Survival Garden

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Cinnamon Grammy 9 months, 3 weeks ago.

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  • #8638

    John Park

    Survival Garden:  this is just a ramble off the top of my head, this thread isn’t intended to cover shrubs, berries, and trees – just regular gardens. I would love to get your thoughts and insights.

    Reading Markham’s Mini Farming, and John Jeavons’ work, it seems they estimate that you need 700 square feet of garden per person, to survive. So if you have 20’x5′ beds, or 25’x4′ beds, you need 7 whole beds per person. I currently have 4 such beds, plus a few smaller beds, leading to maybe 600 sq ft total, for a family with multiple children. Obviously that is WAY short.
    My plan is to add another 2-4 beds this year, and then maybe another 2-4 next year. At best, I’ll have beds prepared for roughly half of what my family requires (but we may be taking in relatives as well, should the SHTF).

    A few notes:
    The 700 sq ft requirement is using bio-intensive gardening akin to “square foot gardening”. As such, it will require regular addition of LARGE amounts of compost. Currently that isn’t too hard, it’s a financial issue, but not impossible. But post SHTF we won’t be getting compost delivered. My plan is to continue composting as we do, but gather in copious amounts of leaf mold from the adjacent woods.

    It will require planting calorie dense foods like potatoes and squash.

    Currently my spouse and I cannot really handle more than 400 sq feet or so. We’re too busy working crazy hours, tending children, improving the homestead, doing firewood, etc. As such, all additional beds need to be planted with something (it could be pretty flowers that attract polinators) that can be easily dug up and turned over so that the beds can be put into food production should we suddenly be unemployed and needing to feed our family.
    Does anyone have any suggestions on crops that could fill the beds and yet be easily removed? Any cover crops that don’t create an impenetrable mass of roots? Clover to affix nitrogen? We live in Vermont.

    By the way, if you don’t have one already, invest in a “broadfork”, they are an easy way to turn over soil.  I have one already, but my next version will be the “meadow creature” product that seems even sturdier than the average broadfork.

    When the time comes, annual crop rotation will be key to minimizing disease, as purchasing commercial sprays will be unlikely.

    All of the above is just regarding the summer garden. We have 200 feet of beds which has row covers for trying to grow cold hardy crops (Mache, Claytonia, Sylvetta arugala, Minutina, Tatsoi, etc) over the winter, or at least to prolong the harvest and start early again in the spring.

    I’m hoping to someday add a hobby greenhouse for seed starting.

    It would be ideal to figure out plans for a high tunnel that could go over the low row covers (per Eliot Coleman’s book), but the best would be if it were somehow mobile (the base being able to be disassembled, or else on runners/skids), so that it would provide double winter protection and easier winter access to the row covers, and yet 4-6 humans could move it and uncover things in the spring.

    I would love to build an in-ground cold weather greenhouse with thermal mass, but our water table is way too high, any such structure would quickly become a swimming pool.

    I look forward to hearing your ideas about the whole topic of survival gardens, as well as any thoughts on what to use to fill my “dormant” beds.

  • #8654


    It is just the two of us and we have a small backyard garden maybe 75 by 50 foot. if that. Plus two places in what used to be a flower bed that we turned into garden space. That has produced more than enough food for us. I want to take a section of yard for raised beds but haven’t decided on it for sure yet. We do have a small greenhouse that we need to put up soon.

  • #8662


    A greenhouse made with cattle panels is fairly inexpensive and can be tall enough to walk in if it has a knee wall.

    To attract bees is you don’t have hives, plant borage.  It has small blue flowers and bees just love it.  IF you are in Vermont, can you make maple syrup?  I know- the time factor plus materials.  One of my problems is tree roots.  A lot of tree roots.  I will look into the broadfork as I don’t have one.

  • #8666


    If you plan to do more than small amounts of maple or birch syrup rather than steaming off the water use a reverse osmosis system keep the waste drip it’s your product it reduces time and energy required to process plus if you use too much heat it changes flavour of syrup expecially if wood smoke even from closed oven seems to make it into finished product.  There are also stainless steel sply they are best as you can reuse for years, just boil before use to sterilize.

    For potatoes to limit weeding cover in hay, potatoes make it through you will have to weed but in 3 months not every week.

    <p style=”text-align: center;”>Bees where to start there are several breeds main companies like bee maid get them from new Zealand,  those are not suited for cold and are low production just like russian bees. If you can find it there was a strain made by canadian government that is far superior but is hard to find only old professional keeps will have and jealously guard. They produce 2 to 3 times more honey and are much hardier. New Zealand bees have 5 traits the canadian ones have 20 main and 5 minor genetic characteristics.  I have seen  the main source for these  bees harvest 150kg  per hive in season of wild flower and clover source. Only ones that I have ever seen make willow honey as they start that strong in spring.</p>

    Bees make a huge difference in your pollenation, honey is a plus. I would also suggest only using half boxes even for brood. Lighter and easier to handle. Full honey box can be over 70 lb and hard to handle as hand holds are not super easy.   To drain honey if you scrape the frames pUT the honey mass in a separator covered in black bag in greenhouse it makes the separation happen way faster.




  • #8695


    No dig potatoes

    Take some of the work out of your work.

    Theres also straw bale gardening.

    • This reply was modified 1 year ago by  Whirlibird.
    • #10778


      Whirlibird, that hay method looks awesome.  I wish I’d thought of it last fall!

  • #9115

    John Park

    The latest issue of Backwoods Home Magazine gives the following requirements for one person, per year, eating a rather limited 2,000 calories per day.
    Five 50 ft rows of beans.
    Three 50 ft rows of corn.
    Three 50 ft rows of squash.
    Three 50 ft rows of potatoes.

    Does anyone have any other lists they have seen?

  • #9116


    John that is flat farming verticle and permaculture does better in less space wit relative same labour except permits get to no watering weeding  and does not look like garden.


    • 2000 calories is not enough, remember in hard time 2x or more labor think military 2 -3  mre at 3000 plus calories a day, look at ranger school or any other special forces after grad pre 95 and you will see what happens to a human under high stress and physical activity one one mre a day, now it’s 2 a day people lost 30+lb in 6 weeks in each section of training, this is from in shape  top form consentration camp skeletons. Hunger it gets to you mentally all you can think about is food, it separates the mentally weak from the mentally strong.

    Next remember fencing 10 feet high 8 foot high deer fencing is useless cause deer did not get memo. Yoh will need pest control, look at permaculture it is well thought out and has a set up in each zone figured out. It is hard to do at first then gets easier as all the harsest work is done in set up including fertilizer and pest management.


    Those number don’t take in crop failure, we had issues last year no squash cukes or gourd due to smoke in sky from fires. What do you do then? Not only no food but you will need more seeds.


    Of doing compost learn humus compost is, it’s a game changer.


    Also fruit trees can be devastated by mice over winter, smaller things like rabbits can do a number on garden in just one night.


    Water is huge, how do you plan to water with no power? If you think you can bucket it… how many calories do you think you will burn? One 8 foot tall apple tree takes nearly 50 gallons of water a day if you surface water. Look up ram pumps if you have flowing water. There are also water wheels to lift water and screw chutes that can be built, are art now as water rights and permission is required if it is a device not if it is art.

    Best to get this sorted now when failure means trip to store not to graveyard.

    • This reply was modified 1 year ago by  namelus.
  • #9118

    Hieronyma Textor

    I could do that in my back yard – which is not that big – so I am a little doubtful of whether that would be enough. But I could be wrong.

    I don’t have any set lists. That would be difficult because families differ, climates differ, the quality of the land differs.

    For a vegan “nutrition garden” a la John Jeavons, see This was done in 2500 square feet for one person, but he would have ended up fasting for several months if he had been totally dependent on it because the potatoes didn’t do so well. There are books that go with this method like “How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons and “One Circle: How to Grow a Complete Diet in Less Than 1,000 Square Feet” by David Duhon and Cindy Gebhard. I have “How to Grow More Vegetables…” but don’t have a copy of “One Circle..”, so I don’t know if there were any real life trials associated with that particular book (One Circle).

    For another source targeted at third-world countries, see—off-0envl–00-0—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10—4——-0-1l–11-en-50—20-about—00-0-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-10-0utfZz-8-00&cl=CL1.2&d=HASHbcd787cd704836ff7188b6.4.1&gt=1

    The one above is from the New Zealand Digital Library and has some really good stuff. (

    We used to rent rooms to visiting scholars at the university, when we had a much bigger house, and one from China told us that he grew up in a village. The system there was that each family was given enough land to feed themselves and maybe make a little extra. They were given one-quarter of an acre for each family member (a little over 10,000 square feet per person). His mother did all the farming. They raised a lot of potatoes and maize (grew better than rice in their region), some vegetables, one pig a year, and some chickens for eggs. They pretty much had to be self-sufficient. That was the system. But they didn’t get much in the way of meat and eggs because his mother would sell most of those products for other things they needed. They used the lard for cooking. A typical meal was potatoes and maize (corn) cooked with lard and a few pickled vegetables. They had meat once or twice a year. That’s what a quarter of an acre per person provided them. I don’t know what the condition of the land was.

  • #9119

    Hieronyma Textor

    I am so sorry – that one link didn’t work. For the document focused on the third world, go to, then click on “World Environmental Library”, then search for “nutrition garden” in quotes, and click on the only document that comes up in the search result.

  • #10463

    John Park

    I just wanted to thank everyone for their continued input! I found a couple of links worth sharing.
    I also wanted to suggest a fairly quick and easy preparedness exercise:
    Google map your home/bug out site and print out a picture of it.
    Now draw in where you would place “double dug” beds in the ground so that you could increase your garden to survival size if the SHTF. I did it last night, then tucked the map away in one of my most used gardening books.

    And here are the links:

    Jackie’s tips for hardcore homesteading

  • #10548


    Just a little thought, in reality, how many of us really need 3000 calories a day?

    Looking at the San, who don’t seem to spend more than 4’ish hours a day working, planning on working smarter than harder would seem appropriate.

    We should probably ask Selco how much of the day was spent exerting oneself versus downtime spent repairing things? Especially as many of us won’t be cutting cords of wood each day or humping the mountains of Afghanistan. And as most of us could probably stand to lose 10, 20, 30 pounds, a 2000 calorie diet may be highly beneficial.

    Comparing ourselves to soldiers age 20-25, or lumberjacks who are active for half the day literally, is definitely almost comedic for some. Personally, I walk somewhere between 5 and 12 miles a day, depending on what I am doing at work, and somewhere between 15 and 25 staircases before noon. Yet I am probably 20 pounds “overweight” by the charts. I enjoy what I eat.

    In all honesty, most of us won’t be working like draft horses, and won’t be needing as many calories as some expect. Thats a good thing as our stores will last longer.

    But to each his or her own.

  • #18297

    Cinnamon Grammy

    This is very interesting.

    I have tried to record what we harvested, but i forget to.  I have no idea what we eat.  I just can and freeze.  I am terrible at keeping records.

    But, to plan a garden for self-sufficiency would be very important.  Being in zone 4A, we would need a greenhouse or Garden Tower to have lettuces in the winter.  Perhaps one small pot each for patio size cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.

    That said, I know we are not getting enough from our gardens.  Mostly we are ok, but it is the herbs that I have not really planted, and the celery that I have not figures out how to grow, or the onions and potatoes that just do not last through the winter.

    There is a lot to learn.


  • #18405

    Crow Bar

    In my first raised bed gardens, I planted some green onions that came back every year.
    This year, I was surprised to find onions that I planted last year had survived the winter and are growing.
    Sage, oregano, and winter thyme come back every year. Getting bigger too.

    For a survival garden, I am thinking need to plant hardy veggies. More root veggies, like beets, rutabaga, carrots, potatoes.
    For greens, I have found chard does well.

  • #18438


    For colder climates russian kale does well even into frosts. Don’t forget yams and cabbage for winter storage in root cellar.  Berry bushes are a must have expecially ones like sea buck thorn as  they make great small animal homes, survive extreme cold,berry dries easy for vit c in winter and the thorns make a good barrier not many would attempt to go.through. we use those and other berry/ thorn bushes to renforcement of fencing on our farm. Food and the animals don’t try and break or rub against them.

    Plant like asparagus grow each year in cold places, so do mushrooms. Many fungi have health benifits beyond food intake and are some of the best defenses against antibiotic  resistantant  super bugs. They also are amazing for break down or organic matter to compost and can be used to clean up oil spills as they break down any organic matter.

    You can grow potatoes in stacked hay, but they don’t seem to be as  fulfilling as soil grown. Remember  to rotate crops and amend soils.  I use a silt trap on the river near me to get alot of high value instant soil amenders… it’s wet and heavy but easy right now with equipment by hand it would be beyond a hard dirty job.


  • #18500

    Cinnamon Grammy

    Greetings, All.

    I wrote about my garden spaces under the April Prep Everyday Forum. We have 24 3’ x 17’ established and fenced-in beds and are working on adding more this summer.

    There are several things that are established. Under the cherry tree, I planted mint and lemon balm. The creeping thyme died out, and I think the lemon balm is on its last legs, too, but the mint is going strong. It is too shady under the tree for much else.

    There was asparagus here when we moved in. I want to create a new bed and add some more asparagus behind fencing so the critters don’t eat it. Nothing touches the rhubarb, but it is in the lawn; wrong place for it.

    How much? I read with interest what John Park and the other posted about how much food we actually need to plant. I chuckled at some of the articles I found on the WWW. One person says 2 broccoli plants per person. That would hold me for two weeks. This year I plan to plant 3 beds of broccoli just for us.  Plus, I cook the broccoli leaves and the stalks, so I don’t need a special planting of other greens.

    Companion Planting: I don’t do square foot gardening, but I do more bio-intensive. For the bed with peas on a trellis, I also plant carrots around the base of the trellis and leafy herbs. Around the tomatoes, I plant onions and borage. I love having dill in with the broccoli and cabbage. Companion planting is a large subject on the internet and it is easy to find information on how to combine crops.

    As our garden expands this year, one bed is definitely going to be a three, no Four Sisters bed: Squash, dry beans, corn, and sunflowers. I am tempted to try some root crops in there, too, but the greens would be smothered by the squash leaves. Perhaps, parsnips; they have large leaves.

    A farmer nearby has great, delicious corn, but I would bet it is treated “very well.” Just a few ears from our garden will be a treat until we can find more space.

    I used to plant two beds of green beans. That is way too many to get us through the winter. I still have green beans I canned three years ago. Now I plant more dry beans. The dried ones just do not produce enough to get through a year.

    I just checked some seeds that I am testing. The brown lentils, from a grocery store package, sprouted. The red lentils did not; that may be because they dried out. There was a hint, so perhaps another day or two. I have not found packages of lentil seeds in the stores, so I am using the grocery store.

    Little Sister: 50’ x 75’ is a good sized garden. Fresh food tastes so much better.

    John Park: that is what we did. A few more beds each year. And eventually, you are supplying enough food for the year.

    There is a county compost/recycling center near us. It collects the waste from restaurants, and will accept yard waste, too. We can get a load in our truck, one bucket full ~ 9 cubic yards/one ton, for $21. That gets put onto our gardens when we dig them, either in Spring or Fall. The tilth of the soil keeps getting better. Perhaps there is someone you know that has a truck and you know of a location where you can get a load.

    Pollinators: Plant flowers if you do not have the bees. Alyssum, marigold, nasturtium, etc. The bees will come to pollinate and stay for the veggies. Mason bee boxes are easy to make.

    You can find seed packages for cover crops. No need to really till them under, just plant through the dead leaves from last year if they were annual plants.

    Namlus: I like that idea of straw covering the potato beds. I’ll need to find someone who has a couple bales.

    Hieronyma Textor: I tried to find something about a vegan gardener, but all I found was how to avoid blood meal, etc. Not what or how much to plant.

    There is so much to share. We have several days of cold and drizzle.  Time to check out more links that you all mentioned.  Thank you everyone!

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