Whether you are planting a survival garden out of necessity, preparedness, or simply to become more self reliant, you will appreciate the feeling of security it provides! Homegrown produce is far superior in flavor and nutrition to grocery store fruits and vegetables that were harvested days or weeks before they make it to the shelves.
Historically, people have planted survival gardens or “victory gardens” in times of war, famine or economic uncertainty. It is reassuring to know you and your family can make it through hard times if need be.
Plan for Each Season
Before grocery stores were plentiful, people had to strategize how to provide a steady food supply through the winter. There are 3 methods for securing produce for the winter months – winter harvesting, root cellar/cold storage, and preservation. Utilizing all of these methods together will provide the most diverse diet when fresh fruits and veggies are not in season.
Winter Harvesting – Some crops like Jerusalem artichokes can be harvested all winter long, which makes them such a valuable survival crop. Using row covers, a cold frame or greenhouse is another way to extend harvests into the winter months. Growing microgreens or sprouting seeds indoors in winter doesn’t take up much space and they contain concentrated vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Long Term Storage – A root cellar can allow produce like apples, onions, potatoes and winter squash to be stored for 6-9 months. Canned goods also last longer in cold storage. Different produce has different storage needs, so research each variety before storing.
Preservation – Fruits and vegetables that have a short shelf life must be preserved by canning, drying, freezing or fermenting. Fruit and vegetables can also be baked into bread or prepared into meals before freezing. Try preserving tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green beans or strawberries for a start.
The best plants to choose for a survival garden are perennials and reseeding annuals or other annuals with seeds that are easy to collect. Of course, all plants have seeds that can be collected and stored, but some can be difficult or time consuming to harvest.
Carrots, for example, are a great crop for long term storage, but seed saving can be difficult. Since carrots are biennial, you have to wait until their second year for them to flower and go to seed. It can be difficult in colder growing zones to overwinter carrots, so you may have to store them a box of sand in a root cellar and replant them in the spring.
Tomatoes on the other hand are one of the easiest plants to save seeds from, they will even self sow in the garden naturally. They are easy to preserve and store all winter, plus they are extremely versatile in recipes.
Seeds are collected from either the fruit or the flower of a plant. Seeds must be thoroughly dried, placed into seed bags or airtight containers and kept in a cool dark location for best results. Consider keeping a seed bank to kick start your garden in case of emergencies. For more detailed information on the seed saving process, I highly recommend this book!
Designing the Garden
Consider how you will water your garden without electricity. Choose drought tolerant plants, collect rainwater or design berms (hills) and swales (ditches) to capture and direct water where you want it to go. Using permaculture principles will help your garden be more self-sustainable and require less labor input.
Create your garden space or raised beds and sketch a planting layout. Using a garden planner can be a huge help! Locate plants close to the house if they need to be tended or harvested regularly. Trees, berry bushes and other plants that produce one large harvest a year can be located further away. Don’t forget to purchase all the tools and gardening supplies you need to care for your garden.
Plan protection for your crops from pests or hungry animals with fencing or netting if you don’t want to share your bounty. You could also disguise food plants by mixing them amongst flower beds or woodland areas of your yard. Just make sure they get enough sunlight and have enough soil nutrients in those locations.
Always allow for future expansion to your garden plans. Building a large garden space can take years to complete, so tackle it in stages. If you are planting an orchard, berry patch, or perennial bed, prioritize these the first year as they can take several years to become established.
Start creating your own compost to feed your garden without store bought soil or fertilizer. This will also reduce your food waste and you can use your compost pile to help heat your greenhouse. Everything should have multiple purposes in your garden or homestead to make survival that much less work.
Medicinal plants are essential in a survival situation where access to modern medicine may be limited. Many medicinal plants grow naturally in meadows or woods and can be foraged for easily. Some, however, may not grow naturally in your area and need to be cultivated in the garden.
If you’re growing medicinal herbs in your garden, you will need to know how to work with them. Consult The Modern Herbal Dispensatory for more detailed information on preparing these remedies. Always follow proven recipes from reliable sources when preparing herbal remedies at home.
Learn How to Make Medicines
Extractions – Herbs can be dried and brewed in hot water to make tea, also known as an infusion. Herbal tea can provide not only medicine, but also essential vitamins and minerals. A decoction is similar to tea, but instead of being brewed in hot water, herbs are boiled for an hour or two. This process extracts the essence from harder plant materials such as roots or bark. In the culinary world, this is exactly the same process used to make broth. Combining the decoction with honey, sugar or alcohol will result in a syrup.
There are other methods of extracting oils, resin and other components from plants. Soaking herbs in alcohol (to make a tincture), glycerin, oil, vinegar, and/or honey creates different types of infusions such as oxymels or liniments that can be taken internally or used on the skin. Infused oil can be melted together with beeswax to make a salve.
Poultice – A poultice is one of the easiest herbal remedies to prepare. Cut and grind fresh herbs to make a paste or use rehydrated dry herbs (think tea bags), then apply them to the skin in a thick layer. Cover the area with cotton or another breathable material and let it sit for anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours (depending on the herb and ailment). Save unused portions of the poultice in the refrigerator for later use.
Alcohol – Learn to make alcohol at home for fuel, sterilization, making tinctures, and of course drinking! The basic process for making alcohol is to combine sugar (or honey) and yeast. A reaction takes place called fermentation which, in time, forms alcohol. Grains, herbs, fruits and vegetables are common ingredients found in alcohol recipes.
Medicinal Plants to Grow
- Echinacea , Chamomile, Valerian, Lavender, Calendula, Tulsi (Holy Basil), Witch Hazel, Spilanthes, Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Tumeric, Ginger, Gingko, Feverfew, Garlic, Horseradish, Scullcap, Wormwood, Hyssop, Anise, St. John’s Wort, Licorice, Self-heal, Angelica
Learning how to grow your own herbs is not much different from vegetable gardening. They can be added into ornamental or food gardens as companion plants. Many are perennial or reseeding and won’t need to be replanted every year. Annual herbs need to be allowed to flower and go to seed to collect for next year’s crop. Always check space requirements and keep invasive plants in containers or raised beds.
Medicinal Plants to Forage
- Stinging Nettle, Marshmallow, Yarrow, Bee Balm, Plantain, Rose Hips, Milk Thistle, Dandelion, Chickweed, Burdock, Red Clover, Willow, Mullein, Juniper Berries, Meadowsweet
Not every medicinal plant is suited for a cultivated garden space. If you can’t find these growing in your area, create seed bombs to throw around more wild areas of your property. You could also create a wildflower garden to let these weedy medicinal plants grow without tending. This type of guerrilla gardening will ensure you have what you need when a crisis arises.
If you don’t have access to fresh produce from a store, you want to make sure your family’s nutritional needs are still being met. Adults need 1600-2500 calories per day and children need 1000-2000 calories per day to sustain normal activity levels.
But calories alone will not prevent weight loss, a balanced diet of protein, fat and carbs is essential to a person’s overall health. A lack of vitamins and minerals can also cause a wide range of health problems, from digestive disorders to skin issues to a lack of mental clarity.
When people think of including fat in their diet, the first thing that usually comes to mind are animal fats, but plants can also be a great source of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Plants that provide seeds or nuts are a great source of fat, along with avocados, olives and plant derived oils. Beans, nuts, and seeds do double duty by providing protein as well.
You will need to ensure your survival garden accounts for all these needs to be truly sustainable. You want to grow crops from every food group, if possible. If you’re lucky enough to have some acreage, consider planting an orchard.
What to Plant
Be sure to plant enough of each variety per person for a year supply. This can vary depending on your family’s taste preferences. Pay attention to what you use in recipes or normally buy from the grocery store, and work backwards to determine how many plants you will need. It never hurts to plant extra in case some crops fail. If you’re not sure what you want to start with, try purchasing a survival collection of seeds. You can grow some this year and save some for the future.
- Jerusalem Artichokes, Asparagus, Rhubarb, Potatoes, Tomatoes, Winter Squash, Summer Squash, Ramps, Egyptian Walking Onions, Mushrooms, Peppers, Radishes, Carrots, Beets, Cucumbers, Green beans, Lettuce, Kale, Peas, Onions, Garlic
Protein and Fats
- Soybeans (Edamame), Dry Beans, Sunflowers, Peanuts, Tree nuts (hazelnuts, pecans, etc), Avocados, Olives
Sweeteners – There are natural sources of sugar such as honey or fruit, but if you would like to bake bread after the apocalypse, sugarcane or stevia plants would certainly be nice to have. Maple trees, among others, can also be tapped for maple sugar, which can be used a a sugar substitute in most recipes.
In a survival situation, you will need access to materials for construction, sewing or making clothing, fibers for cordage, or wildlife food plots. You may have resources already on your land, but there are valuable and versatile plants you can grow to provide for these needs.
Cotton can be used for making yarn, clothing or bandages. Grow Bamboo, Willow, and Pine for building materials, as well as edibility. Hemp is a very versatile plant and can be used to make rope, clothing, paper, and fuel.
Any other ideas?
Please let all my readers know if you have any other ideas for creating a functional survival garden! Leave a comment.
Don’t forget to check out my Garden Design and Planning Tool to help you get organized and design a functional layout.
9 thoughts on “Planning a Survival Garden for Food and Medicine”
Wow, this is so we’ll well written. I learned a lot and have so many books to read and links to follow.
Thank you for putting all this together!
I really appreciate that, it was a labor of love. This topic has been on my mind constantly with everything going on in the world today.
There is a plant that is called a soap plant. Different types grow in different regions. It can be used as soap or eaten…
Looking forward to receiving your wisdom. Juls
Wonderful article! Any thoughts on using a ‘she shed’ to grow veggies and herbs over the winter? It has been completely finished inside, with wood flooring and recessed lighting but no heat. I live in Southern Idaho and have always considered using that as a type of greenhouse but have been unsuccessful in finding any information on it.
I might add a soap nut tree/trees. Gotta keep those clothes and people clean!
Great idea for those with the climate for them!
You mentioned using a compost to heat a greenhouse. I am intrigued! Do you put the compost inside the greenhouse?