How To Start Survival Gardening For Beginners

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Just a few months ago, people really took for granted the vast variety of goods readily available in the supermarket. People started to see the effects of businesses starting to shut down and everyone panicked. Before you knew it, shelves were barren of toilet paper.

I still don’t know what that was all about. There were also long lines everywhere, reminiscent of the 1970’s gas crisis, as people began to hoard goods and waited for hours in line to fill up gas.

Think back to Christmas time. Would you have EVER thought there would be a shortage of toilet paper? I don’t think so. This simple little example shows how fragile our logistics chain really is. How would you have felt if it was you looking at barren shelves, but everything was gone?

Well, what if I told you that you never have to have the helpless feeling of not being able to bring food to the table in the time of a national emergency.

Have you ever thought about growing your own food for survival? In times of economic uncertainty, planting a garden brings reassurance and a sense of calm. There may come a time that it is a challenge to find food supplies in stores, but survival gardening is your insurance plan for any emergency because there is an entire garden to provide subsistence.

Planning and prepping for a survival garden before it is needed is easy and essential for success. If you’ve been curious about how to be better prepared for food emergencies, survival gardening is an excellent place to start and I am going to show you how.

What is a survival garden?

During WWI and WW2, the American public planted gardens in their private residences and in parks to relieve the strain on the food supply chain during a time of national emergency. These gardens were called “Victory Gardens” or “War Gardens.” A survival garden is basically the same thing, a vegetable, fruit, and herb garden designed to provide enough food and nutrients for a family to survive on in a time of disaster or emergency. This isn’t your classic backyard garden. The exact requirements for any survival garden depend on how many people it is intended to feed and for how long. Survival gardening takes into account the calories, carbs, vitamins, fats, and nutrients that a person needs to maintain health. For a garden to provide all of this it takes specific planning. As humans, our diet is diverse and thankfully there are a variety of fruits, herbs, and vegetables to grow to meet the basic needs for survival.

Survival Gardening For Beginners

What is a survival garden?

Survival gardening requires some preplanning, gardening skills, commitment, some elbow grease, and understanding what grows best in your climate and region. So what is survival gardening for beginners? It is a garden plot with enough crops to sustain a family for a year will take several years to establish so now is the best time to start for the future. If you’re new to gardening, you’ll want to research local gardening techniques that work best in your location or check out my previous post (The Ultimate Guide To Chemical Free Gardening) for more in depth info and how to’s. Not all survival gardens are the same just as not all people’s needs are the same. For example, if you live in the city, you’ll need to look into an urban survival garden and grow creatively. There also may be specific dietary needs for individuals with allergies.

The best foods to grow for survival always start with heirloom seeds for vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. These are necessary in order to be self-sufficient. Vegetables, fruits, and legumes are relatively easy to grow and preserve for future use. The most challenging component is grain crops because they require lots of space and effort. You’ll want to give higher priority to crops that store well, like root vegetables and gourds.

Planting a variety of crops in the survival garden will go a long way in creating sustainability. Vegetable crops that reach maturity at different times throughout the year are essential. Early, mid, and late-season varieties of plants will ensure there is always food to eat and will reduce shortages due to crop failures.

In the planning process, rank the crops based on expected yields. The highest yielding crops will be most important in a survival situation.

Another great use of space is a food forest. If you have the garden space, a food forest is an excellent means of providing sustenance for the long-term. A food forest mimics the natural eco-system where you live. It is designed to provide a large assortment of low maintenance edible plants, specifically ones that don’t need to be replanted every year. Food forests often include fruit trees and bushes, nut trees, and perennial vegetables.

How Big Of A Garden Do I Need To Feed A Family Of Four?

People can eat a LOT. A single adult needs approximately 4000 square feet of land to produce enough food to live on a vegetarian diet for a year. A family of four will need around four times this, with additional land consideration for paths and walkways through the garden, so everything is accessible. If there are children in your household, they require less, of course. However, as they grow, their needs will change and need to be considered during the initial planning.

Every family is different, though. If your family dislikes turnips, there is no point in wasting land planting them. Grow food that you want to eat as well as food that will last a long-time in a survival situation. A good way to determine what you need is to calculate what you eat now. For example, if your family eats 2 lbs of potatoes a week, then you’ll need 104 lbs per year (2 lbs x 52 weeks). However, you should grow more than that to accommodate for losses due to pests, disease, and other unpredictable issues. Draw up a survival garden layout that fits your family’s needs before you do any planting.

Here a great calculator for how much vegetables to plant for each person.

How do you preserve food for long term storage?

How to preserve food from a survival garden

Ever heard of the term, putting your eggs in one basket? You definitely don’t want to do that here. You need to use a variety of ways to preserve food but luckily, there are several methods of food storage to consider. Relying on a single method can be catastrophic if there is an issue (freezer fails, jars break…), affecting the entire survival situation. Canning, dehydrating (or drying), and freezing are the three main methods. Some people also freeze-dry their garden harvests; however, the equipment needed to do that is a bit pricey. Freeze dryers range from $400-$2500.

  • Canning – A time-honored food preservation method, canning is a great way to prepare foods for storage. Most vegetables and fruits can be canned. There are a lot of resources available, books, and videos online, with recipes and methods. Be sure to follow the safe-preparation rules regarding temperatures to ensure the foods are correctly canned. Canned foods may spoil or become toxic if prepared improperly. Canned foods last from 1 year to 5 years, depending on what it is and how it was made. Pickles, sauces, whole fruits, relishes, and individual vegetables are the items most commonly canned.
  • Dehydrating – The easiest of all the methods, drying food is simple, and the dried results last a long time. Dehydrating can be done with a dehydrator, an oven, or even via solar drying using the sun. Not all foods benefit from being dehydrated. Dehydrated foods are not ready-to-eat at any time; most will need to be re-hydrated before consuming. Tomatoes, potatoes, beans, peas, carrots, kale, spinach, and pumpkins can all be dehydrated.
  • Freezing – An easy storage method that is great if you have space to do it. Most people get an additional stand-alone freezer to store all their back-up foods. Freezing doesn’t take a lot of effort, and many vegetables and fruits can be frozen for a long time. The biggest downside to freezing is that if the power goes out for any reason, all the food could be lost.
Primitive Food Storage Methods

What Are Some Primitive Food Storage Methods?

Here are some time tested storage methods that our ancestors used before the advent of electricity. Pick at least one or two of these methods so you don’t “put all your eggs in one basket.”

  • Root Cellar – A properly dug root cellar keeps vegetables cool in the summer and prevents freezing in the winter. Root cellars are designed to prevent vegetable spoilage and are an incredible asset for survival. Root vegetables, like carrots, potatoes, beets, and turnips, keep for a long time in a root cellar. Gourds, like pumpkins, butternut squash, and acorn squash can keep for up to a year in a root cellar.
  • Salting – Salt is a natural preserver of foods, and packing vegetables in salt is a method used for generations to keep foods long-term. This is different from pickling or fermenting, which are also great preservation methods, because it doesn’t use a brine. The vegetables are packed directly into large amounts of dry, edible salt, with no water added. All vegetables prepared this way need to be rinsed well before consumption. This method is best used for corn, okra, celery, shelled peas, and green beans.
  • Pickling & Brining – These methods use salt, water, and often vinegar as well to preserve the vegetables. This method is different from canning because it doesn’t require heating the product before storing it. The vegetables are combined with a percentage of salt and vinegar, covered and stored in a cool, dry location for the long-term. The salt mixture ferments the vegetables, changing their overall structure and taste, creating an entirely new product. Carrots, beets, whole cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, beans, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, and onions are all great fermented.

What Every Survivalist Should Grow in the Backyard

What would you think about just eating potatoes for a month? I couldn’t last two days. You have to mix it up a little bit. The four main categories that you need in your survival garden are vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. Planting a variety of fruits and vegetables is the key to a good survival garden. Fruit trees, like apples, peaches, lemons, and pears produce for many years. Never plant just one type in case there is a disease or pest that hits one. Having four to five different varieties of apple trees will ensure that there are apples every year. The same applies to vegetables. Plant several types of pumpkins, potatoes, peppers, legumes, and winter squash to make certain there will be a harvest every year.

How To Start Survival Gardening For Beginners - NatureZedge

Best Fruits to Grow

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Blueberries
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Plums

Best Crops to Grow

  • Dry Beans (like garbanzos, lima, black, soy, and pinto beans)
  • Bush and pole beans
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Winter squash (butternut, acorn, Waltham, Hubbard, spaghetti)
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Sunflowers (for sunflower seeds)
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Cucumbers
  • Peanuts
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Radishes
  • Amaranth
  • Mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, and button mushrooms are the easiest and can grow quite prolifically)

The highest yielding crops are potatoes, pole beans, cucumbers, peas, radishes, and some varieties of winter squash.

How Do You Store Seeds For Survival?

So we are still in that survival situation. There are no seeds available at the store so what do you do? A garden doesn’t exist without seeds. And, old, improperly stored seeds will rarely sprout. Storing seeds correctly is essential for any survival gardening plan. Store-bought seeds can be stored long-term without too much effort. The key is to prevent moisture from reaching them. Moisture deteriorates the quality of the seeds and reduces germination success at planting time.

The best way to store seeds is to place each type in a clearly labeled zip-lock or foil-lined bag. Then, place the bags in resealable glass jars. Canning jars are perfect for this. To further ensure that no moisture reaches the seeds, place desiccant packs in each jar.

Store the jars in a cool, dark location. Refrigerators and freezers are good long-term storage options. Freezing seeds will keep them viable for decades. If this isn’t an option, a cold, dark room in the house will work as well. However, the seeds will likely only be good there for a few years, as opposed to decades.

Seed-Saving

Vegetable seeds can be saved from the garden instead of being purchased. This is tricky for several vegetable types, like squashes, because they cross-pollinate easily. Tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers are relatively easy to save seeds from, though. Saving seeds is a great way to reduce expenses and maintain varieties that your family likes. Often, seed companies stop providing varieties due to shortages or a drop in popularity. The only way to guarantee you have the seeds you want is to save them yourself.

How long can I store seeds?

Stored in moisture-tight containers in the freezer, seeds will stay viable for 10-20 years or longer. Seeds stored in a moisture-tight container in a cool-dark room will remain viable for 5-10 years.

Important Gardening Methods

There are many ways to garden beside the traditional dug-up flat dirt plot. Consider using other methods to supplement or increase your harvests and produce crops during otherwise inactive growing times.

  • Greenhouse gardening – With a greenhouse, you can extend the growing season and even grow vegetables throughout the winter.
  • Hydroponic gardening – An indoor system allows for growing year-round. Hydroponics systems also produce vegetables faster than traditional methods.
  • Permaculture gardening – This system of growing implements vertical and horizontal growing designs to increase production and make the best use of the available space.
  • Forest Farming – Make use of wooded land by interweaving crops into the already existing eco-system.

Survival Gardening In An Urban Setting

urban vegetable garden

Do you live in the city? Don’t have 4000 square feet per person to do your gardening? Being in an urban setting doesn’t mean you can’t start a survival garden. There may not be enough land space to sustain you and your family for months, like in a rural setting, but you can still give yourself some food security. There are numerous ways to make the most of small spaces, like using trellis systems and walls to grow upwards instead of outwards. Front lawns can be turned into edible landscapes with a few fruit trees, blueberry bushes, and climbing beans and peas. Container gardening on the balcony or deck can produce quite a lot of vegetables. Hanging tomato planters turn unused space into productive areas. Windowsills indoors are great for growing herbs and greens. When there is a crisis and accompanying food shortage, every little bit will help.

Final Thoughts

This should have at least given you a head start and got your mind working. With a little forethought and elbow grease, you can make sure that you and your family never have to go hungry. These methods can also be used to bring your family closer and get you more in touch with your environment. Even if you don’t need to survive 100% off of the land and still have some resources available, there is a significant benefit. You can also donate your unused food. Every day, millions around the globe go to bed hungry. With a survival vegetable garden, you can also help those less fortunate. So, get planning today to help ensure a better tomorrow for you and your family.

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