This post is about some basic safety information you need to know before you venture out and commune with the land.
We live in a modern world where people are disconnected from the earth and producing their own food. We also live in a world of antibiotics, pasteurization, high pressure steam canning and preserving and other wonderful ways of keeping our food safe and secure. Having others do the "dirty work for us" has disconnected us from not only knowing how to grow a SHTF garden, but the dangers that are hidden in that same garden. Yes - what you can't see can kill you. This is even more important when you realize that in a true SHTF scenario, medical treatment (such as long term IV infused antibiotics) we all take for granted may not be available. An ounce of common sense and prevention makes seeking a "cure" totally unnecessary.
The first hazard that new gardeners need to understand is that various types of molds, spores, bacteria and other pathogens you can't see live and thrive in the soil, and can infect you through existing nicks or tears in your skin or through puncture wounds from thorns or sharp sticks.
A truly frightening infection (to me) is sporotrichosis, or "Rose Gardener's Disease". This is a fungus mold that grows in and near roses, which is how the majority of infections arise, hence the name. However, it can be contracted not only by puncture wounds from rose thorns but also from handling hay or sphagnum moss which is a common and popular organic growing media. It initially presents as a lump or nodule. As the infection proceeds, nodules and ulcers will normally follow the lymph system, and begin to appear as a line up or down the infected leg or arm, which makes it resemble something from a dystopian Zombie Apocalypse B-movie.
If left untreated, the infection can spread to bones and joints. It can also be a life-threatening infection for anyone who is already immuno-compromised.
Open sores/ulcers from a sporotrichosis infection can also led to a secondary bacterial infection known as cellulitis. It is important to monitor the ulcers and seek medical treatment if the edges become red, swollen and warm and the red/warm area begins to "spread" which are typical calling cards for cellulitis (literally, "infection of the cells"). Cellulitis ALWAYS need medical attention and in serious cases can lead to a "whole body" infection known as sepsis.
Sporotrichosis is also not fun - many people who contract it find it a very painful disease and onset can be quite rapid.
Next up are five nasties that all love improperly treated and managed animal compost, aka "raw manure" and can hang around for a long time once they've found a home in your garden. It is important to ensure that if you are using animal manure as a soil amendment, especially at your SHTF "Bug Out Location" that you NOT spread improperly or incompletely treated animal waste on your garden.
E. Coli, Camplyobacter jejuni, Salmonella, Listeria and Leptospirosis all thrive in soil contaminated by raw waste. Your animal compost needs to be thoroughly heated to at least an internal temperature of 140F for a sustained period of time to kill the pathogens. E.Coli can live in the soil for 2 - 3 months, while salmonella can live up to 6 months! For small scale gardening, covering your manure waste pile with black plastic sheeting and letting the sun do its magic, turning the pile frequently, is a sufficient low-tech way to ensure you are not using soil amendments that will make you or your family sick. I always cover my garden beds with a heavy tarp for at least a month before planting in the spring to trap the solar energy under the tarp to heat the soil, in addition to only adding fully treated compost to my garden. There are several benefits to this (pre-warming your garden with a dark tarp), one of which is it helps kills unwanted pathogens in your garden soil.
Lastly, proper water management needs to be an important part of your SHTF garden plan, especially if you are watering your garden with well water that is also the water source for your own hydration needs.
Giardiasis, known in northern climes as "Beaver Fever", is a water borne disease that is found throughout the US and is very hard to manage well. It can be found in contaminated soil and water, and for home gardeners in remote locations, is often a "cross-contamination" vector - infected soil then infects well water from garden run-off, which is then used to water the garden soil...
The free online resource "Gardens as a source of infectious disease and reducing the risk", published by the Miami-Dade County Extension office clearly warns of the dangers of giardia contamination and its difficulty to treat and eliminate:
"...There is also a need to prevent contamination of the site through rainwater washing parasite cysts from the manure or compost pile onto the surrounding ground. This is particularly important if well water is being used to irrigate the garden, since contaminated water supplies have been implicated in most outbreaks of giardiasis. The cysts are resistant to drying, chlorination and temperature extremes, are able to survive for months in water, and are relatively persistent during treatment of wastewater" (emphasis mine)
Because giardia can often claim victory over even municipal waste water treatment efforts, planning to minimize garden or pasture run-off at your bug-out location, AND having a secondary treatment of your own drinking water is key to vanquishing giardia and keeping it at bay. Boiling and filtering of water in a retail system like Brita or Pur is usually not sufficient enough to eradicate Giardia. For many people, a small-scale UV sanitation system is a good way to ensure your drinking water has killed any giardia cysts which may be in your well water. There is a wide variety of models on the market; it's important to verify with the manufacturer that the product will kill giardia cysts and what the replacement requirements are for keeping the unit active long-term.
Home Use UV Water Sanitation Systems are ideal for bug out locations
In summation, it is important to use care and caution when gardening, especially if you plan on using animal waste (fecal and urine) for soil improvement. Prevention is always preferable to having to seek medical attention especially in a true SHTF situation.
(1) Always wear gloves, long sleeves and footwear when gardening to reduce the risk of soil-borne infections introduced through punctures or open nicks or cuts. Ensure that children "helping" in the garden also always wear gloves and footwear.
(2) Never spread partially decomposed or treated animal waste on your garden. Follow your local county extension office guidelines for managing home compost to ensure that your method of treatment raises the internal temperature of your manure pile to at least 140F for as long as required in your local area before adding to your garden. Your local Agricultural extension office has the most applicable information about pathogens most common to your location, and they will be able to provide you with well-written, easy to understand information - most of which has been stored online for public access.
(3) When planning your bug-out location garden and pasture, ensure that you are using proper water management strategies to (a) avoid wasting water unnecessarily and (b) contaminating your own drinking water with garden or pasture run-off.
(4) Be aware that boiling does not always treat all water-borne pathogens commonly found in rural areas of the US; if your location and resources warrant it, consider secondary treatment of your own drinking water needs with a multi-stage reverse osmosis purification (ROPU) system, a UV sanitation system, or a system that combines both UV and ROPU technologies. When deciding on a system, make sure that you are able to stock enough replacement filters and bulbs in advance to continue to use the systems if the supply chain is interrupted.
YTZ4Mee applied her formal university education in microbiology and toxicology while working as an outreach educator with the university's agricultural extension department as one of her internships many moons ago, and also worked as a supervisory chemist/microbiologist in a medical reference laboratory for several years. She volunteers as a stream monitor and public educator as part of the interconnected agency efforts to protect the Chesapeake watershed. Her advice is based on personal field experience and from living and working in remote areas where medical care is not always easy to obtain. The suggestions provided are for general information purposes only; you should always contact both your local public health department and agricultural extension office for specific information and guidance applicable to your region and circumstances.