Starting a Survival Garden

People garden for a variety of reasons: for enjoyment, to grow attractive flowers and ornamental plants, to produce some vegetables for salads, etc. But from the point of view of prepping, a large backyard garden can produce a significant amount of the food that you may need to survive in difficult times. I call this approach to gardening: Survival Gardening. There are already many posts at Prep-Blog on the topic of what to grow in a survival garden:

Survival Gardening: grow your own peanuts
Survival Gardening: frost tolerant Brassica crops
Survival Gardening: 7 Ways to Recover from Crop Damage
Survival Gardening: growing sunflower seeds
Survival Gardening: winter hardy food crops
Survival Gardening: Antioxidants from the garden
and many more similar posts

But for this prepping and survival blog post, I’d like to talk about starting a survival garden.

What makes a survival garden different from an ordinary garden? The aim of survival gardening is to grow staple foods, not salad fixings, not flowers, not herbs. Basically, you will want to grow crops that offer substantial amounts of any or all of the three macronutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrate. You can’t survive on lettuce, tomato, cucumber, peppers, and other salad ingredients. You will also want to grow some foods that store well, so that you can both eat from your garden and store some food for future use (such as during winter).

Which crops should you grow? See my previous posts on this topic for details. I’ll give a quick overview of some of the better crops:

For a backyard garden of almost any size, small or large, you probably will not want to go to the expense and effort of growing grains that must be hulled before being eaten. Wheat, barley, oats, and rice all require a hulling machine to remove hulls prior to cooking and eating. A whole-grain, such as whole wheat or brown rice, still has had its hulls removed. The “whole” designation means that the bran layer remains on the grain, but not the inedible hull. Which grains do not require hulling? My top picks are corn (maize), amaranth, and quinoa. These crops provide plenty of carbohydrates and some protein, with less labor and expense than grains that need hulling.

Roots and tubers, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, are also good carb crops. They are relatively easy to grow and produce a high amount of carbs in a small amount of land. They don’t store quite as well as dried grains, but they are an important source of carbs and some protein.

Legumes, such as beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, and soybeans, are all good sources of protein. The dried legumes store very well. And soybeans in particular provide dietary fat in addition to a complete protein.

Certain few seeds and nuts are easy to grow in a backyard garden. Sunflower seeds, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds are all great sources of protein and dietary fat. The sunflower seeds need to be cracked open when eaten (a pain, but worth it). You can grow varieties of pumpkin that have hulless seeds, for easier access to the protein and fat in this crop. The peanuts need to be dried thoroughly after harvesting, but removing the peanuts from the shells is easy.

How much land do you need for a survival garden? Not as much as you might think. For survival gardening, the goal is not to produce all the food that you need year-round. Instead, you are supplementing your stored foods and the foods that you will continue to buy at the grocery store. See this post: Living off the land: How much land? for an estimate on how much land it would take to grow all your own food (0.5 to 1.5 acres). A survival garden only needs to be a fraction of that size. An acre is 4840 square yards. A one-eighth acre garden would be more like a mini-farm at 600 square yards. But you could grow a substantial amount of food at even a fraction of that size: say 50 to 100 square yards. That would be 5 to 10 garden beds of 1 yard by 10, or 2 yards by 5.

How do you being? Start small and work your way up to a larger garden. Read gardening books and websites. You might want to choose a particular approach to gardening, such as the bio-intensive method, which is geared toward maximizing the amount of food produced per unit area of land. Or perhaps you would prefer what many growers call ‘lazy gardening’, which minimizes the work that goes into the garden. You will need more land to produce the same amount of food, so you have to choose between less land and more productivity per square yard, or more land with less labor and less productivity.

Should you go organic? Suit yourself. But my suggestion would be to use a good inorganic fertilizer (N-P-K-S with micronutrients added). You can usually grow a backyard garden successfully without artificial pesticides and herbicides. Natural products are widely available that fulfill the same purpose. But a good commercial fertilizer will make it easy to obtain high yields with less effort. So I would grow food naturally, almost according to organic practices, except for the fertilizer.

– Thoreau

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