rod in the direction of the worm, reel up any slack, and set the hook quickly with a strong sweeping motion.


The Carolina rig is only slightly more complicated than the Texas rig. It makes it possible to fish far down, yet allows the plastic worm to float off the bottom.

1. Put a slip sinker onto the line.

2. Tie a swivel onto the line, using a Trilene Knot (or a Palomar Knot).

3. You might want to add 1 or 2 plastic beads as noise-makers to attract fish.

4. Tie a leader (short piece of line) of 12 to 18 inches to the other end of the swivel.

5. Tie the leader to a hook.

6. Thread the plastic worm on the hook in the same manner used for the Texas rig.


The Perfection Loop Knot is a good one to use for creating dropper lines -- short lines, perhaps 6 or 12 inches long, that are fastened at equal distances along the main line.

1. Make a bight about 1 or 2 inches wide in a short piece of line, crossing under and then over the standing end.

2. Take the end and do the same again, creating a second bight on top of the first.

3. Run the end between the two bights.

4. Pull the second bight through the first bight, moving away from the standing part, and tighten the entire knot.


A tandem rig, as the name suggests, is for fishing with several hooks at once, thereby increasing your chances of catching fish. Using short pieces of line and the Perfection Loop Knot described above, make 2 or 3 dropper lines. Fasten a hook to the other end of each dropper line, using a Palomar Knot or a Trilene Knot.

Now you need to go to your main line to tie what are basically 2 or 3 Palomar Knots (see Section 2, ''Knots'') – what might be called ''sideways'' Palomar Knots, perhaps 12 or more inches apart. Normally with a Palomar Knot you have an end only a few inches long to deal with. But for a tandem rig you will need to use an ''end'' that is much longer, at least 3 feet. In effect you then ''pinch'' sections of the main line in order to create those 2 or 3 Palomar Knots, each of which is used to hold a dropper line. Add a sinker to the very end of the main line.