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When you hear the words “survival foods,” you may think in terms of canned goods and other non-perishables that we can purchase and stockpile for an emergency. However, even the best planned and managed pantry will run out of food eventually.
That’s why it’s essential to consider growing your own survival foods in your home garden. While all home-grown fruits and vegetables offer health and nutrition, there are four main factors that make a crop a good choice for a survival garden rather than a typical home garden. The factors include: ease of growth, ease of storage, nutritional content, and caloric content.
Fortunately, there are many options that fit the bill and will work as a food source no matter whether you have a large space or just a patio or balcony.
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Here is a list of 21 of the best survival crops for preppers.
Beans already may top your list of canned goods, but they top our list for the survival garden as well. Beans are easy to grow and easy to store, and they pack a good amount of protein and other nutrients in a small package.
Beans come in many different varieties and sizes that are suitable for large and small gardens. Another bonus is that you can save your bean seeds to grow a new crop next year.
Although cabbage is not high in calories, it does pack a nutritional punch with fiber along with a high Vitamin B6 and C content. You can add cabbage to soups, stews, and stir-fries or ferment it as sauerkraut of kimchi for long-term storage.
Kale, which is in the cabbage family, is cold tolerant and can be grown year-round in many locations. Plus, its colorful leaves add beauty and texture to your fall garden.
3. Sweet Potatoes
With more flavor, calories, and nutrients than other potatoes, sweet potatoes are an essential crop for the survival garden. They do take a long time to grow, but you can eat some of their leafy greens while waiting for the root vegetable to mature.
In terms of the survival garden, corn adds versatility. Not only can you eat the kernels on or off the cob, but you can also grind them into flour for biscuits, bread, and tortillas. When stored in an airtight container, corn flour has a long shelf life.
Here’s a survival gardening tip for corn. If you have limited space, try using corn stalks as trellises for your beans!
You should plan for both winter and summer squash in your survival garden. Summer squash grows more quickly, while winter squash will store well for longer periods of time.
Squash sprawls in the garden and will grow well around your corn and beans.
Lentils are rich in protein and fiber, and they are easy to store. They also add nitrogen to the garden soil, helping your other plants grow stronger.
The rich, earthy flavor of lentils makes them the perfect choice to add caloric content to soups, stews, and salads in uncertain times.
Nutritious amaranth grows well even in poor soil and is edible—and healthy—as a green or grain.
You can use young amaranth leaves just as you would spinach or kale in salads, soups, or stews. You also can use edible amaranth seeds, which are high in protein, as chicken feed.
This leafy herb is a perennial that is known for its sweet-tasting low-calorie leaves. Stevia grows well in the ground or in pots and containers.
You can use freshly harvested stevia leaves to sweeten beverages such as tea and coffee. For many people, it is a healthier sweetener than sugar or artificial sugars, and it has little impact on blood glucose levels, which is important for people with diabetes.
Although it looks like a grain, buckwheat is in the same family as rhubarb and spinach. This powerhouse plant is rich in carbohydrates, protein, cellulose, healthy fats (such as Omega-3s), Vitamins B and E, and various minerals, including phosphorus, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper.
You can grind buckwheat to make a nutritious pancake flour or use it whole in hot cereals and soups.
Onions are easy to grow, come in many different varieties, and add flavor and nutrition to just about any dish. They also offer natural health and medicinal properties that are important during an emergency.
Be sure to consider other members of the allium plant family for your survival garden, including shallots, garlic, and chives.
Tomato plants are heavy producers, making them an excellent choice for the survival garden. Also, you can use the versatile tomato in soups, stews, and sauces. Or, you can eat them fresh, freeze them, dry them, or can them.
Rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, tomatoes also offer plenty of Vitamin C and potassium.
Spinach is packed with minerals and vitamins. You can eat it raw in a salad or add it to many soups, stews, or other dishes.
You can store spinach long-term by freezing or dehydrating it.
Peas, which can be dried, canned, or frozen, are easy to grow and incorporate into a variety of meals.
Peas offer antioxidants, fiber, Vitamins A, C and K, folate, manganese, and protein.
Beets are one of those crops that offer double-duty. You can eat the root as well as the greens.
Considered a superfood, beets offer potassium, magnesium, folate, nitrates, and Vitamin C.
Carrots are a satisfying and nutritious snack when eaten raw. Plus, you can add them to countless recipes to gain the benefits of their antioxidants, minerals, and nutrients.
Pepper plants are surprisingly easy to grow, and you’ll enjoy the results in many dishes, from egg-based entrees to stuffing, soups, salads, sauces, and seasonings. You’ll also find that pepper plants resist most common garden pests.
Whether you grow them to eat raw or to jar them as pickles, cucumbers are another great choice for a survival garden.
Many cucumber varieties are ideal for growing in containers or small raised beds.
Herbs and spices take up little space but add big flavor to your meals. You can grow them outside in the ground in the warmer months or in pots and in a sunny windowsill container all year long.
Here are some options to consider:
A member of the nightshade family, eggplant offers vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, and fiber. The edible skin is packed with magnesium, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber.
Eggplant offers a hearty meat-like texture that can stand up to the heat of a grill.
Potatoes have often been the mainstay of the survival garden of years past. Why? The answer is pretty simple. Potatoes are easy to grow and versatile to cook, yet they are filling and nutritious.
High in carbohydrates, potatoes contain fiber, magnesium, Vitamins B6 and C, antioxidants, copper, niacin, manganese, and phosphorus. You can use them in meals as you would pasta or rice, and they offer that “stick to your ribs” substance that is important in a survival scenario.
21. Jerusalem Artichokes
We’ve included the Jerusalem artichoke on this list because it is high in calories and, as a perennial, it will come back each year. This survival food, which is a root vegetable that is much closer to a potato than an artichoke, is rich in potassium, iron, protein, and probiotics.
Jerusalem artichokes also will grow well in the soil or in containers. However, this plant reminds us that we need to grow what we will eat and enjoy. Although it is nutritious, this plant also is notorious for giving some people digestive issues. It won’t matter much if you have a bumper crop of Jerusalem artichokes if you suffer after eating them.
How do you begin a survival garden? Just like any other new project, you can start small. Begin with containers and pots or a small raised bed and some easy-to-grow nutritious plants. As you find success (or failure) with those, you can begin to add other choices.
As you determine what crops work in your soil and the space you have, here are some other factors to keep in mind:
- your family’s allergies, intolerances, and preferences
- your storage space
- ways to protect your survival garden from pests and local wildlife
- watering requirements for the garden (especially important in drought-stricken locations)
What we can say with assurance is that, during these uncertain times, growing your own food is a positive step you can take to provide sustenance for your family.
Here are some additional resources to help you as you plan your survival garden:
- Planning a Survival Garden for Food and Medicine
- Survival Garden 101: Why You Need To Plan Before Planting
- How To Start Your Own Survival Garden
And here are some books you should consider reading:
- Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times
- The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food
- Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening
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