If you haven’t ever planted a garden before, but you have seeds stashed away in case of emergency, I really, really hope you will put some of them to use this year. Even if you only grow a few plants in a container gardening, relying on seeds for sustenance is a long term skill that you need to develop over time. Practice makes perfect, or at least more likely to have something on the table at harvest time.
Personally, I think everyone should be gardening, even if it’s just on the patio. It’s a skill that humans have passed down for thousands of years, and being able to grow your own food is nothing short of a birthright. Why not give it a try?
As usual, I'm playing the devil's advocate and peppering you with questions that will help you do the research and make informed decisions for your specific situation (or at least that's my intent). Gardening has different nuances from one location to the next, and personal preference and style are other factors to consider.
Regardless, here’s a crash course in the form of questions you should be thinking about to make your survival garden a success.
Where are you planning to garden?
You will need to be able to select a decent garden spot, especially if you don’t have a garden already established. Enough sunlight, proximity to water, and soil type play a big part in whether or not your garden will succeed. Nearby trees might compete for water, cast too much shade, and also make breaking ground a pain because of their impressive root systems. Can you identify basic soil types (clay, sand, loam)?
Do you have the tools you need?
How are you planning to break ground for your garden if you haven’t already? A garden tiller is the only way to go for a large garden- it’s even better if you have access to a tractor the first time around. What about hand tools? Unfortunately, most of the hand tools available in garden centers aren’t worth buying anymore- all of the ones I’ve bought there recently have bent or broken within a few months. Find a specialty source to buy the good stuff, or hit up flea markets and garage sales to look for older sturdy, well made tools.
Do you have a schedule?
Do you know your first and last frost dates? Plant too early for some varieties and your plants might die from exposure to cold. Planting too late in the season for others might mean the first winter frost kills them before they have time to mature. Do you know when to plant each variety of seed in your survival seed kit? Some plants like cool soil to germinate, others need warm soil. Timing really is everything.
What’s your plan for pest control?
Research common types of garden pests in your area and learn how to identify them on sight and by their damage. Develop a plan for controlling pests in your garden, especially if you don’t have access to chemical controls. This may include hand-picking pests, making traps, protecting plants with a barrier, or planting other crops to “sacrifice.”
How much will you need to grow?
Do you know the expected yield of the plants you intend to grow? How many of each plant should you plan to grow for each person? You will need to determine how much of each crop you will want to feed each person and for how long. Some varieties store well (hard winter squash, dried beans), others will become a very seasonal part of your table (fresh cucumbers and tomatoes).
How many plants will you need to save seed?
Seed saving itself is an art! Do you know the isolation distances needed between varieties to keep them from crossing? Cole crops like broccoli and kale and cabbage can all cross with one another, leaving you with a genetic luck of the draw when it comes time to replant your seeds! Kroccoli and babbage, anyone???? As part of your survival garden plan, you will need to know how to maintain enough genetic diversity in your crops to keep them healthy and strong from year to year. Some plants have small population needs of 10-20 plants (tomatoes), while others (like corn) may need a minimum of 200!
How will you preserve your harvest?
Do you know how to keep a root cellar? Which plants need time to cure before storage? How will you keep pests out of your harvest? Will you have access to tools for canning or freezing? Preserving and cooking with your produce is yet another survival garden topic that you may have overlooked! You might want to look into staggering your plantings by a few weeks to extend your harvesting season and make it a little more manageable.
Asking yourself these 7 questions will help get you on the right track to make your survival garden a success, whether you are a complete newcomer or have gardened for a few (or more!) seasons with preparedness in mind. February and March are the perfect time of year to start planning a garden, and in some areas it may be time to start some seeds. So what are you waiting for?
All the best,