Survival Gardens: How to Plan For Tough Times in Any Space

The survival garden, or the old victory garden, provides the family with fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. It does not have to provide all of your food, but you do want to think in terms of foods that would fill you up and store a long time in the event you’re not able to get to a grocery store.


You might think gardening is not an option for you. Some live in rather tight spaces and have limited access to soil and sunlight. You could get creative and barter with a friend who does have a small yard or patio. Pool your resources and you’ll get started that much faster. The key to growing a survival garden is practicing long before you need it.

If, like me, you find you can grow cabbage and brussles sprouts, but your chickens eat them before you do, well that’s not going to work in the long run. Address your weak spots and grow on your strengths. In the event of an emergency or long-term disaster, you’ll be thankful you don’t have to learn as you go.

Small Spaces and Patio Gardening

If you’re gardening in pots on a balcony or patio, you might think you’d be very limited. This isn’t necessarily true. Your best option is the salad garden. You grow all the things you would normally put on a salad.


A salad garden can consist of any number of herbs and garnishes. You can choose from a variety of lettuces, spinach, kale and assorted greens. Grow what you like to eat, and grow a lot of it. My favorite is what the British call “cut and come again” butter leaf lettuce, which will grow and grow, so long as you keep picking and watering it. What better plant to grow in your victory garden than one that grows more as you pick it?

Peas and beans will also grow more as you pick them. Green onions, scallions, garlic chives make excellent salad dressings, parsley and cilantro and thyme are great for flavoring dishes. You can also grow radishes and beet greens easily, and roots like potatoes and carrots if you have enough sun and a deep pot with rich, loose soil.



Go through a seed catalogue and choose the foods your family likes. Narrow it to what will fit in your pots, and start with just a few varieties. Build on your successes and add a few more. Your best long-term emergency food plan in this case will be to store some basic staples like cornmeal, oats, beans and rice, and then use your onions, herbs and salad fixings to spice up the stored grains. Your food will taste better and it will go farther, too.

Small Yard or Garden Bed

The principal is the same: Choose the foods your family likes to eat. You should start to compost – if nothing else, save your coffee grounds, eggshells and banana peels. This will break down and provide pretty good nutrients for your plants. Build your soil with wood chips, mulch and manure, too.


Companion planting guides will help tremendously, they will show you which plants are beneficial and which will perform poorly if planted together. Once you know what foods you want to plant, you can look up the needs of each one and pair them off like couples at a dance. I’ve never been able to grow nasturtiums, last year I planted them under the chives and they took off. It really does work.

Make sure to take advantage of above ground and below ground space. Tomatoes and carrots, for example, do very well together. Tomatoes grow up and out, carrots straight down, making maximum use of soil and sunlight.


You can make use of your entire space from March clear through November. Lettuce, peas, the cabbage family, they all like cooler weather. Tomatoes, peppers, squash like the heat. Plan your crops based on water and sunlight needs and keep reseeding things every few weeks and you’ll have a consistent harvest all season.

Large Gardens and Small Farms

You’ll get to do a bit more planning. You can make your vegetable garden as attractive as it is productive. I’ve found the key for large gardens is basically the same as for small gardens: Not only do you grow the foods you like to eat, but you grow a whole lot of a few things, rather than trying to grow a tiny bit of everything.

The old adage goes …


“One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow,
One for the Cutworm and One to Grow”

Whatever your pest or predator, you have to assume that a fraction of what you plant will make it to maturity. Those that do will then need rich, composted soil to produce large fruits. If you plant four tomatoes and four peppers, the old adage suggests only one of each of those will give you a good crop. If you end up with too much food, you can preserve it many ways. If you don’t grow enough, there’s nothing you can do.

They will need fed throughout the season with a compost tea – we use old cowpies. Nettles are another options. Whatever it is, fill a large bucket, soak it in warm water and leave in the sun for a few days. Draw off a gallon off the top at a time and keep refilling with water, this bucket of sludgey liquid will feed your plants all summer long. Just pour it on moist soil during or after watering. Corn, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers all benefit from a good feeding.

Other vegetables including potatoes, carrots and onions prefer their fertilizer to be mixed into the soil long before you plant. Too much liquid fertilizer makes carrots grow into funny shapes. Start with a good rich soil and generous mulch and all you’ll have to do is water, thin and harvest.


Saving seeds is crucial. If your carrots and radishes go to seed, let them. They will drop and self-sow, or you can collect them to save a fortune on seeds. And in tough times, you might not be able to run to the market for seed packets. Store them in a cool, dry place and remember to label them. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t.

If you have a lot of space to work with, you could get a good book on survival gardens and learn what foods to plant. A great place to start is The Resilient Garden by Carol Deppe. She maintains that the five staples of a resilient garden are potatoes, corn, beans, squash, eggs. With these five foods and proper food storage methods, you can feed a family almost entirely from the homestead, all year round.


The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times


Or check out this kit from Territorial Seed in Oregon, everything you need to start your own victory garden. What a perfect housewarming gift this would make for a rural family just starting out.



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