I have been asked several times what I would plant in a survival garden, so here it is.
Assuming you are talking about a total social breakdown situation and not a Robinson Crusoe deserted island situation, a survival garden (like any other garden) has to be designed around your soil, microclimate, and personal tastes. On a deserted island, you would probably have to focus on fish and coconuts. In a social breakdown survival situation, you would probably want to focus on high nutrient foods that are easy to store. And you would need access to water or none of this will matter.
High nutrient, easy to store foods include legumes, such as beans, peas, peanuts, and lentils. These plants have the advantage of being able to fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form plants can use and they can be dried for long term storage. Other good choices for a survival garden include members of the squash family, especially winter squashes, such as easy to store butternut squash and pumpkins.
Beets, carrots, fennel, onions, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables are also good choices for a survival garden.
Perennials, such as fruit and nut trees, grapes, and raspberry and blackberry canes, take longer to become productive, but they can be game changers in the long run. Other perennials to consider include asparagus and rhubarb. Cereals, such as millet, wheat, rye, and oats, might have a place in your survival garden, as well.
You can also grow many common annual (or grown as annual) edible plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, chard, garlic, spinach, sunflowers, and kale. As you harvest these crops, always leave some behind, to go to seed naturally. This allows seeds to fall where they will. Very often, these seeds will grow where they are best suited without any effort on your part.
Herbs and teas
Your food will taste better with the addition of these perennial and/or self-seeding herbs and other flavorings: chives, cilantro/coriander, dill, ginger, horseradish, lemongrass, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, summer savory, tarragon, thyme, and turmeric. Some of these aromatic plants also help keep away common garden pests. Even tender basil can be grown and allowed to go to seed.
Teas will be the hot beverage of choice in a survival situation, so you will want to add chamomile, licorice, and mint to the mix. You could also use leaves from your raspberry and blackberry plants. Since medicine is beyond my skill set, you would have to talk with someone else about medicinal plants.
Making a survival plan
Living in earthquake country, my family has a collection of supplies, just in case. A survival garden takes that possibility to an entirely different level. If you believe that a survival situation is possible, it is a good idea to get started right away, to give everything time to get established. Before you can plant any seeds, however, you need to take your soil, local climate, and sun exposure into consideration.
Your soil should be tested by a reputable lab first. Many universities offer this inexpensive and valuable service. A soil test will tell you what nutrients are present in your soil, what is needed, and what is in excess. It will also tell you the pH of your soil. Armed with this valuable information, you can amend your soil in ways that will help, rather than hinder your plants. Note: too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
Your location will dictate which plants you can grow. Identify your Hardiness Zone. You will also need to determine how much sun each area of your garden gets. Most fruits and vegetables need a full day of sun. Anything less than that and you will have to choose plants based on the available sunlight. Finally, if you decide to plant fruit and nut trees, you will need to determine the number of chilling hours your property gets each winter to ensure you select varieties that will actually produce food. Depending on where you live, almond, apple, citrus, fig, and walnut trees can produce a lot of food that is easy to store. Again, you have to select plants that will grow well where you are.
Other considerations for a survival situation include chickens and bees. Horses, sheep, goats, and pigs might also come into play. You should also put some thought into how you will protect these important assets in difficult times.
Let’s hope it never comes to this. Unless it does, let’s just call all this farming.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!