Times are not always easy, and having a survival garden gives you the peace of mind to know that your family will survive.
A survival garden is exactly what it sounds like – a garden designed for the survival of your family. You might think that all vegetable gardens are for this, but you’d be wrong.
When you plan a survival garden, you want to make sure you think about foods your family needs to survive not just foods you enjoy. Eggplants might be yummy, but they aren’t going to allow your family to survive for months to come.
If you have a survival garden, you have the best sort of life insurance out there.
What is a Survival Garden?
I want you to think back to March and April 2020 when our grocery store shelves cleared out rapidly. It seemed like overnight shopping became harder than ever before. Walking through Walmart felt like something in the movies.
But it wasn’t a movie.
It made a lot of people stop and think about how they’d feed their family if the supply chains totally broke, and we realized it’s a future possibility. As I write this, food shortages and supply chain problems (and lots of talk about inflation) is a real problem.
A survival garden is your garden that will feed your family to the best of your ability without needing the grocery store. This isn’t a hobby garden or a few raised beds; it’s a serious undertaking that will take care of your family in an emergency situation.
How Do You Plan a Survival Garden?
If you decide that you want to plan a survival garden, follow these suggestions to make the planning process easier.
Think About What You Want to Grow
Planning always starts with imagining and visioning your goals. Think about what you want to grow.
What does your family eat?
Think about your goals for planning a survival garden. Do you want to simply feed your family some of the food you grow, or do you have more ambitious goal to grow as much – or all – of the crops possible.
Learn about Your Growing Zone and Planting Calendar
Everyone loves in a different growing zone. What I’m able to grow in my zone six garden is different than what someone in a zone eight or a zone four grows.
Your growing zone gives you a different planting calendar and growing season length as well. Those with a shorter growing season will need to plan to grow as much as possible in a short season, unless you have a heated greenhouse or other structures that extend the growing season.
Figure out when your last frost date is and the first frost date for your region. Use this information to plan what and when to grow.
I like to have a gardening planner on hand to keep track of the dates I need to know for my current gardening season.
Plan for Each Season and Year-Round Gardening
Your family has to eat all year-round, not just when the garden is growing well. You need to have a plan to store the food throughout the winter months, and you want to learn how to garden year-round on your homestead.
Growing food in the winter doesn’t have to be complicated. The use of a few cold frames will give you fresh greens throughout the winter in most climates.
Before grocery stores became popular, people had to have a plan to feed their families when the garden season stopped. Generally, planning for the seasons include these components:
- Winter Gardening Harvesting
- Root Cellar or Cold Storage
- Food Preservation
Let’s take a look at each of these components and how they work together to feed your family all year-round. I would also include hunting and fishing in this list, but that’s not part of gardening.
Winter Harvesting and Gardening
Many crops cannot grow in the winter like tomatoes, potatoes, and carrots, but winter gardening is still a vital part of having a survival garden. Using row covers, cold frames, or a greenhouse gives you ways to extend the harvests pass your typical first frost date and start gardening earlier in the season.
In many areas, a cold frame will provide enough heat to keep hardy greens growing all year-round, giving you a valuable source of nutrients. Plus, you can grow micro greens indoors in the winter for concentrated vitamins and minerals.
Root Cellar or Cold Storage
Centuries ago, root cellars were commonplace; it was the best way to store foods for long periods without any other preservation method needed. A root cellar stores produce like apples, carrots, onions, potatoes and winter squash for up to six to nine months.
Storing canned goods, homemade or store-bought, in cold storage also increases the shelf life.
The first option for food preservation should be cold storage (not a freezer), but if that’s not an option or you want to add a variety to your homestead pantry, you’ll want to try different food preservation methods.
Some of the most popular ways to preserve food include:
Each of these methods has pros and cons to consider; I think the best thing to do is have a variety of all of these. However, it takes a lot of time to learn how to use these food preservation methods.
Start with one and work towards mastering that before moving to the next method.
How Many People You Need to Feed
Of course, one of the biggest things you need to think about when planning a survival garden is how many people you need to feed.
If you only need to feed yourself and one other person, your goal needs to be much smaller than my garden that has to feed six humans!
Check out this vegetable calculator to help you figure out how many plants per crop you need to grow to feed your family.
Creating a Survival Garden Layout
Once you have all of the questions asked, it’s time to work on the survival garden layout. A properly designed survival garden will save everyone time and work.
That’s what we all want!
Here are some considerations to keep in mind while creating your survival garden layout.
Think about Water
An important step when designing a survival garden is to think about how you will water your plants. While you might want to select drought-tolerant plants, the reality is that most of our main vegetable crops are not drought-friendly plants.
So, what should you do instead?
Here are some suggestions!
- Design a rainwater collection system that can be used to water your water; this collection system should be as close to the garden as possible.
- Create hills and ditches to gather water and direct it where you want it to go. Line the ditch with plastic to capture and hold the water in place.
- Use permaculture principles to create a garden that is more self-sustainable.
- Try core gardening or hugelkultur gardening methods that typically require less water overall.
Plan for Garden Fencing and Protection
Protecting your garden is another important design aspect for a survival garden, but it might not be what you think.
First, you need to protect your plants from hungry pests and animals. For example, I lost a ton of my tomatoes – beautiful tomatoes – to hungry ground hogs this year. I plan to invest in better fencing around my market garden to prevent these critters from taking all of your harvest.
You also have to think about birds; they love to eat fruits off your bushes and trees. You’ll want to have netting available to defend your harvest.
Then, unfortunately, since we are talking about a survival garden, we want to defend it from people who might think our garden is open bounty for them.
I know too many people who have this problem, including me. I have had neighbors pick food out of my garden without my consent, and while I give away food all the time, I expect people to ask first.
If we are in a survival scenario, desperate, hungry people will take food without asking, so fencing becomes even more important. We plan to fence our entire main property in with a high, wooden privacy fence to prevent people from finding our garden in the first place.
Place a Compost Near
Having a compost is an important part of having a survival garden; a compost is going to feed your garden without needing to break your bank at the store for bagged compost. Having a compost also reduces food waste.
It should be placed near your survival garden. The last thing you want to do is haul wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of compost across your backyard.
It’s no fun, so plan ahead of time and reduce your work.
Plant Perennials First
Perennial plants, like fruit trees, berry bushes, and perennial vegetables, should take first priority when you design and plant your survival garden. These plants take years to reach maturity and produce a large harvest.
An orchard is absolutely pinnacle to producing as much of your family’s food as possible. Fruit creates a balanced diet for your family. It’s possible to add dwarf fruit trees to your property, even if you have a small backyard.
Draw A Rough Draft Out
Once you have an idea about your survival garden layout, make a rough draft by sketching it out on some paper. Make sure you start by drawing the structure that are already there like buildings, bushes, and trees!
When you’re planning a survival garden, understand that this is more than a one-year project. You cannot start a large garden in one year without experiencing serious burnout. It’s best tackled in stages.
How to Pick the Best Vegetables to Grow in a Survival Garden
So, how do you decide which plants to grow in your survival garden?
It’s a complex consideration because this is more than a hobby garden that you simply grow what sounds nice. Your goal is feed your family through whatever situation arises.
The first thing you have to consider is how to ensure your family’s nutritional needs are met. Adults need 1600 to 2500 calories per day, and children need 1000 to 2000 calories each day.
However, you have to consider more than that.
People need more than calories; you can’t fill up on 2500 calories of sugar and think it’s good diet. You need protein, fats, and carbohydrates, as well as different vitamins and minerals to avoid different health problems.
Most people think of fats and animal fats, but it’s possible to consume healthy fats from plants. Seeds and nuts are great options, but it’s hard to grow those in many areas. Beans provide fats and protein into your diet.
With each crop you grow, you need to think about how you plan to store them.
Many foods are canning safe, but I like to grow foods that are versatile. For example, canning green beans is incredibly easy, but I also like to freeze green beans. You can dehydrate them or pickle them into dilly beans.
I suggest having a plan for how you want to store each crop you grow, especially if you plan to grow enough to last a year. Don’t preserve everything in one way, or you’ll quickly get bored and sick of eating the same thing.
Ease of Saving Seeds
I never want to come off as a crazy prepper, but when you plan a survival garden, keep the worse possible scenario in mind.
What if you have no access to seeds again?
Some of the best plants for a survival garden are perennial vegetables and herbs because they continue to grow back each yet, but that greatly limits what you could grow. So, you have to learn how to save seeds.
Ideally, make sure you know how to save seeds, and practice ahead of time. A majority of your plants should be ones you can save seeds from to grow in the following year.
The Best Foods to Grow in a Survival Garden
So, let’s take a look at some of the plants you might include in a survival garden. You can buy survival seeds individually, creating your own plan, but you also can buy a pack of survival garden seeds prepared for you ahead of time!
Beans are an essential staple crop you need to grow in your garden. You probably think about green beans, but there are tons of different types of beans you can grow.
I like to grow a mix of bush and pole green beans, and I always grow a ton of dried beans that I can use to can baked beans and pork and beans for my husband. They’re delicious!
2. Berry Bushes
Everyone needs to make sure they have berry bushes in their survival garden plan. While it takes several years for berry bushes to produce a harvest, they’ll produce for decades when well cared for in your garden.
A few berry bushes you can grow include:
Cabbages are one of those quintessential crops that you need to grow if you want a survival garden. Our ancestors grew tons of cabbages and stored it by making fermented sauerkraut.
If you want a crop that you can grow and store in a root cellar, then carrots are just that! It’s possible to grow carrots and store them in your basement or somewhere cold for months. It’s also easy to can carrots whenever they start to go bad.
Not only are they easy to store, but carrots are full of vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. They are great fillers too; you need them to make soup, homemade broths, roast a chicken, and more.
Plus, roasted carrots tossed in some olive oil, salt, and pepper are utterly delicious and one of my easiest and yummiest side dishes.
We don’t grow corn, but if we needed to have a true survival garden, corn would most definitely be on the list. Corn is versatile, and if you don’t have space to grow wheat on your property, dried corn can be ground up into corn flour to make bread and corn bread.
Plus, dried corn becomes popcorn, a healthy and easy snack.
When it comes to storing corn, it’s delicious frozen, but we love home canned corn as well. I also make canned corn chowder and canned creamed corn – it’s all so yummy!
6. Fruit Trees
Fruit trees are an investment that will feed your family for decades, and that’s not an exaggeration. Once the tree is planted and starts producing, the trees produce fruits for 10 to 20 years, on average!
Garlic is a given in a survival garden. It has antibacterial properties that make it a medicinal plant, but who wants to eat any type of dish without garlic?
Just because you’re in a survival scenario doesn’t mean you want your food to taste bland and gross. Toss some garlic in the ground this fall; it’s one of the easiest crops to grow.
I didn’t include greens like lettuce on this list, but kale deserves a spot, even if you don’t love the taste. Kale is full of different vitamins and nutrients like vitamins A, K, C, and B6.
It grows well in cold weather, and depending on your location, you might be able to grow kale in a cold frame throughout the colder months. You can eat kale in salads, but it also works well in soups. Remember, you want all the calories possible!
Here’s another option for homegrown fruits in your survival garden – melons.
You can grow all sorts of melons in your garden, and while most of the time you eat them fresh, you might be able to freeze some of them. Either way, your family will appreciate some sweetness in their lives.
Onions are like garlic – can you imagine your favorite dishes without some onions included?
Peas are one of the easiest spring crops you can plant in your garden, and they taste delicious. You can eat them as is, toss them into stir fries, freeze them, or can them.
Peas are a source of vitamin C and E, along with zinc, a nutrient your body needs. It’s also said that including peas in your diet helps to reduce inflammation.
Potatoes are a staple crop. They were for our ancestors and would be a staple for any survival garden. You need calories, and potatoes give that to you.
These crops are versatile and can be stored and used in many different ways. Growing potatoes is easy, even for new gardeners, so give them a try. Make sure you include a large space in your garden to grow tons of potatoes.
Here is the only other green I think you have to grow when planning a survival garden layout – spinach. It’s full of vitamins A, C, and K, along with being a natural source of iron. As something who has chronic anemia issues for years, spinach is always part of my diet.
It’s a cool weather crop, so plan to grow tons of it in the spring and fall. You can freeze spinach!
All sorts of squash belong in your survival garden. Your first thought might be zucchini, and while I suggest you grow some of those, think about growing more winter squash than those.
Winter squash have longer vines and need a better support system, but they can be stored for months in cold storage without needing to do anything else for them.
15. Sweet Potatoes
Aside from regular potatoes, you might be able to grow sweet potatoes in your area as well. Not all regions support their growth, but if you can grow it, you should! They’re as versatile as regular potatoes and store well.
Tomatoes might not be a full staple crop, but you can do so many things with them. Having different preserved tomatoes in your pantry gives you the ability to make so many different types of dishes.
Just because you live off your survival garden doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious!
Don’t Forget to Grow Herbs!
Adding medicinal plants to your survival garden is essential, especially in a situation when modern medicine might be limited or unavailable. It’s possible to forage a lot of medicinal plants, but you also will need to purposefully plant and grow many different types of herbs for medicine.
If you want to learn more about medicinal herbs, I suggest taking an introductory course by The Herbal Academy.
Here are some of the best medicinal plants to grow in your survival garden.
- Lemon Balm
- St. John’s Wort
One of my favorite things about growing these herbs is that they also double as ornamental plants; they look beautiful with their flowers and different foliage.
Planning and growing a survival garden may be the difference between your family eating or not. It is a way to ensure your family has the food you need if anything happens. After what we all faced in 2020, you never know what could happen, so be prepared!