How to Supply All Your Own Food — Self Reliant Food

With missing items at the grocery store due to recent events, many are desiring to take growing food into their own hands.

Beet greens from the garden

Hunting and fishing are great ways to provide food for your family. Look into what tags or stamps are the best for the money and meat amount. Not minding the taste of the meat is important too. Canada geese can be very inexpensive to hunt — up to several a day can be hunted on a stamp. But some are not a fan of water fowl such as goose or duck meat. If you live near a creek or lake, fishing is a no brainer. Fresh trout is super healthy and delicious with minimal work to prepare them.

Wood Sorrel foraged

Foraging is a great way to stay alive if you have no other options. You can even eat the white inner bark of many trees to feed yourself if times were really dire. Cattails, wood sorrel, wild carrots, wild strawberries, chicory, even stinging nettles are edible. We eat dandelion greens in salads sometimes, cattail pancakes, and plenty of blackberries in the summer. Do not think you can learn about a few plants and you are set. Research poisonous look-a-likes carefully. Go foraging sometime. You will discover it is very hard to get full on foraged foods. It is a great skill to keep you alive. But do not take it for granted. Foraging is a great supplement to gardening.

Strawberries in the garden

Gardening is as close to a guarantee as you can get that your family will have at least some food. I highly recommend crops such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables that will fill you up and give you energy. I have even grown wheat, but that requires a lot of labor (though not nearly as much space as you would think). Look into some more obscure tubers once you have the basics, to diversify. If blight takes out your potatoes, you can still have sunchokes or hopniss. I am hoping to re-establish Duck potatoes to a local creek too as it is a native plant with potato-like tubers. Oca is also something I am experimenting with. Grow primarily what you eat or at least what you are willing to eat. Look into perennials such as kale, chard, strawberries, fruit trees, asparagus, or artichoke in addition to those tubers we mentioned before. Zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce can be very productive for the space as well and a joy to eat.

A Chicken egg in the coop

Livestock and gardening go great together too. Many homesteaders raise their own meat or dairy by chickens, pigs, sheep, cattle, or turkeys. Maybe start with raising some chickens and give them your extra produce. They will convert it to eggs. From there you can decide how much you like raising animals and how much time and resources you can commit to them. Having our own dairy cow is very tempting but a big time commitment. Maybe someday, but for now, I hope to find a small, local dairy I can buy a share with.

Do what you can to provide the basic necessities for your family. But try not to live in constant fear. Anxiety can kill you plenty fast in itself. Be thankful for what you have and a life so far not having to worry about starvation. We will all pull through these harder times.

Why not remove reliance upon grocery stores as a hobby and cut your food bill at the same time?

Chicory Lattes — A coffee substitute from lawn to cup

You may have a coffee substitute growing in your yard already. We already wrote about Cleavers, a more time consuming plant to harvest from but a relative of coffee.

Chicory is in the dandelion family and its root is roasted and used like coffee.

Historically whenever coffee gets scarce or expensive, chicory is a popular alternative. This dates back hundreds of years to France.

In the summer, you will recognize chicory by its blue or purple flowers. The greens are indistinguishable from dandelion greens to me and taste similar. The roots are East to break like carrots, so take care when digging them up to not break too much off. I had so much chicory growing in my lawn, I have not even scratched the surface of my supply with a week or two’s worth of drinks.

Once you dig them up, wash them thoroughly with a scrub brush. Them cut them into 1” long chunks. Any slimy or rotten looking ones you can toss.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread out the pieces on a cookie sheet. Place in the oven for an hour and a half. You can check every fifteen minutes towards the end to make sure they do not get burnt. The white center on the pieces should darken a bit. Waiting until it is somewhat golden brown is ideal. Remove them from the oven and let them cool until you can pick them up just fine. As they are without much moisture content, this is faster than you would think.

Chicory cuttings after cooking

Grab a handful or two and grind them in your blender until they match the consistency of your ideal coffee grounds. Since we make espresso, this was pretty fine. I did sift out the larger chunks to keep it extra fine.

Brew however you normally do coffee. You can also mix it with actual coffee to complement the flavor of coffee.

Ground chicory in an espresso portafilter

Chicory tastes more nutty than coffee. We made chicory lattes and they tasted more similar to coffee than we expected. You can tell the difference, but with flavoring, you might not notice much. In some parts of the world such as India, they regularly use chicory coffee blends. Experiment with blending it with coffee or as a substitute and see which you prefer.

Since chicory does not have caffeine, it should not affect your sleep. There are also many health benefits to chicory you can read about. One note is it is not recommended for pregnant women.

Chicory double shot espresso

It is neat knowing that even if coffee gets scarce or too expensive, we can make a decent substitute of our favorite beverage.

Double shot Chicory Latte

Cleavers — a Coffee Plant Relative Probably Growing Near You

You probably have this weed growing in your raised bed or around your yard. We even have it growing in our gravel driveway. But did you know that cleavers (aka goose grass our Velcro plant) is related to the coffee tree? You can even make a coffee substitute with their “fruit.”

Let them grow to be around a foot tall and they will put on tiny seeds with burrs on them. Collecting these seeds is time consuming. I would recommend gathering handfuls of them then pulling them through your fist over newspaper to catch the seeds rather than picking each one by hand.

Look for the spooky seeds on this matures and now dead plant

Once gathered, roast them very shortly in an open pan on your cook stove without burning them then run them in your coffee grinder or food processor. It should smell somewhat like coffee. Make your home grown coffee and enjoy. Some have said it is mild, so ideally make it strong by adding extra cleavers grounds if you have enough or use a coffee percolator running it a while or French press and let it sit longer than usual to get all the flavor you can.

A bag of seeds for making cleaver coffee

I have not gathered enough to brew a drink yet, but I plan to late this summer once my new patch goes to seed. Wish me luck. 😁

Growing and Harvesting Blackberries

Every summer we look forward to the juicy purple-black fruit. Before we bought our homestead, we missed picking and eating fresh blackberries. We even tried purchasing them at a grocery store which was a mistake. The berries hardly tasted at all and were rather expensive. Now that we have our homestead, I have left a row of blackberries specifically for picking.

I have then growing along our road. I have no spray signs and maintain them myself. With the little traffic we get, vehicle exhaust pollution is not too worrisome. My first year here, I tried to get rid of half of them. But they were back just several weeks later. We ended up using so many blackberries I decided to let them grow instead of eradicating them by other means. Blackberries also work well as a security perimeter fence. No one sane will wander into a property through ten feet of blackberry vines. Even animals like deer or elk prefer easier paths.

Blackberry vines do not usually need irrigation, but if you do water them, berries will be larger and juicier.

Ideally you have a few paths that you cut in to have access to more berries. A machete is about the easiest tool for this.

Trellising the bushes provide the most berries and control of them, but you have to stay on top of them or they will take over with long vines and shoots being sent up from roots many feet away.

Once ready to pick, bring a bowl and clothes that do not matter being stained. You may also want long sleeves to avoid getting scratched up by the thorns. If you want a lot of berries, you can even bring a ladder and lean it up against your bushes to reach even more berries.

The best berries are easy to pick off the bush but not shriveled from being overripe. If you like some tart berries as well, pick some black ones that are still hard when lightly pinched and harder to pull off the vine.

Freeze any extra berries for tasty pies year round.

For fresh eating, add some whipped cream and the berries in a bowl and enjoy!

Wild Thimbleberries (Some Think They’re Tastier than Raspberries)

The last thimbleberry of the patch

Raspberries have a cousin that tastes similar but is more potent in flavor: Thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus). Some say these berries are more raspberry than raspberries. They also do not need a trellis and have no thorns!

Thimbleberry blossom

Thimbleberries look similar to Maple tree seedlings but with softer and thinner leaves. Their berries look like a short and wide raspberry. Unlike raspberries, their thornless canes do not need support as they stay upright and can grow up to eight feet tall. Like raspberries and blackberries, their roots send up shoots that propagate themselves. Having tried their berries and enjoyed the taste, I decided to keep my eyes out for them in the woods to transplant a few into my food forest.

After locating a good size patch while on a walk through our property, I came back with a shovel and 5 gallon bucket to dig them up. This was while they were still dormant for the winter, so I had to guess that this was the same patch I had seen the previous summer. I picked around a dozen plants (leaving plenty for wildlife). They had roots that were intertwined as they were likely all propagations of just a couple plants in the patch. I planted them in a row on the edge of my food forest for easy picking. It is convenient to not have to trellis them, but I will still have to contain them from taking over the food forest as they get established and send up new shoots. Thimbleberries do not seem to be as tough as blackberries – more like your red raspberries as transplanting them was maybe only 50% successful. Part of this is I did not dig very deep into the dirt, thinking they would be tough. Months later, they still had not come out of dormancy. Visiting the source patch showed that the other thimbleberries had put on leaves from the old canes, so I assumed I had no success. After another several weeks, I noticed the thimbleberries sending up new shoots rather than leaves on the old canes.

I now have around 6 thimbleberries putting on canes! I may have to wait another year before a decent harvest, but now I have thimbleberries in my own food forest. Shortly after discovering this, I found a patch much closer to the house than the source patch that is even putting on berries. Thus we should have plenty of thimbleberries from now on. Having them in the food forest is also helpful for knowing when to visit the bigger patches.

Thimbleberries put on the most berries in full sun, but the source patch was in nearly full shade and seemed to be doing fine. I planted mine in my full sun food forest. No need to worry about thorns when harvesting.

The berries themselves are similar in texture to raspberries except softer and juicy. Some can be seedy, but the seeds are very small like a fig. Apparently they only last a matter of hours, so ideally you eat them right from the patch or for a snack shortly after. This is why you will not find them in grocery stores. They melt in your mouth.

Large thimbleberry patch in the shade

Wanting to grow these but do not have access to a wild patch to transplant from? Run a search for thimbleberry plants and seeds, and you should find some sources such as this one (not an affiliate link, just one I found). Make sure the latin name is Rubus parviflorus. Follow the instructions and enjoy!

Wild Strawberries

An abundance of tasty small berries

One of my favorite parts of early summer is snacking on wild strawberries each day on various parts of our property. These strawberries are tiny but more flavorful than even fresh garden strawberries. They are typically only the size of a green pea. They produce berries for a few weeks right up until my blackberries start producing yet after my honey berries.

Wild strawberry plants look just like garden strawberry plants. The leaves may be smaller, but I have seen them grow big and even tall.

Some of the first wild strawberries of the season

Our garden strawberry is actually a hybrid between these small strawberries and a large white, chilean strawberry variety that has little flavor. Thus garden strawberries are much larger than the wild variety but more flavorful than the chilean ones. But before this variety was grown, alpine strawberries were all the rage. Our ancestors selectively bred these strawberries to be a little bigger than the wild variety but just as flavorful since it is not cross pollinated with the chilean white variety. You can find alpine strawberry seeds from many seed companies if you wish to give them a try.

Fresh wild strawberries from our property

But if you have access to wild strawberries, they are a great treat that are pretty hardy. I do not water or weed these strawberries and yet harvest from them year after year. My dog has even figured out these are tasty and sometimes beats me to some of them. I have to give him a ball to chase before picking some days.

May you have best of success foraging!

Chinquapin Seeds — Wild Mini Chestnuts

Chinquapin Burrs

I have seen chinquapin seeds since my early childhood. These pesky burrs often stuck to our long haired dog and would ruin a good barefoot walk. Little did I know that inside was a tasty snack.

Chinquapin Seeds within their shell and burr

Chinquapins are in the chestnut family. Chinquapin seeds are much smaller than chestnuts though.

The hardest part is not getting to the seeds, it is beating squirrels and worms to them. I have found mid to late fall is the time to forage them. 

Look for tan colored burrs. I have read just when they turn from green to tan colored is when they are ready to eat.

You can use your bare hands like I did to get at the seeds (less painful after the seeds have been rained upon), or you can roll them with the bottom of your shoe against a rock or concrete floor. There are several compartments for seeds in each burr. Do not bother with the tiny ones smaller than your pinky nail as they are not worth your time unless you are very hungry.

Chinquapin Seeds Ready to Eat

Once you get the nuts our of the burrs, now it is time to crack them open. Look for any holes from worms. You can use a nutcracker for this part as long as it can crack nuts this small. Otherwise, you may have to resort to cracking them with a blunt metal object such as a hammer or a couple rocks. If when you open them they look dark brown inside, that means worms got to them first. You want the white seed inside a paper-like skin.

Get yourself a handful and eat them raw. If you prefer, you can also roast them, but even raw they are tasty. You can harvest these along with madrone berries every fall.