garden notes survival gardening

What should you grow? (Part 2 Keeping Gardening Simple)

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

Garlic

  • 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.

Onions

  • 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.

Potatoes

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.

Beets

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.)

Beet and its greens. The greens will die back as summer passes.

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. 

Detroit Red Beet -mid June

For years I grew beets only for the greens until I found out the nutritional value and how delicious they could be.

Cabbage

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.

Lettuce in the front planted last fall; Chinese cabbage in the middle of picture; the little yellow frothy bloom is mache setting seed; the taller yellow bloom is cress seeding, the pink is Sweet William.  (The bricks were used to secure fabric covering lettuce beds in the past winter and I had not moved them yet.)

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.

Interesting.

Carrots

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

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.

Two ready to harvest.

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.

Fresh from the garden.

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.

Beans

For drying. When properly dried and stored they can last for years.

Great to have on hand. Have not grown since Bill died.

Winter Squash

Butternut is my favorite.  Keeps a long time and is delicious.

Butternut squash growing in my flower border one July.

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.

A February day’s harvest of mache and lettuce drying after a rinse.

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!

For Diversity

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.

Strawberries starting to ripen the first part of June.

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!

Fig – First fruits on the bush.

Fig/chocolate smoothie

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.

Peas

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.

A day’s harvest of peas shelled and ready to freeze.

Tomatoes

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.)

Big Beef Tomato ; Helianthus in bloom to the left of the tomato plant.

Cucumbers

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

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

_____

All content including photos is copyright by TendingMyGarden.com. All Rights Reserved.

14 Comments

  • Loved this and as always learned something new. Made some notes to check into multiplier onions and that it’s ok to mulch and leave potatoes where they are until frost.

    The thing I remember hearing from your posts that has served me well is to do a little every day–it’s amazing how much gets done that way!

    Hope you are well and thank you for all the years of gardening advice.

  • Theresa
    Thank you so much for the practical tips.
    l love Heirloom tomatoes. I want the most yield per plant.
    I never considered that a high yield might might not have the best taste.
    since taste can be different to everyone it is hard to put that on the package.

    I love beets and also the greens. double benefit, but the beets are not the best for my kidney stone production.
    I wrote you earlier that Raspberries are the easiest to take care of and come up every year on their own and propagate on their own too

  • Hello Theresa!!

    I am so happy to see a post from you. I discovered your blog this past spring when I was reclaiming my garden from 18 months of total neglect and you have been a huge inspiration to me. I’m 67 years old so it takes me a while longer to accomplish anything than it used to… must be all the breaks sitting on my bench under a tree.

    I also live in zone7 (western Kentucky, northerly near Indiana border) and lacinato kale doesn’t like me either. I’ve managed to reclaim and plant the entire 40 x 40 garden over the course of the year. Hot weather slowed me down but I just got up a little earlier and did what I could till it got too hot for a geezer to be outside. I’m excited to be out in the milder fall temps and have been deep mulching beds using things like daylillies I’ve thinned and burning bush leaves from trimming as I cleanup other areas of the yard. My eye is on constant lookout for organic matter I can chop and drop on garden beds now. Will add chopped leaves and grass clippings as they become available. Hope to reclaim a second smaller garden plot over the winter where I plan to plant mostly seminole pumpkins, let them sprawl all they want to, and intercrop with beans or something.

    I really enjoyed this post and am of similar mind. Am working at providing as much of our food as possible from the garden next year. This year was a good start and with what I’ve picked up from your writings I look forward to a productive garden next year. Thanks so much for sharing all you’ve learned with us.

    Take care and God bless,
    Harold in Kentucky

  • As always, it is lovely to “talk ” with you about gardening. It gives me a boost to continue gardening. I hope your fall garden is bountiful.
    Carol Y

  • Excellent article. I grow most of the same things. I’ve found that root crops are so important for survival. I’ve also found that root crops will thrive while other “riskier” crops don’t due to weather changes etc. Also, root crops don’t usually need as much water as some of the others. I’ve also been growing lettuce and tomatoes indoors for almost 10 years (in the winter). Thanks for the post!

  • Theresa
    It is good to see your post come through. I miss your blog and gain so much value from it. After almost two years being in the one bed one bath we decided to finish the basement. I have raised beds for gardening. I used 100% compost so the rain goes right through. However when the plants take hold they grow fast. It is good to see all is well. Send me a e-mail when you have a chance and drop a line or two.
    Steve

  • Always good to hear from you and hope that new gardeners find you.

    Happy gardening

    Ray Kent

  • Thank you Theresa! As you know, I find this kind of posts incredibly useful. This one will definitely go in my saved folder. I will keep ‘digesting’ it over time.

  • Useful information as always.
    My garden this year – just a few big grow bags mostly – barely did anything. I got 2 zucchinis and half a dozen cherry tomatoes, and two peppers. Ended up with a couple softball sized watermelons and a slightly smaller american melon…. they’re still out there, but with temps below 50 at night now I doubt they will ripen.
    Don’t know if I will still be here at this rental next year. I hope not, but housing situations are kind of crazy in this area right now and I don’t think I will be in a position to move to a more desirably long term area yet. We’ll see what happens.
    Definitely not survival farming here, now, though.

  • A couple survival gardening ideas:

    After seeing this post https://permies.com/t/61867/Potato-Onions-true-seed-grow I decided to try growing potato onions from seed. Since I waited too long and everyone is sold out of actual onions, why not. Managed to find seed from a reputable seller on Ebay. She’s in Kansas which should get roughly the same daylength as West Kentucky. So am excited about giving it a try. Nothing to lose, much to gain.

    Another thing I want to try next year is gandule beans (pigeon peas). There are short season/annual varieties that are being grown successfully as far north as New York, so it should be fine provided I can find the seed. Gandules are really high in protein and minerals, plus they grow on a large bush/small tree and will provide a lot of organic matter for mulch at end of season. I’ll intercrop them with Seminole pumpkins, something else I’ve always wanted to try.

    Theresa, I’m wondering if you’ve ever tried growing parsnips? I don’t know if zone 7 is too hot for them. Northwest part of my garden gets afternoon shade so guess I’m going to find out. My Grandma in New York used to fix them when I was a kid and I loved them. Am also looking at skirret, which is a perennial root similar to parsnips and could hide out various places in my yard if it grows well here (and tastes good).

    If I can manage to keep the right attitude going it should be kinda fun to figure out what works to keep us fed well. Thanks again for all you do.

  • I think your post is great advice – just because “everyone” grows something, it doesn’t mean that you have to. Grow what you like! A great example for me is beets. I know they are easy to grow, but yuck. It’s the only veggie that I just can’t stand. On the other hand, lots of people can’t stand okra, but I won’t garden without it. Love it!

    It’s also so much more enjoyable to garden a reasonable amount rather than to exhaust yourself and end up with more produce that you can use anyway. And it’s amazing how little space and effort is needed to grow a lot of delicious fresh veggies.

    Get out there and get dirty! 🙂

  • Theresa

    More on Heirloom tomatoes that froze because I planted them too early.

    I bought replaceable plants from a neighbor, but they were not heirloom. I was very disappointed this year. I’ll grow half as many Heirlooms bought from a gardening store and make sure the ground temperature is warm enough as the air temperature. I always leave 4 feet between the plants

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