Securing Food When Your Garden Fails

August is the time when a homesteader is not only packing away the harvest like a mad squirrel, but also a time of taking a mental inventory of how much was obtained in the garden, and how much more will need to be secured before the snow falls.

At first glance, one might think that what you’ve got in your garden is the food you put up—and if you didn’t have a bountiful garden, then you are going to have a hungry winter.  But this need not be the case.

Here are some options for obtaining food to put up when your garden just didn’t produce everything you needed.

When your garden doesn't give you the supply of food you desire, there are other options for securing the food your family needs for the upcoming year.


Harvesting food that you did not grow or purchase is foraging.

You don’t need to wait until you are done harvesting your garden to start.  Many options are available in the fall for foraging (and even into the winter depending on your climate).

One of the most plentiful foods for foraging are berries.  Some berries are harvested for fun—like huckleberries—that can take an hour to get a cup full.  Other berries are found in mass and can be foraged for sustainability.  I consider these to be any I can harvest a gallon or more in an hour.

This year we have already foraged for wild cherries and serviceberries.  Soon, we will get blackberries, raspberries, currants and chokecherries.

Other fruits you may find in your area include apples, grapes and plums.

When looking to add proteins to your stockpile, you’ll want to look for nuts—and not just for you.  We go to an oak tree on the property to find acorns to crush and feed to the chickens in the winter too.

If you know where to look, you can score a few vegetables in the fall in the form of either root vegetables or wild greens.  Greens are good for immediate consumption, but are trickier to preserve and store.


Start an indoor garden

An indoor garden may be a viable option for those who are able to tend to it during the winter and control the climate.  If you tend to be out of the house a lot in the winter with no way to keep your plants from freezing, this isn’t an option for you.

Also remember that some plants need pollinators in order to produce produce.


Process a farm animal

If you have animals, this is likely already on your list of things to do.

However, if you are feeding a large family, and your garden produced significantly less than in years past, you might consider processing another small animal now rather than later.  This will save you from feeding another mouth all winter just to process it in the fall anyway.



Don’t have farm animals, or can’t process one for whatever reason?  Consider hunting just for what you need.

Hunting is big in our area.  It is so big that many people come to our area just to hunt and then leave again.  Very often when someone shoots big game, they give most of it away.  Please, only hunt for what you need.

It is also not uncommon for someone to get that big elk or caribou and then let it sit in their freezer all winter.  Come spring, they are trying to get rid of it.  Again… please only kill what you will eat.


Get on a road-kill list

If you live in an area with big game, it is highly likely your local Fish & Game has a road kill list.

It’s not as bad as it sounds.  It is not actually a way to get dead animals off the side of the road (to do that you would need to request a “scavenge” permit).

People poach.  It’s a fact of life.  And they get caught.  When they do, the Fish & Game will take away their animal.  So as not to waste an animal, they will either call the next person on the list to come process it, or they will process it and then make calls—depending on the timing.

Also, when animals are hit by a vehicle and will eventually die, Fish & Game will either call the next person on the list (if they are close enough) to come to the animal, where it will be respectfully and quickly put down, and that person is responsible for processing it.  Alternatively, if it would not be humane to wait for someone, Fish & Game would take care of the matter and then find someone to take the meat.

When you go get an animal, you get the entire thing.  If it’s already processed, then you get some packages, and many other people usually do too.

This is how the list works in our area.  Call your local Fish & Game to see how it works in your area.


Go shopping

Lastly, something no one likes to do (at least around the Farmer’s house), is go shopping.  We don’t like it and neither do regular grocery shoppers.

We go on a shopping trip 2-4 times a year.  There are just certain things we can’t produce ourselves or just don’t want to (like fabrics, bleach, school supplies, citrus, etc.)  We have a membership at a big-box store.  Everything is sold in bulk.  Even so, we tend to purchase a lot of a few items.

The last time we went shopping was in February (6 months ago).  Since we lost all our tomatoes last year, we bought enough tomato sauces for 6 months.  Even at a big-box store, that looks pretty odd to the other shoppers.

But the truth is, when the snow falls, we are often stuck right in our home with no way out-this just isn’t the time to run out of food and wonder how we will get more.



Occasionally, bartering is done for food.  One of our neighbors only grows onions.  He grows enough onions for an entire town, I think.  And he spends his summer getting firewood.  He barters these two things for all his needs–even food.

When finding that you will need to barter for food, it is important to have a plan ahead of time.  When you live in a community of other homesteaders like we do, everyone else has grown the food they need–and often don’t have extra.  It’s important to get the word out early that you will be wanting food so that others can plan to have extra.


A garden that flopped is not necessarily a need for panicking if you live in an area with other resources.  The key is to start planning in early fall before the weather starts to get too cold.



  1. Our garden did poorly this year. The only tomato product I was able to can was (6) half pints of tomato sauce – equivalent to the little cans you get at the store. So sad.
    I am currently foraging muscadine grapes that grew in a tree next to our fence. The one place my neighbor didn’t manage to cut them all out! I will have enough to make a small batch of jelly.
    Earlier this summer we foraged wild blackberries and huckleberries on our country property. Made a few pints of jam with all of that.

  2. Great tips!! We didn’t get much out of our homestead this year, and I am planning on heading to our local produce auction to help supplement!

  3. This is a great post…really important information to know. Regarding foraging, do you know of any good field reference type books to keep on hand for finding wild edibles? There are a bunch out there, but I haven’t been able to choose one.

    I don’t remember where I found your website from now…but I’ve enjoyed clicking around and reading several of your articles today!

    • Thank you for your inquirery Ashley. Finding a good field guide is like finding gold. I’ve been through some bad ones, some that are just okay, and a few that I cherish. Here is a post on my three favorite ones with details describing why I like them (as well as some things I don’t). I hope it helps you to pick out a good guide!

  4. I talked to animal control once about potentially harvesting a deer that had been hit, had very poor chance of surviving, and would need to be put down. They said that it was not a good idea to use the deer as meat because the trauma of the injuries already caused all of the fight-or-flight hormones and whatever else to get into the blood and the meat would be ruined. I thought they would have some sort of a program like you mentioned, I wonder if maybe they just do not have the facilities to process an animal like that.

    • It is possible it was the particular injury too. An animal that is standing still and scuffed at low speed just enough to break it’s legs would be different than an animal that ran onto a highway running full speed and is hit by a large vehicle at 80 mph.
      Or, as you suggest, it could be that they don’t have the facilities, or comfort. If you’ve never done this before and all you’ve ever known of meat is what comes prepackaged in the supermarket, it could make you squeemish to tell another person, “sure, you can harvest that.” Plus there are legalities which one might worry more about in one area of the country more than another.
      MUCH of the meat from a list comes from poached meat that has been confiscated. I would encourage you to call and ask to get on that list. Their answer as to whether they have a list for that should give you a clue as to whether they have the facilities for it or not.

  5. There is also the pick your own farm and the “seconds” options at farm stands.

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