History is our best teacher and we can learn a lot about human survival strategies of the past. Our ancestors somehow survived famine, drought and a host of natural disasters. Some used brute force to take what they wanted; others were skillful thieves or were just lucky. A few of these ancestral survivors actually thrived. They thrived because they used their wits and prepared for any unforeseen disaster.
Beyond natural disasters there has always been the most un-natural of all disasters, war. War is arguably the most difficult of all conditions to survive, soldier and civilian alike. We can learn survival lessons from the survivors of war.
During World War 1 and again in World War II American civilians were encouraged to grow what was called, a victory garden. In 1943 the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a pamphlet titled, Victory Garden: Leader’s Handbook which suggested 14 home grown crops.
Here is the list from 1943;
Greens: (Spinach, Chard or Kale)
Lettuce: (Leaf or Head), Cabbage
Tomatoes, Soy Beans, Snap Beans
Lima Beans, Peas (shelled)
Asparagus, Carrots and/or Beets
Turnips and/or Parsnips, Onions
Strawberries and/or Raspberries
The list also mentioned radishes, peppers, onions and pole beans.
Take note that the suggested vegetable list for planting a Victory Garden did not contain: Corn, Potatoes, Squash, Broccoli, Yams (Sweet Potatoes), Cauliflower,
Eggplant, Artichokes, Spinach,
Leeks, Brussel Sprouts, Celery,
Collard Greens, Garlic, Cucumbers,
Pumpkin, Zucchini or Okra. Also absent were Grains, Herbs and Spice Plants. It must be noted that some of the un-listed crops have a low yield to grow space ratio or insect and disease vulnerability, require special care and handling, high water requirements, specialized fertilizer needs or seasonal pollinators, among others.
What is most surprising was the amount of each vegetable needed to feed one person. You needed to multiply the number in your family plus one extra for an emergency and/or charity. Example: Tomatoes-Amount to be used fresh, stored and canned for one person is 120 lbs. For a family of four, plus one for an emergency and/or charity, you need to grow 600 lbs of tomatoes.
For snap beans-Amount to be used fresh, stored and canned for one person is 56 lbs of pole beans. For a family of four, plus one for an emergency and/or charity, you need to grow 280 lbs of snap beans.
It will require the planting of 25 tomato seedlings per person to harvest 120 lbs of tomatoes. For a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, it will require the planting of 125 tomato seedlings.
It will require the planting 1.5 lbs of snap bean seeds per person to harvest 56 lbs of snap beans. For a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, it will require the planting of 7.5 lbs of snap bean seeds.
For a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, it will require 375 linear feet of rows to grow the tomatoes. For a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, it will require 750 linear feet of rows to grow the snap beans.
So, to grow enough tomatoes and snap beans for a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, you will need to cultivate 1,125 linear feet of soil.
To grow a crop for a family of four plus one for an emergency and/or charity, planting all 14 of the suggested vegetables listed in the Victory Garden: Leader’s Handbook you will need 5,605 linear feet of rows.
Maybe they should have called it a Victory Farm not a Victory Garden.
If you intend to plant a Survival Garden that is capable of supplying an adequate amount of vegetables, it is obvious that you will need a very large piece of land. You must also keep in mind that if you are forced to flee, you will have to leave your crops behind. You can take your crops with you if they are growing in containers. But, unless you are fleeing in a semi-tractor trailer truck or towing a huge, double decked trailer, taking your crops with you is not an option.
There is an alternative that you can consider, something learned from the survivors of the past. Perhaps above all, in 1943 the most difficult circumstance to be in was that of a prisoner of war.
The Allied prisoners of World War II tell of the four most valuable possessions a POW could have, nicotine (tobacco), ethanol (alcohol) caffeine (tea), and sugar. Any POW that possessed or could get his hands on any of these four items could thrive during captivity.
There are stories of some POWs who died from hunger and malnutrition because they traded away their meager rations of food for tobacco and alcohol. Here the statements, “I am dying for a smoke” and “I am dying for a drink” are literally true. A survival garden full of delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables will help you and your family to survive. But, if you want to thrive there are a few plants you need to add to your survival garden, no matter its size.
Using the lesson from the POWs you should grow tobacco plants, tea plants and sugarcane. All of these valuable “cash” crops are hardy, easy to grow almost anywhere and they are well suited for propagation in portable containers. Additionally, these cash crops have multiple uses.
Tobacco has uses beyond the obvious smoking or chewing. Tobacco can be used as an insecticide, a pest, rodent and insect repellent, among others.
Tea leaves are even more functional with more than 40 common uses.
Sugarcane has been a valued commodity for thousands of years. Sweet cane, as it was called, is mentioned three times in the Bible as a prized burnt offering. Sugarcane can be used to make crystallized sugar with all of its usefulness but, the other priceless article of trade from sugar cane juice is the production of high proof alcohol. Ethyl alcohol has many uses beyond drinking, such as a fuel source, a disinfectant, a preservative and an anesthetic, to name just a few. These three plants can be extremely precious possessions for trade and barter. Maybe pound for pound and space for space, tobacco, tea and sugarcane are the most prized of all legally grown plants. The seeds of all three of these prized plants are available online at very low cost.
Now, I come to the final and arguably the most valuable plant in the Survival Garden. Most people call it a scourge and a curse. I call it The Doomsday Plant. It is a plant that has helped ancestral survivors thrive in the most difficult of times. The Doomsday Plant is one of the fastest growing, hardiest, pest and disease resistant plants on Earth and can be propagated in almost every state, including Alaska. It can be grown in portable containers filled with poor quality soil and needs little water and little or no fertilizer. Once the Doomsday Plant is established, it is actually difficult to kill.
The Doomsday Plant will feed you and your family breakfast, lunch and diner. The Doomsday Plant is highly nutritious and is one of only a few plants that are high in protein. It is sold in health food stores as a dietary supplement.
You can grind and dry the root and seeds into a flour to make pancakes, bread, pastries and other baked goods. Use the leaves in place of lettuce for salads and sandwiches.
Boil the young leaves and eat them like spinach and use them as an ingredient in soups and stews.
Fry the large older leaves in oil and snack on them, just like potato chips.
The flowers can be made into jelly, preserves and an ingredient for candy.
The Doomsday Plant can be made into strong rope and string, it can be used to weave baskets, hats and even be made into furniture, kindling and firewood.
You can turn the Doomsday Plant into Bio-Fuel, both ethyl and grain alcohol.
It will feed goats, cattle, horses, rabbits and most other grazing animals.
What is the common name of this miracle plant? It is called Kudzu, the bane and blight of the southeastern states.
Warning: Growing Kudzu is only for the most dire of all survival situations.
Kudzu is one of the most invasive species of all plants. If left unchecked and not controlled it will grow like a mindless monster, covering everything that doesn’t move. One single seed can create a nightmare. To contain Kudzu it must be handled diligently. Grow Kudzu only in a container whose drain holes are screened or covered in such a way that the roots cannot escape into the surrounding ground and as added insurance, place the container on a slab of cement or other ground barrier. You must also cut off the seeds before they mature. If you want to save the seeds, trap the immature seeds inside a secured plastic bag and carefully cut off the mature seed stem to safely remove them.
Kudzu seeds are by their very nature, self-preserving. They can be stored in a cool, dry and dark place for many years. The wise survivalist who strives to thrive will either collect wild Kudzu seeds or buy them on-line and store them until needed.
So, I recommend that you grow a few containerized tobacco, tea, sugarcane and kudzu plants. If you are forced to flee from your survival garden, you can take them with you and trade some of your cash crop for food and other items.
Look to the past and start thinking about ways to thrive and not just survive.