One of the most difficult problems in survival gardening is vulnerability to theft. After the SHTF, the unprepared will be desperate for food and willing to commit crimes to get it. But the problem is not simply theft of edible food from the garden. Desperate people do foolish things. They will not only take harvestable food, they will take unripe barely-edible food, tear up and trample down growing plants, while looking for food, and generally cause much more food loss from damage than from taking ripe food. Society can’t survive if, in the process of stealing a few mouthfuls of food, an entire crop is destroyed.
But guarding a survival garden 24/7 is time-consuming and difficult. A small farm might be able to guard its crops 24/7 by sharing the produce with the people who help guard it. But a backyard garden does not produce enough food for that option.
You might attempt some indoor gardening, with grow lights and soil (or hydroponics). But space is limited, the electricity needed is pricy, and grow lights are expensive.
Perhaps the best option is STEALTH survival gardening. In this approach, you disguise your food crops, so that thieves and robbers do not know that you even have a garden.
Hiding the Garden
No fence, no clearly marked borders, no raised garden beds. The garden should look like fallow land, full of weeds, rocks, uneven ground, trees, bushes, etc. Don’t plant only one crop in any one area of the stealth garden. Most people cannot recognize food plants by their appearance, so if the plants are not all in one place and not in neat rows, they will not realize it is a garden. And, yes, let the weeds grow unchecked.
It would be best to place the stealth garden so that it cannot be easily seen from any road. If enough persons pass by and see the plants, someone might recognize the crop. You need a fair amount of land for this approach. The stealth garden should be away from the house, so that it looks like a wild area of weeds and bushes, not a weedy garden.
Certain food crops will not work for a stealth garden. Brightly colored food plants, like red, yellow, and orange peppers are too easy to see and recognize as food. For crops that are above ground and easy to recognize as food, green ones only, and harvest them as soon as possible, even before they are ripe. You’ll be eating green tomatoes, not red ones, and green beans, not purple or yellow.
Certain above-ground crops are not easily recognized as food by the non-gardener. Buckwheat is a low crop with angular hulless seeds. It looks much like a weed. Amaranth, especially the shorter type with a less showy set of grain, might not be recognized as a food plant, especially when interspersed with other plants. Amaranth leaves are also edible, like lettuce or spinach. Chia seeds have a high oil content (with lots of omega-3 fat), and they are also not easily recognized as food.
Quinoa is particularly useful as a stealth crop. It is not easily recognizable as a food plant. And the grains are coated with bitter saponins. Eating the grains without thoroughly washing them first will result in gastrointestinal distress. The food thief will then conclude that the grain is not food.
Below-ground crops are particularly stealthy. Most people cannot recognize a food plant without seeing the food part of the plant. They do not know what a potato or sweet potato plant looks like from the leaves. Carrots and onions are also good stealth crops, for the same reason. And when you randomly plant lots of different food crops, haphazardly in weedy soil, it is particularly difficult for the non-gardener to recognize the plants.
Peanuts are an underground crop. The flowers send shoots into the soil, where the peanuts grow in their shell. Everyone knows what peanuts look like in the shell and out of the shell. But few people can recognize a peanut plant from the above-ground parts. You can plant this crop from raw in-the-shell peanuts taken from the grocery store.
Tigernut, also called chufa, is an excellent stealth crop. The “nuts” are small dense tubers, which grow underground. Even if someone pulls up the plant, they would probably not recognize these tubers as food. Tigernut has a high oil content (about 25%), and can be pressed for vegetable oil, or boiled and eaten like mini-potatoes. It is a nutritious crop that can produce a high amount of calories per square foot of garden space.
Other good underground crops include: turnip, rutabaga, daikon, beets, and parsnips.
Job’s tears is an unusual grain crop, with large seeds that are easy to harvest, and yet not easily recognized as food. Fonio is another grain that could easily escape detection, because the grains are very small.
Ordinary crops like wheat and rice are more recognizable, but rather difficult for thieves to consume, as the grains need to be hulled. Flaxseed is also difficult to consume without a lot of effort to hull the seeds. So thieves would have a tough time getting any food value from the crop. But if you have a small oil press (like Piteba), you can press the flaxseeds for a healthy vegetable oil. Ditto for camelina sativa, an unusual oil seed.
Unfortunately, certain food crops just won’t work in a stealth survival garden. Corn (maize) is too easy to recognize, steal, and eat. The same can be said for pumpkins. Those large bright orange fruits are too easily seen from a distance and are instantly recognizable as food. Any crop that is easily seen and recognized as food, especially if it is also easy to eat without any processing is just not a good fit for a survival garden.