Francisco Loaiza, a friend of Christopher Nyerges, inspects the mallow plants and other edible weeds in Nyerges' backyard garden. | Photo by Christopher Nyerges

A Voice in the NELA Wilderness: The New World of “Shelter in Place”

2020 April Christopher Nyerges Columnists Editions

by Christopher Nyerges

Businesses are closed and Angelenos are being told to stay home in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

To help you through this time, here’s a summary of the home self-reliance skills that I attempt to live by – and have long advocated to city dwellers be ready for earthquakes and other emergencies like this present one. If you are well prepared, consider this a review. If you are less-than-prepared, now is the time to get started to the extent possible.

First and foremost, you need to take stock on several levels:


Your neighbors are your greatest resource. Neighbors need to know who’s who, who has special skills, such as plumbing or medical, and who has disabilities and needs assistance.

The Neighborhood Watch program has always been a way for neighbors to work together, sharing skills and resources. If you have a Neighborhood Watch where you live, participate in it, even if online for the time being.


Most front yards and backyards are ideal for growing food. If you are not already growing your own food, the first step is to create good soil using compost and mulch.  So, learn to compost your kitchen scraps and, as daily conditions normalize, arrange to get free mulch from tree pruners who otherwise have to pay to get rid of it. Select plants that don’t require a lot of work and that take care of themselves. Online gardening sources will tell you many of the plants that will do well in your yard.

You can grow an immediate garden using some of your current produce scraps. Onion roots can be planted to produce new greens. Sprouted potatoes, planted in good soil,  produce new potato crops. Carrot tops planted with a bit of the carrot still attached and radish tops planted with a bit of the radish attached will produce edible greens.

Other sources of food from your yard include edible weeds, like mallow, lambs quarter, chickweed, New Zealand spinach and wild radish.  You can learn to identify and prepare edible weeds through online research. Still another way to use your yard for food is to consider raising chickens or keeping bees.


Learn to collect rain and to recycle grey water from your washing machine for watering your garden. Of course, grey water recylcling requires you to use only laundry detergents that do not harm the soil, like Seventh Generation.


Store medications that you must have. Also learn about how the body can heal itself and about common medicinal plants such as aloe, mint, willow, cactus and others.

When my wife and I moved into our first home together in 1986, we immediately set up a backyard compost system and began practicing the things I’ve outlined here, along with other self-reliance skills. We wrote about our way-of-life in our first book, “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City.” Our follow-up book, “Self-Sufficient Home: Going Green and Saving Money,” was based on interviews with many of our neighbors who emulated our practices.

We always believed that everyone can learn and practice self-reliance and today, more than ever, everyone should.


“Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home” and other books by Christopher Nyerges are available from online booksellers and from the store at