If you read a lot of survival articles online, you’ve probably wondered, “what is survival gardening and how is it different from regular gardening?”
You aren’t alone.
More and more people are realizing that our exposure to modern conveniences have made us rather fragile when it comes to a catastrophe, particularly a long-term catastrophe that compromises our ability to simply run to the grocery store.
Survival gardening is a means to survival during a bad time.
Beginner Survival Gardening
The point of this article is to teach you survival gardening from an all-encompassing perspective, not just provide a list of survival garden plants. Rather, we want to approach survival gardening as a basic skill.
What Is Survival Gardening?
Survival gardening is a skill that allows you to grow your own food in the event of a short-term or long-term catastrophe.
It’s gardening, but gardening focused on growing plants without modern infrastructure. You have to realize, your neighbor that grows a garden probably uses modern methods and they probably grow plants that aren’t intended to fuel their survival.
A survival garden focuses on caloric density, nutrition, and seasonal implications.
Survival Garden Tips
Survival gardening prep takes time, some money and energy. Reading about it can help but actually putting your skills to the test on a small scale is what you need to do, if the disaster hasn’t already happened. This kind of gardening has a completely different focus compared to a regular vegetable garden during summer months.
In your garden, field, and greenhouse you will literally need every kind of food for survival. When you think of items you eat on a regular basis, most are already packaged and life has become easier this way, but more dependent. Most people aren’t used to prepping all of their food, but if you’re creative and a bit resourceful, you will enjoy it. If not, tough luck.
Survival gardening means you won’t just be gorging on fresh vegetables on a seasonal basis. You’re going to have to think about what each of these crops provide you and your family and how to rotate them, as well as best planting times in the year, storing foods and seeds for different seasons so you can do it all over again (some veggies are seasonal, others you can do all year).
You will need at least .25 of an acre and more acreage is best, at least one greenhouse or two depending on the size of your property.
If you have enough land make use of it with more field area or have a few greenhouses. Use areas around your home with smaller areas for gardening herbs. Build fencing for security from animals and people who may steal food. Understanding how greenhouses work is also essential. Be aware of foods and their specific purpose and as well as calories, vitamins, and minerals they are composed of.
Issues To Think About For Your Survival Garden’s Success
- calories, proteins, fats
- winter storage crops
- number of people you are feeding
- square footage; acreage needed for garden or greenhouse
- sustainability; composting techniques
- seed saving; food preservation; storage
- the climate
- quality tools needed
- organic pest control
- length of growing season
Survival Gardening Family Nutrition and Health Care Needs
Determine what vegetables suit your family’s needs the most. What you like to eat, and also what foods will give you nutrients for daily living and help address certain medical conditions or potential medical issues that might creep up in survival conditions. Gardening to survive makes you think a different way about food. Instead of hopping in your car to the food store, you need to put a heck of a lot of time and work into getting the most food.
- essential foods
- calories, vitamins
- medicinal value
Carrots are great for skin and high in vitamin A and C. They are for eye health and the lining of your intestines, and boost your immunity. Cucumbers are cellular rejuvenators like watermelons and tomatoes – they are high in lycopene. Asparagus is great for free radicals and helps to prevent cancers and for detoxing.
Cabbage is great for detoxing and is also high in zinc, potassium, magnesium and is perfect for gut health and wellness.
Broccoli is high in zinc and helps restore tissue at the cellular level. Sweet potatoes are for hormonal balance and are anti-inflammatory. Sunflower seeds are great fats, protein, and essential B complex vitamins for energy and heart health and vitamin E. Every single food has a purpose.
How Much Food Should Your Survival Garden Grow?
Figuring out how much food you have to grow depends on how many people you are feeding. It also depends on what kinds of foods you like as well as keeping a well-balanced diet. You want to make sure there are enough calories for every meal mixed with fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Make sure there is enough for 3-4 meals, with smaller meals throughout the day.
If there only two people, then you will want at least 4-5 lbs of each crop per 6-7 day period, and even more protein and carbs per week, 6-8 lbs. You will want to increase these numbers by two.
Even if your acreage is limited having a greenhouse will make for more room and will help you out in the long run. Keep in mind gardening for survival means you need quantity, especially when you are storing foods for winter. Everything involving a garden is labor intensive and you are burning more calories and will be eating more.
Winter preparation, canning and drying your crops
When you are planet fields of crops or using a greenhouse you want to understand how to can or dry your crops so nothing goes to waste. This is another essential skill to survival gardening. Canning isn’t something only your grandma knows how to do.
You need special ball glass canning jars to start, a good sealer, and learning different brines (usually a vinegar and reverse osmosis water) for preserving foods is also essential.
You can dry just about anything, however, to do this in mass quantities you won’t be using an electric dehydrator. You can make largely screened drying racks with mesh, some nails and 2 by 4’s, racks or long tubes you can make out of PVC pipe. You can also PVC for hydroponics or simply a self-made water containment system. Dill, cilantro and other herbs can also be dried by hanging upside down.
The Importance of Calories In Survival Garden Plants
No matter how many vegetables you plant in your survival garden, you want to make sure the vast majority of them provide decent calories so you won’t starve. You can’t just live off your favorite vegetables because they won’t allow you to function. You want to have a variety but the amount of protein, as well as calorie count, is extremely important to make sure yourself and your family are fed correctly.
You want to make sure you have enough of what’s called staple crops. An example is potatoes. Sure you can have tomatoes, lettuce, peas, and beets, but you want to make sure you have a lot of potatoes, beans and other nutrient-packed and high carb vegetables. (You can always have chickens for an abundance of eggs; protein and B vitamins).
You want to focus on foods that produce lots of calories as well as medicinal benefits. Corn and potatoes have higher calorie intake than other veggies, but leafy greens are packed full of vitamins. You still need a balance. When you think about calories because of carbs you won’t think of them as a bad thing anymore, they are prominent for survival because of the more manual labor-intensive activities that make you burn more calories. They are just as important as vitamins are in this kind of sustainable, eco-friendly and survival mentality.
Survival Garden Plants
Summer and winter Survival Garden Plants
Corn is one of the essential survival garden plants and is best eaten fresh because it does not store well. For seasonal calories, it is a decent option. You can store this in a dried form is cornmeal and make some nice corn mash or cornbreads for wintertime comfort food. There is about 77 cal per ear of corn.
Most tomatoes can be grown outdoors in the summer big boys or cherries, but they are dainty leafy kind of plants so they cannot last through the winter.
You will want to can most of your tomatoes or freeze them to make sauces. You can also utilize a hothouse or a greenhouse that has solar energy heating of the house to provide these through the winter.
If you don’t plan on using a greenhouse for your tomatoes you can always can and grow them in abundance during the late spring into the summer, and early fall. Kale is tough and makes it through winter, and is best under mulch.
During summer months fresh vegetables can be planted in abundances such as tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, and peppers so you can make relishes and salsa ready for winter months.
Summer crops or greenhouse
- zucchini, yellow squash
- bell peppers, banana peppers
- watermelon, cantaloupe
Winter crops or greenhouse
- potatoes, sweet potatoes
- all beans
- squash and pumpkins
- turnips, beets, parsnips, rutabaga, carrots
- cabbage, kale
Potatoes are also essential survival garden plants and they are easy to grow and are going to be one of the larger calorie counts with about a hundred and 60 cals per regular red or white potato.
This is considered a staple crop. Russett’s will help keep you through the winter. These can be grown in a greenhouse or out in a field.
Sweet potatoes are also another potato that is easy to grow and also have a longer growing season. This root vegetable needs a decent amount of space on the ground to spread out, something to consider when you create a survival garden plants strategy.
They are fairly hardy and do well in cooler climates and store well during the winter. They are roughly hundred and 15 cals per 1 cup serving of sweet potatoes.
Most people like beans and they are another hearty vegetable which will be one of your primary sources of protein and calorie count. There are varieties of beans: kidney beans, black beans, cowpeas, lima beans, lentils, and so on. These can be pulled out of the pods and dried for storage. The average calorie count for a cup of beans is about 200 cal.
Other hearty vegetables like squash and pumpkins are great for growing during the winter season. They can produce an abundance and take up a lot of space. They yield between 50 and 80 cals per cup of cooked pumpkin or squash; not high on calories.
Parsnips are in the carrot family and are a root crop that needs a long growing season. They are great for soups and typically are about 100 cal per cup chopped up.
Beets are another root vegetable rich in nutrients and are great for blood pressure regulation. Add a little bit of sea salt of them or of vinegar dressing and they’re just perfect and per cup, they are around 60 cals.
Sunflower seeds are great for fat and are easy to grow in your survival garden. They are also high in protein and greed for a source of vitamin B which is for energy. Nuts are hard to manage in a survival garden and need certain climates to function.
Typically, you would buy seasonings and little containers from your food store. Along with your vegetables, you might want to grow some herbals that can be used in cooking as well as for medicinal value.
Some excellent ones to grow include, basil, mint, oregano, and make sure to plant your onions and garlic as well as any peppers. Because most of these are not hearty other than onions and garlic you want to make sure these are produced in the summer and dried and stored for winter months.
Oregano and basil are great on pizza and veggies and can help rid of infections. Garlic and onions are also great for immune system health, infections and are perfect for spices or eating with potatoes or pastas.
Mint is great for the fragrance but can be also used for a calming tea for your stomach and can help ward off bugs. You can also mix it with baking soda and organic food grade clay for homemade toothpaste! Dill is delicious on a variety of foods and has medicinal value of helping lower diabetes numbers, and is great for your skin, high in vitamin A, C and has antiviral properties.
Survival Garden Herbs For Medicinal Value
- basil, oregano
- mint, spearmint
- garlic, onions
- dill weed, chives
Understanding Soil, Composting, Heirloom Seeds
Once you have an area picked out on your property, you will want to till the area in rows. Assuming you already have specific crops picked out, and have read up on what crops grow best next to one another, or which crops for the greenhouse.
You can use dirt, till it, and certain crops do well with mulch – typically hardier vegetables like potatoes, and other root veggies like carrots, and turnips. The mulch also helps your garden lose less moisture.
The soil you can make even richer by using compositing methods. Mowing the lawn and using clippings, as well as rotting veggies make for great compost. Did you know you can place logs under the soil to also help retain moisture? It’s a German thing.
Heirloom seeds mean the seeds from vegetables, flowers, and fruits are passed down from generation to generation. These seeds are pollinated naturally by the wind or from insects doing their duties.
Survival Garden Seed Storage – The Basics
The basics of seed storage are to keep the seeds in a dry and cool storage area. You probably want to keep them in glass containers, which are labeled. Investing in glass jars or canisters in mass quantities are great for prepping cans for winter, as well as the seed storage.
In addition to writing the name of the plant, you also want to label what time of year and area they go in (field, small garden area, inside your hot greenhouse, or regular greenhouse, etc.
For indefinite seed storage, you will need to put them in bags in a freezer, with powdered milk and silica gel packets. Short-term uses you can store in a jar. Everything depends on how fast you are planting different seeds based on times of year they grow.
Greenhouses: Indoor Survival Garden
In most climates, you cannot grow completely outdoors all year round. You will definitely need the majority of your crops to flourish year-round by utilizing greenhouses. Depending on the size of your family you will need one possibly two large greenhouses for an indoor survival garden.
Foods that are best grown in greenhouses, or indoor survival gardens, so you are able to grow foods during winter and early spring months are more hardy plants like Brussels sprouts, celery, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, peas, onions, shallots, spinach, asparagus, and garlic.
In order for other less hardy plants to thrive in a greenhouse, it will need to be heated with solar energy. Greenhouses can grow tomatoes and peppers very well, and other herbs that are daintier.
There are all kinds of greenhouses. There some expensive greenhouses that are made of glass and gorgeous windows and then there are some made out of plastic tarps and PVC piping. There are also some that are pyramid and dome shapes that actually have more benefit than the standard rectangular greenhouse box with a semi-peaked roof.
The pyramid greenhouse has geothermal properties that help regulate the growing temperature for your plants. Most engineers would agree that the pyramid shape also does exceptionally well when winds are strong.
A standard greenhouse doesn’t distribute the light like the pyramid shape does. It is not only pleasing to the eye but when thoroughly insulated is can do wonders for your plants. You will need a larger footprint for your pyramid to maximize space. And just like the pyramids in Ancient Egypt, they were built to last. But, it’s not a stone pyramid, so make sure you upkeep the structure.
Hand Pollinate If You Need
There different kinds of hand pollinating for your gardens. Some gardens need pollination help due to the lack of wind or insect traffic. You should understand a bit of hand pollinating to make sure this process doesn’t fail and you lose all your crops.
You should also understand if your plants are self-pollinating or if cross-pollination typically occurs. First, determine if your plant is self-pollinating or if it cross-pollinates.
Make sure you have Q-tips or small paintbrushes to help the pollination process. Tomatoes and peppers are self-pollination plants, however, there are a ton of vine crops, like zucchini and squash which produce different male and female flowers. These will need the help of hand pollination. Similar to male and female body parts, the male flower will have a long part called a stamen and the female flower usually has a tiny bud at the base.
Take the brush (use the tip only) and get some pollen on it from the male flower and transfer it into the pistil (bud part) of the female flower. Make sure your Q-tip or brush is always dry.
The Power of Crystals
All crystals and semi-precious stones have different ‘powers’. They can channel energy and create a positive impact depending on the type of stone.
- tree agate crystal – abundance
- green calcite – relaxation, gain strength
- onyx or dark obsidian – keep pests away
- moss agate – to bond with the garden; brings out the green thumb
- moonstone – fertility of your plants
- malachite – plant protection
- clear quartz – master healer; vitality
- citrine – energy for plants
This may be an old wives’ tale, but to some gardeners believe it is essential to use crystals to enrich a garden. The crystals also provide gorgeous shimmering colors throughout your garden, fields, and greenhouse. There doesn’t need to be any specific pattern to this – you could simply throw them at random on top of the soil before planting if you want, or make a nice ornate border around different crop sections.
Beyond Survival Garden Plants: Chickens and Goats
Can’t survive with only vegetables? By adding chickens and maybe some goats would be beneficial, after all, fats and protein (eggs, milk, and cheese) can be had in abundance by having a few of your own! Again, it is all time consuming and work, but great in the end for you and your family.
It can be somewhat costly at first, but over time the benefits are outstanding. We are talking about eggs here, plenty of eggs for all the protein you need. You don’t have to butcher these chickens; just use the eggs.
You will only need about 6 chickens and a rooster if you want baby chicks, otherwise, no rooster is needed. The taste of free range organic eggs from your own property will be delightful compared to purchase ones. And the yolks – you won’t even recognize them! They are actually dark orange and the shells are colorful. Sometimes they are brown, pale blue and speckled depending on the breed of hen.
Cheese and milk are also great to have in addition to your vegetables. Both are for fats and protein consumption.
If you are feeling frisky about survival gardening and homesteading – have at it – buy some goats, and learn how to get your goats milk and make some cheese that is to die for! Learn how to tend to chickens and goats just adds more survival living skills you can add to your list. You may want to also look into what kinds of goats and chickens get along with dogs and cats, or vice versa depending on your pet situation.
Survival Gardening – The Means To The End
Survival gardening as a skill is something that can help you through a variety of bad times. We are one of the only societies in world history to not possess the very basic skill. Hopefully, these survival garden tips and instructions have helped you have a better understanding of an important matter.
Author: Meredith Iager
Meredith has 13 years of writing experience online and in newspapers and studied journalism at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. Over the years, she has contributed entertainment articles and reviews to various sites including FrederickNewsPost.com and Fanbolt.com.
Since 2010, she has focused on AMA and integrative health and wellness content for AngiesList.com, SteadyContent.com, and a variety of private clients. She is an avid supporter of being prepared when SHTF and growing your own food, and is pro federal legalization of marijuana.
In addition to writing, she does transcription, researches on health constantly, and is an avid oil and acrylic painter. You can check out her paintings and older articles here: Meredith_A_Iager on HubPages | Follow Meredith on Instagram
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