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How to Feed Yourself like a Pirate

After the terrible tomato crop of last year, I had a pretty tough winter. I was mostly anticipating it because I chose to put more time and effort into the vineyard, and a bit less into the vegetables.

Big learning here. Don't do this.

I have definitely been expanding way too fast. Or, as fast as I possibly can. Or, just the right speed, because if you don't carry on with a bit of a sense of urgency, then you are probably making an awful mistake. But, which ever way you spin it, I was a bit close to the edge in terms of enough food to eat. I was definitely way beyond the edge in the scope of having enough interesting food to eat.

The learning is not "grow enough stuff, grow enough interest", it's way more profound. And probably obvious, but I have actually never seen a book on self sufficiency which addresses the question of "how much of everything do I need". So, I'll do that in my book. Just as soon as I get a publisher. Which, no doubt, will happen right after I write a pitch.

I'll write a pitch first.

So here we go. What are the basic requirements of a self sufficient food crop?.

I'll have to drag it out to a few chapters, and some better pictures for the book, but in essence you must have (if you are me)

The essentials

  • 50 large jars of jam

  • 10kg oats

  • 120 large jars of tomato sauces

  • 180kg potatoes

  • 10 kg dried legumes

Anything else you have, you are going to be grateful for, but you cannot live off them. They should be seen as "essential non-essentials" - the niceys. The aim should be to produce as many of them, in as great a variety as possible, but not a single jar at the expense of achieving 100% of the essentials list.


Pickles - onions, cucumbers, cauliflower, (red!) cabbage, carrots, peppers bell and hot.

Dried stuff - tomatoes, apple rings, sultanas, mushrooms and herbs.

Syrups, pickles, chutneys. Jellies and juices, fruit cheeses and salted beans.

Country wines, beers and ciders

Sugar, cooking oil,

The niceys list ends only with your imagination, and what your garden and climate allow. My advice to myself, the thing I learned the really hard way this year, was that you should totally let your garden go crazy with exciting and exotic ideas and experiment with new trends and flights of fancy, but a winter without tomatoes is a shit winter.

50 large jars of jam

10 kg Oats

By "large", I mean 750ml. That seems to be a pretty standard sized large jar around here. This, with oats is the simplest, most effective and easiest to grow breakfast you can get. Obviously, we're hoping to augment it with dried fruits and candied ginger and dessicated mangoes from the niceys list, but if you have clean water, plenty of oats and jam, and some way of heating it up in the morning, you're mornings are going to be ok.

If you think you absolutely can't deal with the same breakfast every day for a year, then make sure you have a lot of different fruits! I certainly did have this year, an all of a sudden, the extremely disporportionate amount of time and effort I put into fruit trees and bushes at the very start suddenly makes sense.

Even in a bad year, I will make my 50 jams easily. And most of them will not be strawberry. So that's even better

120 large jars of tomato sauces

Because sunshine!

Tomatoes are the absolute definition of stored sunshine. They soak it all up, and release it in their smell and colour and deliciousness when you open a jar of ragu (letscho) many months after making it.

The problem is, even the best sauce tomatoes lose about half of their volume in the cooking. It probably doesn't need saying, but you should be growing enough sauce tomatoes to fill up all those jars - the cherries and beefsteaks and yellow bushy ones all belong in the niceys column. Your self sufficient tomato types are exclusively plum tomatoes.

But this is a great opportunity to go crazy with the sauces - make Mexican and Indian sauces as well as Italian ones. Capsicums retain just about all of their volume when you cook them, and you will have so many courgettes and aubergines in the summer that you will be glad to make tomato sauces of at least 50% courgette goodness. Make tomato sauces featuring chillis and sweetcorn and marrow and carrots and onions. But not beans. Jars of baked beans sound like a great idea, but they are better made when you want them. Use up some of your saved tomatoes and dried beans and make a week's supply in the middle of winter. It's a lot better that way, I promise.

120 jars should me more than enough for the whole winter but as you really don't want to run out and just eat plain potatoes for a month (you don't), I would always recommend an overshoot.

180kg potatoes

Quite simply the most important.

Calories, vitamins, protein. And all you have to do is dig them up, let them dry in the sun, shake off the worse of the dirt, and put them in the cellar.

I go and get a week's supply from my stores every Sunday. I call it "shopping", and they come up to my kitchen and sometimes I'll boil half or more of them straight away and have boiled potatoes with sauces and beans all week, or I might spread the cooking out over the week. You definitely don't want to pre-bake them. They go pretty tough and inedible pretty quickly!

10 kg dried legumes

If you have a load of onions and mushrooms and interesting things from the nicey list in your stores, then the winter will almost certainly see you eating a lot of one-pot cooking. Stews and casseroles and braised mixed things. No matter what you are making, you can always chuck in a handful of dried beans for a great deal of satisfaction.

And, yanno, protein


Of course, your own requirements will change, and some things that I call nice to have, you will call essential. But my big learning from last year is to grow everything, but take extra care of the basics. Be super careful not to allow that special thing you like to have get in the way of actually surviving the winter. And spring. There's nothing much fresh to eat coming off the garden until well into the summer and your autumn harvest needs to last a good 8 or 9 months.

My six crop rotation helps a lot with this. In this blog post, I look at how the traditional 4-bed rotation doesn't really cater for the completely self sufficient year, and suggest an alternative.

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Aug 08, 2022

The world would be a lot poorer without the humble potato.

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