FOOD SUPPLIED VIA GROCERY STORES AND EVEN NEIGHBORHOOD FARMER’S MARKETS WILL END DURING ANY PROLONGED SITUATION. ODDS ARE GREAT IT WILL END IN A SPECTACULAR RIOT FOR THE REMAINING SCRAPS.
The last thing you want to do is be so unprepared that you are in the thick of the shortage with no backup plan. Instead, plan for the unexpected by providing a neverending supply of fruits and vegetables for you and your family by planting a garden. It will make you a producer instead of a consumer. It will make you self-sufficient.
When it comes to building self-sufficiency — a core value for everyday preppers — one of the best things you can do is plant your own garden. There are so many compelling reasons. For starters, we live in a culture that’s become all about fast food and graband- go meals, with less focus on nutrition. Even if you’re making an effort to cook healthy recipes and slow down your mealtimes, you can’t always trust what you buy. Organic produce in grocery stores is sometimes mislabeled while processed and GMOcontaining foods are everywhere. In addition, gardening is the best way to ensure that you’re putting nutritious, nourishing food on the dinner table and into your body.
The good news is that don’t need acres of rural property or lots of up-front cash in order to start a garden. If you have these resources, that’s great. But container gardens have also become common, especially in urban areas, and purchasing seeds and soil requires only a minimal investment. You might also be amazed at what you can do with only a modest-sized suburban backyard. If you’d rather not go it alone, there’s also the concept of community gardening, where a group of neighbors or friends pool their labor, money, and talent to produce fruit and vegetable gardens to sustain the whole group.
“WHEN IT COMES TO BUILDING SELF-SUFFICIENCY, ONE OF THE BEST THINGS YOU CAN DO IS PLANT YOUR OWN GARDEN.”
The key is to plan ahead. With a little forward thinking, planting your garden is sure to be a satisfying and empowering experience. Plus, there are some benefits you might not expect. You’ll learn to appreciate your outdoor surroundings and get some fresh air while you’re at it, encouraging a sustainable life balance.
Don’t leap into a half-acre plot your first season. Perhaps start with a few pots on your back step. Tomatoes are happy growing in containers, and so are herbs, which add rich flavor to any recipe, such as basil, parsley, mint, and rosemary. Alternatively, purchase a raised garden bed from your local garden center or fence off a 10×10 foot plot in your backyard. You might be amazed at how much food grows in that small space, and if you decide you really dig gardening, you can always expand your plot, adding a few rows, or pots, at a time. If you really get into it, you may choose to explore innovative gardening techniques like aquaponics or permaculture, or if you live in a place that freezes in the winter, you may decide to purchase a greenhouse kit, which will extend the length of your growing season each year.
CHOOSE A GOOD LOCATION
Your plants will need a few basic things in order to survive and thrive. Two of these are sunlight and water. Watch how the sun moves over your property throughout the day. Which areas get the most sunlight? Most vegetable plants are labeled “Full Sun,” which means they like at least six hours of sunshine each day. If you’ll be using a garden hose or a watering can for irrigation, choose a spot that’s easy to access. In arid climates, you may need to water daily, so make it easy to do. Also, if children are part of your family, choose a spot for your garden that’s highly visible. The kids will take great interest in helping to plant and in watching things grow, and you’ll want it to be a part of your daily life. Besides being enjoyable, the tasks required for gardening instill excellent life skills in your children from a young age.
SOIL IS MORE THAN DIRT
Gardening requires getting your hands dirty, but you’ll be doing so much more than digging in the dirt. Soil matters, a lot. Ideally, plants need soil that is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, plus other trace elements, because these nutrients play an important role in root, stem and leaf development. You’ll also want to check the pH of your soil. If you don’t know, this is a good opportunity to ask around to your neighbors, especially those who have lived in the area a long time, or who have gardens. You can also check with your local nursery. Trained staff will be able to tell you if it’s necessary to amend—make changes, often adding organic matter—to your soil, perhaps because it has too much sand or clay, and they’ll have advice on how to do this. One benefit of using raised garden beds or containers is that you can simply purchase a good soil mixture and then fill them up, ensuring you’re providing a good growing environment for your seedlings.
LEARN HOW TO COOK
Once you have all of this produce, it’s important to know what to do with it! Of course, many vegetables, like lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and radishes, are delicious eaten raw or as part of a green salad (or packed in kid’s lunch boxes), but what about veggies like eggplant, zucchini, and pumpkins? Believe it or not there are more options that you can imagine. The website allrecipes.com is an excellent resource, allowing you to search for recipes by ingredient. For example, if you type in “zucchini,” recipes come up for everything from Zucchini Soup to Farfalle with Zucchini to Zucchini Puffs. And if you have no idea what to do with kale other than put it in a salad, you will find more than 200 recipe options on this site, including Kale Slaw and Kale Chips; creative, tasty recipes that will satisfy even the pickiest eaters.
Other options include exchanging recipes with neighbors and friends, taking an introduction to cooking class, or checking out some cookbooks at the library. If you live in a place that doesn’t have a year-round growing season, it will also be important to learn about the concept of canning. You don’t want any of your produce to go to waste, and canned veggies and fruits will ensure that you have nutritious options throughout the winter, until spring arrives and you can go back out to dig in the dirt.
Know Your Zone
Deciding which plants will thrive in your garden depends a lot on where you live. The United States Department of Agriculture has divided the U.S. into different hardiness zones, based on the average annual minimum winter temperature. You can find your zone at garden.org/zipzone, simply by typing in your zip code. Once you know — many states house more than one zone — you can do an Internet search to find out which plants are best. For example, both broccoli and green beans (pole beans) do well in hardiness zones 3-10, and corn thrives in zones 4-8. And don’t forget about fruit trees. For example, apple trees are quite hardy, growing well in zones 3-8. A good apple crop will produce more than enough fruit to sustain a family of four.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac online is an excellent, tried-and-true resource for searching appropriate plants. You can simply click on the vegetable or fruit — they are alphabetized — and you’ll learn in which zones they thrive, plus you’ll get extra tips about how to grow them successfully.
The Easiest Vegetables to Grow
Some vegetables will grow easily in all sorts of conditions. Here is a guide to some of them.
There are hundreds of varieties of green beans — broad beans, bush beans, pole beans — and most of them prefer full sun and welldrained soil. Bush beans take up less space than pole beans and don’t need any supporting structures. Beans freeze really well, which means they can be preserved for the whole year.
With a little water and a lot of sun, tomato plants will grow and fruit all summer long. Tomatoes are fairly drought-tolerant, but will die if subjected to frost.
Though some don’t care for radishes, they are high in Vitamin C, fiber, and water content. From seeds, radishes take only 20 days to mature. They like partial shade.
As a root vegetable, all carrots need is room to grow in rockfree soil, but if you don’t mind crooked carrots, rocky soil will work as well. Make sure the soil drains well. They can tolerate light shade but prefer full sun.
Look for Buttercrunch, Salad Bowl or Arugula seeds. Lettuce grows very quickly and is easy to harvest (just cut off leaves as you need them). They can grow in containers and around the bases of other taller plants. They grow well in part shade
Cucumber plants will take over your garden if you let them. They have far reaching roots, like to climb, and thrive in sunlight and warm temperatures. If watered properly, they are prolific but prone to frost.
Like beans and cucumbers, squash/zucchini is a prolific plant, so you will probably only need a couple to feed an entire family. They need a lot of water and warm soil. The blossoms are edible too.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the August 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.