As I mentioned, when we finished our home and moved in last Christmas, the fields in front of our home were mud and builders’ rubble. Now we have four garden beds in, built only in the last eight weeks, we have planted a number of trees for fruit, nuts and firewood, but have not yet begun building our greenhouse and chicken run.
Having these things does not make a family completely self-sufficient, for there is no such thing, nor would it be desirable. We hope they might allow us to provide for themselves and their neighbours if the economy erodes further, or if petrol becomes more expensive, or if stores run out of goods, or if any one of a hundred crises come to pass at some point in the next few decades.
There are two problems about such projects: first, they cost money and/or time to build, which people are reluctant to give. This garden has taken us two months to build so far, working on weekends and after work, and has cost a few hundred euros. Wood for beds must be bought, beds must be assembled, trees must be bought and planted. Crops must be watered regularly and maintained, and perhaps for an hour or more a day.
The other is that very little of this will yield any goods anytime soon. A planted willow shoot might yield firewood-sized branches in a few years, and every year thereafter – but you still have to wait a few years, and then a few more to dry the wood. You can make kitchen waste into great topsoil, but it takes a year. You can plant asparagus, but it will take two years to come to crop.
This might be the biggest challenge we face as we prepare for the leaner years ahead: not knowledge or will, but infrastructure. The word is usually used to mean highway overpasses and broadband nodes, but beds, tools, sheds, firewood stoves, saplings, paths, coops, hutches, vines and ditches are infrastructure too, and they multiply ten or twenty times the amount of food you can get – but they take an initial outlay of time and effort. But this is the time to start building it, when many of us have money, cars, goods in nearby stores and a way to get them home.
So think of how you can get the most productivity out of every square centimetre of your property, or whatever property you can use. Think of what people might need during years of depression ahead, and start building it now.
Start now because most such tasks are difficult at first and get easier with repetition; our first garden bed took us a whole weekend to build slowly, while the fourth one took an hour. Start now because even the simplest of processes take time – you can start composting vegetable waste tomorrow, but it will be at least a year before you see it turn to earth.
Start now because many of us are unaccustomed to physical labour and must build our strength. Start now even if that garden bed stays empty for the first year, or even if you need practice with those tools, or even if the trees are still saplings. Start now because the more people are doing it, the more normal these actions will become. Start now because we have to take our opportunities when they come.