How to Forage to Ensure Food for Next Year

in homesteading •  last year

Sustainable Foraging

It is important to remember, whether you are foraging to eat more naturally, reduce your expenses or after a zombie invasion, you are the one responsible for ensuring you have a food supply that regrows the next year.
If you forage too much or a specific plant, or forage the wrong parts, you could cause that plant to not regrow next year. By learning how each type of plant in your area reproduces, you can make sure to not over harvest and ensure a good crop for years to come.

General Rule of Thumb

The general rule of thumb is to never harvest more than about 10% to 20% of any given patch of a specific plant. It is thought that this allows plenty of plant material to ensure the patch regrows next year.

There is one problem with this rule that many people do not think about. If the plant is on public land, will you be the only person foraging 10% to 20%. If just 5 people decide to forage 20% of a single patch, there will be nothing left to reproduce for the next year. Until the invasion starts, it is probably best to harvest only a small part of each patch at any one time. Allow everything else to go to seed to ensure a future food source.

This is yet another reason why it is a GREAT idea for you to plant patches of various plants you enjoy eating. If you can plant on your own property, you have some control over who forages. If you are foraging in the wild, you don’t have that control.

Major difference between foraging now and after a Zombie Invasion

While we still live in a world with at least some sanity, once a Zombie Invasion hits, everything changes. There will be thousands (perhaps millions) of people searching for food sources. You will probably lose the ability to control who forages in your yard. Wild foraging becomes a free for all. Chances are good, entire patches of food will be harvested by someone desperate to feed their family.

The only thing you can do to help offset this problem is to learn to harvest seeds and start now, sowing seeds anywhere you think they will grow. Most people believe the “packed for year” date shown on seed packets means they are no good for future years. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If seeds are kept in a cool, dark place, there will be at least some viable seeds many years in the future. The “packed for year” date shows the year the vast majority of seed in the package will be viable. Each year after, a percentage of the seeds will not germinate. With most seed, it is only a small percentage. If properly stored, you could still have enough seeds germinate after 10 to 20 years, to ensure you have future crops.

Each year, after summer is over, seeds go on sale at many places, 10 packs for $1. I always buy any non-hybrid seeds I can find and keep them back. Sometimes I think if the zombie invasion holds off for another year or two, I will be able to replant half my state, lol.

I have seeds from some of my mother’s plants. She died in 2004 but I still grow a few plants each year and let them go to seed, so I can ensure I have seeds for ever more. Surviving requires planning and taking action on your plan. Start planning now, so you can learn how to gather and store seeds. Your future may depend on it.

Things to Remember

  1. Only take the parts of the plant you will be using. If only the leaves are edible, take only the leaves. Leave the stalk and roots.
  2. If you see a seed pod forming on a plant, leave the plant alone. Allow that seed pod to grow and go to seed.
  3. Never harvest an entire patch of any plant unless you intend to replant the next year and already have the seeds to do so.
  4. If a plant has multiple stalks or off shoots, never take all of them. Take only a few (depends on how many there are) and leave the majority so the plant can reproduce.
  5. Unless a zombie invasion starts, never harvest any protected species of plant. You could end up in jail. Of course, once the invasion starts, there probably won’t be anyone around to turn you in.
  6. Only harvest as much as you can eat or process for storage in one day. Fresh plants tend to begin to wilt soon after harvesting and there is no sense letting them go to waste.

Off Topic but EXTREMELY Important

  1. Never harvest near roadways or in area where toxic chemicals are used.
  2. Never harvest a plant unless you are 100% sure what it is. Some look-a-likes are highly poisonous and can kill you or your family.
  3. Don’t collect from nature preserves until the zombie invasion reaches the point where you are in 100% survival mode.
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I love the way all your posts get framed in the context of preparing for zombie invasion in a complete dead-pan way. He he he. Great post.

I think one aspect of sustainable foraging which is important but quite hard to encapsulate within a tick-list format, is the importance of considering the biology and life-cycle of each plant. Some plants thrive from a good aggressive harvesting, some might be more sensitive than others, some you might need to be left alone at certain times of year, for example when they are putting energy into seeds for future production. It might be important to use specific harvesting techniques, specific types of cuts, pollarding, coppicing, pruning, etc. Ultimately there are no general rule-of-thumbs that will be 100% satisfactory for all species.

If you are not familiar with it already, you might be interested to check out the foragers association website, they are relatively new.

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Thank you. I live not far from where The Walking Dead is filmed. One of the long stretches of road you see them walking down so often is literally the street my brother lives on. They tend to put up the road blocks just past his mailbox. So we are all be fans and it seem much less threatening than talking about bombs, asteroids and terrorist attacks.

You are 100% correct about everything you said. I hope to cover at least some of that in the articles on individual plants. Those articles take a lot longer to write because I triple check facts before posting them.

I also want to thank you for speaking up on these things. There is far too much information for any one person to get it all written down. You also have a way with words I don't have. You are still young enough all the science behind things is still in your head. I'm just an old hippie farm girl, with a very laid back southern drawl in my voice and my writing, lol.

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Oh my gosh, I love the walking dead! Have you ever got to be a zombie extra?!

Just to clarify the above wasn't intended as a criticism, more like a footnote! I enjoy your hippy farm girl southern drawl :)

Great article, especially for the time we live in @fernowl13 More people are waking up to some facts and are beginning to question the "what if" the supply trucks aren't running and store shelves are depleted. Foraging for me is an automatic as seasons change.

It is good to learn what medicinal plants are available in a person's area as well. These should be harvested with the same thought process, always leave your mother load to replenish.

Mushroom harvesting is another one that many people do not consider how the fungus actually grows when gathering. A mushroom stand is dependent on the mycelium system of roots. Mushrooms should be cut not pulled. Pulling destroys the delicate system of roots and harvesting can destroy an entire bed of mushrooms when this is not taken into consideration.

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Thankyou for adding this information about mushroom harvesting. This is an area that I am very interested in. I had not thought about this aspect of foraging before. I often question at what phase it best to harvest mushrooms. Im sure it is very different for each type of mushroom but I am thinking about making sure you take them after the spores drop. Also do you know how you can tell if polypores have dropped spores? We harvested some reishi and I feel like we kept took too much but my friend said they were done releasing spores.

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I am not a big lover of mushroom hunting, however there are two species I do collect every year @mangoinspace and those are morels and shaggy manes. Both are easy to identify. Getting a reliable book on mushrooms is a good investment. Just as wild plants, many varieties of mushrooms are poisonous and/or can cause distress. There again, spores are important but the master is the mycelium that must stay in tact. I have collected and used reishi for tea and tinctures.

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Wild mushroom harvesting is something I have never learned. I never had the time when I was younger and now that I have the time, I'm 3/4 blind and afraid to try to learn by myself.

You are 100% correct about the food supply. My husband was a trucker for 30 years before he passed. He spent a lot of time delivering to food warehouses and distribution centers. There is literally only a 3 day supply of food in the stores and the chance of getting additional deliveries when society breaks down is very slim.

Did you know in some places there are laws against stockpiling food? Plus there is a federal law that in an emergency, the government can confiscate any food, medical supplies and weapons you have in the name of "protecting" the citizens.

Those that know how to forage and/or grow food will be in big demand.

Thank you for this article. People don't often think about over foraging. I think about this alot with raising deer populations. In my area their are no preditors of the deer. They over eat the new growth and the forest will not regrow.

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I understand completely about the deer population. In my county, overpopulation has become so bad, they are now allowing deer hunting out of season at times. On average, just in our county there are 3 deer per day get hit by cars and almost 1 person every other month gets killed in accidents with deer. They can strip huge areas clear in no time.

Have you tried seed bombing? Give me a day or two to get an article ready on this subject. it is a great way to spread seeds around so they are protected from birds until they can start growing.

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Ive never tried that I'm excited to read your article about it. If you tag my name in it I think I'll be able to see it easier. I'm backpacking in Columbia now so it can be a bit difficult for me to keep up on here but I really want to learn about that!

Where do you live that this is also a problem? I'm curious for comparison. I'm originally from Pennsylvania.

Great post! A side note... Did you know that parsnip seeds are only usable for one year? I found that out the hard way! But you're right about seeds lasting for "ever." Several years ago, they found seeds for an extinct tree in an ancient burial tomb and planted them and some of them sprouted! Creation is amazing. :)