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Gardening For Y2K -- If Computers Fail, You Can Still Till

I was surprised to see this showing up in the Silicon Valley Newspaper, San Jose Mercury News and originating with the Washington Post ... its about time! -- Diane

Published Friday, January 22, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News

If computers fail, you can still till

A garden without technological back-up

BY ADRIENNE COOK Washington Post

AN IRONY of the looming Year 2000 computer crisis is that it is sending folks backward in time. How many are rereading the ``Little House on the Prairie'' series to learn how to cope without technology?

The garden, of course, plays a vital role in times of national crisis, hardship and the need for self-sufficiency.

One imagines the millennium problem may bring the vegetable plot into sharp focus. After all, victory gardens of World War II fed large portions of the population during those years.

As we prepare for Y2K, storing water, beans and candles in the basement may be accompanied by a similar effort outdoors for a long-producing harvest that provides fresh food, food for storage and seeds for the 2000 garden.

The beauty of stepping up to the challenge is that there's nothing to lose in such an endeavor: Whether a paralysis occurs as 2000 rolls in, the Y2K gardener will have experienced perhaps the best garden ever. Maybe the threat will result in a surging interest in gardening.

Gardening and farming for survival bring an edge to the exercise: No land can be wasted on frills, and the gardener must be keenly diligent in fighting pests and disease before they take hold and ruin a crop.

In addition, you should plan both for vegetables that can be stored and for a long growing season. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes are among root crops good for storage.

Preserving the bounty

Instead of closing up the garden with the last of the tomato and summer squash in fall, plan on a winter garden of lettuces, other greens, turnips, carrots and potatoes, to name a few. In selecting varieties, choose those with proven keeping qualities.

Food can be preserved with canning, drying, or pickling, and sharing the abundance will become more than merely a generosity. Last, extending the season takes on greater importance as the prospect of being without fresh food in the middle of winter threatens.

In addition to picking varieties that are disease-resistant and dependable, select non-hybrids or heirloom varieties for a part of the garden.

These are open-pollinated, meaning the seed grows true to variety. The seeds from hybrids are not reliable in subsequent seasons because they can revert to an ancestor, possibly a poor producer or vulnerable to disease. Seed harvested from modern hybrids may also be sterile or grow into plants lacking the qualities of the parent. You may not be able to order seed next winter, if the computer paralysis becomes total and prolonged.

Performance is judged largely by the gardener: Go back to varieties that have done well in your garden over the years or ask nearby gardeners what has excelled.

Next, check catalogs for varieties that have been around a while; these are the ones that home gardeners come back to again and again because they have produced so satisfactorily.

Descriptions offer guidance: ``Heavy yields,'' ``dependable harvests'' and ``prolific'' are words and phrases to look for. Other qualities to consider in a Y2K garden are resistance to disease and insects.

Planning ahead

For the purposes of seed saving, look for heirloom varieties and let them go to seed, even at the cost of food (many plants become inedible once they flower and seed). Varieties described as heirloom or open-pollinated will grow true to seed. What might be as practical, though, is to simply buy extra seed this year, which can be stored for next year's sowing.

Planning for storage is going to require either cramming more into the same space or enlarging the garden area. Or it may become a process of elimination: fewer varieties but more of each that make the cut.

One of the most fundamental ways of increasing yield is to enrich the soil, a process that can occur this winter in advance of the early spring season. Husbandry could become a critical issue this year. Losing a crop to Mexican bean beetles or seeing young seedlings wiped out by cutworms is alarming in the Y2K garden. Another drought could be disastrous if there is no irrigation system in place.

Be vigilant

Basic wise practices become even more necessary, such as stockpiling mulch to cover unplanted ground and suffocate competing weeds. Policing for bugs and using preventive measures will be important, too.

All this will require more time in the garden. That in itself isn't a bad thing, especially if it removes you from a world looking to the sky and anticipating its collapse.

-- Diane J. Squire (, January 23, 1999


Response to 3Gardening For Y2K -- If Computers Fail, You Can Still Till2

Thanks for the enlightenment. I'm sure there are those who have not considered the garden to be as important as it should be. Even an appartment dweller with a sunny window and a small table or plank of wood on a box can grow herbs, small tomatoes, etc.

-- tilly gosinside (tilly@green.thumb), January 27, 1999.

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