Subsistence Farming for Survival

To my mind, survivalism goes beyond prepping, so as to add complete or near-complete self-sufficiency. And that is beyond the preparedness level of most serious preppers. So while a prepper might have an extensive backyard garden, as a supplemental food source, the survivalist seeks to provide all (or almost all) the food needed to survive from their own resources. What would it take, at a minimum, to grow enough food for survival all on your own?

1. Land

At a bare minimum, you would need a half acre per person. But taking account the possibility of crop failures, lower yields due to less intensive care of the crop (see #2 below), weather problems, pests and plant diseases, and all manner of difficulties a small farm might endure — I would double that amount of land to one full acre per person.

The land has to be arable. In other words, the soil must be ready to plant, with minimum preparation (a quick tilling). Otherwise, it would take too much labor, equipment, and fertilizer to work the land. We are not talking about a commercial farm, that can put money in, if it gets money out. For survival purposes, you would need to minimize all inputs, or else you won’t be able to afford the crops.

And the land might need to be zoned for agriculture, as this type of backyard mini-farm is far beyond the scope of a backyard garden.

2. Labor

If you are not selling the crop, then you can’t afford to hire workers. Share cropping is sometimes an option. Workers get a share of the crop instead of pay. But that requires a much larger area of land.

Otherwise, you must minimize the amount of labor needed to work the land, so that you get more crop for less work. The biointensive method of gardening uses extra labor to produce a higher yield per unit of land — but not a higher yield per unit of work. What you want is the opposite of the biointensive method, minimize labor and accept a lower yield per acre as a trade-off. The result is more food per unit of work, as long as you have enough land. And that’s why you need at least an acre per person.

3. Equipment

A small farm can’t afford the machinery used in large-scale agriculture, such as a combine. And manual labor agriculture is probably too much work for the amount of food you would produce. So the solution is a small tractor, that pulls a variety of different types of equipment behind it, to till the soil, plant the crop, and so on.

You also need equipment to process the crop. Wheat and rice and similar grains need to be hulled. Oilseed crops need to be pressed. You can choose crops that require minimal processing, but you may still need equipment to clean and dry the crop at least.

So if you have the land and labor, you need the equipment, and it’s not cheap. Growing most of your own food is not an easy project. And it will take a big chunk of your time and money.

4. Seed

You just buy the seed you need for planting, right? But what happens with the next crop? At some point, after the SHTF, seed might not be readily available, or it might be very expensive. So the best option for the small farmer, after the first crop, is to save seed. You produce your own seed, which is one less thing to buy.

Avoid F1 (hybrid) seed, which will not come true to type when planted in the next generation. And also avoid GMO seed which is legally protected (owned) by some large agribusiness that doesn’t give a crap about small farmers. You need “open-pollinated” types of seed, often also called “heirloom” seed. And there are plenty of small seed companies that offer this type of seed.

5. Fertilizer

If you can afford a good quality commercial fertilizer, you will have higher yields. But that is an additional expense and additional labor. Once you have a successful mini-farm and the soil is healthy and well tilled, you might not need to fertilize every crop. Yes, yields will be lower, but a very small farm has to prioritize the lowering of costs and labor.

You can grow a crop of green manure, such as alfalfa or clover, and then plow the crop under to improve the soil. This approach works well if you have some time in-between a couple of major crops, and you want to add nitrogen to the soil.

Another approach is to grow a variety of plants to make your own compost. But due to the time and labor, this option is less preferable to green manure. On the plus side, compost is very effective at improving soil health and increasing yields. So if you have a serious problem with the soil, it’s a viable option.

6. Knowledge

No matter how much fertile land, equipment, and other resources you have, you can still starve to death, if you don’t know how to grow food. Crop failures are a reality of farming, and if you are new at it, crop failures or very low yields are all the more likely. So what you need is knowledge. Books and the internet are a good start. Consulting with local experts is even better. But nothing can substitute for knowledge you gain by your own experience.

So you can’t wait until disaster strikes to start growing your own food. Begin now, and in a future time of necessity, you will have the knowledge and experience needed.

7. Security

When food eventually becomes scarce, anyone with a successful garden or farm will be a target for food thieves. And some of them will not mind using force to get what they want. Therefore, unfortunately, a survival garden or small farm will need armed security.

You should have firearms in any case, for your own self-defense and defense of your home and family. But you will also need a good semi-auto rifle to defend your farm. An AR in almost any caliber will work just fine.

If you don’t have enough family members to help guard the crops, you might need to collaborate with neighbors. If they put in their time and efforts, to help plant and harvest, and to guard the crops in the field, then you will share the produce with them. That is a tricky bargain to make, so you best be careful who you trust. But it may be necessary.

– Thoreau

One Response to Subsistence Farming for Survival

  1. half an acre never mind an acre is a large area for one person to manage, it would take a man and two horses a whole day to plough an acre back in the day. we wont be growing fields of wheat and corn post SHTF, we will be growing fruit and veg…well, I will.