The idea of a survival garden is simple enough – a plot of land or dedicated garden intended to provide you and your family with enough crops to live entirely from the produce of the garden alone (or with a minimal requirement for additional food).
Whether you’re preparing for possible economic uncertainties, are looking to ensure continuity after a major incident or natural disaster, or simply want to be more self sufficient in the long-run, planting a survival garden and growing your own food is one of the very best ways to take control of your food security.
Having a survival garden is incredibly empowering and as well as giving you complete sovereignty over what you eat, provides total peace of mind that if times get tough – at least where food for you and your family is concerned – you’re covered.
Growing and raising your own food is by no means a new phenomenon, with many people traditionally growing their own produce over the last few centuries.
In actual fact, before the widespread use of industrial farming practices, fertilizers, commercial refrigeration and the convenience and economic viability of grocery stores in almost every corner of the western world, growing your own food was the often the only way for people to feed themselves, and certainly made up a core part of everyday life.
Fast-forward to today, and it’s probably fair to say that most people have now become so separated from where food actually comes from that many of the skills and techniques around knowing how to sow and grow fruit and vegetables have all but disappeared from the majority of society.
This guide is designed to provide you with everything you need to know about designing, planting, harvesting and using the produce from, your own survival garden to allow you to take back arguably the most essential self-sufficiency skill out there and to become more resilient to external shocks when they happen.
Armed with this knowledge, a small piece of land, some seeds (and bulbs) and a few essential tools (more on all of this later on in the guide), you’ll have everything you need to go from grocery store dependency to food independence before you know it.
So roll up your sleeves and let’s get into setting up a survival garden to see you through every eventuality.
Table of Contents
- 1 Survival Garden Basics
- 2 Getting Specific – Why, What, How (much) and Where?
Survival Garden Basics
Survival Garden vs Vegetable Garden
There are a couple of key distinctions between a true survival garden and a regular vegetable garden that are worth keeping in mind, but let’s start with two of the most important:
- A Survival Garden needs to be Nutritionally Focused – In order to deliver true self sufficiency when food in the stores is unavailable, a survival garden needs to provide calorie dense nutrition which also provides protein and fat wherever possible as well as a well-rounded provision of vitamins.
- The Crops from your Survival Garden need to be suitable for Long-Term Storage – Being able to preserve and store what you grow is critical after harvest, particularly over the non-growing season. While this is also an important factor in regular vegetable gardening, it can make the difference between eating and not eating in a survival situation.
There are of course other factors you’ll want to consider when planting a survival garden such as the size of garden required (determined by the quantity of food your family needs and the yield of your crops), the location of your plot (to remain inconspicuous to would-be thieves), and the ability to save seeds using open-pollinated or heirloom varieties of plants whenever possible.
With these considerations in mind, you’ve now got the fundamental objectives of your survival garden in place and can begin looking at some of the finer details to get started.
While it’s certainly possible to acquire a good nutritional spread if you’re growing enough of the right types of vegetables in a survival garden (protein through beans and pulses etc), this doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the most efficient way of ensuring you get enough calories, protein and fat into your diet.
Ultimately, if you’re looking to start a survival garden, this objective should be a primary factor for consideration when planning for potentially lean times ahead.
Therefore, if you have the ability to do so, it’s seriously worth also investing in chickens and learning how to care for them so you can rely on supplementing your survival garden produce with fresh eggs and the associated nutritional benefits. As well as the nutrition benefits provided by eggs, chickens can also be fed certain scraps (including vegetable peelings) and also serve the purpose of acting as an excellent way to keep pests in your survival garden under control as well as providing a ready source of natural fertilizer for your plants.
A clear focus on overall nutrition provided should form the core of your survival gardening strategy and guide the decisions you make regarding what to grow and how best to utilize your crop after harvesting.
Annuals and Perennials
When looking at survival gardens and gardening in general, it’s important to understand some of the specific terminology associated with plants to get a good idea of how nature deals with the whole growing and sowing thing.
One of the key ideas to get a handle on is the difference between annual plants (those that have to be replanted every year) and perennials (plants that grow year on year without needing to be planted again each time).
When a perennial is planted, it can in theory grow and produce food almost indefinitely without needing to be replanted year on year.
Annuals on the other hand require replanting each year from seed and so there’s an extra step and requirement on the grower to make sure that seed is stored and resown to continue the crop every year.
Most vegetables you’re likely to plant in a survival garden will be annuals and while there are some exceptions to this rule with a couple of perennial plants – berry bushes (raspberry, blueberry etc), asparagus, rhubarb – you’re going to want to make sure that you’re laying down plants which you’ll be able to resow from seed next year.
Heirloom and Open-Pollinated Seeds
So, if you just need to replant seeds from your vegetables every year that’s pretty simple right – save a few seeds, sow again next year, harvest, rinse and repeat annually?
Unfortunately it’s not quite that straight forward – Unless you’re growing from open-pollinated seeds that is.
See here’s the rub, while most seeds you pick up in the store will (if planted and cared for) produce great results during the first year or so of growing, after that, things start getting a bit less certain in regards to yield.
Survival gardens need to be built around the core concepts of reliability, sustainability and continuity, and with this consideration in mind, your seeds need to deliver the goods year after year – they need to be ‘open-pollinated’ varieties.
You may have come across the term ‘heirloom seeds’ in the past. Heirloom seeds are basically just a type of open-pollinated seed that have been passed down, and as with all open-pollinated varieties, they retain the genetic information of the previous generations of plants.
In a nutshell, this means that ensuring you have open-pollinated seeds (heirloom or not doesn’t really matter) will mean you can save and reuse your seeds each year without problems.
Getting Specific – Why, What, How (much) and Where?
Survival gardening is about quite literally laying the groundwork for a suitable level of food self-sufficiency further down the line and as such, looking at the details of what you and your family need.
Assess your objectives
It’s important to establish the main reason you’re thinking of planning a survival garden to help you better understand what you want to get out of your crop and to identify the most practical and efficient way of meeting your goals.
- Are you looking to drastically cut back on your current food spending and dependence on store bought produce?
- Are you implementing a survival gardening strategy to hedge against uncertainty in the future?
Ultimately, growing a survival garden will, to a certain point, achieve both of these objectives simultaneously, however, the specific reasoning behind getting started will still influence how you roll out your gardening plan and will determine factors such as what to plant and where to grow your crops.
If your survival garden is going to represent a full-spectrum food replacement strategy, then the emphasis on maximum energy benefit and nutritional value from your crops will take priority, alongside the ability to store (and protect) what you grow.
Working out how much you need
Firstly, consider how many people your survival garden will need to provide for and then begin drilling down into the specific requirements per person.
A good way to get started with this is to analyze your existing daily food consumption and grocery spending habits.
How much do you eat on a typical day and what does this look like on a calorie for calorie basis when compared to vegetables.
If you had to fall back on minimal rations in an emergency situation, how many calories would you and your family require?
Check out your receipts to get an idea of where your food spend goes and look at the meals you cook during a typical week.
Deciding what to Grow
Once you’ve decided on your main goals for survival gardening and thought about the yield requirements for your specific needs, you’ll then be able to start pinning down the vegetables and fruit that will make up your organic arsenal.
The great thing about survival gardening is that once you know your specific requirements and the constraints or opportunities of your growing site, the options for what to grow are wide ranging.
Finding a Suitable Location
What you intend to grow and how much you think you’ll need to meet your nutrition requirements are really the main things that will determine what you’re going to need in terms of space and the land requirements for your survival garden.
With that being said, the obvious thing which has the ultimate influence on this is the actual availability of space you have when it comes to allocating a patch of land to growing your survival garden.
Below are some of the most likely scenarios and options to explore if you don’t currently have access to your own suitable piece of land.
If you have the space to dedicate a suitable part of your own backyard to growing, this is undoubtedly one of the best options for starting your survival garden given the closeness to your actual home and the ability to bring your produce straight to the kitchen or a specific storage area once harvested.
Depending on how close you live to others – particularly if you have neighbours in close proximity – can represent a drawback to planting a survival garden in your backyard and should certainly factor into the equation if your ultimate goal is to provide a secure and reliable source of food during adverse conditions.
Owning a parcel of land that’s geographically separate from your property or home can provide an excellent opportunity both to grow your own food and also as a potential bug out location if you need to pack up and evacuate your home in an emergency situation.
One of the major advantages of owning a piece of land (assuming it’s relatively secluded) is that you’ll benefit from a degree of concealment that simply may not be available to you when planting in your own backyard or near other people, where the risk of losing your crop to those less prepared than yourself will be far greater if times are bad.
The trade-off here of course, may come in the form of practicality, with the physical distance from your house potentially making this more of a challenge.