Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
There is no secret formula to growing an abundant survival garden. A survival garden is a basic garden with strategically chosen crops that can sustain you and your family during hard times. For my grandparents, it was a way of life that they enjoyed.
But don’t wait for a widescale disaster to start your survival garden. Instead, start planning and planting as soon as you can. Every garden can be a survival garden if you include crops that meet a few essential characteristics.
Characteristics of a Great Survival Crop
When you grow a survival garden, you’ll want to look for specific characteristics in the food you are growing. For example, you’ll want some crops that can be grown in cool weather and some that can be grown in hot weather so that you can grow food all season long.
You’ll also want plants that are not too fussy about growing conditions, are easy to grow, and produce much food. If you grow annuals, you’ll want to grow varieties whose seeds are easy to collect and store for the following year. And of course, you’ll want to grow foods that you and your family will eat.
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This article will talk about the 12 easiest crops for survival gardens. I’ll give you a few tips on growing these vegetables and tell you why they’re essential to grow.
Beans are a great survival crop because they are super easy to grow and produce a lot! Black beans, pinto beans, northern beans, and kidney beans can be dried and saved for winter eating and planting next year’s crop. Most beans prefer cool weather, so plant in early spring and later fall.
Summer squash is a notoriously good producer, and you’ll have plenty for eating and canning. Space plants apart to slow down the onset of bacterial wilt or powdery mildew so your plants will produce longer. Or succession plant all summer long for a steady stream of summer squash. Look for yellow squash, crookneck squash, zucchini, and pattypan.
Winter squash is slower growing but still a great producer. Winter squashes have a hard shell, so you should be able to store them throughout the winter or at least for a couple of months. Winter squashes include butternut, acorn, Hubbard, spaghetti squash, pumpkin, and delicata. I’ve had butternut squash stored in my cupboard for a year with no adverse effects, but pumpkins may not last nearly that long.
Not everyone loves the flavor and texture of kale, but it makes an excellent survival crop. It grows easily, isn’t too fussy about its growing conditions, and loves cold weather. I’ve dug kale up out of the snow and found it not only edible but delicious. Cold weather makes kale sweeter, but growth slows to a halt when the days get short.
Plant your kale early enough that it hits maturity before the first frost in your area. Then, you should be able to harvest it throughout the winter.
4. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are easy to grow, produce a lot of potatoes per plant, and are very nutritious. They’re easy to plant, but they do need soil that is a little bit loose, so it doesn’t restrict growth. You may want to mix in some compost or grass clippings into the area where you’ll be planting your sweet potatoes.
You can grow your own sweet potato slips to start your garden.
Nestle your potatoes about halfway into a tray of soil. Keep the soil moist, and shoots will form. Once you have plenty of shoots, carefully cut them off at the soil line and put them in a jar of water to sprout. Once you have a few inches of roots, you can plant your slips in the garden.
Sweet potatoes are not frost-hardy, so make sure you plant them after all danger of frost is past, and harvest before your first frost date. If you store your harvested sweet potatoes in a cool, dry area, they can last up to 6 months.
Another great aspect of sweet potatoes is that the leaves are edible and can be eaten fresh or cooked like spinach. You can grow a sweet potato or two indoors as a trailing house plant and eat the leaves year-round. Just keep them in a sunny window.
Cut-and-come-again lettuce is a great survival crop. Lettuce is easy to grow and doesn’t take up much space, so you can raise a lot of it in a small area. In addition, certain types of lettuce will grow back after you cut them, so you only have to plant them once. Or succussion plant lettuce all summer long for a steady stream of salad.
Most lettuces are cool weather crops, but some have been bred to withstand the summer heat. Therefore, you can alternate varieties throughout the growing season.
I like to plant lettuce indoors when it is too cold to garden outside. It is best to harvest it as baby lettuce, but it does add some fresh homegrown leaves to our salads throughout the year.
Spinach is an easy-to-grow, cool weather crop. It doesn’t grow well in the summer heat, but it is one of the earliest spring vegetables. You can plant spinach up to 6 weeks before your last frost date, and if it isn’t too cold, it will germinate in just a couple of days.
If you are desperate for homegrown food, you can eat baby spinach, so plant enough spinach that you can eat some now and some when it matures. You can harvest just the outer leaves of each plant, allowing the spinach to keep growing and producing.
Beets are another cool-weather crop that takes very little work and does not have very many pests. You can eat both the root and the leaves, but some people don’t like the woody taste.
Beets are high in calories for a vegetable, and they grow quickly, making them an excellent choice for your survival garden. Under ideal conditions, beats can be stored for 2 to 4 months, providing you with nutrition and calories throughout the winter.
Beets can survive frost and near-freezing temperatures, but be sure to harvest them before the ground freezes.
Turnips are fast-growing, highly nutritious, easy to grow veggies. Not everyone likes the tastes of turnips, so they may not be worthwhile to grow if you aren’t going to eat them. However, both the root and the greens are edible, which means you get a lot of food per plant.
Turnips can be ready to eat in as few as 50 days after germination. Turnips harvested in the summer will be a little more tender, but turnips harvested in fall are tougher, giving them a long storage life.
These small round tubers are a great addition to your survival garden. Under ideal conditions, radishes can be ready to eat in as few as 3 to 5 weeks. They also don’t take up a lot of space so you can tuck a few radish seeds in any little unused spot in your garden.
Another great thing about radishes is the greens are edible and can be added to salads for flavor and nutrition.
Plant sunflowers in your survival garden for a crop that grows easily, is drought-resistant, stores well, and attracts pollinators. In addition, sunflower seeds are a great source of protein and fatty acids, so they’ll help you get through a lean winter. You can save a few seedheads for the following year’s crop, too.
You can also crush your sunflower seeds to make vegetable oil. Some varieties have more natural oil than others, so you’ll want to make sure to get one that suits your needs. You can also use sunflowers in the garden as trellises for pole beans, making them a hardy multi-purpose survival plant.
Peas aren’t the most productive survival crop, but they are worth considering because they can be grown early in the season, and they will help prepare the soil for your summer crops. In addition, peas are worthwhile because they are a nitrogen fixer, and they’re easy and quick to grow.
Peas make the list because you can tuck in a few bush peas between your crops to add fertility to the soil, act as a living mulch to prevent weeds, and produce food. Then, after you grow your peas, just chop the dying plants down and mix them into the soil for biomass.
I always have herbs growing around my house, and you might want to include some herbs in your survival garden, as well. Most herbs are pretty prolific, easy to grow, and hardy. Many herbs are also easy-care perennials, which means they’ll come back without you having to replant them each year.
Herbs have multiple uses on a homestead or in a survival garden. Adding different herbs to dishes can help immensely with flavor, staving off appetite fatigue. Many herbs can be dried and stored for many months, too. And of course, lots of herbs are known for their medicinal and nutritional benefits, as well. For example, peppermint is used to calm headaches, and lavender is used to soothe anxiety and promote sleep. Consider using some of these herbs in your garden:
Don’t wait for the ideal time to start working on your survival garden. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at planting, growing, and harvesting nutritious food that can sustain you and your family.
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