Be Prepared for Life

Activity Kit Three:
"Food for Life"

Part 1. Getting food


It's perfectly true that every family, no matter where it lives, needs a `garden' somewhere to provide their food needs, or they wouldn't be eating! Too often the garden is far away and is never seen, but it must exist somewhere and it doesn't have to be a big space.

All the vegetable needs of a family can be met in a tiny garden where 1.25 square meters are available for each person [about the size of a small bedside carpet]. Families that grow their own vegetables save money and can make money. A vegetable garden needs space - but not much. Vegetable gardeners need never be hungry people.

Project 1: Grow your own food

A vegetable garden does not cost much and can be started with very little money.


  1. Level a small sunny safe site.
  2. Dig a trench the size of a door to knee-depth along the north-south axis.
  3. Half-fill this trench with natural plant and animal wastes. [leaves, grass-clippings, dry grass, cardboard, news paper, vegetable peels, newspaper, egg shells, manure, compost. In Kit 1 - Project 11, we saw how to make compost].
  4. When half-full, water well and cover with soil - do not trample!
  5. Cover the soil with 5cm of grass clippings or dead leaves [mulch].
  6. Build a low fence of sticks around your bed to protect it from animals and the wind. Plant beans against this fence.
  7. Plant your vegetables according to the season.


Spring Beans [August to March]
Pumpkins [August to October]
Summer Peas [February to July]
Lettuce [February to August]
Onions [February to April]
Potatoes [January & February]
Autumn Carrots [March to August]
Spinach [March to August]
Winter Turnips [April to September]
Beet root [April to September]
Potatoes [June and July]
All year Tomatoes, Cabbage
  1. Separate the mulch with a stick and plant the seedlings or seeds across the bed. Plant a good variety of vegetables in alternate rows. If you plant marigolds in some rows you will have fewer insect pests. If the sun is scorching them build a light frame of twigs and dry grass over the bed for shade. Remove the grass bit by bit as the seedlings grow stronger. If the weather is cold make some plastic germination domes from old bottles [see Kit 2 - Project 6].
  2. Water regularly and lightly with a punched tin can. Keeping the soil surface damp under the mulch .
  3. When the seedlings reach 5cm tuck the mulch up against the plants.
  4. Collect animal or poultry manure and make a liquid manure [see Project 7]. Put a 1 litre carton of manure, in a bucket of water for three days. Dilute the solution with water 1:30 times and put a teaspoon of this fertiliser on each plant after you have watered well.
  1. Control all insect pests by hand or with your natural insecticide mixture [see Kit 1 - Project 8].
  2. Start a new trench each month, for 4 months. This will ensure you a regular supply of fresh vegetables all year round.
Bed 1 Eating these vegetables and almost empty.
Bed 2 Almost ready to harvest.
Bed 3 Young vegetables growing.
Bed 4 Seedlings being nursed.
  1. Such a trench garden can be planted continuously for 5 years but it is wise to plant different types of plants in rows by rotation for best results... Of course this will mean keeping good records of where you planted your last crop.

Beet root
  1. Herbs add an interesting variety to the garden. Plant a few rows of parsley, chives, thyme, and garlic.
Every troop should plant a demonstration garden and sell the vegetables to the community or arrange a cook out [Project 14]. Teach your neighbours and children how to start their own food gardens. For more help and seed at reduced prices contact the... FOOD GARDENS FOUNDATION [P.O.Box 41250, Craighall, Johannesburg 2024 Phone [011] 880-5956].


Not everyone has access to soil but even those who live in blocks of flats can grow some food of their own - if only by small scale water culture methods. Some of the most impressive vegetables are grown hydroponically. As our cities spread, more and more land disappears under hard surfaces and lawns - the food producing area gets smaller! Today much of our food comes from more than 300 kilometers away, in which case each mouthful bears an extra transport cost.

Project 2: Hydroponics at home

  1. Choose a container - Plastic is the best but a pot or asbestos window box painted inside with bitumen paint will also work. If your container is clear, wrap it in brown paper.
  2. Drill a few small 6mm holes in the base and plug with nylon stocking.
  3. Place 3 cm of fine stone or gravel in the container for drainage.
  4. Fill to a 20-30 cm depth with river sand, or well washed builders sand.
    [There must be no lime in the sand.]
  5. Plant your seedlings or seeds in the container.
  6. Purchase a 500 g bag of commercial nutrient powder from a garden shop. This makes 250 litres.
  7. Dissolve a quarter level teaspoon in 1 litre of water and leave to stand in a plastic container overnight. Use this half strength solution to water the seedlings for the first 12 weeks.
  8. Thereafter water with full strength solution [half a level teaspoon to a litre.]
  9. Moisten the soil well once a day.
  10. Alternatively, use a siphon irrigation system to saturate the sand for 20 minutes each day.
  11. Support the growing plants properly.


Spring Beans [August to March]
Tomatoes [August to January]
Green Peppers
Summer Peas [February to July]
Autumn Carrots [March to August]
Winter Beet root [April to September]
All year Lettuce

Scouts could teach this beginners technique to their neighbours. Simple kits can be made and supplied to people living in flats, or rooms with only a window sill to garden on. Handicapped people could manage hydroponic gardening as it does not involves working soil at all. More help can be obtained from - The Association for Vegetables Under Protection. P.O.Box 3078, Coetzenburg, 7602.


Food trees are always an investment. Choose food trees that grow well in your area such as oranges, lemons and grape fruit. Pawpaw trees grow very quickly and can bear fruit within a year. Encourage everyone in the neighbourhood to plant a fruit tree.

Project 3: Food from the tree

This could be a long term or a short term project


  1. Find out what types of trees grow well in your area.
  2. Start a nursery cultivating trees from seeds in germination domes made from plastic bottles
    [see Kit 2 - Project 6].
  3. Organise a "fruit tree planting" day.
  4. Demonstrate how to plant the trees.
  5. The bigger the tree the bigger the hole will have to be.
  6. Young trees need to be looked after and watered weekly for at least a year.


  1. Arrange a fruit market where home grown fruit is exchanged or sold.
  2. Arrange a competition for the best locally grown fruits.
  3. Arrange for the sale of home bottled jams, whole fruit preserves and chutneys [see Project 11].
  4. Organise a demonstration on the planting and care of fruit trees.
  5. Hold a fruit-salad making competition.
  6. Sell home made fruit juices and fruit punches.
  7. Arrange a dried fruit exhibition [see Project 11].
  8. Raffle a fruit basket.



Popular western foods are becoming very expensive and the old knowledge of food plants is fast disappearing. All Scouts should know the edible wild foods in their district and be able to teach their use to others. Most city children have lost all knowledge of food from the wilds.

Project 4: Wild food

  1. Contact a botanist to teach you how to identify local food plants.
    See also: DONT DIE IN THE BUNDU. D.H. Grainger,
    FOOD FROM THE VELD. F. Fox and M. Young.
  2. Edible foods can be collected in the wild, but also need to be planted in demonstration gardens.
  3. Start a nursery in which you grow edible wild plants for sale.
  4. Organise a wild dinner to which you sell tickets to raise funds and awareness of the value of wild plant foods.


Plant Scientific name Use
Cape Gooseberry Physalis peruviana Eaten raw or cooked.
Pumpkin tops Cucurbita pepo Boil till soft in water or added to meal porridge.
Sour fig Mesembryanthemum Sticky seeds sucked from dried flowers.
Gums [resins] All acacia species Eaten raw as a sweet.
Karoo boer bean Scotia afra Eat green or roast in pan.
Thorn tree Acacia karoo Roast seeds and grind to make coffee.
Acorns Quercus ruber Grind and roast to make coffee
Grind, wash and boil to make soup.
Prickly pear Opuntia ficus-indica Seeds eaten raw.
Tsama melon Citrullus lanatus Pulp eaten for water. Boiled and eaten.
Cooked in meat stews.
Whole seeds pounded to meal.
Cow pea Vigna unguiculata Seeds and leaves eaten raw or cooked.
Wild plum Harpephyllum caffrum Fruit eaten raw when ripe.
Marula Sclerocarya birrea Fruit eaten raw when ripe.
Nuts eaten raw or cooked.
Num Num Carissa macrocarpa Fruit eaten when ripe.
Arum lily potatoes / Elephants ear [madumbe] Colocasia antiquorum Underground stem is cooked or roasted.
Arum lily Zantedeschia aethiopica Leaves sliced, boiled and added to porridge.
Sweet potato Impomoea batatas Boiled roasted or baked.
Brambles Rubus rigidus Fruits eaten raw.
Pine rings* Lactarius deliciosus Fried in butter.
Field Mushroom* Psalliota campestris Boiled in milk to make soup or eaten raw.
Stone/beefsteak Mushroom * Boletus edulis Stewed with vegetables.

  1. Insects are a rich, if unpopular, source of protein. Their use is important on any survival course.


Insect Scientific name Use
Locusts Acridoidea Eaten raw or roasted minus head, legs and wings.
Flying termites   Dried and powered, roasted or fresh.
Mopane caterpillars Colophospermum mopane Dried
Emperor moth caterpillar Gonimbrasia belina Dried
Bees Apis mellifera Honey [See project 5]
  1. Be sure and be safe. But in an emergency... don't eat plants with white sap - except the Num num. Avoid berries that look like tomatoes.
  2. Avoid mushrooms - unless you know them.
    Because a few mushrooms are very poisonous, expert identification is vital

Use this test...

  • Don't eat plants that have a bitter or burning taste on the tongue.
  • Chew a small piece and check the taste again.
  • Swallow a large piece and wait an hour - if there are no stomach aches, presume it is edible.
  • Even now its advisable to boil the plant well to make it more digestible when inside.

Project 5: Bee Keepers


  1. Bee keeping is best learnt from beekeepers - try to make contact with one.
  2. Spring is a good time to try to trap a wild swarm. Make yourself a simple top bar hive [see illustration].
  3. Rub the inside of the hive with an old brown honey comb.
  4. Place your hive in a shaded place well away from people and animals where the morning sun can reach it. Scout bees will find your hive and move in if it is acceptable.
    [Check with your local authorities before you start keeping bees. There are local safety regulations.]


  1. Make yourself a simple tin smoker which burns cow dung or hessian.
  2. Make a bee veil from gauze that you stitch to the brim of a strong hat tucking the loose edge into your jersey at the neck. Always wear gloves and thick, light coloured clothing. Tuck your sleeves into the gloves and your trousers into boots. You will have to wait a full year before this years swarm has spare honey to to harvest.
  3. Protect yourself and smoke the bees well.

  1. Stand behind the hive openings and remove the lid. Working from the empty side of the hive. Pry the first top bar loose with a knife. Lift out the honey combs one at a time leaving behind those combs in which you can see brood larvae [white grubs in cells.]
    Hold the combs vertically to avoid breaking them loose. Leave the first eight combs at the front end of the hive alone. Never take this honey - always leave it for the bees. Blow smoke gently into the hive as you remove each comb. Place the combs you want to eat in a sealed box well away from the hive, cutting the comb free. Push the combs that remain towards the front [brood end] of the hive. Replace the empty top bars and close the hive.
  2. Try not to alarm or squash bees. Smoke them continuously while you work. Rub honey or soothing cream into any stings after scraping the sting out with a knife blade.
  3. Remember bees are always wild! Work slowly and with protection. If you are allergic to bees keep well away!
  4. The harvested honey comb can be eaten immediately, or bottled, or the honey squeezed out of the comb with the back of a spoon.


Fish are a wonderful source of protein food in a hungry world. If there is a clean supply of stream water nearby you could build a few small ponds which would provide two or three kilograms of fish for a family each week throughout the year. Some Africans have been culturally reluctant to eat fish but with rising food prices this important source of food could help feed millions of people.

Project 6: Farming with fish


  1. Fish ponds need...
    level ground, fresh water and clay soil.
  2. They are built as shallow clay farm dams.
  3. Each pond is small, about 6 x 20 meters.
  4. Choose a site which will hold water.
    Dampen a handful of earth and squeeze it. If it retains it shape when released the soil will hold water.


  1. Dig the pond to be 70 cm deep at the inlet end and 120 cm deep at the outlet end.
  2. Insert a plugged plastic pipe into the deep end to drain the pond once a year.
  3. Build a 30x30 cm wall all around the pond. Tamp the soil down firmly with a tamping tool. Plant grass on the wall.
  4. Insert an overflow pipe at ground level to prevent overflowing in rainy weather. Fit a screen to the inside end of the pipe to protect the fish.
  5. Place a screened pipe in the stream above the fish dam and allow water to flow into the fish dam at the rate of 5 to 10 cm a day until full [1 meter at inlet and 1.2 meters at outlet.] The screen keeps the wild fish out of the pond.
  6. Fence the pond off from children and cattle.


  1. Throw cow or chicken manure into the pond to encourage algal growth.
  2. Tilapia and Oreochromis species have been used worldwide as food fishes.
    Consult your local Department of Agriculture to find out where to get fish from. About 120 small fishes [5cm] can be transplanted into a 6 x 20 meter pond.


  1. Throw plenty of manure into the water [regularly] and feed the fish finely chopped vegetable scraps six days a week. This gives them the chance to clean up uneaten food on the seventh day. The fish recycle this waste into fish protein.


  1. Each breeding pair can produce up to 5000 fry per year so fish will need to be caught regularly or the pond will soon be over stocked. Your pond can only support about 120 fish at a time for best fish growth rates. Catch the smallest ones with a scoop net and eat like sardines
    [see Project 9]
  2. Sweep the pond with a weighted net to collect your fish.


In almost every case it came from an 'egg factory' - a battery - a long shed filled with cages each the size of a folded newspaper. These cages are stacked up in tiers and each cage contains three hens. There is so little space that these birds can never even stretch their wings. This is one sad way to produce inexpensive eggs - happily there are other more humane ways as well which are a lot more fun.

Project 7: Poultry farming


  1. Young chicks need to be kept warm for the first six weeks using an infra-red bulb in a box with wood shaving litter.
  2. Keep this box indoors and safe from pets and pests.
  3. Feed the chicks on chick crumbs and clean water in a clear plastic dispenser.


  1. After six weeks the birds are more hardy and can be fed seed and meal, including well chopped greens from the kitchen.
  2. A portable chicken fold or small fenced yard is recommended to protect the birds. The portable fold can be moved daily to ensure that the grass recovers and that there is no build-up of manure. A 4 x 2 meter fold can house 20 hens.
  3. Its design must include 5 nest boxes for this number of hens. The handles can serve as perches. Larger structures need to be on wheels to make moving easier.
  4. Home-made feeders can be suspended from above to keep the dry food free of manure.
  5. Feed each hen 150 g of Layers Mash each day or replace half this quantity with grain. Add small amounts of weeds, mown grass and chopped peelings. You must make sure they have shell grit to replace the calcium lost in egg laying.
  6. A hen should be culled after one year as egg laying falls off after this. Get someone who knows how cull to show you how to kill and prepare a bird for eating. It's easy, but must be done humanely.

Part Two: Stopping food from spoiling

© Copyright 1991 - 1994
Dr Frank Opie for the South African Scout Association