The Revolution circa 2010

Whether you’re a neighborhood secessionist masquerading as a home gardener—or the reverse—it’s likely you’ve started this year’s troop review.  Three cheers to the Revolution!
This year we have a new recruit, an eight-foot bed made this weekend that is slowly transforming the kids’ playground to dual use.  This fall some pole beans will be growing up the trellis, but on advice for summer I’ve planted patio tomatoes and a few eggplant. 
On the other side of swing set, the pole beans planted in spring are up and producing well.
Across the yard: tomatoes, oregano, hot and sweet peppers and some basil.
And in the back with the compost bins and shade cloth, French sorrel, cilantro and parsley.
Revolutionary Manifesto: Try the new Wendell Berry essay collection, “Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food,” with introduction by Micheal Pollan.

Revolutionary Update

The latest monthly garden report reveals troop-strength at historical summer lows.

The legions of tomatoes, once proudly at attention, are now “at ease” and nearly falling out of formation. In fact, two recently went AWOL.

The sunflower looks to have enjoyed a little too much R&R.

And the beans are just plain going to seed.

But there is hope yet for the Rebellion. A few new recruits were drafted by my uncle during a trip home a couple weeks ago. I’ve given these bush beans the barracks formerly occupied by the lettuce, none of which survived the last solar assault.

And though the tomato plants have seen their finest hour, they have a few surprises left. We ought to have enough for a few salads yet.


I speculated recently that if Americans provided just 10% of their own food via gardening and hunting, Monsanto would have a cow. I wondered further: Could any elected official propose such an alarming change in the national status quo? More importantly, Could the average American even pull it off?

Ten percent. Every day. Michael Pollan spent a year and wrote a whole book about making just one meal on his own. It seems unlikely any more casual effort would do the trick.

Yet, of course, millions of Americans routinely fed themselves almost entirely from their own gardens, barns, pastures and woodlots up until about the middle of the last century. Obviously it can be done.

Henry challenged us to try to calculate what a 10% self-sufficient garden or game larder would look like. There are probably 100 or more ways to calculate this, and mine can’t be the best. I know some wise-cracker will leave a URL in the comments that has it all tallied up. But for a few minutes’ scratching with a pencil, here are my thoughts:

First, what we grow in the yard: Beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, strawberries, and blackberries.

What game we commonly eat: Rabbit, dove (also quail and rail), squirrel and deer.

How much of each? A quick count. We have:

  • 40 bean plants
  • 8 tomato plants
  • 40 lettuce plants
  • 2 pepper plants
  • 1 blackberry bush
  • 3 strawberry plants
  • (plus herbs, not counted)

My hawk hunts mostly small birds and rats he eats by himself on the spot. We are not usually hunting “for the pot.” But he does get about 30 rabbits a season and maybe 20 table-ready birds, all of which we eat. Rina catches or I scavenge (don’t tell) about 5 squirrels for gumbo each season; and we have all the deer products (stew meat, sausage, etc) we want from friends. Even so, we don’t eat as much of it as we could.

You need, say, 2000 calories a day. A nice round figure, pun intended.

10% of that is 200 calories, call it the Revolutionary Threshold. We can extrapolate that to 6000 calories a month per patriotic American male.

How much home-grown or self-killed food do you have to eat in a month to join the Revolution?

Here it gets real fuzzy. I found a few sites online that provide rough calculations of caloric value for fruits and veggies. My wife, who does some nutritional counseling in her work in athletics, has a nice computer program that lists same for game meats.

I just now ran around the yard counting fruits and plants and weighing cherry tomatoes, etc., on the hawk’s gram scale. Super-duper fuzzy now. But here we go.

  • 100g beans (20 beans) = 25 cal.
  • 100g cherry tomatoes (5 ch.tom.) = 17 cal.
  • 100 grams lettuce (20 leaves) = 13 cal.
  • 100 grams peppers (2 peppers) = 18 cal.
  • 100 grams blackberries (20 berries) = 20 cal.
  • 100 grams strawberries (10 berries) = 70 cal.

So right there you can start your engines. You could, for example, eat 200 blackberries a day and call yourself a Revolutionary Hero.

But say that’s not practical. Say it’s more berry than you’d care to eat. And since my single bush probably makes only 300 berries in an entire season (which only lasts a couple months), you see it’s not even possible with berries alone.

And to calculate how much garden I’d need to provide 1 person 200 calories a day, I have to know how much garden I have. Back to the plants:

  • 40 bean plants X 20 beans per month = 800 beans = 1000 calories a month
  • 8 cherry tomato plants X 100 tomatoes per month = 800 tomatoes = 2,720 calories p/m
  • 40 lettuce plants X 40 leaves per month = 1600 leaves = 1040 calories p/m
  • 2 pepper plants X 2 peppers per month = 4 peppers = 36 calories p/m (WOW)
  • 1 blackberry bush = 300 berries per season = 300 calories
  • I won’t go into strawberries; mine sucked wind this year.

Our Revolutionary Hero would need 6000 calories of veggies per month. I’m making (by the above super-fuzzy mathematics) a little over 5000 calories. Another bean bed would put me in the running.

But what about my wife and kids? Count Revolutionary Wife at 4,500 calories per month (10% her normal ration), and Revolutionary Drummer Girls at 5,000 per month combined, and that will require a garden about three and half times the size of our current one.

Doable, but not actually being done.

But hey! We haven’t even killed anything yet!

Meat may be murder, but it’s also chock full o’calories. If you round the already-pretty-close caloric values of those above-mentioned lean game meats, you get about 130 calories per each 100 gram serving. If you eat a supper of those 3.5 ounces of game, a side of 20 beans, a salad of 20 lettuce leaves and 5 tomatoes, and you top it off with a handful of berries, you’ve got your 10% daily intake right there. Welcome to the Revolution!

If it wasn’t nearing my bedtime, I’d break down our rabbit-to-deer ratio for those who’ve read me this far. But it isn’t necessary. I think it’s clear that if you combine game meat (1 deer a season, a few good rabbit and dove hunts), with an active garden on a normal-sized suburban lot, you can provide 10% of your caloric needs without ever stepping foot in Whole Foods Market or bowing at the foot of Monsanto. If you fish, you’re in like Flinn. And if you brew your own beer, brother, you’ve got it made!

News from The Front

The situation on the ground since my last Revolutionary Update is good. The troops are flourishing, even as the local heat and dry spell continue. Pictures to follow.

But first, I’m pleased to forward this Revolutionary Report from our friends The Barrows, who are furthering their plan for financial independence by putting in their first garden. Begins Garden Sergeant Major Soo:

“After days of digging and forty bags of compost and garden soil from Home Depot, we found ourselves with 240 square feet of lumps of clay. I reassured Gregg that in time, with plenty of compost, these lumps would somehow change into the rich, dark, crumbly, loam shown in all of my gardening books. I don’t think I convinced either of us.”

What Soo and Gregg have accomplished after that uncertain start is amazing. See for yourself!

Henry Chappell also writes in with news and pictures of the war effort in his neck of the woods, and this well-deserved raspberry at Big Ag.

Back at Camp Mullenix, the battalion stands at parade rest.

The tomatoes have nearly reached the top of their 10-foot high poles and are full of fruit.

The lettuce still looks nice but is decidedly delicate now in this heat. And I think the taste of the leaves has suffered some. An interesting and ongoing experiment in summer greens.

Here the blackberries peek through the weathering yard fence. They are small and tart but the girls still like to sprinkle them on their morning cereal.

Both the pole beans and the bush beans are now producing. These have been a big hit with the kids. Speaking of beanpoles, the sunflower is almost as tall as B.

And note Rina to right, standing guard against rogue squirrels.

And here’s what a day’s harvest can bring….

I bring these updates to you mostly out of pride, but also as evidence of what good (what Resistance!) may be possible, even in the suburbs. None of us is a farmer; we all have jobs and families and other hobbies to distract us. And yet there is space and time enough to grow a little something to eat and a little bit farther from our tragic economy.

Revolution in the Subtropics

Is there something about the heat that stirs rebellion? We’ve hit 90 for the past couple days and the Revolutionary Garden is feeling it.

The tomatoes love it.

The beans love it.

But the lettuce just about died on me in a day. So after weighing my options, I tacked up some spare shade cloth.

The plants responded almost instantly. Perky again. And delicious.

Don’t know how long I can keep the troops’ morale high in this heat…

A Gardener is Born

My friend Tyler, one of our neighborhood growers, is an Iraq war vet and all-around man’s man who finds some amusement in his new passion for gardening. He emailed this post and gave me permission to share it… Go Big T!


It comes as a surprise to me the amount of pleasure I am getting from recently starting a vegetable garden in my back yard. Never did I think this could be fun, interesting or productive. Never did I think of myself as a gardener. I am a war veteran, a 30-something, a dad; surely not a gardener.

Matt has shared his own harvested tomatoes the last couple of years and it did not register in me how neat that really was. Well, it is neat. There is no explanation what suddenly triggered my interest, but the fire has been ignited.

Perhaps because I have lived in the city my whole life (except for the stint in Iraq) and never knew gardeners nor farmers when I was growing up. Fruits and vegetables were items you bought at the store, not something grown. I like to think of myself as a country boy trapped in an urbanite’s body. Being a soldier, hunter and fisherman, I have never minded being outdoors and getting my hands dirty. I fancy myself as a man of action and growing vegetables couldn’t help that image.

Well, on second thought…….maybe being a dad has realigned my thinking. The most important things I can do for my children is give them security, love and to provide for them. I dream daily about my 4-year-old twins walking out back to the garden and picking their own eggplant, tomatoes and squash. Cooking fresh, home-grown vegetables for my children has put my glory days in humvees way behind me.

However, being a military man, I was compelled to conduct a threat analysis to my vegetable garden. To start, I have noticed more birds in my immediate vicinity. Two mockingbirds have taken up shop in the cypress tree that overlooks my garden. They are such bullies and I have my eyes on them! Then there is my neighbor’s cat. I half expect to come out one morning and see the soil scratched up and plants knocked over. However, maybe the cat will cancel out the birds. Or vice versa?

I know there are other vertebrate threats out there, but it is the invertebrates who ‘bug’ me. A couple of leaves have been hacked off. Some perfect circles are missing from the leaves. There are, perhaps, a dozen different bugs I need to really worry about. I just don’t know yet how to fight them off. I will have a plan. The biggest threat to date appears to come from my youngest son. Just yesterday, he lost his balance and sat down right on top a few of my bean sprouts. I had to pull the two he crushed and the one imprinted with the word ‘Pampers.’

In the meantime, I have strawberries! A butternut squash is showing. The roma tomatoes are growing. Banana peppers and my purple cherokees are flowering nicely. Did I mention that I have strawberries?


Neighborhood Secession

“…Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize and make their own so much of the territory as they inhabit.”

-Abraham Lincoln

A recent 2Blowhards post wondering whether secession will become one of this year’s political themes got me thinking: How hard could it be?

As usual, the comments on that post were many, diverse, verbose and interesting. I had to chime in with my Wendell Berry inspired take on the concept of economic secession: It should be easy, in principle, to “secede” from significant government and corporate oversight just by refusing to buy in.

“…Much of our supposed oppression is self-imposed. We buy too much and make or grow too little. We drive too often and walk or bike too seldom. We borrow too much and save too little. We spend too much money on cures and not enough thought or effort on prevention. We watch too much TV and read too few books. We add needless cost to our lives by our government-supported over-acquisitiveness…”By taking care of our own business and our own spouses, families, jobs, cupboards and neighbors, we essentially opt-out of most of what’s ailing us.”

Of course we have to then pick up these responsibilities and carry them ourselves, and that’s not easy. Nor would it be easy to secede in the wholesale libertarian sense of circling the wagons and raising a new flag. As everyone’s rotating crop of politicians suggests, the governance of a state-level entity is extremely difficult—or surely must be, considering how badly we do it. One shudders at the possibility our political system is already the best around.

So maybe raising a flag and drawing the borders of your new country is the wrong approach. (Although maybe Texas could pull it off.)

I’m more inclined to hide my plan in plain sight: the Neighborhood Secessionist Movement.

The tenets of the movement are simple. First: Find some neighbors and share your stuff with them. Decide what goods and entertainments you can provide for yourselves and for each other (with minimal commercial input from outside the neighborhood), and then do some of that. Do more as you get better at it.

The Neighborhood Secessionist Movement as practiced on my street is not motivated by High Principle of any kind; neither altruism, nor patriotism, collectivism, religious charity nor militant Idaho stovepipism. It runs on good humor, good eats, elementary school children, and shared free time and red wine.

In a post below, Steve mentions H.R. 875 (Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009), which may or may not infringe on the food sovereignty of Louisiana citizens. (I think people’s kitchens may be exempt from registering as Food Establishments, but it’s hard to say for sure. Looks like local deer processors and CSAs probably should be concerned.)

Assuming we will still be able to hunt, raise, grow, cook and share our own food without being subject to federal penalties, I think these good things ought to be encouraged. And in lieu of higher profile sources of encouragement, allow me to encourage you all with the following snapshots of this summer’s Neighborhood Secessionists’ Gross Domestic Product.

Matt’s expanded beds: tomatoes, leaf lettuce, peppers, herbs, wild blackberries.

Tyler’s new mixed veggie plot:

Monique’s new tomatoes:

Tonya’s new veggie garden and sanctuary:

Eat well, Revolutionaries!