I discovered in Kindergarten that you could plant a bean seed and it would grow. At age six, heady with this knowledge and drunk with power, I raided my mom’s pantry and planted a significant number of her dry beans any place I could find some open ground or an abandoned pot.
It’s only gotten worse from there. I’m in my 30s and I still am a seed fiend. Last year I realized how serious this problem was. My wife and I were at a party one evening and I was watching the hostess make guacamole.
In horror, I saw her pitch an avocado pit into the trash.
ME: “You can grow that!” I said.
HOSTESS: “Oh yeah?” (not interested)
ME: “Yes! In fact, if you’re not going to plant it, I am!”
With that, I dug around in the trashcan until I found it, then carefully wrapped it in a napkin and stuffed the pit into the pocket of my jeans.
The hostess raised an eyebrow but I ignored her. After all, SHE was a murderer! It wasn’t ME that was weird! SHE was the one tossing a poor defenseless embryo in the trash! It was like a plant abortion!
My gosh, just thinking about it makes me sick. What has this world come to?
When I explained this reasoning to my wife, she recommended I calm down and maybe get some counseling.
WIFE: “You know, avocadoes don’t even grow in our climate. What are you going to do with it?
ME: “I’ll plant it in a pot, then give it to someone further south. Or just keep it in a pot. I want my own avocadoes, dang it!”
WIFE: “You can’t save them all, you know.”
ME: “Did Schindler say that???”
WIFE: “You know what? You’re nuts. Just calm down and have a Martini or something. Maybe I can pop some popcorn?”
Anyhow, my wife’s misunderstanding and bloodthirstiness (sapthirstiness?) aside, have you ever considered how you’d deal with a collapse in shipping or any number of things that might cause a total breakdown of the supply lines?
Like… if you couldn’t get seeds for some crazy reason – or you’ve bugged out to the country and forgotten your filing cabinet of heirloom varieties – what would you do? Could you plant a garden?
The answer, most likely, is yes. You just have to think a little differently. Here’s a quick look at what you can grow just by digging through the burnt-out remains of a grocery store… or the pantry of an average home.
Corn is a great staple. Almost everyone has some popcorn sitting around somewhere. Someone might say “Great, Dave. You’re telling me I’m gonna plant popcorn during the apocalypse?” Don’t knock it. Popcorn can be used for flour, which can be used for cornbread, grits, etc. It can also feed chickens. Even better? It’s not a genetically modified corn, so you can grow it and save seeds without worrying if you’re going to get tumors or something. It’s an excellent grain. This would be a top pick if I was looting.
2. Beans and their kin
And hey… look at that! Protein! Believe it or not, most dried beans will sprout if you plant them. They also grow fast, so a relatively short time after planting, you’ll have many times the number of beans you started with. Some, like navy beans, are even good as green beans. Since beans are a nitrogen fixer, I often buy bags of them for a buck or two, then scatter them across broken ground a few months before I plant other crops. In the winter, I plant dry peas, chickpeas, lentils and fava beans. Most of these are available in the pantry.
3. Melons, eggplants, winter squash, tomatoes
Though you might not find these in the pantry, you can often find them in dumpsters. When you plant their seeds, you’re probably not going to get an awesome variety. Many commercial varieties are hybrids. That said, you will still get something to grow and eat when you plant their seeds. My aunt once dropped a slice of tomato from a burger she was eating… and a short time later, there was a little ring of tomato sprouts there. Take care of those little sprouts and a few months later, you’ll be eating tomatoes. I’ve done it many times, mostly because we compost everything that comes through the house… and I’m kind of a sucker for the volunteer plants that pop up.
4. Potatoes and sweet potatoes
“Don’t plant potatoes from the store! They’ve been sprayed with sprout inhibitors! They may carry potato blight!” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I’ve heard that. And sure, it’s good to get certified virus-free seed when you plant white potatoes, but we’re talking collapse gardening here, not ideal gardening. If a potato has eyes on it, it’s likely going to grow. I’ve stuffed forgotten store-bought potatoes in the ground many times and had success – mostly because I’m a cheapskate. Sweet potatoes are even easier to deal with. I’ve written on growing them here. I’ve never bought sweet potato seed in my life… and I’ve done fine without it. Just one potato in the corner of your pantry can produce a lot of slips for your garden – and feed you many pounds of tubers by fall.
“BIRDSEED? Your wife is right! You’re nuts!”
No, seriously. What’s in birdseed? Sunflower seed, millet, sorghum, corn, peanuts (more common in “squirrel feed”)… it depends on the variety, but many of the seeds birds eat are also good for people to eat. If your adorable parakeet dies during the initial shockwave, once the radiation in the backyard goes down a little, you can plant a nice garden in his memory.
6. Ginger, garlic and onions
Is there some ginger root in your fridge? A few onions? A head of garlic on the counter? All of these can be planted. An onion will grow leaves that can be harvested like chives – and if you’re lucky, it will later go to seed and provide you with another generation of onions. Individual cloves of garlic can be planted in the fall or spring (depending on your climate) and grown into entire heads of garlic. Ginger can be put in a big pot if you’re north of USDA zone 9. It will grow and spread into a plant that has not only culinary but medicinal uses. (Nothing calms a queasy stomach like ginger!)
7. Herb seeds
Beyond the basic crops in the pantry and fridge, you can also check your spice cabinet for further gardening loot. Dill, coriander and mustard seed are common seasonings that are also worth growing. Bonus: coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant. That means if you find some seeds, you can experiment with tasty post-apocalyptic salsa recipes. My favorite so far is my Grandma’s classic “Million-rad Chili Dipper.” We used to put that on our vault rations when I was a kid.*
8. Random goodies
If you’re lucky, you might come across someone that likes making bread from scratch. A gallon of wheat berries can plant a big plot of grain. If you’re related to health-food nuts or someone that’s gluten intolerant, you could also come across quinoa, amaranth and other small pseudo-grains. Feed stores sometimes carry big bags of oats, corn and other strange things, so if everything collapses, hit Tractor Supply. And if they’re already closed, look for someone that owns horses or chickens and beg a few handfuls of seed.
The point is this: seeds, roots and other planting materials are everywhere. It makes a lot of sense to stock up on really good seeds ahead of time – but if you miss that window, all is not lost.
You’d just better like beans… because waiting on this avocado tree is killing me.
*This is a total lie. Our tomato crop failed thanks to the firedamp, rendering salsa impossible.