I have been falling asleep by 8:30PM after working in the garden, taking care of the kids, and trying to transition a small business to remote interactions. To keep myself motivated, I have been reading about the American agribusiness food chain which may be surprisingly vulnerable to disruption by COVID-19. This is a solution-oriented post, but the virus has revealed to many people key vulnerabilities in our food supply system from globalized supply chains on chemical inputs, a complex logistics pipeline to carry food around the world, , and a system that depends on below subsistence wages that is threatened by restrictions on migrant laborers . As panic shoppers are discovering, these cost-saving measures combined with just-in-time supply result in a long tenuous network to bring food to your table. It's chic to scoff at the unwashed folks buying up food and toilet paper, but this fear reflects a very basic biological instinct for food security.
Instead of trusting in this globalized web, many people have diversified their food security by learning skills and systems to sustainably raise a large proportion of their nutritional needs. If store runs have gotten you interested, I would advise starting small. More than the actual yield, the knowledge you learn harvesting your own food will be applicable to many different situations.
An easy food source
We started our sweet potato slips today as our homeschool science lesson. Besides being a versatile staple in our kitchen, sweet potatoes are a powerful and efficient source of macro- and micronutritients .
During my last run to the grocery store, I bought some organic sweet potatoes. I've tried conventional in the past but they are very slow to grow slips due to some sort of topical agent that is applied. We put a bamboo skewer or toothpicks in the side and suspend each sweet potato on the rim of a washed out food container. Place in a very sunny location at least 8 weeks before you want to plant. Change the water frequently. You can also grow a lot more slips by doing it like the commercial guys as recently featuredby @sustainablyyours
slips of hope
Over a few weeks, green shoots will start to grow off the sweet potato. These are called slips. After they are 6 inches or greater I pluck them off at the base and replant in a small container with potting soil. I let them grow roots for a couple weeks and then harden them off by placing them outside for consecutively longer periods. Once they are able to sustain being outside for day and night, we plant them in mounds. Mulching with straw or leaves will definitely improve survival.
You can grow sweet potatoes even on a balcony by using a few tires stacked on each other filled with potting soil. Don't baby sweet potatoes with regular, careful watering. You'll get the prettiest vines but tiny roots. Let them dry out and then aggressively water and then let them go a couple days in the heat. The stress causes root growth as the plant wants to increase the depth of its roots to improve hydration. I wait until the vines look terrible before harvesting.