Much of what you decide to grow depends on why you garden.
If you’re a hobby gardener your choices may be a lot different than someone who gardens for survival.
Why I Garden
As long time readers know, I started gardening (42 years ago) so Bill and I could (literally) have something to eat. And my garden today is still my main source of food.
Survival gardening – especially in a collapse of society or during food shortages — does not necessarily involve canning — unless that’s what you choose to do, like to do and/or are set up to do.
For various reasons I don’t do canning. I don’t dehydrate. And unfortunately I don’t have a root cellar.
What I decide to grow depends on nutritional value, storage potential, ease of harvest, and what I think I’ll realistically be able to handle.
(For example when Bill was sick and needed my care 24/7 – I could grow only what we needed to survive. No extras, nothing new, and nothing that took lots of time.)
How This Post Might Help You
Although we don’t have to do what others do, we still learn from learning about what they do and what their experiences have been.
That’s the purpose of this post. You don’t have to do what I do, but it might be helpful to you to know what I do and what my experiences have been.
I’ll be talking to you as if we’re living next door to each other and talking over the fence. Just garden chat. Nothing complicated.
For additional details on growing the various crops mentioned you can do a search on TMG’s home page. For nutritional benefits, my comments can act as an alert and you can do your research.
My Main Survival Crops
- Easy to grow. Never want to be without it.
- I consider it’s compounds/phytonutrients imperative for my health.
- Is antiviral and antibacterial.
- Properly cured keeps for months.
- Easy to grow.
- When properly cured can be stored for months with good air circulation.
If the grid goes down and I couldn’t run fans for circulation, I’d try to set up something outside to protect from rain but provide air circulation naturally. As temperatures drop below 40ºF I’d bring them inside again and take my chances.
- In hot and dry climates they’ll keep in the ground covered with a layer of dry soil or mulch. Some rain won’t hurt them.
Especially good if you’re in a situation where people are trying to steal food. They won’t know the onions are there.
- Good nutritional value.
Yellow onions and red onions are a good source of quercetin, which I consider imperative for my health.
- Raw onions give you the most value.
Slice them on sandwiches. Or use them as I do chopped with other raw vegetables, drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, and toss.
Cooking diminishes the value of the enzymes foods contain. (Enzymes make your body function.)
- Multiplier onions (also called potato onions) are fantastic keepers and in a grid down scenario may outlast the other bulb onions by months.
Easy to grow.
I grow early, midseason, and late varieties to keep production almost all summer into fall.
Mine are stored in the bed they grow in, covered with mulch. As freezing temperatures approach I add thick layers of straw so they won’t freeze. Looking at the potato beds in fall and winter, no one would know there was food there.
- Even a light frost can change their taste.
I’ve tried to cook them anyway to experiment, but ended up throwing them away. You’ll get to know if they’re bad when you cut into them. They can look slightly off-color or a lot off-color.
Can be fixed a multitude of ways. By preparing ahead with fire starting materials and cookware, you could cook potatoes even with the grid down.
And if you absolutely had to eat them raw you could. Not tasty maybe, but if you had to you could.
- Especially good as a potassium source.
I eat potatoes mainly when my body craves them. That’s not often, but it happens, especially as fresh produce dwindles in the garden.
Easy to grow.
- You’ll be amazed when you research the health benefits of beets.
I’ll cook one. Slice it. Use one slice chopped with my other vegetables and put the others in the frig for the next few days. Sometimes the beet looks so good after I’ve cooked it that I can’t resist coating it with butter and eating the entire beet!
If you make smoothes — especially with carrots, try adding 1/4 raw beet and 1/4 apple to the mix. DELICIOUS! If you were drinking this without seeing it made, you’d never know there was beet in it.
- Can be grown in spring and fall. (Although my fall planting is not germinating well this year.)
Spring planted beets (particularly Detroit Red Beet) will keep in the ground until late fall. They can look awful, but you’ll be shocked at how delicious they are. If the top of the beet is green (moss) (and they often are after being in the ground all that time) just wash well with a veggie brush and/or peel that part. Slice and cook.
- If you can protect beets from freezing with thick mulch (I use straw) they’ll keep in winter. Looking at your garden, only you will know they’re there.
- Beets are also delicious roasted; halved, quartered or whole.
- Beet greens are similar to spinach.
For years I grew beets only for the greens until I found out the nutritional value and how delicious they could be.
A mainstay in my diet along with carrots.
Considering how hard it is to find organic cabbage in the grocery store here, I’m now growing more in the garden.
My favorites are head cabbages like Early Jersey and Dottenfelder. But I need some that I can consistently pick leaves from to tide me over until the others produce heads.
- Chinese cabbage grows quickly and I can eat the leaves of that long before it heads. Another that held me over in the early summer with its fast growing leaves was Tronchuda.
Chopped raw with other veggies on hand, drizzled with olive oil and vinegar, and tossed is how I eat cabbage. I seldom cook it. Maybe once or twice a year.
I’ve found cabbage keeps a few weeks in the garden after it forms a head.
Wrapped in a paper towel, placed in a plastic storage bag, it’ll keep maybe 6 weeks in the frig.
There are other ways to store cabbage longer, but I’ve not tried them yet. If the grid goes down I might be forced into experimenting with a method I came across that was used many years ago.
- When ready to harvest you pull the cabbage up by the root. Turn it upside down.
- Dig a hole to accommodate the head. Place the cabbage in. Pull the soil up to cover the head
- Leave the stalk above ground.
I’m including carrots here because they’re a mainstay in my diet.
I’ve not been pleased when growing them. And using about 10 pounds of raw carrots every few weeks I doubt that I could grow enough to meet my needs.
Considering food shortages on the horizon, I should have done all this experimenting last year. Thus, I may find myself doing without carrots many times this winter if I have to depend on the carrots I’ve planted.
My first planting didn’t get enough attention so didn’t germinate. (Carrots have to be kept moist to germinate.)
I was “on top of” the second planting and they appeared when they should have.
But the seed moved from my planted rows and bunched together.
I’ll thin them BUT I’m not throwing one seedling away! I’ll transplant. That could go either way. We’ll see.
- As with cabbage – my carrots are shredded and chopped and eaten raw with other veggies on hand.
Carrots can keep well in the frig for many weeks if moisture is not allowed to collect. That causes them to rot.
- Growing you own, you can keep them from freezing with mulch and harvest as needed during the winter.
Asparagus is a must have on my survival list. By the time the first nutritious shoots of asparagus show up in the garden in April I’m craving them. I may even eat the first few raw while standing in the garden. But my favorite way to enjoy them is to sauté them a few minutes in olive oil. Then use as a side dish or cut in inch pieces to toss with my salad.
Even though the invasive roots from the trees (not normal trees) on the neighboring property ruined what was once my main asparagus bed, I still have a few asparagus roots that produce nice sized stalks. Thus, I enjoy them everyday during their 6 to 8 week season.
I probably eat more than 252 spears during the 6 to 8 week harvest time. (I eat at least 6 spears a day for at least 6 weeks. 6 x 42 days is 252 spears.) That’s a good amount of nutritious food when you’re depending on mostly fresh from the garden produce to sustain you.
Oddly, the asparagus plant that gives me 90% of the asparagus I eat was a volunteer. It grew from a seed that fell on that spot over a decade ago. It has continued to grow.
The strange part is that the invasive roots have not seemed to effect this particular asparagus plant although they killed off my fantastic asparagus bed of 15 years ago that was within 10 feet of this productive plant.
If you don’t have room for or need an asparagus bed of 6 or more plants, I suggest having at least one. It’s the first taste of spring each year and provides the first boost of fresh nutrition to your body after a long winter.
For drying. When properly dried and stored they can last for years.
Great to have on hand. Have not grown since Bill died.
Butternut is my favorite. Keeps a long time and is delicious.
Lettuce and Mache
For most people lettuce is not considered a survival crop. It is for me.
- To get lettuce during the fall, winter and into the next growing season (before next year’s planting is ready) I plant lettuce 3 times in the fall. Each planting about 3 to 4 weeks apart.
I cover it in winter when temperatures will reach 28ºF and below. Even with cold temperatures, open the ends when possible and let air circulate.
Although lettuce is a crop easily visible, most people stealing food might not consider it something they want.
Mache comes up in the fall and laughs at the freezing cold all through the winter.
And it is DELICIOUS!
I’ll grow a few plants of kale, chard, sorrel, and arugula. Also herbs like parsley, thyme, rosemary. This year I put a few brussels sprouts in.
The more diversity you can eat the more beneficial nutrients you’ll have.
Each plant seems to offer something a little different.
Easily Perishable Crops I Eat Fresh (Some Can Be Frozen)
Fruits I grow are not considered survival foods.
But I can almost guarantee that if you’re living on the bare minimums and these fruits starting with strawberries that ripen in late spring, you’ll chow down on them and enjoy every bite.
Besides, strawberries are so easy and almost take care of themselves. Why not have them.
If the grid is up and all is working, strawberries like the other fruits I’ll mention, can be frozen for smoothies, over ice cream, muffins, pies, cobblers, etc.
Blueberries are fantastic frozen. I snack on them all winter. Currently they’re a popular super food for their antioxidant value.
Blackberries and raspberries are also good.
Figs are fantastic frozen for smoothies that taste like chocolate ice cream!
Everyday since figs have been producing, I’ve had a fig/chocolate smoothie. Especially refreshing after coming in on a hot day!
Here’s how to fix one: in a blender – 3 to 6 frozen figs cut in quarters; organic carob soy milk to cover; 1 tbsp org. cocoa powder; blend until smooth and spoon into glass.
The fruits mentioned in this section come in at different times in my garden. So I have fruit to enjoy late spring through early fall.
Time consuming but fantastic. I limit myself to 3 rows; 4 at the most; each about 10 feet long.
- They come and go rather quickly. But since strawberries and blueberries begin to need harvesting at the same time, I’m glad when they’re finished.
I hate canned peas. Frozen peas (no blanching) taste like fresh peas.
This year I only have a gallon frozen. When Bill was alive I tried to have 3 gallons frozen for winter. He always helped pick and shell peas to make having that many peas doable.
Peas start losing sweetness as soon as you pick them. To have them at their best you need to shell and freeze immediately.
July through December – for fresh eating!
Roasted tomato sauce frozen for winter eating. Tastes like fresh!! (Do a search on the home page for “roasted tomato” and several posts come up that give you more details.)
Usually the plants produce for 6 weeks. Have 2 to 3 weeks of cukes in the frig for eating after the plants are finished.
This year for the first time in 42 years cukes lasted 10 weeks instead of 6!
Cukes don’t grow in my garden in the fall. At least they never have UNTIL this year!
I have 2 plants loaded with baby cucumbers. If they mature you’ll hear me shouting for joy!!
Snap beans (a/k/a string beans)
I stagger two plantings of about 18 plants each in the spring.
One of the two fall plantings is now blooming and I should have snap beans through frost.
I don’t like canned or frozen beans, but I sometimes freeze a quart or two to make soup in winter. Most of the time I just make the soup with fresh stuff and freeze that.
Peppers walk to their own drummer. And the drummer might be different every year.
This year the plants were even slower than usual getting large and lush, but they did. A pepper here and there and that’s all. And then came the middle of September and they went crazy setting fruit and growing it quickly. With the exception of 2 plants, all are loaded with dozens of peppers.
I’m eating 4 to 6 medium sized peppers daily with my other chopped vegetables. Leaving the bigger peppers to turn red. From the looks of things I’ll have an abundance. I’ll freeze some for use in pasta or rice dishes.
Another Way to Keep Gardening Simple
As I mentioned in my last post on Keeping Gardening Simple one of the first steps towards saving time and keeping it simple is to be realistic about what you can tend.
Even starting with a small amount of ground you can grow a lot. And having a space you can handle will encourage you to continue.
Yes, many people are into canning, growing long rows of crops and spending hours harvesting and canning, etc. I never felt compelled to follow the crowd. You don’t have to either. You know yourself better than anyone else.
And while you should never underestimate what you can accomplish you have to be realistic to be successful.
Misjudged? Make a Change!
If you find that you’ve misjudged and have taken on too much, most of the time you can make changes right then and there. For example, I planted a variety of tomato this year that I thought I’d love based on the description I read.
The plants were enormous and heavy with fruit. I’ve never seen that many tomatoes form on a plant at one time and I consider my tomatoes heavy producers.
I tasted one. No taste whatsoever. I waited a few days. Tasted another. Hated it.
Cut all 8 plants down. Covered them with straw. Gathered the tomatoes and dug them into one spot. If any volunteer next year I’ll know to pull them up.
Never hesitate to pull up things that you can’t handle, use, or want. Nothing is wasted when it returns to the soil.
Learn from others of course, but know yourself and adapt strategies and methods to fit YOUR needs and desires.
Keep gardening simple and you’ll be doing it for a life time.
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