As the coronavirus continues to spread quickly around the world, secondary problems will occur and become more severe as the infection rate increases. We have talked a lot about short term preparations such as getting 6 weeks of food and water on hand and building a good med kit, but those are just stop gap measures. This is not a snow storm. You can't just stock up and ride it out. At best, we will be dealing with waves of outbreaks until a vaccine becomes widely available. The absolute earliest that could be is 18 months from now. Only then can we begin to get back to normal and that will take up to several years based on the damage done to our systems.
Many are already making the mistake of thinking this is a short term problem, but that is not how viruses work. As the infection rate sky rockets more and more people who are a part of our food supply chain will get sick. It's simply a numbers game to predict this. Food shortages are already being felt in some areas not just due to excessive buying, but also due to people becoming sick or too afraid to go to work. Those advocating an end to the lockdowns in favor of "protecting the economy" seem to be unable to grasp the simple and obvious outcome. If too many people get sick, food production will grind to a halt. The result will be many desperate people willing to do anything to feed their families. THIS must be avoided at all costs. THIS is what will make the difference between a hard few years followed by recovery, and total collapse of society.
One of the things we can do is take pressure off the food supply chain over the next couple of years. Coronavirus has revealed weaknesses in our system and only a fool would chose not to fix them while we have the chance. Many realize now that it wasn't just a bad idea to move manufacturing outside of one's country, but it was a mistake to move almost ALL food production out of our communities and onto factory farms at the end of a long and complex supply chain.
It is not nessacary for you to grow or raise absolutely everything you eat, (though if you have the time and space, by all means go for it!) but by reducing the amount you need to buy, and putting food into your local community, you create a buffer that gives the system time to reset and recover.
What you will need:
Heirloom raspberry seeds
3% hydrogen peroxide solution (you can buy 3% solution easily but if you have to get 35%, here is a guide on how to dilute it to 3%. if you have a different starting solution simply Google "how to dilute x% of hydrogen peroxide to 3%)
Distilled, or at least non-clorinated water
Dedicated, undisturbed refrigerator space
Soil, preferably without chemical fertilizer. Instead fertilised with compost
Small seed starting planters. I use biodegradable peat planter cells
Something to lable your planters with
UV light source, natural or grow light. Make sure you use indirect intermitent light.
A notebook to keep track of dates and other seeds you may be starting
Raspberries are an excellent addition to any garden. They are easy to maintain, are perennial (they regrow every spring on their own) and are high in nutrients like vitamins A, C, E, and antioxidants. The easiest way to get started is with a cutting or "cane" from an already thriving plant, but this is not always possible. Many of the commercially available raspberry plants are patented GMO meaning that the seeds from the plant you grow are infertile. You absolutely do not want to grow a raspberry bush that you can't get seeds from. Things happen. People need to move quickly, or the original bush gets destroyed leaving you with nothing to start over again. It also makes it impossible to give away seeds to help others get started. Cuttings would still work but they are hard to ship and give less offspring than seeds do. You can certainly try to find live heirloom raspberry cuttings and seedlings but there will not be enough to go around. Places are already selling out.
The solution to this is to buy good heirloom raspberry seeds from a reputable seller inside you own country. Many seeds for sale online are from foreign countries and many have a low to nonexistent germination rate. They may work in a pinch but I don't recommend them as a first choice. If you have to buy online, make sure to look for sellers with addresses in your own country. You can find a lot of local and regional nurseries online and with a little checking, you can find sellers on Amazon and eBay if needed.
There are 3 main types of raspberries. Everbearing, that gives you 2 slightly smaller harvests a year in the summer and fall, Summer Bearing that give a single large mid-summer crop, and Fall Bearing that gives a single large crop in early to mid fall. Select your seeds based on your climate and your needs. I personally go with Everbearing as my climate has a short growing season and the potential for 2 harvests is worth slightly smaller yields per harvest.
Unfortunately, raspberry seeds can take a long time to prepare for germination. They are usually eaten by an animal in the late summer or early fall, pass through the digestive tract and lay dormant over the winter before sprouting in the spring. However there is a way to speed this process up by weakening the seed case and tricking them with temperature change.
To weaken the seed case, place seeds in a bowl with 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide for 30-60 minutes. Rinse seeds with clean water several times. Dilute the 3% solution with 50% distiled water and place seeds in this new mixture for 24 hours. Place the seeds in the diluted peroxide in the refrigerator. After 24 hours take the seeds out and again rinse them several times with clean water. This method is often used with success for difficult to germinate seeds of all kinds.
From this point you have several options ranging from planting the seeds directly or letting them sit in the fridge for 3 months until they start sprouting on their own. For those who like to hedge their bets like I do, I recommend putting the seeds in a Ziplock bag after wrapping them in a damp paper towel, and placing them in the fridge for 2-4 weeks. If you are in a desparate hurry, even 1 week in the fridge will speed up the germination a little. Make sure that the seeds stay undisturbed in the fridge. The best bet is a crisper drawer dedicated to your seeds. This mild "mini winter" helps trick your seeds into thinking it's time to sprout when you take them out.
Plant the prepared raspberry seeds in a starter pot with good starting soil. DO NOT USE CHEMICAL FERTILIZER! It can burn the delicate sprouts as they emerge. Place 4 seeds spaced 1/2 an inch apart per container. Place the container in a cool location around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius) with limited UV exposure. This can be from natural light, or a UV lamp turned on and off each morning and night. Make sure if you are using a UV lamp that you place your raspberry seeds about 6 feet, or 2 meters away to simulate indirect sunlight. Keep the soil just barely damp as they don't like too much water.
The seeds should begin sprouting over the next 4-8 weeks. Once your plants are 1 inch tall (2.5 cm) you can either replant them in a bigger pot or if there is no more risk of frost, you can place them directly into the ground. Separate the 2 strongest sprouts from each container and discard the rest in your compost pile. This is done for a reason. It makes sure that only the strongest survive to reproduce. This kind of selective breeding is the reason our food is so much more abundant than it was even 100 years ago. Doing this helps insure that any new seeds produced by your plants will have higher germination rates and yield more fruit.
Depending on when you started, the breed you selected, and the climate you are in, it is possible to have a small number of raspberries in the fall of the first year. The raspberry bushes will go dormant over the winter and when they emerge in the second spring they will be ready to grow, flower and bear fruit! There is no need to plant new raspberry seeds each year as they are perennial and are ever growing. Pruning and compost fertilizing is all that is necessary to gain the maximum harvest from year to year. The timing and technique very depending on the variety of raspberry you are growing. Here is a detailed guide to pruning your raspberries.
Before winter you should put a good compost with earthworm casings, or other natural fertilizer mix around your raspberry bushes. If you live in a particularly harsh winter climate, you may want to cover that with mulch to better insulate the roots. Some go so far as to then wrap black plastic around the base of the bush after fertilization and mulching. The information is not clear on how effective this is but it may be worth doing if you live in a place that can get to -40F in the winter, like I do. Regardless of how well you fertilize and insulate the raspberry bush will grow the next spring, but proper winterization of any perennial plant allows them to grow faster and produce more the following year.
In the end, growing and raising your own food is not just rewarding due to having the food to eat but it is therapeutic as well. It is well known that caring for plants and animals help with depression and anxiety. It also has other surprising health benefits such as weight loss and lowering blood pressure. All things that help increase your odds of surviving covid-19 infection. In short, there is every reason to start a garden if you have the space to do so, and not doing so could lead to issues down the road. We have this window of opportunity to prepare for the long term effects of the coronavirus AKA covid-19 pandemic. Many windows have already closed in this situation. Do not waste the time and chances that have been bought for you with the very lives of others. A weakness has been exposed in our systems and communities. We can't afford to leave it exposed.
We need as many people doing this as possible. I will continue to write articles and guides on how to grow and raise food to help get the relevant information all in one place to make it easier to find and share. Just like with lockdowns, these plans only protect the system if enough people are doing the same thing at the same time. But just like lockdowns, even if others chose to let the system collapse, these preparations just may save your life. Be strong, stay safe people.
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