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Survival Garden – Ins and Outs

Survival Garden

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COVID 19 has led to an increased interest in creating a Survival Garden (a revisit of the WW2 Victory Garden).

The Survival Garden focuses on producing food locally and independently. With the COVID-19 scare, now might be the time to begin tilling our front yards and public lands and growing our own food!

Determine The Growing Space For Your Survival Garden

Whether you live in a home with a yard, have a deck or just a sunny windowsill in an apartment, you CAN grow your own food. The space you have will affect the scale of your gardening.

plants on windowsill
Seedlings started on a sunny windowsill

If your apartment does not have a deck or patio – or even roof access – look around your area for already-established community gardens, or a place where you can possibly start a survival garden. Also check out the information below on growing indoors.

Small space gardeners can investigate hanging and free-standing containers which can hold a surprising amount of material. Grow bags or root pouches are perfect for those precious potatoes or other veggies! If you are growing in a confined area consider the vertical space as well as horizontal – productive, climbing plants expand your area!

If you have an outdoor space in which to grow food – understand your grow zone and climate.  Your grow zone helps you know the length of your growing season, and temperature variations, depending on your location. Check online for your local agricultural extension for up-to-date information on the climate of your area. Extension offices are run by university employees who are experts in local crops.

One more thing to think about – grow food that you and your family will eat! You want to reap the maximum benefits from your garden after the time and effort that you have put into creating it.

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pandemic garden


12 Types Of Plant For Your Survival Garden

1. Herbs

The easiest and best use of a beginner gardener’s ‘thyme’ is to grow a selection of herbs and spices to add to your food.  As the song says “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”, but remember to include mint, chives, oregano, basil and dill, to list a few. They all add extra flavor to your food and will brighten your culinary efforts. They are also an excellent use of a small space for big benefits.  If your growing space is limited, consider a ‘grow tower’ – small footprint with good use of vertical space.

2. Beans – both green and storage

With beans you get a lot of nutritionally-dense material in a small package. The seeds are protein-dense, and the edible-pod varieties reduce bio-mass (shells) that you cannot use.

Beans can be grown in both bush or pole forms. Pole beans have the advantage of using vertical space – so if you are working in a small space, take this into account.

Grow a mix of green and storage beans. Make sure to save some of those valuable bean seeds with each harvest to plant another crop!

3. Cucurbits – (bee pollinated but can be hand pollinated)

Squash – both Winter and Summer

Winter and Summer squash are great in a survival garden. Summer squash are fast to grow and provide food in about 45 days. (In warmer climates they grow faster). In contrast, winter squash have a longer development time but store for much longer if kept whole and undamaged.

Start your seeds for both types of squash at the same time if you can. If not, opt for the winter varieties first, as they do take longer to develop. Squash have a sprawling growth habit so take up horizontal space.

Cucumbers – warm season crop

Cucumbers provide a prolific amount of fruit for little effort. A survival garden staple for pickling, they are great for fresh-eating purposes too.

4. Cabbage – cool season crop

Cabbage is great whether fresh, cooked or fermented. Though not particularly dense in calories, cabbage is packed with nutrients your body needs. A source of Vitamins B6 and C and K, it is also full of fiber.

It is a great survival crop for another reason: Fermented cabbage gives you a long-storing vegetable option in the form of sauerkraut or kimchi that you can use in soups, sandwiches, casseroles, or on top of sausage.

5. Potatoes

This starchy root crop is easy to grow even in an urban setting. Along with being a good carbohydrate source, they are an excellent source of potassium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B6. Potatoes are a fairly easy crop to grow, but it is especially important to start with certified disease-free seed potatoes. Plant your potatoes in grow bags, or failing that, in 5-gallon buckets with holes bored into the base for drainage.

An Alternative Growing Option for Potatoes – Used Car Tires as Containers

Growing in tires eliminates digging and the risk of bruising or damaging the potatoes and potato skins during harvest. They make an excellent raised bed for growing potatoes when space is limited. Choose a sunny spot in your yard, garden or on a patio or balcony.

You can use a hard surface or a surface that has not previously had crops grown in it. Put down a layer of thick, broken down cardboard boxes and put the tires on top of that. The cardboard will maintain a moisture barrier between your plants and the hard surface and suppress existing weeds or grass in a previously unused area.

Stack two tires and fill them with soil and compost to just over half the depth of the stacked tires. Then place 4 or 5 seed potatoes in the stack, about 2 inches deep, with the eyes (shoots) facing up. Each plant will yield about 5 to 10 potatoes.

As the potato plants grow, add more tires and soil to the stack. The stacking begins when plants reach about 2 to 3 inches high. A small portion (several leaves) of the plants should always remain visible. The stacking continues to three or four tires high and the tubers will continue to grow in the depth of the stack.

Potato Harvest

You can harvest early potatoes once the flowers have opened or buds have dropped. Mature potatoes are ready to harvest when the foliage turns yellow. When the tops yellow and die down, you will have a container that is packed with tubers.

To harvest, simply remove the tires from the stack and allow the soil and potatoes to fall away. The potatoes can then be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area for up to six months.

One of the best known and longest lasting potatoes for storage and versatility is the Russet Burbank potato. They can store for up to 165 days, which is enough to get you through the winter and still have some potatoes left over to replant for the next crop!

The Downside of Growing Potatoes

Potatoes have a high fertilizer requirement.  Also, potatoes are high in starches or sugars and can raise your blood sugar significantly, so remember to supplement your garden planting with a range of vegetables, particularly onions, carrots, and squash!

6. Sweet Potatoes (a very different crop from potatoes) need a warmer climate but are less disease- prone than regular potatoes

While these are also calorie-dense, they tend to have more nutrients than the average potato does. In addition, their flavor allows them to be easily transformed into both savory or sweet applications.

Another way they differ from regular potatoes is that their greens are edible. You can get both leafy greens and tuberous roots in one garden bed. They do take longer to mature than other crops but are worth the effort in the long term.

7. Leafy Greens

All are easy to grow and can be continually harvested – just take what is needed for the next meal and leave the rest growing.

Kale -It is very cold-tolerant and often tastes sweeter once touched by frost. It may become more bitter during the height of the summer, although consistent watering will reduce the bitter taste. It has a name for being a super-food. Consider using ‘dinosaur’ kale.  Work into soups and stews, tasty and tender once cooked, and makes a great, green side dish to go with other meals.

Collards – More tolerant of high humidity levels and less susceptible to fungal diseases due to their more open structure. The leaves are available year-round, but are tastier and more nutritious in the cold months, after the first frost. Collard greens are rich sources of Vitamin A, K and C and manganese, and moderate sources of calcium and Vitamin B6.

Chard – It is one of the hardier leafy greens, with a harvest season typically lasting longer than kale, spinach, or baby greens. Fresh chard can be used raw in salads, stir fries, soups or omelets. The raw leaves can be used like a tortilla wrap. Chard leaves and stalks are typically boiled or sautéed; the bitterness fades with cooking. The leaves are rich in Vitamins A, K, and C.

Spinach – high nutritional density, packed with vitamins and minerals. Store spinach by freezing or dehydrating it.

8. Onions – warm season crop

You can grow ‘bunching onions’ if your space is limited or use the young onion greens as green onions while you wait for the full onions to form. Just be sure not to harvest all the greens while the bulb is developing.  Note: You will be reducing the bulb size if you harvest greens.

Leeks, a related plant, do better in cooler climates.

Also consider growing chives, if space is a consideration, as they will impart a slight onion flavor to your dishes and can also be used as garnish.

9. Tomatoes – warm-season crop because they prefer consistent temperatures above 65° to thrive and produce

These plants are easy to grow and ripen on the vine and taste great both fresh or preserved. You can eat them fresh, dehydrate, freeze, or can them. Consider growing cherry tomatoes for easy use in salads.

10. Peas – edible podded

Another good use of vertical space in small gardens, edible-podded peas are a great choice for survival gardening. Snow peas or sugar snap peas add crisp sweetness into your stir-fries and salads (and you do not waste the shell!). Peas are also high in protein, although not as much as beans.

11. Carrots – warm or cool climate

These are packed with antioxidants and good minerals and nutrients for eye health, and for health in general. There are numerous varieties to choose from depending on your grow area.

12. Lemon tree

The Meyer lemon tree is naturally shrub-like but can also be pruned into tree form. When planted in the ground, these can grow up to 8 to 10 feet tall and up to 12 feet wide. When grown in garden pots, your plant will be smaller and grow according to the size of the pot. It produces a fruit that is a cross between a lemon and a Mandarin orange giving it the typical,tart lemon flavor with a naturally sweet twist.  Make sure that you are getting a true ‘dwarf’ variety  – otherwise you will be dealing with a much larger tree and one that will not do well in a container.

Indoor Growing

As an indoor farmer, you can plant and harvest crops of vegetables, sufficient to make a difference in your diet, your grocery bill, and your health but do not count on having all that you need or enough to supply the neighbors!  As an example, half-a-dozen containers in a sunny window consisting of greens or lettuce at peak production would supply a family of four a small green salad each probably twice a week. You could probably harvest some lettuce greens for sandwiches every day or some spinach to cook for dinner once a week.

You can have fresh veggies year round. The key is understanding what you can and cannot grow indoors and being willing to try different seeds and methods.

Indoor Crop Suggestions – (cool weather crops will do best)

• Any vegetable that does not need to be pollinated in order to produce will work, such as lettuce (all kinds), greens (all kinds), broccoli, radishes, baby carrots, herbs, onions, etc.
• Herbs – grow well in a sunny window.
• Sprouts – newly germinated seedlings of plants such as chickpeas, soybeans, fenugreek, lentils, mung bean, wheat, radish, broccoli, and alfalfa. They are a delicious way to add some crunch to your food along with vitamins, minerals, and protein. In addition, they are a perfect source of Vitamin C. Sprouts are tasty, condensed nutrition, and easy to grow. All you need is a bottle, some seeds to sprout, and a mesh fabric and an elastic band to put over the top. Seed sprouting kits are readily available.
Mushrooms – mushroom log kits can provide a harvest every six weeks or so for up to three years (if you take care of them!). That is a lot of ‘shrooms for stir-fries, stuffing, salads, and sauces!
• Tomatoes – can be grown indoors but will produce more fruit with grow lights.

Your Efforts Determine How Large Your Harvest Will Be

• How large an indoor vegetable garden are you willing to work with?
• How many are in your household?
• How much space are you willing to find, give up or create for garden greens?

Indoor Vegetable Plot Placement

Anywhere you would put a houseplant, you can put a garden. If it has sunshine it will work for indoor vegetable gardening. Window sills are a good choice. You can buy containers designed especially for window sills. If you do not have enough natural sunlight, install a grow light or fluorescent light to help nature along.  It is also possible to use a ‘grow tower‘ – a container with a relatively small footprint and lots of vertical grow space (Also suitable for outdoors).

In cold climates, you may have to insulate the containers, windowsills, window gardens, or greenhouse windows. A piece of cardboard across the base of the windows, some cloth, or a sheet of styrofoam packing could keep out enough of the cold to protect your plants. You could also fold newspaper or bubble wrap into a “blanket”, wrap it around the plant and hold it in place with a rubber band.

In hot climates, you will have to insulate for the opposite reason. The sun blazing through a glass window can be more intense than direct sun, and act like a magnifying glass which will cook your plants. A gauzy curtain or paper taped in the windows can protect your plants from those intensified rays.

Indoor Soil

Indoor vegetable gardening requires rich soil because of the limited amount of growing space. You can buy good potting soil at most supermarkets, discount department stores or hardware stores. It can be used as is, or for an additional boost for your plants, go to a pet shop and buy a box of fine sharp sand mixed with ground oyster shells generally used in birdcages. Mix some of it into your potting soil — the sand lightens the soil, and the oyster shells provide lime.

Indoor Fertilizer

Just because your indoor farm is smaller than a backyard garden plot, it is not completely care-free. It must be watered and fed too. And just because they are growing in your house does not make your veggies’ houseplants.! Vegetable plants need vegetable food. Full-strength vegetable fertilizer used in an outdoor garden is too strong for a container plant. Dilute it to half the strength recommended on the container. Use this weaker solution every week.

Indoor Watering

Too much water is a real problem with container plants. More houseplants die from over-watering than under-watering. But not enough water means death to the plant also.

There is no hard and fast rule about watering. It depends on what type of containers you have, how big they are, where they are located, the temperature, the humidity, the type of plant and so on. Unlike houseplants, a vegetable plant should never droop from lack of water; that is a sign the plant is in stress and it greatly slows down its production.  A general rule: if the top inch of soil is dry, it is time to water again.

Icy-cold water in the middle of winter can cause shock in plants. Use luke-warm water instead.

In some climates, a little humidity helps. An easy way to create humidity is to fill a tray or dish an inch deep with pebbles or gravel, fill with water and place your plant container on top of the pebbles.

Seeds – Whether You Are Planting Indoors Or Outdoors

Whether you are planting indoors or outdoors, you will need good seed. The older the seed, the less the sprouting capability of that seed. In addition, heat will cause seeds to deteriorate.

One good thing is that seeds will remain viable for a year or two if you keep them in a very cool place, like your refrigerator. Put your seed packets in a resealable storage bag, squeeze out all the extra air, and keep them in the fridge. When you need to use some for sowing, only take out the packet you need and only keep it out for as long as you have to.

If not fresh and if not kept very cool, do not expect all the seeds to germinate the following year. Some may, but do you really want to take that chance?

For long term storage, it Is best to buy seeds that are non-hybrid, non-GMO, open pollinated seeds, which means the harvested seeds may be planted year after year. Hybrid seeds are one-time use only.

Seed packets

Your seed packet has all the information needed for growing that particular seed. At times, there may be troubleshooting information in case you start experiencing problems.  Hang on to them in case you need to refer to them later for any reason.


If you are not ready to take on indoor vegetable gardening or in fact any kind of gardening, be prepared and buy long term storage seeds and create your own seed vault. Stash a few bags of potting soil and some containers in case you HAVE to grow your own food. Just remember, in a real crisis, seeds may not be available at ANY PRICE. Think of it as insurance!

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Kate P

I have always had an urge to “be ready’ for emergency situations. To my delight, I discovered the term “prepping” and that there is a community out there willing to learn and share information on a subject close to my heart. I also discovered how entwined self-sufficiency and homesteading are with prepping!

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