This week on our homesteading survival retreat was spent with my husband and son-in-law running heavy equipment to improve our ½-mile uphill into the middle of the woods driveway after a winter and spring of historic rains. During this time, I worked on our apothecary patch.
Growing your own medicine should be one of the most essential facets of any survival plan. When the SHTF, you won’t be able to call 911, you won’t be able to rush to the emergency room, and the local pharmacy will most likely be looted bare within three days (maximum) of disaster striking.
I was never more excited to work on my apothecary patch than I was at the start of the growing season this year. My husband scoured the internet attempting to find some herb seeds (non-GMO heirloom) that I had long been wanting and stumbled across the Beaver Creek Heirloom Seed website.
He handed me a phone and said he thought he had found at least one type of the herb seeds I had been attempting to find for at least a year.
I became like a kid at Christmas, I “oohed” and “awed” at the extensive selection and incredibly reasonable prices for about three minutes before he handed me his credit card and said to pick out a $100 worth of seeds. Yep, kid at Christmas, indeed.
While waiting for my rare heirloom seeds to arrive, I got my existing seeds in the ground, expanded the apothecary plot and then discovered I also had a good bit of fence mending to do, as well.
My apothecary patch appeared to be securely fenced to deter the rabbit that try to sneak past our dogs, and into my medicinal growing raised beds. Although I have not yet seen evidence of any plant nibbling or rabbit carnage, I had to completely redo my SHTF natural pharmacy.
Rabbits might not have been able to find their way in, but the goats sure did…repeatedly. My goat herd apparently loved scratching their backs while doing this funny lean walk thing on my apothecary patch fencing. It took them only about three days to ruin at least 85 percent of it.
Thankfully, goats do not like tomato plants or I would have lost several of my thriving Thomas jefferson tomatoes. Octavia weeded the tomato raised bed for me, but then tried to move onto my oregano bed, that is when the apothecary patch redo hit a fevered pace.
I do grow some nutrient-rich crops because they can serve as vitamins in our diet. Even though we have a large garden and several small growing plots, we like having backup for our backup.
Now, my apothecary growing area has been reinforced with multiple strands of barbed wire fencing. Even though they are hard-headed goats, each one only tried to scratch their back onto my reinforced fencing once – and briefly.
My apothecary patch is not pretty, but it is highly functional and did not cost me a single dime (except for my new heirloom herb seeds) to create.
All homesteaders, whether they are also preppers or not, learn to make do with what they have, repurpose materials for new projects, and mend materials to make them functional again. I employed all those tactics when expanding and securing my backyard apothecary.
I strung multiple rows of barbed wire to T-posts to frame out the apothecary patch. Next, we wrapped bird netting all the way around the fencing from the interior side of the enclosure.
I secured it firmly into place using scraps of baling twine. The hay bale twine is like duct tape, folks, there are simply scores of potential uses for the stuff.
I am also going to string some bird netting above my rose hip bush starts that are growing in the apothecary patch until they are large enough to relocate to our fruit grove. Rose hips are delicious to eat, but I am primarily growing them for their medicinal value.
The wood framed raised beds were made out of lumber cut on the property that the former owner left behind. He took out truckloads of boards he had made but left several hundred that he just didn’t have room for at his new place. We have been steadily whittling down the board pile significantly while constructing out buildings and mending existing ones.
So far, the barbed wire and bird netting are enough of a visual deterrent to keep my free ranging goats, ducks, chickens, and equines out of the apothecary patch. Should that change, I will add some board framing to the patch, but would rather not use up anymore of our free lumber on this project unless it is absolutely necessary.
I lugged old tires that we found on the property after buying it out of the junk pile and into my growing area. I also finished taking apart some broken hog feeders that were made out of blue half barrels, and repurposed some plastic totes with some holes and cracks in them to create more growing containers.
To get my apothecary patch started off right, my husband scooped up some good dirt from our primary garden plot. The plot encompasses what used to be the farm’s hog pen and cow pasture.
Because I wanted to expand the patch this year to grow the $100 worth of heirloom herb seeds (at around $2 to $4 a pack, that’s a whole lot of seeds) I needed more dirt. I did not want to spend money on bags of dirt and try to avoid using anything commercially produced when at all possible, when growing food, medicine, or tending to our livestock.
Bobby used his beloved old Massey Ferguson tractor to bring me some horse manure from our compost piles to fill my added tubs, tires, and raised growing beds shown in the photos and as well as on the other side of the patch not visible in the images.
Horse manure is excellent for growing anything, but the manure in what was left in our compost pile after planting the primary gardening areas and the first phase of the apothecary patch, was a little too green to use, in my opinion. I prefer to let the manure compost for at least six months to avoid any potential “burning” of plants.
So, I had a choice to make, store bought dirt or less than ideal horse manure. I chose the horse manure, but doctored it up a bit.
Bobby dumped one tractor bucket load of manure into my apothecary patch and then I hand tossed some agricultural lime on top. I then turned the manure and lime with a hoe until I had a fresh layer of only manure showing. I repeated this process with three subsequent layers of dumped manure and sprinkled lime.
This trick almost always works, unless you use too much lime and wind up scorching your plants because it activates the very components of the green-ish you are trying to neutralize. Next, I mixed in some straw, using the same hoe turning process as with the lime to further season the manure.
So far, the old homesteading/farm trick seems to have worked and my herbs are growing well. Mixing straw in with manure and not only planting in it but stacking it around the base of your plants also drastically helps keep down on the growth of weeds.
Once our toddler grandkids helped me put all of the manure in the tires and tubs using their miniature shovels, my hard to find heirloom herb seeds finally went into the ground:
I plant just one type of seed in each container to make it simple to identify what should and should not be pulled when weeding.
I can easily tell what is herb and what is weed on all of the seeds I have been growing for awhile, but our daughter, the grandkiddos, and other novice gardening members of our tribe also help tend to the growing plots and they are not all as familiar.
A white paint pen was used after each container was filled so anyone could tell what was growing in it. This is an especially useful practice when you want to send someone outside to fetch a specific herb for cooking…
Our survival homestead is just shy of 56 acres, but we still conserve space as much as possible. Although we might not use every inch of our partially wooded secluded bugout retreat now, when a SHTF disaster does happen, our tribe will quickly converge on the property.
We have plotted out spots for their tents, campers, (some keep the campers here already) vehicles, livestock, and extra soil-cultivated growing areas. We do not want to place anything even seasonal, like crops, in the designated living spots and lose the growing area before a harvest.
We do not grow flowers or bushes for aesthetic purposes on our homestead. Instead we grow edible landscaping that just also happens to be beautiful – expanding our food and natural medicine patches without looking to an untrained eye, like more food is literally popping up all around the house.
This 100 year old cistern top was unearthed while doing some trenching work to expand our root cellar and put in a summer kitchen. It is part of the history of this place and too beautiful to just trash.
Even though the sandstone cracked when it was being moved, I still think it has value. The old cistern top will look like a natural landscaping element near the back entrance to our home and will have an edible or medicinal bush or large flowering plant placed inside.
Hiding food and medicine in plain sight is something all preppers should consider…
50 Medicinal Herbs, Roots, Flowers, Crops, And Bushes To Grow In An Apothecary Patch
Some of the “weeds” on this list, grow wild in many regions of the United States and could be foraged and dehydrated to preserve as well as be grown in an apothecary patch.
5. Cayenne Pepper
14. Basil – multiple varieties
15. Lemon Balm
16. Bee Balm
18. Holy Thistle
23. Horse Heal
26. Marsh mallow
28. Milk Thistle
32. Dwarf Moringa
44. Self Heal
45. St. John’s Wart
46. Stinging Nettle
47. Summer Savory
49. Toothache Plant – Yellow
52. White Horehound
55. Aloe Vera
If you are not blessed with ample acreage to create an apothecary patch, use the edible and medicinal landscaping technique, as well as growing herbs in window sills, to cultivate natural medicine to use not only when the SHTF, but now instead of costly and chemical-filled modern medicines.
The important thing is to get growing…the life of your family depends on it!
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.