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Survival Garden - Feed Your Family Year-Round

In an uncertain world, the term survival gardening is something that you probably hear all the time. But what is survival gardening? If you’d like to learn more and get started with a survival garden, you’re in the right place!

What Is a Survival Gardening?

Survival gardening is a way of growing crops and edible plants with the aim to feed yourself or your family year-round. Survival gardening is not gardening for fun, it’s a necessity. It requires a good set of skills, patience, hard work, and above all – good planning.

When you have a well-designed and thoroughly planned survival garden, you’ll be completely self-sufficient in a survival situation.

How Big Must a Survival Garden Be?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. How big your survival garden will be, depends on the size of your family, your food preferences, usual calories intake, the garden space you have, and the time and effort you’re able to give in. The larger the garden – the more hours of work it takes.

What you can do in order to decide on the size of your survival garden is to do some calculations. But first – what crops do you actually need in your garden?

What Crops Should I Grow in My Survival Garden?

Before actually starting to build your vegetable garden, you must decide what crops you’d like to grow and what crops you have to grow. Survival gardening is all about nutrition and calories – in order to produce as much food as possible for your family and remain healthy, you must grow nutrient-dense crops.

1. Nutrient-Dense Crops 

Nutrient-dense crops will supply you with fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

The top 5 crops rich in calories that each survival garden must have are: potatoes (or sweet potatoes), legumes (peas, green beans, dry beans…), corn, winter squash (including the seeds), and grains such as wheat. Not only these crops will provide you with calories, but they’re also very easy to store and they give you endless cooking options.

Sunflower seeds are a good source of healthy fats, and what’s more – by growing sunflowers you’re making use of vertical space as well.
Leafy greens such as spinach or kale are packed with vitamins and minerals, so they make good candidates for a survival garden. They also store and freeze very well.

Some other notable crops that provide nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are beets, carrots, zucchini, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts…), lettuce, rutabaga, and many more.

And don’t forget the crops that are not nutritious as the crops mentioned above, but we can’t imagine the cooking process without them. Onions and garlic add flavor to many dishes, while garlic is also an extremely healthy vegetable.

2. Crops You and Your Family Like to Eat

No matter how nutritious and healthy kale may be, there’s no reason for growing it if no one in your family likes to eat it! Instead of wasting your space, time, and energy to grow a crop that no one likes to see on the table, choose an alternative. Instead of kale, you can grow broccoli, spinach, or Swiss chard. On the other hand, if your family likes to eat potatoes, don’t hesitate to grow plenty of them.

However, keep in mind that the aim of a survival garden is to offer you a variety of nutritious crops – you have to find the right balance between the needs for nutritious-dense crops and the specific needs of your family.

3. Crops That Store Well

As the growing season progresses and slowly comes to an end, you may need to store the crops that you haven’t utilized to their fullest.

There are many ways you can preserve your goods: canning, drying, pickling, freezing…Some crops like potatoes, carrots, apples, beets, winter squash, onions, and garlic can be stored fresh and unprocessed in a cool, dark, ventilated space such as a basement or a collar – if you have resources, this type of storage space is highly recommended.

As you may know, many crops can be canned or pickled (tomatoes, beets, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, cabbage and other brassicas), blanched and then frozen (leafy greens, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens), while some of them can be stored fresh (sliced zucchini, carrots, parsnip, parsley…). You can also make various sauces, jams, and syrups.

Vegetables and fruit may lose some of their nutrients during the preserving process but they’ll still be highly nutritious.

How to Extend Your Growing Season

Whether you live in warm regions where enormously high temperatures kill off everything in your garden during summer or in cooler regions where frost shortens your growing season, there are many ways to utilize your climate and create a successful vegetable garden. Get informed and learn about your hardiness zone – this way you’ll know what are the limits of your growing zone and how to utilize your climate.

For example, in hot climates, you should consider fall and winter planting, as well as focusing on warm-season crops. You can grow some very valuable, sun-loving crops such as tomatoes, peppers, okra, sweet potatoes, or eggplants. In general, you should choose heat-tolerant varieties.

In cooler climates, you should try extending your growing season by planting cool-season crops (lettuce, spinach, radish, arugula…) twice per season – once in spring and again in fall. Some crops like onions can be planted in late fall or winter – they will overwinter under snow and give you an early spring crop. In general, choose hardy varieties that are relatively frost-resistant.
This brings us to other two important things: garden planning (garden layout) and greenhouse gardening.

Garden Layout – Maximizing Garden Space

A successful survival garden, just like any garden actually, depends greatly on good planning and a good garden layout. If you want to grow as much food as possible, but utilize climate and space at the same time, you have to plan your garden in advance. Think of these questions:
1. What crops can be planted in early spring? Can they be planted again in the fall?
2. What crops mature fast? Are there any other crops you can plant in the empty areas once you’ve harvested your early-maturing crops?
3. What are the best crops for succession planting?
4. How much space each crop will occupy?
5. What garden area will be reserved for perennials?
6. What crops can be grown vertically?
7. How much of each crop do you want to grow?
8. How big does each of the selected crops grow? How much space do they require?
Answering these questions can give you useful insights into what your garden should look like and help you maximize your garden space.

Create a list of plants and crops you plan on growing and try to estimate how much of these you will consume in a week? You will probably need to plant much more carrots and onions compared to tomatoes – a single tomato plant can yield many fruits.

Watermelons may be tempting, but they need a lot of space to grow. If you have plenty of space, you can grow not only a watermelon but many other types of melons and squashes. If your garden space is limited, it’s always a better option to choose a more nutritious crop. In that case, choosing a winter squash over a watermelon is a much wiser option.

When dealing with limited space, taking advantage of vertical growth is rule number one. Learn what crops can be trained to grow vertically – against trellises, pergolas, or a mesh. For example, strawberries can be planted in PVC tubes positioned vertically. Beans, peas, cucumbers, vining tomato, and some types of zucchini are some of the favorite crops for vertical growth.

Another great practice is planting different varieties of the same crop that mature at different times during the growing season. For example, by planting 3 varieties of tomatoes – early-maturing, mid-season maturing, and late-maturing – you’ll have plenty of fresh fruit for many months.

Greenhouse Gardening

In areas with a short growing season, early fall frosts and extended spring frosts, you can prolong your growing season by installing a greenhouse. It will also enable you to grow tender crops such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or cucumbers that struggle to reach their maturity or give you a high yield if the growing season is too short. Having a greenhouse also gives you an early start for many crops. If you have enough resources, you can even consider a heated greenhouse that enables year-round cultivation.

Other useful options that can give you a head start on planting are hoops, cold frames, or even milk jugs (winter-sowing method).

Other Things to Consider

Here are some other things you should be aware of when starting a survival garden:

Herbs and edible flowers– aromatic plants repel pests, embellish your garden, and make good remedies; they can also be used as a garnish or a seasoning
Fruit crops– fruit trees, berries, nuts – these are all extremely nutritious and healthy
Seed-saving– aim to grow only open-pollinated or heirloom varieties and collect the seeds on your own
Composting – a great way to manage organic waste and improve garden soil
Equipment – irrigation systems, tools, seed-starting supplies…
Weeds – many weeds that we pull out are actually edible! Get informed on these and reconsider if they’re valuable enough to keep in your garden or backyard.
Container Planting – utilize your entire homestead and grow cherry tomatoes, chilies, or herbs, on your porch or patio

Be Patient and Learn

If you’re new to gardening, you may need to start small. Be patient and don’t forget that it takes many years to build a self-sufficient vegetable garden.

Get informed on anything garden-related from soil and compost, climate and hardiness zones, seeds and germination, to transplanting, growing, and harvesting. Listen to the advice of experienced gardeners.

Eventually, you will build your own garden experience and be able to grow a survival garden successfully!
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