In a crisis, would you be able to produce enough food for yourself and your family? Where would you even start to create food self-sufficiency? A survival garden is a necessary addition to your survival food plan. From choosing what to grow to where to grow it, here are some essential steps to survival gardening.
What is Survival Gardening?
The difference between survival gardening and hobby gardening is in the desired outcome. In survival gardening, the main purpose is to produce enough calories to maintain life.
The secondary purpose is to produce enough food to store through the winter. Or to have on hand as a backup in case of crop failure during the growing season.
How Much Space Do You Need?
When planning a survival garden, the first thing to consider is the size of your garden. If you are new to gardening, start small. You can always expand later.
Look at the space you have available and the amount of sunlight in each area. Certain vegetables, such as leafy greens and broccoli, will tolerate some shade. But most vegetable plants need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.
If you have the room, a traditional garden with well-spaced rows is one option. Raised beds and square foot gardening allow you to grow more food in a smaller space.
Yet, these are all identifiable as vegetable gardens and may attract unwanted attention.
You don’t have to plant vegetables in specific garden areas. You can plant them anywhere. Tuck a few into flower beds or window boxes. Mix them in with your landscaping.
Try vertical gardening. Use trellises and towers to make good use of vertical space. Hanging baskets, both indoors and out, can increase the amount of usable garden space.
How Much Food Should You Grow?
The amount of food that you will need varies based on activity and other things such as age, height and body frame. You also need more calories in colder weather.
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most men need approximately 2000-3000 calories per day. Most women need 1600-2400 calories per day. Estimate at least 1500 calories per day for children 8 and younger or more based on activity levels.
If you don’t want to worry about the math, estimate 2000 calories for each adult and 1500 for each child. This will give you some basic figures to work with, then you can adjust them as needed.
How Much Do You Currently Eat?
Start to track how much food you currently eat. How much do you and your family eat in a day, a week and a month? Write down the foods and the amounts. Include all snacks and unplanned meals. Don’t forget beverages.
Keep a running total of your weekly and monthly groceries. List the item and the volume. Track which foods your family eats first. Take note of which foods are banished to the back of the pantry and rarely see the light of day.
Compare the list of foods eaten with your grocery list and notice any discrepancies. Have you included food eaten outside of the home? Or current garden produce? The average person eats far more food than they realize.
Within a month, you should have a clear understanding of your family’s average food needs. What you discover will be useful in choosing how much and which foods to grow.
Plan for Food Storage
Part of survival gardening is to ensure that also have food left over for storage.
Determine the length of your current growing season. How many months of food storage will you need for the months when your survival garden is not producing?
In some areas, the growing season can be a few months while in other areas you can garden year-round. Keep in mind the time for the plants to grow and develop before you are able to harvest.
Also, be aware of the possibility of unforeseen losses. You may experience drought or wet weather. Your garden may succumb to disease, suffer invasions of insects or all the above.
Be prepared. Plan to produce enough food to cover all possibilities.
Expanding Your Growing Season
There are several good reasons to expand your growing season.
- It makes more food available for more months of the year.
- You are less dependent on stored food.
- It allows you to save the stored food for true emergencies.
- Fresh food is more nutritious. Any type of food processing will result in the loss of nutrients.
How can you expand your growing season?
- Succession planting: Plant a cool season spring crop. After harvest, replace it with a summer crop.
- Staggered planting: Plant a single crop in different plantings a few weeks apart. This allows you to harvest over several weeks instead of all at once.
- Cloches: Use cloches or row covers to protect crops from cold or frost damage. This lets you plant earlier and also extend the harvest season.
- Greenhouses: Greenhouses provide a stable environment. This allows you to extend the season and grow plants year-round.
- Indoor Gardening: If you have space indoors, you can grow fruits and vegetables inside. Like a greenhouse, you can grow plants year-round.
Survival Gardening: What Should You Grow?
Will You Eat It?
Grow foods that your family enjoys and will eat. During a crisis, it helps to have familiar, comfort food. Not only will it lessen stress, it will also improve both digestion and morale. It’s also easier to grow plants that you like to eat.
Will It Grow Here?
Choose vegetable varieties that grow well in your area. Gardening can be difficult even under the best circumstances. Trying to grow tropical plants in a cold climate requires more time, effort and expense.
Calories = Energy
High-calorie vegetables provide energy and help to fill you up. Some common high-calorie vegetables include beans, potatoes, and winter squashes. Not only are, they easy to grow, they also store well for the winter.
High Nutrition Vegetables
Include high nutrition vegetables in your survival gardening plan. Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, mustard greens and lettuces are tasty both raw and cooked. Nutrient dense, greens provide fiber, potassium, magnesium as well as Vitamin C.
To avoid what the old-timers called “spring sickness” also known as scurvy, you need a steady supply of Vitamin C rich foods.
Citrus fruits are not the only source of Vitamin C. A wide variety of vegetables are high in Vitamin C. These include dark, leafy greens, peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.
Plant Sources of Healthy Fats
In a survival situation, it can be challenging to get enough healthy fats in your diet. Most fats consumed come from meat and dairy products. If you do not have access to your own livestock or game, plant sources are an alternative.
Nut trees such as almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, and pecans are a good addition to a prepper’s garden. A young tree can take several years to grow before producing a crop. Planting now can provide a steady, dependable food source for the future.
For a faster alternative, try sunflower seeds and peanuts. Soybeans, flax, and avocados are extra sources of fats.
Don’t overlook what many may consider weeds. According to Susan Mahr of the University of Wisconsin, common purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a source of calcium, magnesium and vitamin C.
Choosing Your Seeds
When choosing your seeds, look for local seeds that work well in your area. Get to know old time gardeners. They are a treasure trove of information. They also have years of experience with what works and doesn’t in your particular region.
Seed and plant swaps can be a good source of local seed varieties. But be careful. You never know for certain just how old the seeds are or even what type of vegetable you’ll end up with.
Look for open pollinated seeds. An open pollinated seed produces a plant that is “true-to-type”. In other words, it is nearly identical to its parent plant. This allows you to save seed from this year’s crop and grow the same type of vegetable next year.
Hybrid seeds are a deliberate cross between plants to create a certain trait. The hybrid seeds you buy commercially will produce a strong crop. But, if you attempt to save seeds from their crop, the successive plants will not be true-to-type. You will have to buy new hybrid seeds each year to get a good crop.
Keeping Your Survival Garden Under Wraps
Don’t mention it. The fewer people who know you garden, the less chance that they will show up in your garden in the middle of the night.
If you’re a talkative person, and you’re afraid you’ll let something slip, emphasize that it’s a flower garden. Plant a few marigolds around the perimeter (they’re good at repelling pests) and you’ll be telling the truth.
Here are some other ways to hide your survival garden:
- Avoid neat garden rows. Cultivate a more relaxed version of your yard.
- Mix vegetables in with your regular landscaping.
- Plant greens and root vegetables in flower beds.
- Plant hedges as privacy screens.
- Keep easy to recognize plants out of sight. Tomatoes and fruit trees tend to attract attention.
- Plant vegetables that most people won’t recognize. Good choices include some of the stranger looking heirloom varieties. Or, you could add in non-standard foods like nettles. Root crops such as potatoes are also easy to overlook.
Survival Gardening Tips
The best time to start a survival garden is now. Like anything, learning to garden is a skill. Even the best gardeners have seen their crops fail. It’s better to learn now than during a crisis.
Be willing to change your diet. If you tracked your food for a month and discovered that you never eat vegetables, it may be time for a change. In a crisis, switching to a diet of garden produce will be a serious shock to your system. Changing your diet now will make it easier then.
Keep your garden close to the house. When your garden is closer, it’s easier to maintain it and protect it from predators.
Learn how to preserve your harvest. There are a variety of ways to preserve your harvest. A few of the most popular are canning, drying, and pickling. Experiment with several ways until you feel comfortable with them.
Survival gardening is about more than just growing plants. It’s a shift in perspective. It’s a way to take control of one your most important survival needs – your food. By following these essential steps, you’ll be well on your way to food self-sufficiency.