Families are increasingly feeling the pinch when it comes to their grocery bills. It’s for this reason — not to mention the numerous health and planetary benefits — that more and more households are turning their green fingers to survival gardening.
What is a survival garden? A survival garden is a plot of land containing enough vegetable, herb, and fruit crops to provide a family or household with continual nourishment. It is planted with the intention of relying on garden rather than grocery produce so one is better prepared for emergencies and/or financial hardship.
A survival garden takes some careful planning and consideration, but once you have all your ducks in a row, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without one!
Keep reading to find out what size and layout a survival garden should be, discover which crops to choose, and much more.
Survival Gardens Guide
When planning your survival garden, you’ll need to consider things like the best layout for your space, whether to have an outdoor/indoor survival garden, how to source and store seeds, etc. Let’s delve into what survival gardens entail…
Survival Garden Explained
Survival gardens are essentially patches of land with enough vegetable crops planted to feed a household/family indefinitely without relying on groceries. The number and variety of crops should provide everyone with the necessary calories and vitamins.
Medicinal plants may also be included in preparation for uncertain times when access to medicine or finances is severely strained.
Why Survival Gardens Are Important
Consuming garden produce alone forces one to be self-sufficient in an emergency, not to mention reconnecting with nature, supporting pollinators, and significantly reducing your carbon footprint.
In the event of a disaster where a trip to the grocery store isn’t an option, you will be very, very glad you have plenty of fresh, healthy food in your yard.
Survival Garden Size
Size will depend on your crop preferences and household size, but here’s a general guide to give you an idea of the space required:
- Minimum garden space required: ¼ acre
- Family of four: ¼ to 2 acres
A good rule of thumb is generally 200 square feet of garden space per person, so large families can scale up as needed from 2 acres. This veggie planting calculator may help provide a rough estimate.
Survival Garden Plants
It’s wise to start small with a few plants you love and go from there. Great survival garden plants include those that are super tolerant of winter weather and those that are easy to can and freeze when it’s time to store them.
The following are ideal, nutritious survival veggies:
- Brussel sprouts
- Collard greens
- Bush beans
- Winter squash
Survival Garden Layout
There are several survival garden layouts to choose from. For those short on space and looking to maximize all they have, simple square-foot gardening is ideal (these are raised bed grids with plants divided into separate boxes to prevent crowding and can be customized to any size).
For those with considerable space, survival gardens can expand from backyard grids to full-on homestead layouts and permaculture “food forests” (the former can incorporate fruit trees, chicken coops, and honeybees, while the latter entails biodiversity with a range of plants, trees, and cover crops with sections solely planted to prevent weeds, encourage pollinators, or fix nitrogen for nearby plants).
Survival Garden Seed
A significant part of living off your garden produce year after year is learning how to save and store the seeds from certain plants as well as knowing which are the most beneficial, high-calorie types for survival situations.
Best Seed Types
Many of the following are heirloom and open-pollinated seed types, meaning they will produce fruit with similar characteristics year upon year and won’t require special treatment before storing.
Harvest seeds in dry conditions from fully ripened fruit, and allow them to air-dry indoors separately from each other on a clean plate or paper towel.
Once fully dry, seeds can be placed in a breathable paper envelope before being stored in an airtight container (glass mason jars, sealable plastic jars/containers, etc.). For long-term seed storage, you can also opt for freezing.
Where To Buy Seeds
Online seed retailers like Burpee, Eden Brothers, and Seed Savers Exchange offer a huge variety of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds with the latter even allowing you to swap your seeds.
You can also source seeds from your local garden center, auction sites, and farmers’ markets.
Perennial Survival Garden
Survival gardens can also incorporate perennial vegetables, fruit, and herbs such as:
- Blueberries, raspberries
- Chives, oregano, thyme, mint, lemon balm
- Wide range of fruit trees
Planting perennials is highly recommended as they not only produce reliably each year, but they are also often low in maintenance with less fussy sun, water, and shade requirements.
Indoor Survival Garden
Anyone can grow an indoor survival garden if they have space for a few hanging baskets, some shelving, or a tabletop/bookcase.
You can grow herbs in your kitchen window or, with the right care, nurture cool weather veggies and dwarf fruit trees with the aid of fluorescent grow lights to supplement poor sunlight.
Survival Garden Books
To whet your appetite with further tips and ideas for planning your best survival garden, the following reads are a great resource…
The Complete Guide to Survival Gardening
A very practical approach to food security and how to prepare (even if you haven’t!).
Provides great tips on the best soils for growing certain crops, an insight into aquaponics, tips for storing food, and more.
Survival 101 Raised Bed Gardening and Food Storage
A great, exhaustive guide specifically tailored to raised bed food gardens, step-by-step guides on preserving and storing your harvest, and much more.
Secret Garden of Survival
Covers lots of ground from making natural pest control to food preservation and building a duck pond but most of all — how to make your “food forest” look natural and unrecognizable as a garden!
Planting a Survival Garden
1. Starting before your last local frost date, select a plot for your garden, and turn the soil to refresh it using a shovel or rake. Then, remove all visible weeds, and apply a ground cover to the tilled area to prevent weeds (woven landscape fabric works great).
2. Make a garden map based on vegetable compatibility to ensure your plants will benefit (not hinder) each other, and research how far apart the veggies should be spaced from one another.
3. Once the last frost date has passed, you can begin bringing seedlings you have grown inside into the outdoors for a few hours each day to acclimatize them to the elements. Do this for 5-7 days.
4. Once the seedlings have hardened off, make holes in the landscape fabric where needed, and plant your veggie/herb seedlings in holes the same depth as the pots they had grown in previously.
5. Water your survival garden plot in the morning or early evening so that the water won’t evaporate too quickly. Apply organic fertilizer as needed.
What Vegetables Can Grow in Winter?
Hardy winter vegetables include plants in the Brassica family such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, turnips, and Brussel sprouts. Carrots are also super tolerant of the cold and even taste sweeter when exposed to frost.
Consider using protective crop covers (this one is 10×30 feet and cuts to size easily) to help maintain flavor and quality.
How Do You Store Vegetables Without a Root Cellar?
Vegetables can be stored in any cool, unheated room, such as a cold basement or garage.
In temperate climates, you can also opt to leave your vegetables in the ground until they’re needed, or dig a root clamp (a dug-out hole in the ground to store cold-hardy vegetables among hay, straw, and dirt for preservation).
Armed with a handful of seeds, a few materials, and a little prep, almost anyone can start a survival veggie garden and look forward to enjoying wholesome, nutritious food regularly.
Don’t forget to start small at first; the more you experiment with which plants work for you, your climate, and your chosen layout, the sooner you’ll understand what you truly need to create your dream self-sufficient garden — indoors or out!