A successful survival garden is a big dream, but you can achieve it. Picture the abundance of healthy vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs, and medicinal plants. With this garden, you’ll be able to provide healthy, delicious food for your family throughout the growing season and beyond. Even in emergencies or widescale disasters, when supply chains fail and prices are sky-high, your garden will help protect your family and provide safety and security.
It’s important to visualize your goals, and it’s also essential to have a plan so you can achieve them. We’ve put together this growing guide to provide an overview for getting started. Our guide will help you know which way to go next and can help you stay on track if you feel overwhelmed with the details. We’ve also prepared a downloadable version that you can print out. We suggest you keep a hard copy with your seed bank and emergency supply kits, just in case.
The Best Spot for Your Garden
Just like purchasing real estate, gardening is all about the location. You can change and control so many things, but the location is where it all starts.
Choose a spot that gets plenty of light.
Sunlight is the primary consideration for your garden location. Most fruits and vegetables need at least 8 hours of sunshine to produce, especially if they create a fruiting body. Without adequate light, your plants will not thrive.
Spend time noting where the shade lands in your desired location. It doesn’t have to be sunny all day, but if you have a choice, the morning sun with afternoon shade is best. If you’re growing indoors, choose a south-facing window and consider supplementing with grow lights if your plants don’t get enough light.
If your spot gets less than 8 hours, there are still options as long as you get at least 4-6 hours of sunlight. These plants may take longer to produce with lower light levels, so be patient. Shade-tolerant options include salad greens, leafy greens, cole crops, root crops, and leafy herbs.
Choose a location that is easy to access.
If you choose a location that is hard to get to, it will be harder to tend your garden, and it will be easier to neglect your plants. Out of sight, out of mind. Keeping a watchful eye on your garden helps with pest and disease control and consistent watering. Choose somewhere close to your home and anything you might need, like water sources.
Good garden soil comprises the right soil texture, structure, pH, and organic matter. Great soil is the foundation for healthy, disease-resistant plants.
Soil texture refers to the size of particles. Soil structure refers to how it clumps together. Sand has bigger particles and drains easily. Sandy soil will drain too quickly for the plants to absorb enough water. Clay particles are tiny and compact into dense, heavy soil that can retain too much water and drown or smother the roots. The ideal soil clumps together when squeezed in your hand but easily falls apart when you poke at it.
Adding compost and organic materials and working them in can improve the texture and structure of your soil, whether it’s sandy or clay. The nutrients will encourage the growth of micro-organisms, giving you rich fertile soil. Mulching the soil surface creates a layer that will slowly break down over time. These steps also will help you to achieve soil with a neutral pH.
Soil pH tells you how acidic or basic the soil is. Most plants prefer neutral soil. You can test your soil pH with a testing kit from a garden center or contact your local Cooperative Extension Service to test your soil for a fee. Your local extension will provide detailed information about your soil’s pH, texture, and composition. They will also inform you of any possible contamination like heavy metals.
Once you know more about your soil, you can make amendments for a healthier growing environment. Lime and bone meal can help raise your soil’s pH if it’s too acidic. Sphagnum peat moss, nitrogen, elemental sulfur, and other additives can lower it if it’s too alkaline. Always follow instructions on how to use soil amendments for the best results.
Growing Medium for Container Gardens
Garden soil is not a good choice for container gardens. The growing medium for containers needs to be light, fluffy, and well-draining, while still providing enough moisture for plants to grow and flourish. Good potting mixes are made with this in mind, and may not contain any actual soil at all. They are a blend of organic and other materials including compost, coconut coir, sphagnum moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Potting soil is also sterile, which keeps bugs and fungus out of your containers. If you are in a situation where you have a limited supply, potting soil can be sterilized with steam or in an oven if necessary.
Plants need water to move nutrients through the plant and to perform photosynthesis. Consistent watering helps plants thrive. Overly wet soil will encourage fungus and slugs. If the soil is too dry, your plants will be stressed.
The general rule of thumb is that vegetable gardens need an inch of water total per week, but not all at once.
If the soil is dry more than 1 inch down, it is time to water. Water enough that it soaks in about 6 inches.
Apply water directly to the roots. Watering the roots allows the soil to absorb the water slowly, conserving soil nutrients and minimizing evaporation or runoff.
Drip irrigation systems are watering systems designed to water roots efficiently and easily. Drip irrigation can be as simple as a soaker hose or as complex as an entire kit with hoses, nozzles, sprinklers, and tubes to deliver water to your plants.
If you have rows, you can set the hose to a low flow and let the water slowly run down the row and soak in.
Early morning watering is best for less evaporation. If leaves get wet, they can dry out during the day.
If leaves droop during a hot day, that doesn’t necessarily mean the plant needs water. Always check the soil first to prevent waterlogging your plants.
Consider using rain barrels or other water catchment systems to make the most of your water supply. These methods of capturing water are easy to set up and can provide you with a reliable water source even in times of rationing.
Soil Cultivation and Tilling
For plants to thrive, air, nutrients, and water need to penetrate deeply throughout. Cultivation is the process of breaking up compacted soil. Deep cultivation on heavily compacted soil may be necessary. You can do this with a rototiller or other means.
Surface cultivation. If you are adding compost or fertilizers, some shallow cultivation will help you work these amendments into the soil. Surface cultivation is also appropriate for loose soil that has crusted over, especially as you prepare your garden for new crops. Break up the top few inches of soil to mix in any soil amendments. Earthworms and microorganisms can help you fully integrate any nutrients deeper into the soil. Don’t cultivate when the soil is wet, as the soil can clump together and become even more compacted.
Double dig method.If you are starting with very poor soil, you may need to use the double dig method to break up the soil. This involves digging deep enough (18 to 22 inches) to bring up the topsoil and add organic material to the subsoil.
Dig a trench the depth and width that you want in your garden row. Place the topsoil in a pile. Then add organic material into the trench you have dug. Dig this material into the subsoil, mixing and aerating as you go, then add your topsoil and mix the two thoroughly. Avoid walking on the areas you’ve broken up to prevent compacting the soil. This method creates a deeper level of fertile topsoil.
Single dig method.Dig the length of the shovel, about 9 to 12 inches. Like the double dig method, you will place organic material in the trench and then cover it with the topsoil.
No-till farming. No-till methods are gaining popularity to decrease soil erosion and improve soil quality. If your soil is good quality and not very compacted, choosing a no-till method allows you to retain soil nutrients and protect the helpful ecosystems within the soil. One method is to use brown cardboard or newspapers (black print only) on the planned garden area, then cover that with organic mulch and wood chips. Over time this will break down, creating fertile soil that will not need digging. Cover crops can also be used for no-till farming. In this case, the new crops would be directly seeded into the decomposing residue of the previous plant matter.
By creating rows and pathways, you can avoid walking in the growing area and keep the soil full of air and micro-organisms. This will reduce your need to till and improve your soil, year after year.