Survival gardening refers to the practice of growing a garden designed specifically to yield enough crops for you and your family to live off. While survival gardening is a popular term thrown around amongst those preparing to survive a worldwide devastating incident, however, it also relates to those looking to live sustainably and produce their own food. In a survival garden, you need to grow enough ‘calories’ for your entire family to survive and thrive. This simply means you must produce enough food to sustain you and your family without any outside help. Your garden should contain plants with all the essential vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and medicines you may need to survive.
Survival gardening is challenging, there is no easy way to say that. If you have grown or maintain your own garden currently, you know the hard work it takes. You will need to tend to all your plants, prep soil, harvest ripe crops and much more. For those who have not planted a garden before, you have a lot to learn!
If all you could grow was all you could eat, would you be able to survive?
Reasons to Grow a Survival Garden
When you first hear the theory behind a survival garden, your first thought may be, “Why would anyone feel the need to do that?” or “Who has time for that?” Those are fair questions.
Today, there are grocery stores, farms, produce markets and factories that supply us with everything we could need. Yet, how often have you struggled to make time to get to the grocery store or wished that you did not have to leave your house to gather food? How nice would it have been to have all you need growing right in your backyard?
Whether there is a global pandemic, a supply chain issue, a natural disaster, or just the need to be entirely self-sufficient; survival gardening is valuable. Its roots lay in sustainable living and food production. Not only will you supply food to sustain your family you will also spend time outside, relieve stress, and get more exercise. There is simply no reason not to consider it.
How Much to Grow in Your Survival Garden
How big your survival garden should be will depend on a variety of factors. Ask yourself the following questions before you even begin work on your garden.
- How many people are in your family? How many children? How many adults? You will need to know this to know how much food you need to produce to satiate your entire family.
- What kind of crops will you be growing? Different plants have different space requirements. You will need to think about how much room you have vs how much room you need before you pick out your crops.
- What kind of natural soil do you have? Is it quality? What climate do you live in? Knowing this can mean the difference from having a fruitful harvest or wasting a bunch of seeds.
- What is your gardening history? Have you planted a garden before? What is your familiarity with succession planting? If this is your first garden, you will have a lot to learn. If you have successfully tended to a ‘survival’ garden before you will have a better chance at survival right off the bat.
- How much time will you be able to devote to gardening? Do you or your family have enough time in the day to turn the soil, water the crops, harvest ready crops, monitor for pests, etc.? Survival gardening is quite different than having a simple ‘backyard garden’ to grow your tomatoes, pea pods and peppers.
For even the most basic of survival gardens, you likely need at least ¼ acre. However, depending on the size of your family and your crop preferences, this can easily extend to 2-acres. If you do not have that kind of space you will need to improvise with elevated beds, vertical gardening, potted plants, and plants that will grow inside your residence with limited sunlight.
If this is your first time growing a ‘survival garden’ we suggest you start small, with well less than a ¼ of an acre or simply use planters and pots. Try planting only 3-5 crops. As you grow your skills, you can always expand your garden to accommodate your skill level and level of devotion. It can be difficult to get started and to maintain if you take on too large of a plot before you are ready.
What to Grow in your Survival Garden?
Now, this is the ultimate question. Many people may question whether there is enough nutritional value in a single vegetable patch to sustain anyone, let alone a family. The simple answer is yes; there are plenty of options out there for everyone.
The following vegetables are incredibly easy to grow and offer essential nutrients. If you do not naturally have a green thumb, you will be grateful that these 10 not only give you some experience and confidence but they will also give you vital nutrition. When you are living entirely off the land, you will need to make sure you are maintaining a healthy rounded diet.
If you are not lucky enough to also have some livestock or poultry you will need to be sure you eat a hearty diet with lots of vegetables, legumes, fruits, etc. Beans and potatoes are particularly popular for nutritional value, food preservation and keeping you full.
Gardening can be rather fickle. Unforeseen circumstances can easily pop up and devastate your entire crop. Additionally, despite what you may think it is unlikely that you and your family will eat your whole harvest before it goes bad. To ensure you do not waste food and have everything you need in case of a disaster; it is imperative to have long-term food storage. This may consist of canned foods (from your own crops, dried and smoked meats, aged cheese, grains, etc.)
- Beans – excellent source of protein and good replacement for meat
- Carrots – high in fiber, vitamin A (eye health), antioxidants and other vitamin and minerals
- Leafy Greens – low in calories but rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins that reduce obesity, heart disease and mental decline
- Peas – great source of heart healthy minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium
- Potatoes – good source of carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins and antioxidants
- Sunflowers – good source of healthy fat, protein, vitamin E and magnesium
- Zucchini – high in protein, fiber, carbs and essential minerals like iron and calcium
- Peppers – excellent source of iron, fiber, folate (essential for pregnant ladies), vitamins A, C, and potassium
- Tomatoes – major dietary source of antioxidants, folate, vitamin C, K and potassium
- Cucumbers – high in minerals like magnesium, copper, potassium and vitamins B and C, not to mention full of water for hydration.
You will also want to consider planting a few perennials. Perennial crops do not need to be reseeded or replanted every year; they simply regrow every year. With these options you will not need to plow annually. They help protect your soil from erosion and improve your soil structure. Simply put, these are low-maintenance, low-water options that you can rely on.
- Asparagus – great source of fiber, folate and vitamins A, C & K
- Grapes – full of antioxidants to help prevent chronic diseases, vitamin C and vitamin K
- Blueberries – the king of antioxidants. Great source of fiber, folate, Vitamin B6 and vitamin C
- Cranberry Hibiscus – offers sustenance and medicinal uses. The leaves can be added to salads while the flowers help with post-fever and anemia ailments.
- Rhubarb – great source of Vitamin K, fiber, calcium, and Vitamin C which helps with blood clotting and bone health
- Fruit and Nut Trees – Nuts offer good fats and protein that are imperative to maintaining weight when surviving off the land.
Harvesting as a Limitation
While you need to eat every single day of the year from your survival garden, you may only be able to grow crops for a few months in your location. As you start exploring sustainable living and food protection, it is necessary to learn how to extend your growing season and how to preserve your harvest. If this step is neglected and it comes down to needing to survive solely from your garden, you could end up in a lot of trouble.
Just remember, there is no failure in survival gardening. Mainly because failure is not an option. When you are forced into a situation where surviving off your garden is no longer a choice, You cannot afford to fail. Start off slow and steady; stick to crops that are easy to grow in your area. Keep in mind the nutritional value and be sure you are maintaining a balanced diet. Start slow before you branch out and enlarge your garden space.
Storing Your Harvest
When growing a garden with survival in mind, food preservation is a must. Specific crops that offer essential nutrients may not grow year-round. To help ensure you have enough of those essential nutrients to last the whole year, you will need to harvest your crop, keep what you can use before it spoils, then preserve the rest in manageable portions to be used throughout the year.
When there is no power, standard food storage methods are limited. There are a few different long-term storage methods. You can either dehydrate your excess harvest, you may 'can' them (if you have access to fire and water) or you can try to extend the shelf life by storing product in a cool, well-ventilated place to prevent vermin and moisture from collecting.
If you have access to fire, water and have the knowledge to 'can' your food, that is the preferred method of long-term storage for moist foods. Dehydration is most popular for meat, fruit, and legumes (to be rehydrated later). Cool and dry storage is best practice for items like wheat, flour, herbs, and the like.