Let's say that the SHTF scenario you prepared for has happened. You are in your bug-out location or somewhere with a bit of land and you envision a return to a normal society will take a few months or years. You know you need to grow food and fast to prevent depletion of your stores and for a well-rounded diet.
You’ve got your survival seed bank, but now what? Hopefully in your survival seed bank you’ve given some thought to the order and priority in which you will plant, tend, grow and harvest those fruits and vegetables.
My first recommendation on seed saving is to find varieties of open pollinated or heirloom vegetables and plan to sow them continuously to enjoy an evenly spaced harvest. This can work with many styles of gardening, from a square foot garden concept, to row gardening, and even guerilla gardening. Basically, what you’re looking to accomplish here is to have food available continuously and not have everything ripen and need harvesting at once. There are several reasons for this:
1. You want to eat a variety of foods everyday for the most balance to your diet. Proper nutrition in SHTF scenario will be difficult and fresh veggies can supply a large number of needs.
2. Preparing the ground for and planting a large number of seeds is back-breaking labor and especially at the beginning of a TEOTWAWKI situation it’s likely you’ll be consumed with safety, shelter and other high-priority items. It can be overwhelming to envision planting a successful 1 acre survival garden but planting a 16 square foot area daily is manageable, and for a family of four that’s about what you would need to complete on a daily basis.
3. If pestilence, disease, excessive rain, or drought, cause damage to your crop you most likely won’t lose your entire crop.
4. Harvesting a large amount of any crop takes many hours of daylight which you may need for other tasks.
5. If your garden is discovered by non-friendly two-legged varmints and they steal from your survival garden, they will not be able to steal your entire crop.
So what do you plant first? There are many factors you should take into consideration such as the availability of sunshine, water and good soil. However, even more important to sunshine, water and soil, you should have prepped for is the time of year. If you are in a temperate climate such as Southern California, then consider yourself extra blessed as you can successfully grow most anything year-round. If you are in an area where the temperatures are more extreme you may not be able to grow year-round. If the SHTF in the dead of winter, you should have sprouting seeds in your survival kit and plan to sprout those and to also start seedlings indoors until they can be transplanted safely outside. If the SHTF in the middle of August then you will have a difficult time keeping seedlings watered and hydrated without wilting or scorching.
For this prep let’s consider two seasons: cool season and warm season. In cool season the types of seeds you are looking to grow are grown for either their leaves or what happens below ground. My personal list of top seven seeds you should consider for cool season survival is listed in order of their planting priority:
Obviously if you can store more varieties of seed in your survival seed bank, that’s great, but there’s a method to the madness above, so let’s examine my top seven cool season crops more closely:.
Turnips-Purchasing a bulk quantity of high quality turnip seeds is very inexpensive. You can get a half pound of seeds for around $7.00. That’s a million turnip seeds, which is plenty to plant for yourself or barter. Additionally, you can eat the root bulb of a turnip as well as the leaves. If left in ground, they go to seed very easily and will readily self-sow more turnips for you in the same area. They also grow very quickly. Some heirloom varieties grow in as few as 42 days. Variety recommended: Purple Top Turnip.
Arugula-The Rocket variety of Arugula again grows very quickly, leaving you with an ample amount of peppery leaves that are full of vitamins and minerals. These are a great choice for guerilla gardening because they look like a weed when growing and flowering. You can eat the leaves as soon as they start appearing and the plant will keep producing. And just like turnips if you leave a few plants in ground they will eventually grow a flower and re-seed themselves. In temperate climates you’ll end up with more arugula then you could ever want. Variety recommended: Rocket Arugula.
Radish-Radishes require very little space and dirt, 3-4 inches of soil depth and 25-30 days of growth will yield you mature radishes. So again, this grows quickly and will re-seed if left alone. This is a great choice for guerilla gardening and most pests leave it alone. Variety recommended: Cherry Belle Radish or French White Finger Radish.
Kale-This is a well-known super-food full of Vitamin A, C and it has a ton of fiber. It takes a little longer to grow, around 55 days, but is much hardier than a lettuce and can take more extreme temperature changes without bolting or dying. Curly Kale especially will blend into a guerrilla gardening environment. You can eat the leaves in any size, just harvest from the outside of each plant and let it keep growing. Kale will also readily self-sow. Variety recommended: Dwarf Blue Curled Kale.
Beets- As you can see the varieties on the bottom of the list take longer to grow. Beets take between 55-80 days, are full of vitamins and minerals and can you can consume both their root and their leaves. Beets are also a good item for canning or long term storage. Variety Recommended: Detroit Dark Red Beet
Rutabagas-Another root crop suitable for long term storage, Rutabagas can be eaten raw or cooked. When cooked they resemble mashed potatoes, but they can be boiled, mashed, fried or eaten raw. They take about 90 days to mature, and are a very forgiving crop to grow. Give them a little sunshine and water and they are happy. Variety Recommended: American Purpletop Rutabaga.
Onions-When gardening in a SHTF scenario you’ll probably not spend a whole lot of time spraying pesticides or handling insect invasions, so onions are your secret weapon. Planted around the perimeter or your vegetable garden, they will help with naturally deterring many pests from invading! Onions are also fantastic for flavoring foods, lowering fevers and blood pressure naturally and are very suitable for long term storage if harvested correctly. They’re also a very easy crop. They will grow small when placed fairly close together or large if spaced out further. Either way you get an edible onion. You can harvest parts of the green tops as the plant is growing to use immediately without harming the plant. Varieties typically take between 90 and 180 days so this is a long term commitment in the garden. Varieties recommended include: Walla Walla and White Bunching Onion (but I haven’t met an onion seed that didn’t easily grow, so as long as it is a non-hybrid you’re good to go.)
In general, warm season crops are grown for what happens above ground or for their fruit. You’re not growing for their leaves. Leaf crops, like lettuce, cannot stand high temperatures and will not last for any sort of time either growing or once harvested. Also during the height of summer, you can expect to be harvesting constantly and watering quite often. In my experience warm season growing is more labor intensive than cool season crops.
My personal list of top 7 seeds you should consider for warm season survival are listed in order of their planting priority:
7. Winter Squash
Let’s examine my top seven warm season crops more closely:
Tomatoes-Tomatoes can grow in almost any soil type given proper sun and water. Tomatoes also can be sown indoors utilizing window spaces etc to get them started. What you’re looking for here is to have a good 10-12 weeks of indoor growth, sown continuously and hardened off for use in the vegetable garden. In this way your plant will be stronger and you will end up with ripe tomatoes several weeks earlier. There are two main types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate. Select a variety of these types of seeds to store. Tomatoes are useful to can, dehydrate and preserve for use throughout the cool season so plant as many tomato plants as you have room for. Tomatoes also need to be staked and they’re not particular about how, just about anything will work to keep their leaves off the ground so tomatoes are a perfect post SHTF crop. Also because I view tomatoes as such an important survival food item, I include several varieties in my seed bank including hybrids to plant. (Top) Varieties recommended: Sweet 100 Hybrid Cherry Tomato, Russian Tula Heirloom, Yellow Pear Heirloom, Green Zebra Heirloom, Roma Heirloom, and Mortgage Lifter Heirloom. Again, having multiple types of tomato seeds is important and there are hundreds of heirlooms out there . The varieties recommended have all done well in my garden in multiple situations so I can heartily endorse them. I would have on hand a small tomato like the cherry tomato, a paste tomato (Roma) and any variety of the larger tomatoes.
Beans-The top reason to plant beans is the protein, followed closely by their ease of growth. Now beans are very easy to grow but you need to plant many rows and feet of beans to get a decent amount to eat, and to dry and store for cool season. So here’s my advice on beans. Have at least 3 varietals in your survival seed bank and have at least one pound of each varietal to plant. That may seem like overkill but trust me, even in a small home garden most gardeners are planting 40-50 beans to get back 1000 bean pods in harvest. Keep the 1:20 ratio in mind and you can calculate just how many beans you need to plant. Varieties Recommended: Blue Kentucky Runner Bean.
Squash-There are many varieties of squash out there but the Heirloom variety called Black Beauty Zucchini is a productive and very vigorous plant. From a seed in the ground to food on your plate in 55 days, squash can’t be beat in the survival garden. You can eat squash when it is teensy tiny for a tender melt in your mouth vegetable or squash can double in size overnight during the warmest parts of the year so if you’re really hungry and can wait another day you will have a lot more food to bring to the table. One squash plant in a home setting can produce enough squash to make you sick of it, so just imagine if you planted a few dozen in a survival garden. You can grate zucchini and mix it with flour to make a bread, you can eat it raw, fry it, bake it, stuff it, dehydrate it, etc. One other note is that in the event that the bees have died off severely it is easy to hand-pollinate a squash blossom, so this is a plant in my view that is a super prep. Variety recommended: Black Beauty Heirloom Zucchini Squash.
Pumpkin-The only reason you would grow pumpkin during the warmer months is for cool season storage. Pumpkins require a large amount of space and time (around 120 days) to grow so if space is at a premium you won’t get very much food for the space but you will get food that can store through winter without any special process. Variety Recommended: Sugar Pumpkin Heirloom for a small variety and Connecticut Field Pumpkin Heirloom for tasty pies as well.
Cucumber-Cucumbers are great for eating fresh but they also turn into pickles. Over the years I have grown many varieties and some varieties tend to get bitter if left on the vine too long. The clear winner in my opinion for the best variety of cucumber in the survival garden is the National Pickling Cucumber. You can pick it when it is small but let it mature to its full size and it still doesn’t get bitter like other varieties. It is a squat looking cucumber so it is less appealing visually but this is for survival and function over form wins hands down. At only 52 days from seed to your plate it is a vigorous addition to the survival garden. Harvesting cucumbers is easy and the more you harvest the more productive the plant is, so for that reason cucumber is not as viable in a guerilla style survival garden but if it will be tended daily then it is an excellent choice. Variety Recommended: National Pickling Cucumber.
Watermelon-Many survival seed banks out there include watermelon in their product line and I recommend it in my top seven list but only for experienced growers. Growing a watermelon to a size of 50-100 pounds is easy, knowing when to harvest it is not. One of the toughest parts of growing watermelon is to indeed know when the inside has ripened, and take it from someone who has gotten it wrong multiple times while learning, if you think it is ripe, it’s not. Wait a week and come back to harvest it. There are a few things to look for when harvesting your watermelon. First, have enough days passed for the melon to possibly be ripe. Keep records of when you planted the seed and do not even attempt to harvest it until those days have passed. Has the vine started wilting around the watermelon and has the yellow spot under the melon become more white than yellow? These are all signs the watermelon is ripe. Watermelon will not ripen off the vine, so if you can’t practice this prep now, watch a few You Tube videos or ask someone who gardens to show you their technique. Another thing about watermelon is that it loves heat so planting the watermelon seeds near a slab of concrete or asphalt and letting the plant vine over the concrete or asphalt will help your plant grow more vigorously and in a situation where garden space is at a premium this can ideally take up very little garden room, not to mention you don’t have to weed concrete! Variety recommended: Black Beauty Heirloom Watermelon for large watermelon or Crimson Sweet Heirloom for a medium size watermelon.
Winter Squash-Growing a butternut squash or an acorn winter squash is also done with cool season eating in mind. Growing a winter squash is easy; they are a vining plant and can be grown in the same technique described for watermelon above if space is at a premium. Harvesting is simple but it does take a bit of space and you can only expect to get 3-4 squash from each plant so plan accordingly. I have had a home grown butternut squash last for a year in a cool cupboard so once grown these can easily be stored for winter eating. Varieties recommended: Butternut Squash Heirloom and Acorn Squash Heirloom.
Corn -Before you think I’ve forgotten about corn as being an important crop or something that you can grow with beans and a vining squash in the 3 sisters technique, just note that this is my top 7 list
but corn would make it on a top 10 list. The reason why I did not include it in the top 7 is that it is a wind-pollinated crop that requires a very large minimum amount to be planted bunched together in hopes of successful pollination. If that doesn’t occur then you won’t have any corn to harvest. I find it too risky. Even with disease and pests the other vegetables in my list are always at least marginally successful and I have tried for years in a home garden various amounts of corn and it seems best suited for large field growth rather than home growing or a survival garden. If you plan on planting an acre in corn, you’re probably going to be just fine but anything less than that seems high risk for a survival garden.
Preparing Seeds for Planting
In a survival situation preparing seeds for planting is very important, more so than in a typical day to day scenario where you can run to the store and buy extra seeds.
Before you put a seed in the ground prepare the seed for planting by soaking it in water or in a diluted fertilizer, preferably a weak compost or manure tea. You should soak small seeds with a soft coat for 1-4 hours and seeds with a hard coat or larger seeds can be soaked overnight. Soaking seeds will greatly increase the rate of germination and is a small step that is made more important in a TEOTWAWKI situation.
Don’t pay attention to the seed packet space planting instructions. Think about what size the plant will become and space the seeds according to the mature plant size and do not plant more than one seed per hole.
In a TEOTWAWKI situation you may be given or barter for additional seeds to plant that do not come with planting depth or other instructions. In this scenario, follow the rule of thumb that a seed should be planted at the depth that is 2-4 times the size of the seed. An example would be pumpkin seeds which are very large and can be planted up 1-2 inches deep whereas a tomato seed is small and can be planted 1/4-1/2 inch deep.
Prepare the soil by tilling in compost or manure if available. If not available break the soil up to a depth of 6 inches at a minimum and remove any large stones, wood debris, etc. I do not plan to till the soil to any further depth than 6 inches in an area that has not been utilized for vegetable gardening because doing so can bring up more weed seeds that have been long dormant in the soil.
Protect Your Seedlings
As your seedlings begin to germinate and grow protect them by doing a few simple tricks. Crushed eggshells around the seedling will keep soft body insects away. As the plant grows larger and develops more leaves, strip the lower leaves off the plant to remove any insect ‘on-ramps’. You should also plant onions around your vegetable garden to deter insects. It is very important in a survival garden to avoid mulching your seedlings. Wait until you have a large and healthy plant then consider mulching to conserve moisture. Adding shredded leaves, bark, straw will help conserve moisture and keep weeds at bay, but it can also harbor insects that will eat your tender seedlings.
In general, seeds need to be kept moist until the second set of leaves appear, also called the ‘true leaves’. Do your best in the given situation to keep seeds evenly moist. As the plant matures you can reduce watering dependent upon your soil and growing conditions. My plan will be to put a small water bottle with pinholes in the bottom down next to each seedling and pour the water directly in there. In that way it will slowly percolate into the soil to keep the seedling evenly moist even while I am away. However, procuring enough (100’s) of small water bottles may be difficult so a water filled zip lock bag with small pin holes would also work. For guerilla gardening, it would appear to be trash and not bring attention to the area which is another advantage.
Now that you know what seeds to store and what order to plant them and why, create your own plan for your survival garden and start growing today if you can! Practice makes perfect!