How I am preparing for possible food shortages

purple winter sprouting broccoli buds in vegetable garden

Even back in July, on Dave’s and my big trip to the city, I could not find fresh products from Asia such as curry leaves and kaffir limes: the grocers told me it was because of COVID. In August, Dave could no longer get the brand of gnocchi, made in Italy, that we usually get – also due to COVID. I can no longer find my favourite brand of gin, Gin Mare from Spain. Last week, I tried to buy the dried peppers we use to make our red enchilada sauce, and was told that our local supermarket can no longer get them in from Mexico – again, due to COVID.

And then the kid at the check-out counter told me his mom is upset because she can’t even buy Ragú tomato sauce any more! I checked up on it, and it is true: according to the manufacturer (who did not explain why) Ragú sauces are no longer available in Canada and may soon be in short supply in America as well.

So, my friends – the COVID19 food shortages are already here.

This does not mean that we are all about to starve. But it does mean that we can expect much less variety in the foods available to buy (especially fresh produce), and it also means that food prices will likely be going up.

Here are a few of the things that I am doing now, to take charge of our food self-sufficiency and protect our household.

1. Even though our governments were slow to act, it was clear to me way back in January that COVID19 would be spreading around the world, quite possibly causing economic disruptions, food shortages, and civil unrest. So Dave and I stocked up on staples in February (and no, I don’t mean toilet paper!). I also planted twice my normal number of roma tomatoes: the tomatoes that we use for cooking and canning.

So the tomato harvest right now is HUGE!

We’ve already canned three cases of red enchilada sauce (in addition to our green tomatillo enchilada sauce), and we are making another big batch tomorrow.

Then we’ll can the remaining tomatoes whole, for use in soups and pasta sauces (we don’t need Ragú!)

2. I do grow sprouts over winter, but this fall I am making sure that I am well stocked up on sprouting seeds. Here in Canada, much of our winter lettuce comes from California – a place that has not only been hit hard by COVID19 but also by the terrible wildfires – so who knows whether there will be fresh lettuce for sale in the supermarkets at all? So I will make sure that we can have fresh green veggies available for salads and sandwiches in the form of sprouts. The sprouter I have used for years is the Biosta Sprouter, which I like because you can have three different types (or timings) of sprouts going at once.

3. I will do my best to have fresh lettuce growing for us through as much of the winter as possible. I’ll do this by growing cold-hardy varieties such as Winter Density and Rouge d’Hiver under a cold-frame (which is like a mini-greenhouse, but very low to the ground so it does not lose as much heat at night).

I am seeding those lettuces now, and I expect to be harvesting them through December. By early February, with days already getting much longer, I can start putting new lettuce seedlings, started indoors, under the cold frame for early spring harvest.

4. Speaking of lettuce, I am going to attempt to grow lettuces, or baby lettuces at least, indoors as well. I will use this great Sunblaster indoor grow-lighting system, which I use every spring to start my tomato and pepper seeds indoors. I haven’t used it to grow lettuces, but it should work fine (lettuce likes cool temperatures). I save my own lettuce seed, so I have thousands of seeds that I can plant very densely in the trays, and clip them off as baby lettuces.

5. And today I got my cole crops, or brassicas, in the ground. I seeded them a month ago (this is what some of them looked like this morning).

In climates like mine, where winters mostly don’t go more than 5 or 10 degrees below freezing, kales and broccoli a cabbage can be planted in the fall for late winter and early spring harvest.

Those are my purple sprouting broccolis at the top of this post – growing head-high when this photo was taken last March!

6. I am also going to try to have fresh tomatoes available indoors this year. I did this last year as a kind-of after-the-fact experiment: last fall, there was a beautiful tomato plant sprouted in the garden out of the compost. I had no idea what variety it was, but it was looking so healthy as night frosts started in October that Dave and I decided to bring it inside and see what happened.

I overwinter some of my peppers anyway, so I set it up with them under the timed lighting system in the basement. Well, it grew to ceiling height (I had to move it upstairs), producing a few early spring cherry tomatoes along the way. That guy was some sort of unknown hybrid. This time I’ll seed two different cherry varieties (a Golden Nugget, and a red grape tomato) which I know will be more prolific producers as well as be a more manageable size.

7. And finally – it seems that imported and exotic fresh ingredients (such as Asian, Indian and Mexican herbs and spices) are the first ones to be in short supply. I’ve already posted about my ginger and turmeric plants. Here’s an update, a little clip of what they look like right now: ginger, turmeric and lemon grass, too!

I will soon bring these tropical plants inside for winter (along with some of the peppers). I’ll check on the ginger in a few months to see how much root growth I ended up with, and nurture all of them so I will have these plants for years, whether they continue to be commercially available or not.

If you are in the northern hemisphere, the time to plan for your winter food supplies is now! (And for my antipodean friends, I will be posting advice for you shortly). A note – if you use the Amazon links above to purchase your supplies, I may receive a small commission from Amazon (which will not cost you anything more, it will just help support this site). And, if you appreciate the advice on this site and want early access to gardening info and special offers, please sign up for the Food Garden Club! Happy gardening!

Published by Jacqueline Windh

I'm a writer, photographer, and radio broadcaster who is concerned about our planet and how we live our lives - hoping my work helps people to find new ways of thinking about issues such as personal health, wilderness, the environment, food security, thinking about the future. These things are all connected, you know...

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