If your eyes are open right now, you know Western Civilization is in trouble. Now is the time to start survival gardening.
Today we share 7 survival gardening secrets that will get you off on the right foot.
1. Grow Near, Not Far
This is one of those “secrets” I can’t repeat enough. Don’t put your garden beds at the edge of your yard. Put them where you’ll see them. This will keep pest problems from becoming plagues. If your chickens are digging up the corn, you’ll see it… instead of finding bare ground and chicken tracks a week later. You may think you’ll be out there in the garden every day, but “out of sight, out of mind” holds truer than most of us would like to admit.
2. Healthy Soil is Key
Make sure the ground you’re trying to garden upon is suited to it. A reader recently sent me pictures of the land she is hoping to plant as a food forest. I took one look and shook my head.
The ecosystem was obviously Pine Flatwoods: acid sugar sand, poor mineralization, a clay layer, intermittent flooding and droughty conditions.
When even the weeds look sick, you may need to hunt for a better spot. Though it’s possible to grow a food forest there – barely – a better use for the ground would be for growing timber and blueberries, not survival gardening or food forests.
If that was the only land I could get, I would turn to livestock such as goats, chickens and cattle for my calories, rather than plants.
If you are stuck with poor conditions all over your yard and need to garden, I recommend deep mulching the worst areas if you have the material – and if you don’t, then double dig or broadfork the soil, then feed it well with a wide range of nutrients. Planting nutrient-accumulating chop and drop species for mulch and compost is another good idea.
3. You don’t Need Lots of Compost
Having tons of organic matter is great but most of us don’t have that luxury. It’s hard to make enough compost (though I greatly expand the possibilities in my book Compost Everything) so you need to get creative. My favorite method is to make an anaerobic compost tea with a wide range of inputs. Manure, urine, seaweed, saltwater, fish guts, kitchen scraps, Epsom salts, weeds, grass and leaves – if it has some decent nutrition in it, I will pile it in a barrel, top off with fresh water and let it rot for weeks, then use it as a diluted fertilizer for my crops. Like this:
It (literally) stinks but can save your life in a survival gardening situation.
4. No Irrigation? No Problem
If you get a decent amount of rainfall during the growing season, you may not have to run irrigation to your gardens. Instead of planting intensively in tight spacing, clear more ground and increase the space between plants and rows. I grew a corn patch this way as an experiment one year and had fine luck.
Since then I’ve done the same with cassava, pigeon peas and winter squash.
Wide spacing and clear ground will keep your plants hydrated as root competition will be reduced and they can find the moisture in the soil with less difficulty. Steve Solomon’s book Gardening Without Irrigation is available online for free – download and read it for good in-depth info.
You can’t do this in all climates but you might be surprised how many farmers pull off irrigation-free gardening and where they are able to do so.
5. Urine is an Excellent fertilizer
This ties in with the anaerobic compost tea idea but it’s quicker. Urine contains a range of minerals and lots of much-needed nitrogen. In many countries it’s been used instead of chemical fertilizers and I think it makes more sense. I’ve seen rich, green gardens and trees fed on nothing but urine. It works.
Dilute urine with water so it doesn’t burn the plants with nitrogen and salt – I find six parts water to one part urine works well. I’m feeding some weak pumpkin vines this way right now and they’re really starting to perk up.
6. Calories First!
I shouldn’t have to say this, but we gardeners aren’t always the most practical people on the planet. We like the challenge of growing interesting things and we also love our culinary treats. Fresh tomatoes, cilantro, hops. These are all great – yet if you’re survival gardening, you’re not hobby gardening.
You need to find the best staple crops for your area and concentrate on those primarily.
As I’ve written before, plant calorie crops first – then plant some patches of nutrition crops next.
Keeping yourself from starving is more important than the potential nutritional deficiencies you might face later.
I would argue that in most case you could probably meet many of your nutritional needs through wild plant foraging for greens, nuts, berries and game.
Finding caloric staples is harder.
Plant roots, winter squash, beans and grain corn first in most climates. Also – Jerusalem artichokes and white potatoes are good in the north, cassava, sweet potatoes and African yams in the Deep South. Dent corn is your grain corn for the South – flint corn for the north.
This ties in to my next tip:
7. Snag Seeds Locally
Buying seeds through the mail from a seed company growing crops in a different climate isn’t the best way to prepare for a crash.
If the plants were cultivated for seed in Southern California but you live in New Hampshire, the varieties may not be well adapted to your growing conditions. This is why I seek out local varieties of vegetables at farmer’s markets, farmer’s stands and local gardeners.
See a stack of pumpkins on a stand by the road?
Ask the farmer if he grew them locally. If he did, buy one and save the seeds. Ask around for bean varieties that do well in your area. Pick up local grain corn from the farmer’s market if it’s being sold for decorations in the fall.
Keep your eyes open.
You want those seeds which will make plants that can handle your levels of sunshine, pests, humidity, rainfall and everything else. Local is good – start hunting!
I buy pumpkins all the time and save their seeds. In this video you can see how I do it:
I have been known to screech to a stop by a roadside farm stand because I spotted a variety not currently growing on my farm.
The survival gardening secrets I shared today will put you in good stead in a crisis but they’re just part of the story. You can grow your own food in a crisis but it’s very important to start right now.
I highly recommend you pick up my Survival Gardening Secrets program and learn. Get growing – and may God be with you.