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How to Start a Survival Garden on your Homestead
If you’re just getting into homesteading and prepping, you may be thinking of ways to make yourself more self-sufficient. One way you can become self-sufficient is by creating your own survival garden. This garden should be able to produce nutritious crops that can feed you and your family on your farm. We have previously covered how homesteaders can become self-sufficient, but in this article, we will cover how to start a survival garden on your homestead.
Read on below to learn how to start a survival garden, but first, what is a survival garden, and why should you start one?
What is a Survival Garden?
A survival garden is a modern-day version of a “victory garden” or “war garden.” These victory gardens originated during World War 1 and served as a way to relieve the strain of crisis and food shortage. In recent years, food security has been threatened by interruptions in the global food supply chain. As a result, many preppers and homesteaders have decided to grow their own survival gardens to localize their food source so they can continue to have food regardless of the problems in the world.
A survival garden typically holds vegetables, fruits, and herbs that provide enough nutrients for your family to survive in case of an emergency. Now, this isn’t a typical hobby garden. A survival garden’s purpose is to sustain your family’s caloric needs when needed.
The crops you may grow in a survival garden depend on your needs and your region; however, most survival gardens grow vegetables, herbs, fruits, legumes, and grains. You can grow these foods relatively easily, and you can store them for future use. Later on, we’ll discuss specific crops you may consider growing.
Why Should You Grow a Survival Garden?
Stop for a moment and take time to think of how often you go shopping for your food and everyday essentials. Do you visit the grocery store every week? A couple of times a week?
You may have realized that you’re dependent on food grown and prepared by other people. But what if you’re unable to leave your house for an extended period of time? The ability to be able to grow and harvest fresh produce from your yard will be a lifesaver. If you set up a survival garden correctly, you’ll be able to eat properly for many months without ever needing to leave your property.
Even if you don’t plan on surviving purely off of your produce, your survival garden can provide you with organic vegetables, which are far higher in quality compared to the food items that you buy from the store.
As a side benefit, gardening is an excellent way to stay active and spend more meaningful time outdoors; gardening lowers stress, helps you stay fit, as well as gets you hours of sunlight.
How to Start a Survival Garden?
Below is a step-by-step guide to starting a survival garden.
Pick a Site With Light
There are many factors that come into play when growing a survival garden. One of the most important things to consider when beginning your survival garden is the location. You’ll want to pick a site with enough room for you to plant your crops – and allow them to grow. You’ll also need a spot that’s exposed to sunlight.
Plants need prolonged and intense exposure to sunlight each day, and many plants may die after sustained interruptions in exposure to light. So, you’ll want to observe your prospective garden spot at varying times of the day in order to make sure the plot has enough light exposure during a typical day.
If you don’t have a field or yard to grow your survival garden, you may consider growing indoors with the help of grow lights. Note, however, that going down this route consumes a significant amount of electricity.
Create a Survival Garden Layout
Once you’ve decided where the optimal spot is for your survival garden, the next step you should take is to create a plan.
Drafting a layout for your garden will help you think through the equipment you will need. This can help you save time, energy, and money before you start building your garden.
An excellent way to start would be to take into account all the resources you have available to you. Are there any stores nearby that sell the equipment you need? If not, can you order the tools you need online?
You’ll also want to consider the climate in your area. This will dictate what kind of crops you can plant and when. We’ll give some suggestions later on, but you may have to tweak your plant selection depending on where you live.
Another critical consideration you should settle when creating the layout for your survival garden is how much room you have to grow your plants and how far apart each plant should be spaced. Figuring these measurements out will help you determine how many plants or seed backs to buy.
It’s important to avoid cramming too many plants close together. Each plant needs enough space. If they don’t get enough space, they won’t grow properly because they’ll be competing with nearby plants for nutrients and moisture in the soil.
Select Suitable Crops
We’re going to assume you’re growing your survival garden crops for the consumption of your whole family. So, before choosing what crops to grow, you’ll need to determine how much food your family eats and then find out how much food your garden can produce based on several factors, such as space and how fast you can grow and harvest crops.
We recommend subdividing your survival garden into various sections and also intercropping to make sure you cultivate several crops. You’ll want to maximize the garden’s output while still avoiding intercropping crops that aren’t friendly.
You may choose to add the crops you wish to grow to the plan you made earlier when you were considering your garden’s layout. Ensure you list perennial crops like mint, sage, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, bunching onions, and asparagus for your garden. It would be best if you planted these perennial crops at the back of the garden so that they won’t be disturbed.
When selecting what else you’ll be growing, keep in mind that your survival garden should be able to produce several food crops in a sequence or at the same time. So, you’ll want to ensure you don’t plant crops that have the same pests or don’t follow each other in the sequence.
It’s also crucial for you to be realistic and choose crops that are well-adapted to your region’s climate. What’s more, we recommend selecting crops that your family will enjoy eating and will consume frequently. Finally, consider the seasons and make sure you incorporate crops that you can preserve for future use.
When first starting out, don’t make things too complicated. Once you have a basic survival garden up and running, you can move on to adding in harder-to-grow crops.
Below, we’re going to list down more specific crops that you can grow as a beginner to survival gardens.
When you think of a garden, the first things that may come to mind are vegetables. And yes, while vegetables are good for you, they lack calories and may not help you meet your caloric needs in times of crisis. So, you’ll want to add a wide variety of high-calorie crops. The following are a few examples of easy-to-grow high-calorie crops that you can harvest after just a couple of months:
- Sunflower seeds
- Sweet potatoes
- Chickpeas, kidney, lima, and fava beans
As mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to add perennial herbs to the crop selection of your survival garden. Perennial herbs are tough herbs that can survive – and even thrive – during the cold winter months. You can grow these hardy wood-stemmed bulbs and plants near your kitchen door to give your food some fresh flavoring during cold months. You can also harvest these herbs and use them as direct ways to transform any meal into something new.
Perennial plants are also a good choice for your survival garden in terms of money. They’re an excellent investment since these plants can live for years instead of growing for only one season. Here are some examples of popular perennial herbs:
To preserve your herbs after harvesting them, its important to know the proper storage methods. When properly dried, herbs can last anywhere between 1-3 years in mason jars. In a previous article, we have covered the shelf life of herbs and spices.
Gather Equipment and Materials for Raised Garden
Once you know the layout of your survival garden and the crops you would like to grow, it’s time to gather your equipment. When building a survival garden, you will surely need the following:
- Good Garden Soil
- Compost Bin
- Fertilizer or Compost
- Fencing Material
- Planting Seeds or Starts
- Garden Hoe
- Garden Rake
- Garden Spade
- Garden Trowel
- Source of Water (Consider Harvesting Rainwater in Water Barrels)
And depending on the type of garden you would like to build, some options for the wall of a raised bed are:
- Raw Wood
- Sanded Wood
- Untreated Lumber
- Natural Stone
- Stock Tanks
- Corrugated Metal Sheets
After securing your equipment and materials, it’s time to start building your garden following the plan you drafted for the layout. This part will take a long time, but it is important to remember you do not need to finish completing your garden all at once. It will be an evolving process where you will need to make changes to your planting methods and layout regularly.
Size of the garden Plot
When building garden beds, the plot should be no wider than 4 feet or 2-3 feet if it’s against a fence. This way, you will not have to step over the soil to get to the other side of the plot. The length of the plot is less important and can be 4×4, 4×8, or 4×12. However, do keep in mind when intercropping, it’s important to put plant seeds that will get along with one another. We recommend the wall of the raised bed should be about 1-2ft tall. You can definitely go taller, but the added weight of the soil may put pressure on the wall, requiring you to put more support to bolster the material.
When deciding on the height wall, it’s important to know the type of crop you would like to include. Deep-rooted crops like tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes require a minimum soil of 12 to 18 inches in order to get their nutrients. Shallow-rooted crops like lettuce and onions require a minimum soil depth of 6 inches.
Assembling the bed
How you assemble the bed will depend on the material you intend to use for the wall. If you intend to use store-bought lumber or wood, you’ll need a drill and nails to connect the sides together. However, if you intend to use brick or cement, you will need mortar paste to glue the material together. The simplest method would be a stock tank, as they are metal tubs that come preassembled, and you can place them in your garden. How you assemble your garden bed depends on the type of material you decide to use.
You may have to modify your metal container by drilling or punching a bunch of holes in the bottom. Adding in a few holes will allow the pot to drain excess water, thus creating a healthier environment for the plant roots.
If you don’t punch in holes in the bottom of your container, you’re increasing the risk of fungal diseases killing your plants.
Fill the Bed with Soil
Once this bed is assembled, you can start by adding a bottom layer of nutrient-dense compost as the foundation to the bed. Then top the compost with good soil all the way to the top of the bed. If you would like, you can add another layer of compost to the soil. At this point, the soil will be ready for planting.
The best time to start growing plants in your survival garden is after the last frost; this is usually around April-May in the northern hemisphere.
You will need to begin by preparing the garden soil by leveling it with a rake. Rake the top 6 inches (15cm) of soil, softening the soil and pulling out any rocks, twigs, and roots that can interfere with planting.
You would then sow into the soil, placing your seeds and plant starts in the dirt. If you are planting seeds, scatter the seeds 1/2 an inch apart (12.7mm). For plant starts, the tag should have a recommended depth; follow the instructions on the tag.
Add mulch, straws, or leaves to your garden to prevent weeds from growing. Unfortunately, you will have to deal with invasive weeds at some point. They are known to grow in gardens, stealing nutrients from the soil and affecting crop growth. Organic mulch, straws, and leaves help prevent weed growth, but if you do notice weeds growing, it’s important to pull them immediately.
When it comes to watering plants, a good rule of thumb is to water your plants whenever the top 2 inches of soil feel dry. This will vary from crop to crop, but proper gardening requires plants to get enough water. So be mindful of the amount of rainwater falling on your plants. If they do not seem to get enough rainwater, make sure to use the garden hose or the water in your storage.
Also, do not get discouraged if your seeds do not sprout. There are many factors that go into this, and it’s normal for only a portion of the seeds to grow into plants. Still, keep in mind the longer you develop this skill, the better you will become at nurturing plants.
Consider Storage Methods for Excess Food
Soon you will have crops growing from the ground; congratulations. You might find yourself with more than enough food and may need to start considering long-term storage practices to ensure your crops don’t spoil.
Fortunately, there are many ways to preserve food long-term. Modern methods for storing food include placing crops in the refrigerator or freezer, but you should also consider traditional methods of storing food. Some examples of traditional food preservation methods include:
- Root Cellars
- Cooking Oil
Creating and maintaining a survival garden is one of the core pillars of becoming self-sufficient. Once you can grow your own food, you will be able to eat year-round. Growing food at home also reduces your dependency on supermarkets and allows you to eat natural, more nutritious foods.
Simply put, for a prepper or homesteader looking to get off the grid, starting a survival garden is one the best methods to secure their food supply.
For more articles on homesteading and prepping, check out the rest of our website.
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