There are many questions one needs to ask when they decide to get serious about preparing and survival. Unfortunately, in many cases, there are no clear answers to those questions. That’s mostly because none of us have any definite knowledge of the disasters we are going to face, all we have are likelihoods. Since we don’t know for sure what’s coming down the road, we can’t be sure of how to prepare for it.
That’s why most preppers develop a broad-based strategy, trying to prepare for any likely disaster scenario they know of. Fortunately for us, many of the things that we need to prepare work for all possible disaster scenarios. With the basics in place, it only takes the addition of a few specific items to be ready for each disaster scenario.
Even so, the one overriding question that causes us more problems than any other is that of time; how long do we need to be prepared to survive, before things return to normal? Considering the wide range of possible disaster scenarios, there’s really no one answer to that question.
This has led to two main results in the prepping community. The first is to build huge stockpiles, with many people having enough food and other basic supplies to last a year. The second is that of many preppers turning their homes into homesteads, so that they can grow their own food. It is this second result that I want to talk about.
As part of our preparedness mindset, we have to accept the idea that there are disasters which will have such a broad and long-lasting effect, that we can’t stockpile enough supplies to last them out. I like to use an EMP as an example, just because of the massive, widespread destruction that it will cause to our infrastructure, and the difficulty in rebuilding after the EMP.
In such a scenario, a year’s worth of food isn’t going to be anywhere near enough. It will probably take a number of years, perhaps even decades, to rebuild the grid and return life to some semblance of the life we have today. Our only chance of not becoming part of the population that dies off due to starvation, will be to be able to feed ourselves. Supermarkets and other sources of food will be closed; we will have to become self-sufficient.
That means growing our own food, not hunting and gathering. By comparison, gardening or farming is much more efficient than hunting and gathering, even if you do happen to live in an outlying area where there are a lot of edible plants growing and a lot of animals to hunt.
Of the options for growing our own food, gardening is much more efficient than raising any sort of livestock. Granted, you’re not going to be able to grow a steak in a vegetable garden (I wish) or barbecue brisket on a fruit tree (I wish again), but you will be able to grow enough nutritious food to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to have to keep you alive and healthy.
Planning Your Survival Garden
I’ve talked to many a prepper who is either thinking of using aquaponics or vertical gardening to raise all the food their family needs in a four foot square area. Sadly, these people are grossly mistaken. They red a book which talked about the four foot garden and believed it would be enough. But while both aquaponics and vertical gardening are excellent technologies to use, there is no way that you can grow enough food in a four foot square garden to feed one person, let alone to feed your family. I have a 15’ x 25’ garden and it’s still not big enough to provide everything I need.
You’ve probably seen articles about people who grow all their own food in their backyards. Every once in a while an article will pop up about one of them. The striking thing about each and every one of these cases is that they have converted their entire backyard into garden beds. They are able to grow enough food to feed themselves, because they have that big a garden and put that much effort into it.
I lived next door to someone like that, many years ago. He didn’t just use his own backyard for his vegetable garden; he used half of mine as well. Our backyards weren’t very big, so it took that much space to grow what he wanted to grow. Fortunately for my wife and I, he shared.
So if you’re going to use gardening as part of your survival plan, you need to count on using as much space as you have available for it. Think big or you’re not going to have enough to eat.
That means planning and preparing big as well. If you’re going to do that big a garden, you need to have enough seed on hand to plant that big a garden. You also need to have enough fertilizers and other chemicals to make it possible to grow all that seed. If you’re going to use raised beds, you’ll need the material to make those beds, as well as enough soil to fill them.
For your seed, make sure that you buy only heirloom seeds, no hybrids and no GMOs. The reason for that is that you can harvest seeds from plants grown from heirloom seeds and grow more plants next year. If you try doing that with hybrids, you’ll get one of the varieties used in creating the hybrid, not what you grew. If you try that with GMOs, you’ll get nothing; the seeds of GMOs are sterile.
The other thing you need is good soil. This is actually the most important part of any garden. Plants receive their nutrients and water from the soil. So they need soil that is rich in those nutrients. However, the soil in your backyard probably isn’t that rich in the basic nutrients that plants need. Few backyards are. You’ll need to fortify the soil in your backyard, so that it can grow something better than crabgrass. That can be done now, by spreading compost or composted manure on your garden, but it will cause your grass to grow faster too.
Preserving Your Produce
Unless you live someplace which allows you to grow year-round, you’d better count on having to preserve the majority of the food you grow in your garden. The two methods of preparation that you will most likely need to use are canning and a root cellar.
Canning is fairly easy to learn and do, requiring little equipment. More than anything, you’ll need a pressure canner (a large pressure cooker), canning jars and a thermometer. Pretty much all fruits and vegetables can be canned, making this a very effective means of preserving food. However, canning is labor intensive.
Root vegetables can be stored in a root cellar, essentially an underground storage area. The advantage of using a root cellar, over canning, is that the vegetables don’t need to be prepared, just harvested and stored. Because the root cellar is underground, it will be cooler than the ambient above-ground temperature, which will help to preserve the vegetables. However, they will eventually go bad.
Ideally a root cellar is a small room-sized cave, but you can create a small root cellar fairly easily by burying a large plastic storage bin or a non-working refrigerator underground. In either case, you want the opening at ground level (this means burying the refrigerator so that it is laying on its back. Be sure to do this in the shade, so that the sun doesn’t beat down directly on it. Adding insulation above the door or lid, such as hay or an old mattress will help keep the contents cool.
Get Started Now
Survival gardening isn’t something you can wait to start until you need it. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. We’ve been working at growing a garden for three years now, and I still can’t say that we’ve had a lot of success. Part of that is where we live (a hot climate), but part is learning how to garden effectively.
Another factor I’ve learned is that it takes a good year to get your soil to the point where you need it to be. Let’s say you were to build a raised-bed garden today. Even if you filled it with the best potting soil you could, it would be a year before that soil was actually at its peak. You could plant in it this year, and you should, but you would get a better yield out of it next year, than you would this year, especially if you topped it with compost at the end of the growing season (something you should do every year).
If you’re going to use a garden as part of your survival strategy, you can’t afford to have it fail. You will need that garden to produce from the very first year. For that to happen, you’ve got to be ready. More than anything, you have to have the knowledge it takes, to get the most possible yield out of your garden. That takes time to learn.
In the mean time, any extra produce you grow can easily be canned and become part of your survival stockpile. There’s no reason for letting it go to waste.
Rich is a long-time survivalist, having gotten started in his youth, during the latter part of the Cold War. Yet the collapse of the Berlin Wall didn’t put an end to his survival instinct. He has since added military experience and a career as an engineer to his survival knowledge. This has allowed him to design and build his own survival equipment. He is an accomplished author, who has written over 100 books on all aspects of survival.