Anyone interested increasing their self reliance, going off-grid, or simply providing for their family when times get tough should be heavily focused on creating a productive and sustainable food source. The foundational building block for this is a survival garden.
Providing enough food to sustain your family can seem like a daunting proposition that would require several acres of land. But with a little planning and consideration, you can create a productive garden that will serve you and your family well all year long.
What is a Survival Garden?
The simplest explanation would be that it is a garden capable of growing the food you and your family need to survive (or at least a large portion of it) until the next growing season.
This may seem straightforward, but when you break it down and see how many calories, vitamins, and minerals you need to replace daily to stay healthy, you realize there has to be some serious planning and consideration put into it.
Survival gardening has a critical urgency about it, and doesn’t have to be pretty.
If you’ve seen the movie “The Martian”, you can use the example of Mark Watney, who formulates a plan to survive the harsh climate of Mars by potato farming in his own feces. Is it going to make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens? No. Did it keep him alive? Yes.
When you consider how important food security is to your family, there is no reason not to do everything in your power to make the most effective survival garden possible.
In addition to keeping you alive, there are a few other reasons why having your own garden is beneficial:
- Health Benefits: Starting a garden for the resulting health benefits alone is worth it. Do you know what most people do when they have access to fresh, free produce? They eat tons more of it! Even if you are relatively careful with what you eat, increasing your produce consumption will always benefit you.
- The Money: Eating your own produce can save you some significant coin. And to top it off, you could also take it to the very same markets where you used to spend your money and make some money. You probably will not get rich, but you’ll certainly be able to offset some costs.
- Help Feed People in Need: In times where you’re not depending on every calorie from your survival garden to feed your family, another option is to donate the surplus to a local food bank or family in need. The extra potatoes and carrots you are tired of seeing in the cellar could be the reason someone’s kid has a little more to eat.
Survival Garden Layout Examples
If you are trying to provide a chunk of your family’s calories from the homestead, then you need to be really smart about your survival garden layout.
So what do survival gardens look like? Well, that question has a lot of answers. There are many different types of gardens, each with their own corresponding perks and benefits.
It is perfectly acceptable to use a pre-established clearly defined archetype, or you could take your inspiration from several styles and create something unique to your situation and property.
Here are some terrific and time-tested survival garden layouts to help get your wheels spinning:
1. Square Foot Gardening
Square foot gardening was originally devised as a way to teach growing capabilities and capacities to people in underserved areas. They can be made in nearly any size or configuration.
There are some solid reasons you might choose to follow a square foot gardening format. The planting guidelines prevent crowding while helping to maximize the space available and eliminate the wasted space of row planting. Similar plants are grown in non-linear configurations as they would in the wild so that they are not crowded out and can reach optimal size.
This same aim of efficient use of space also applies to how the garden is physically built. It is a raised bed that is visually divided by materials like wooden dowels, string, or twine tacked into a square-foot grid. This allows the cultivation of personal amounts of produce, in small areas, with little need to travel.
As they are raised beds, less bending is needed, so they are less work to maintain.
2. Victory Gardens
The victory garden is seeing a comeback in these uncertain and turbulent times. While it started as a way to reduce reliance on staples in order to free up rations during the second world war, it is once again enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
Victory gardens are designed to provide most of what a family of two to four people will need for much, if not all, of the year. With a high reliance on beans, drying and preservation will be crucial for maximizing the usefulness of the garden.
3. Keyhole Gardens
Keyhole gardens are perfect for hot and particularly dry climates. They consist of a wide round garden that is several feet deep and has a small radial arc of material removed.
With this material removed, the gardener can stand in the center of the garden, with the produce at approximately waist height. All areas of the garden can be reached easily by the gardener with very little strain on the back.
Since they are so deep, a key benefit of constructing keyhole gardens is their resistance to drought. Cardboard layered into the soil also helps to prevent water loss through evaporation. The center is preferred to be a compost bin with a base of rock at least the size of gravel, to facilitate drainage. As the material in the bin composts and is watered into the surrounding soil, it helps feed the crops in the garden.
Keyhole gardens do not make especially efficient use of space, since they are often quite a bit deeper than simple raised beds, but they do offer an extremely rich substrate to grow in.
Since they are fed by the compost, as well as being primarily watered from there, keyhole gardens are perfect for root vegetables like carrots, radishes, and beets, and leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, chard, and herbs.
4. The Permaculture Food Forest
One of the hallmarks of a permaculture style “food forest” is that it’s typically not in 1 specific “garden.” Rather, the plants and trees making up a food forest are strategically scattered throughout an area, to take advantage of microclimates, optimal growing conditions, and companion plantings as much as possible.
If you have a larger area and are looking to build an extremely diverse and naturally productive garden, creating a food forest modeled on permaculture principles might be the perfect option.
The benefits of permaculture systems are myriad. They not only focus on boosting biodiversity across the board, they also promote function stacking.
For example, a portion of the food forest may utilize clover as part of the ground cover. Clover could “stack functions” by not only preventing weeds, but also acting as a nitrogen-fixer, increasing the available nitrogen for neighboring plants. A 3rd function of a clover ground cover could be that it’s a source of pollen for important pollinators like bees and butterflies. This mentality will extend to many aspects of gardening and is the foundation for the entire permaculture model.
5. The Backyard Homestead Layout
The concept of a “homestead” is one that feels bigger than just a vegetable garden. Instead, a homestead typically incorporates fruit trees, perennial plants like berries, animals like chickens and goats, honey bees, or any number of other things. Still, at its core, the goal of a homestead is in line with survival gardening–support and sustain the lives of the people living there.
The Backyard Homestead Book is a popular and info-packed resource for planning maximum food production, even on postage-stamp-sized lots in the city and suburbs. It has a comprehensive walk-through of all the pertinent info you need to begin your journey towards self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
It covers the basics like garden design and crops to plant, but then it takes things a step further, by covering material on food preservation, highlighting methods like pickling, canning, even drying, and dehydration. This gem will help you through the entire food production process, from seed to snack.
6. Self Sufficient Backyard Layout
This is one of those resources that you can keep on your bookshelf, and every time you read it you seem to find something new and useful in it.
It is written by a couple that would be considered modern-day pioneers, living a lifestyle that includes growing their own food all year, collecting water, producing natural remedies from foraged plants, and using renewable energy.
It is a great book for anyone looking to begin the transition to a more self-sufficient lifestyle, or anyone wanting to learn how to effectively use just a quarter acre to produce food and energy for their own family.
What should I grow in my survival garden?
That is a very open-ended question, but we can start to narrow it down by your growing zone and garden location. It is important to have a large variety of nutrient-dense vegetables, and ideally ones that can also be stored in some long term fashion, whether it is by canning, drying and dehydrating, pickling, or cellar storage.
Proteins & Fats
You will need plenty of protein and fats in your diet. Protein is needed to build and maintain muscle mass and fats are needed as a source of energy.
- Nut trees: Hazelnuts, hickory nuts, walnuts, pecans, chestnuts, and so many others. The options for nut trees that will grow in the US is impressive. Nuts can provide a source for healthy unsaturated fats, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and are full of vitamins and minerals.
- Chickens: While not a vegetable, you certainly can raise chickens in your garden area. You will need to take some infrastructure precautions to ensure they do not eat your plants, but letting them free range in the area will keep your gardens largely bug free, and cut down or eliminate the need for separate feeding.
- Beans: An important source of vegetarian protein, beans and other legumes also provide ample fiber and a robust dose of antioxidants. Even if you are growing chickens or other livestock for meat, beans will be a vital source of supplemental off-season protein.
Carbohydrates are forms of sugars that occur in starchy or fibrous foods. They are an energy source and are broken down and metabolized into either long-term or short-term energy.
- Potatoes: Potatoes are a fantastic and long-storing carbohydrate. It is an easily grown root vegetable that stores well and can be used in countless ways. A smart planting of potato slips can contribute hundreds of pounds of potatoes for your stores.
- Corn: A relatively fast-growing cereal grain, corn is very versatile and can be used and stored in many ways. With minimal processing, it can also be converted to feed, flour, alcohol and fuel.
- Beans: You thought we ran through all the benefits of beans? Nope! Beans will also fill a slot for complex cards, giving you a source for the long term, all-day energy you are going to need to keep your homestead running.
- Squash: A plant that is incredibly nutritious and versatile, squash is another vegetable that can store easily, in its native state, for long periods. The meat is generally eaten roasted or steamed.
- Peas: Peas are a good source of starches, like potatoes, they are great thickeners. They are high in fiber, protein, and vitamins A, B6, C, and K.
Vitamins and Micronutrients
Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients help your body to function by providing essential components to support bodily processes.
- Chard: A leafy green that is great in salads, and adds a splash of color. A common ingredient in healthy diets, both the leaves and the stalks can be eaten.
- Spinach: A super healthy leafy green. Loaded with antioxidants and nutrients, and a great source of iron.
- Garlic: Closely related to onions, garlic is in the same family as leeks, shallots, and chives. Garlic is a long-standing favorite and is used to season cuisines the world over.
- Broccoli: The tiny trees that are the bane of every child’s dinner plate. One of the most versatile plants, can be eaten raw or cooked, and the leaves, stalk, and flowering head can all be eaten. Growing broccoli provides a great return on investment.
- Cauliflower: Another relative of the mustard plant, cauliflower often resembles cheese curd but has a texture that couldn’t be more different.
- Kale: A close relative of cabbage, kale is packed with nutrients and vitamins. Care should be exercised not to eat kale to an excess, however, as it contains a compound that can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis.
- Cabbage: Is a leafy green that gives a tremendous amount of leaves on each densely packed head. They can grow very large and can be stored for long periods and used as needed, like potatoes and other staples. A great source of vitamins K and C, along with significant dietary fiber.
You may want to consider adding a section in your garden to contain your medicinal plants. These are plants that can be used to treat common ailments like headaches, inflammation, and pain. Often made into teas, salves, or pastes. Common medicinal plants you may want to consider include:
- Calendula: known to be an antifungal, antiseptic, healer of wounds.
- Cilantro: Helps digestion, possibly linked to heavy metal removal from the body.
- Lemon Balm: Relaxing effects with possible antiviral properties.
- Peppermint: Helps with digestion if brewed in tea, and soothes aches when applied topically.
- Rosemary: Increases oxygen to the brain, a great alternative to caffeine.
- Mullein: Can help heal respiratory infections.
How much space do I need to grow it all in?
That is probably the best part about a survival garden–there is no one single way to do it that will be best. Do what is right for you and your circumstances. This means it is extremely easy to adapt this information to your needs. From tiny urban gardens to acres of country land, there is something for everyone.
Urban gardens are growing in popularity and are becoming more widely permitted. There is a push in many urban centers for green rooftops to reduce HVAC load and provide additional food for building residents.
Agriscaping is transforming common landscapes into productive agricultural spaces. This can look like neighborhood food forests or fruit and nut trees alongside the street in place of ornamentals. Many neighborhoods have begun creating spaces that function as both food forests and community gardening space.
All that said however, one of the early contributors to SCP Survival shared the following recommendation from her grandma who was a serious gardener at the turn of the century:
Grandma Carrie’s Rule of Thumb (how big does my garden need to be?)
Grandma Carrie grew and preserved everything that her family ate in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s short of wheat, sugar, salt and spices. Her garden was well over a quarter acre. And she had a rule of thumb – One quart per person, per day.
Since she was feeding ten people she would need to can 3,650 quarts of fruits and vegetables. Add to that the crops that went into the root cellar, some crops were dried and stored in burlap bags, milk and eggs were gathered year ‘round, animals were butchered as needed and the meat was stored in crocks.
To supply each member of the family with their “quart a day” you should plan approximately 1,000 to 2,500 square feet of garden space for each person. This amount depends on soil fertility, the crops you choose to grow, methods of cultivation, and the length of your growing season. Other food sources like fruit trees and livestock also play a huge part in the amount of vegetables you need.
A 2,000 square foot garden would be a 40 foot by 50 foot section of your property. This can be a pretty significant undertaking especially if you have no experience gardening. Crops such as squash and cucumbers require significantly more space than spinach, Swiss chard, carrots, onions and beets. Peas, tomatoes and some beans do best with a fence, cage or pole to grow UP on which decreases the square feet necessary.
Here are some rough estimates on space to yield for feeding four people for one year:
|Crop||Garden Space||Pounds||Canned or Frozen|
|Beans (green)||300 square feet||175||90 quarts|
|Beets||100 square feet||75||24 quarts|
|Broccoli||100 square feet||75||48 quarts|
|Cabbage||100 square feet||150||40 quarts|
|Carrots||100 square feet||120||30 quarts|
|Cauliflower||120 square feet||60||20 quarts|
|Corn||200 square feet||150||40 quarts|
|Cucumbers||24 square feet (3 X 8)||55||35 quarts|
|Onions||50 square feet||130||5 quarts dehydrated|
|Peas||200 square||110||20 quarts|
|Peppers||50 square feet||75||30 quarts|
|Potatoes||300 square feet||400 – 500||Store in cool, dry place|
|Squash||24 square feet (3 X8)||100||20 quarts|
|Swiss Chard or spinach||200 square feet||90||35 quarts|
|Tomatoes||150 square feet||500||200 quarts *|
*Estimate based on ½ whole and ½ sauce
This chart would be 2,018 square feet of growing space without any paths in between them. I have given the yield in quarts but to have a better idea if this would suit your family, you will probably want to consider pints (or twice as many jars half the size). For example, one pint of beets would probably be adequate for a meal for four people, a 100 foot row will yield around 48 pints which would provide enough beets for one meal a week for a year.
This chart provides 657 quarts plus potatoes, about half of Grandma Carrie’s rule of thumb.
What is the best location for my survival garden?
You will want to make sure you evaluate all possibilities before deciding where to put your garden. Make sure you consider the exposure to the sun, water, soil, and how easy it will be for you to access it as often as you will need to.
Most people think about the first few, but not everyone considers access. The last thing you want to do is put a big garden plot in what you think is a perfect place, only to have to lug all your gardening equipment or any tools you need, to a garden that is now quite inconvenient to get to.
When considering your garden’s placement, you will naturally have to consider the sun and water placement. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you will want to make sure your garden is south of your house, or far enough north of your house that it will not lie in its shadow. Use this same logic when plating. When possible plant so that the taller crops, like corn, on the north end of the garden bed, so that they do not cast a shadow over the other plants.
One of the principles of permaculture is the zones of use. The mindset being that you do not want to expend excess energy to get to things you use all the time, and things that are largely self-managing should be the farthest away. It also simplifies care and harvesting. The zones of use are:
- Zone 1 is the most visited area or areas. This zone will have things that either need daily attention or that you use daily. Examples of things to grow in zone 1 are seedlings, salad components, cooking herbs, or anything that needs daily water, like a lemon tree. Believe it or not, animals are ideally sited in Zone 1.
- Zone 2 are things that still need attention, but not specifically daily. If your particular setup allows for it, zone 2 is irrigated. Zone 2 is also mulched. Examples of zone 2 plants would be smaller fruiting trees and trellised fruit vines, bramble berries like blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. This is also the zone that contains windbreaks, ponds, and barrier hedges. Plants that are only harvested once or twice per season belong here like potatoes and corn.
- Zone 3 is semi-managed. An example of zone 3 plants would be large and mature fruit and nut trees. It is not mulched, nor visited on any regular basis.
- Zone 4 is a minimally managed area for foraging wild foods and growing timber.
- Zone 5 is completely and entirely unmanaged. All pure native plants and wildlife.
Keep in mind what you will eventually be planting, and be sure to plant companions together when possible. The main idea of companion planting is that you plant different crops together, they help sustain each other and ensure you have a strong and fruitful harvest.
Companions can be used for pest deterrents, balancing out nutrients, and attracting pollinators. For instance:
- Tomatoes work very well with beans, chives, and oregano, but not with corn, dill, and potatoes.
- If you want a successful cucumber and squash harvest, plant corn, beans, or radishes with them.
- If you have pine trees on your property, be careful not to place your garden where the shed needles fall, since they make the soil very acidic.
For more on companion planting, check out this comprehensive guide.
Knowing Your Soil is Crucial
The quality of your soil is the imperative. Much more needs to be done to prepare a garden space than simply digging up the lawn. “Friability”, or easy to crumble is normally the first obstacle to overcome. Grasses can grow in clay – or cracks in asphalt for that matter but vegetables need lose, crumbly, loamy soil. Amendments need to be made in the way of compost, perhaps sand and possibly nutrients to alter the pH level.
How do you intend to water your garden? Tomatoes for example, need to be soaked 6-8 inches deep every 5-10 days depending on the heat and amount of rain you have. If the grid is down, is your water down? If you are collecting water in a rain barrel, do you intend to drip irrigate or hand water? Is one barrel enough? Do you have all the materials on hand now?
Want Some Extra Credit? Here Are Some Gardening “Force Multipliers”
The following are tools or techniques used to be more effective at reaching your objective of producing enough food to survive. They help you get the most out of your garden by helping to create ideal conditions, one way or another, for your crops.
A greenhouse is one of the common things that people think of when picturing a large garden set up. A greenhouse is a large open building that is largely transparent or translucent, allowing in sunlight, but also sealed against the outside elements.
Utilizing a large amount of solar gain, greenhouses are able to trap solar energy in the form of heat, and can often be used to extend the growing season.
Greenhouses can be used to grow later into the year, in order to gain an extra harvest or two, and also to begin earlier each year, by providing a warm place to germinate seeds and give plants a head start before transplanting to the soil once the threat of frost has passed.
Cold frames use the same principles of trapping solar energy as greenhouses but on a much smaller scale. Cold frames are made from a wooden box similar to a raised bed, frequently angled toward the south. They will usually have a windowed lid, often made from an upcycled home window that is attached to the top with a hinge so that it can tilt open for easy access to the contents.
Cold frames are frequently used in the same manner as full-size greenhouses, to either continue growing past the fall frost dates or to gain an early start by germinating seeds and plant starts before they would normally be able to be put in the ground.
Row covers are also known as low tunnels. A crucial force multiplier for those who utilize planting rows for their crops, row covers can protect from freezing temperatures, wind, and pests.
They are essentially tiny hoop houses that run the length of the planting rows. They are very low to the ground and often only allow around 1-2 feet of clearance for the plants they cover, and as such are only suitable for very young plants or those that grow close to the ground like root vegetables and greens. They help keep the soil in the row warm for early season starts, and for late-season harvests.
Chickens or livestock
Introducing chickens or other small livestock to your survival garden can have several benefits. Not only will they create manure that will be essential to your composting and fertilizing capabilities, but they also can help reduce pests and insects.
People do not give chickens enough credit, they are amazing little omnivores. They eat just about any organic matter you allow them to, but they will also meet you halfway on the cleanup, tilling most of their waste directly into the soil. You do need to keep an eye on them, and make sure that they aren’t sick. If so, there are a handful of DIY chicken doctoring things you can do own your own.
Guinea fowl are another valuable addition, frequently eating so many nuisance insects like ticks, that they will not need any supplemental feeding. Using livestock in conjunction with a rotating pasture system will allow you to always have perfectly fertilized and productive soil ready for planting, while your livestock always has fresh ground to work.
Generating your own compost is an incredibly valuable process for anyone seeking to grow large amounts of high-quality produce.
Composting is the breaking down of common solid organic matter by aerobic bacteria. It is used to recycle organic material into nutrient-rich material called compost that is similar to humus. It is one of the best soil amendments and can be a valuable fertilizer for self-sustaining gardeners.
Similar to composting, the goal of vermicomposting is to create a nutrient dense growing medium from discarded organic materials. The basic process is the same, the organic matter that would normally be discarded is added to the compost pile, decomposed aerobically, and turned into a usable highly fertile soil material.
The difference is that in normal composting the main agent breaking down the matter is aerobic bacteria and other organisms, and with vermicomposting that process is accelerated through the use of earthworms to break down the material faster and more thoroughly than without.
One of the most valuable resources for gardeners, water, literally falls from the sky. With a little preparation and sweat equity, a rain catchment system can quickly and easily be implemented, allowing the storage of large quantities of water for later use.
Rainwater harvesting is often done with a minimum of special equipment, generally requiring little more than a roof, a gutter with a downspout, and a rain barrel or water tank. Provided measures are taken to discard the water contained in the “first flush” which will contain debris and contaminants that should be allowed to wash away before collection begins, rainwater can easily be made potable.
Earthworks and Landforms
A very effective method of large scale gardening and permaculture resource management is to create earthworks to help control water flow and erosion. These methods can include:
Ditches are essentially a trenched drainage device. Ditches are going to be fairly deep and narrow, allowing an easy way to direct high volumes of water that will also be fast-moving.
A ditch will often be used to prevent a surge of water volume from eroding other portions of the gardening or crop areas. For example, ditches may be utilized to funnel water runoff from a large rainstorm away from delicate beds of greens or herbs, and directed to a swale where it can be spread out over a larger area, slowed down, and allowing the water to settle and soak in.
Swales are large, open, gentle depressions that follow the contour of the land, allowing stormwater runoff a place to slow down and spread out over a larger area, eventually facilitating settling and absorption.
They are broad and shallow and are only slightly depressed when compared to the surrounding area. Swales are perfect for filtering runoff, immobilizing contaminants, pollutants, and particulates by allowing them to settle and be filtered by the surrounding soil.
Often thought of as the perfect companion to swales, the hugelkultur or more simply “hugel”, is a hill or a mound for growing, that is built on a foundation of a pile of felled trees or rotten wood. It is ultra-low maintenance and drought-resistant garden and earthworks feature that will produce a fertile mound of growing medium that only gets more productive over the years as the wood continues to rot and release nutrients into the soil around it.
While it takes a good bit of effort to physically construct the hugel, it will compound the benefits it offers over the years. For the first several years after its creation, the aerobic decomposition will have an exothermic effect on the soil, giving you a longer growing season.
In the years following that, the wood will begin to shrink and will create voids that allow a self tilling effect to take place. The rotting wood will also hold water like a sponge, retaining large amounts of water that are automatically released into the surrounding soil, combating dry conditions, and reducing or eliminating the need for separate irrigation.
The main thing to remember with hugels is to use wood in the core that will rot and decay. Do not use any rot-resistant or allelopathic woods like cedar, black walnut, l7 or black locust. They will not rot, and will actually inhibit microbial growth, significantly reducing the desirable effects produced by the decomposition.
Preservation and Long Term Storage
While the short term goal with your garden is to feed yourself and your family, the long-term goal is to have a decent stockpile of survival foods. There are many methods that you can utilize that will allow you to save your harvest and to feed your family over a tough winter or in an emergency.
One of the oldest long-term storage methods, root cellars work to preserve and store food by using the cool dampness of being underground to their advantage. Root cellars are nice and cool, but still above 32°. They are also humid which allows vegetables to retain their moisture and preventing them from turning rubbery. In addition to root vegetables, cellars are great for storing nuts, seeds, and even some fruits and vegetables.
Canning is a great way to save meats, stews, veggies, and jams for later use. With canning, you use mason jars to store and preserve your foods and either pressure or hot water method to seal them. The lids of the jar have a wax ring that seals to the rim of the jar. If left in a cool, dark place, home-canned items can be stored for a year or more.
Dehydration is a fantastic way to preserve your favorite fruits, vegetables, and even herbs and meats! Some items you will want to eat in the dried form such as apple chips, others you may want to rehydrate by soaking in hot water or adding to soups and stews.
While most seeds you won’t be eating, saving your seeds is an easy way to get a jump on your garden for next year. Saving the seeds from fruits and vegetables that you grew this year allows you to cut down on your gardening costs in the future. Heirloom seed preservation is also important for genetic diversity and can be traded and sold.
There are many articles out there inferring that preppers should buy seeds packaged for long term storage so that when the shit hits the fan they can dig up part of the lawn and grow their own food. This is a woefullly misguided notion. Remember, the time to start learning is not when you are hungry.
Once you have taken all the factors into consideration and chosen a location, it is time to plan out your garden. Make a sketch on some graph paper of your garden, and get that seed catalog handy. If you need help planning it, the Farmers Almanac has a very easy to use garden planner.
Once your garden is prepared, your layout is decided, and your seeds have arrived, you probably want to get planting, but you might be wondering when is the best time to start. The good news is, every season has things that can be planted, whether you are in spring, summer, or fall, there are plants that should be going in the ground to get ready for the upcoming growing season.
You might think that because you weren’t ready until late August, you may have missed the summer season. And you would be right! But that’s alright, late-season brassicas do well, and fall is the perfect time to get some garlic and onions in the ground. The same goes for spring and summer, there is always something that needs to get in the ground soon in order to be ready for the upcoming season.
Winter is the perfect time of year to solidify next year’s garden plan. It is time to inventory the pantry to evaluate the most popular crops and adjust the garden space allotments accordingly. Heirloom seeds are inventoried, new seeds are ordered and indoor starts are planted.
Need An Easy Way To Start? Try the 3 Sisters
If you are eager to get started with an easy garden, you may want to try out a small plot with a “3 sisters garden”. This is a method that has been used for thousands of years to grow multiple crops in one place simultaneously, and is a perfect example of function stacking and utilizing natural architecture. This layout can also be adapted to nearly any type of garden.
You will plant beans (generally a pole bean), sweet corn, and squash. The rationale behind the companion plants here is that the corn provides a sturdy stalk for the beans to climb, while the squash leaves shade the soil, minimizes water loss, and prevents weeds, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil for the corn and the squash to excel.
I should have known you would have this down to an art form, Pam!
Unfortunately, we don’t have this kind of land available in our city place, but, oh, when we get to the BOL and can stay there long enough to keep the critters out of the garden.
I find that squash and cucumbers do very well climbing a “fence”; I just asked DH to cut some fencing we had and place a short row behind the area for growing both, which he (as always) gladly obliged, held in place by inexpensive metal fence posts. We do raised gardening only because of drainage issues and clay, so, these are built into the raised gardens. The stakes can be driven into the “holes” of the concrete blocks we use and the fencing strung across the tops of the concrete blocks to form the fence row. The squash and cukes climb right up and develop nicely on the fence. “Vertical gardening”, y’all!
I’ve been seeing some posts on growing tomatoes in “trenches”, and want to look more into that; those who do it swear it is the way to go.
As always, thought provoking, Pam. Thank you!
Pam, great article. We sat down a while a go with pen and paper and did the math on canning jars required for a group of 14 for one year. Wow! We are currently still buying jars. We have a storage container at our BOL we are filling with jars and other canning supplies.
Servantheart, what we did at the BOL is go on and till up an acre plot. Then we planted tomatoes, melons, and green beans just throw the seeds out. When we go up there we harvest what the wild animals haven’t eaten. Sometimes we get some stuff and sometimes we don’t. But if we had to bugout there is at least something already there.
LC, don’t forget those jars that salsa, sauerkraut and pickles come in. If the lid has a safety button on it that sucks down when it’s sealed, it can be used for steam or water bath canning. You have to keep the lid with the jar it came with. It’s not USDA recommended but I’ve done just a couple of things they don’t recommend ;-). I’m not suggesting you stop buying canning jars, just save the others in addition, just in case …
Yeah, “they” don’t recommend home canning butter, either. Good thing we don’t do that! But if we did, it would have a 5 year shelf life. Just sayin’….
That would be a good plan, LC, except…our acreage is all mountaintop, covered in trees, mostly hardwoods. Never been anybody on it and anything except deer, bear, bobcat, etc. They’re still up there. We will be terrace gardening, because of the topography of our land; we will also be building an earth berm house, but, we haven’t even started that yet. Just a TT set up with all the comforts, for now. Well, we only bought the land recently, so, baby steps…it’s all good! :I-Wish:
Servantheart, I love the way cucumbers and squash look when they vine on fences and the space it saves is amasing. I’ve even seen it done on apartment balconies so that it passes for a “house” plant.
I think LC has a real good point in working a spot at the BOL. Not that I would try planting anything yet but I would pick a spot and start throwing in amendments. You can pick up trash carpet from most any new carpet store – they haul it off when they install new stuff and will usually give it away. If you can find wool carpet, it’s the best because of the natural fibers instead of plastic. Just dump leaves and wood ash (and manure if it’s close and cheap) then cover it with the carpet. Every time you visit, add a little more. Worms love it and it will give you a head start if things go haywire before you have the terraces built. It doesn’t have to be a giant undertaking when other things are higher on the priority list.
Hmmm…I like it! Thanks, Pam!
And thanks, again, LC – for reminding me that it’s tune to kick it in high gear! Just tried to reach a contractor who was supposed to “call me back” about getting some work done – work we discussed a month ago. Well, I guess it’s a busy time of year, isn’t it?! Time to kick some tires and light some fires!
Hmmm, makes me think, yet again. I love your figures Pam and you are experienced. Any inexperienced person also has to realise that some years plants will over produce and other years under produce. The first year I grew tomatoes was a bumper year around our state. So we had lots and lots. The next year almost nothing from the same number of plants. One year the broccoli super produced, another year not.
One year we had a drought and the hand watering we were allowed to do just ran off the surface of our sand. Another year we had infestations of insects – well we always have them but one year was particularly bad. Wood lice wrapped themselves around the necks of small seedlings and killed them over night. Lost 3 lots of plants despite providing each one with a plastic protection collar – they just buried under it and up to have their nice snack. Aphids attacked everything green – hand killing them twice a day saved about half that crop. White ants buried into the beetroot ruining about half the crop before we discovered them. Portugese millipedes decimated my strawberries and everything that started to sweeten. Fruit fly got into the oranges and mandarins. The birds got 90% of the grapes as they started to ripen. And slugs and snails had a go at the rest.
Beer is too expensive here to use as slug bait, especially as the once I tried it I didn’t catch any that way. Perhaps they don’t like our beer here. And paying $8 for 10 oz of beer that they might not like is just too much for me. I go out at dawn and dusk to hand pick them.
However its still worth gardening despite the weather and animal life. Its just that newbies need to have years of practice if they think they can feed themselves out of the garden. One good producing year does not a gardener make. You are a gardener when you manage to produce despite drought, floods and insect depredations.
A sobering reminder of truth: you can do everything right in “farming”, and it can still go very wrong, very quickly. Always have a “Plan B”. Good reminder, Harriet.
Harriet, I meant to ask you, “why is beer so expensive in your neck of the woods?”. Just wondering…I don’t drink the stuff, but I sure would miss my beer traps…and I wouldn’t spend $8 bucks a can to kill snails and slugs, either!
Government tax pushes the cost of beer up to stratospheric heights. In this country we tend to drink wine which we can get for as little as $3 a bottle though $5 wine is more drinkable and some $12 particularly good.
Oh, o.k. Next thought: do you think your gooberment was “surprised” by the effect the taxes had on beer? No, I don’t think they were; I think they already knew the result. So, who, then, benefited from such a law? You can always trace the root through the money trail.
“The love of money is the root of all evil”. 1 Tim. 6:10
Rourke, I confess – I had to look up Moscato!
We’ve had those same challenges. I often end up with 2 years worth of one crop or another while something else produces just enough for fresh eating. Fortunately, the bumper crop years usually cover the pitiful production years.
Vinegar does a job on aphids and wood ash stops a lot of crawly and slithering enemies. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do.
Uhmmm…Pam? Does not vinegar kill plants? Or any growing things? I use it to kill poison ivy, straight from the bottle.
We had a really bad case of aphids in the roses and I used apple cider vinegar, diluted half and half with water and it worked great. I also used it, diluted about 1/4 vinegar to 3/4 water on spider mites in house plants. I never tried full strength vinegar before, maybe I’ll give it a shot on some weeds just to see.
Hey, all! Received these feed today on gardening, and it just seems to go along with Pam’s sage advice; for those of you who have battled the water monsters in gardening, perhaps this will make you feel that “you are not alone”! The pretty picture gives me hope…
“Gardening is Always About Next Year”
Beautiful picture, beautiful website. Thanks for sharing!
HomeGrown.org posts a good (and FREE! There’s my favorite 4-letter word, again!) piece on companion planting, as well as companion planting for critter control. And to think I bought a book! :Daze:
I hope this link works for you:
I bookmarked this site. Terrific reference. Thanks again!
Servant heart -you are amazing with the web sites you share-thanks !!
I will check out this one also. I like having the book to check as every year I need to refresh my old memory and if the power goes out-ah a real book for ref !!! Arlene
Pam and Servantheart and everyone- this was a superb post !!
We have farmed organically for over 30 years and some years are very lean -no matter how hard one tries. Its imperative that folks plant some fruit trees and berry bushes a.s.a.p..
and prepare your soil this year for next year. Yes get your seeds now also.
We all don’t have the tools of yesteryear – horses and horse drawn equipment and hand pump wells etc. We bought some hand saws in case we cannot have fuel for chainsaws-but that is very tough work.(we will need the younger generation)
Have a combo of garden foods, canned, store bought, freeze dried . Our orchard was old so we planted some fruit trees a few years ago and a few are now bearing -smile !! We planted more last year and this year. May God bless us all as we journey along. Arlene
Hear that, Pam?! And from another Master Gardener! Good to hear from you, Arlene! Blessings, Sister!
Thank you for your kind words, Arlene.
You are a wise woman to have your food products combo, an obvious sign of experience.
We try to have 2-3 years of firewood put up every year but some years are so cold you use twice as much. The kids were really into the two man hand saw. What a work out! I vote for smaller trees. Last kid at home chops trees down with an axe – show off. I sure hope he’s around when we can’t get anymore bar oil.
Pam,I hope he stays to always help you !!! For years my husband split wood by hand now we love our mechanical ,which we
work as a team. Yes we used to not have enough wood now we make sure we have more …better to have it piled up and ready and seasoned. Yes u r right some winters are easier than others. Arlene
It may sound like a very silly suggestion, but if you are rehabbing an older orchard,it might well be worth a trip or two to ‘civilization” :) and look up a few BBQ restaurants or competition teams (that do not have the word ‘hickory’ in their names). Ask the owner/pitmaster “want to score some fruit wood?” (Apple, or whatever you need to remove and re-plant). They will very likely offer you 2-3x the going firewood price, and may even do the forestry work for you. You can go buy extra firewood if needed:)
Near me, there is a certain road in WV that has about 30 working orchards on it. In Spring pruning season, early mornings there can resemble a Mad Max movie scene with backyard BBQ cooks and some restaurant chefs scrambling to fill their pickup beds with bundles of apple wood trimmings before the trash trucks arrive :)
Lookatchu, Wyz! I ain’t Arlene, but, thassa good tip! :Woodstock:
WhYzARD= Wow what a great idea!!!! Thanks. I believe your neck of the woods has more call for barbeque than we do but its getting more popular up here. Apple wood smells great when it burns. Arlene
very welcome :)
Another thought about it: Unlike folks who want dry, seasoned firewood for heating, the BBQ folks (“stickburners” at least) prefer it green – they want flavorful, moist smoke, not pure heat. Assuming that you have more than a couple old apple trees that need removal, it can become a year-round income-stream. More likely to hear “I need 100 lb this weekend, and 200 in two weeks”, than “12 cords for the year”.
I’m still trying to figure out how to afford buying the trees only off a long-abandoned orchard (and development target) next to my local WalMart, and set up a “rent-a-chainsaw and cut your own” BBQ supply business :)
It’s also not only the big stuff that sells. If you or a neighbor, or the local trash company has a wood chipper, a kitchen-size trashbag of apple (or peach or cherry) chipped “mulch” can sell to a BBQ restaurant for somewhere between $20-$80, depending on your location.
What a wonderful visual/numeric breakdown of production. You may be able to cut down on the space for the potatoes if utilize potato tower techniques, which work great on a lot variety of potatoes … same goes with beans, cucumbers and other vining plants … but that is sort of a given.
Mike, you are so right about saving space by going vertical. We have a neighbor who plants potatoes in a vertical tower made from chicken wire and he fills it with straw. It’s amazing how many potatoes they get from this method. I have yet to perfect the watering, apparently, because it hasn’t been as productive for me. Do you have any resources you could share on this method?
I followed the plans here: http://tipnut.com/grow-potatoes/
So far it is working great. Of course, the final tally will be at the end of the season and counting the potatoes.
Hey, Mike! That’s a nice tip, and I was not previously aware of this site. Thank you so much.
Wow, a lot of great ideas shared here, but not much discussion on water. I suppose climate makes a big difference. How much do you water yours?
Re: watering in a tower, I’m not sure this will work as envisioned, because I haven’t had the time to build my ‘herb tower’ out of a a tomato cage yet this year. :(
I was planning on using a salvaged piece of 1.5″ in pvc pipe, with a cap on the bottom end, and a few lines of holes along the length (smaller holes at bottom, bigger as you go upward, to even out the flow rates) right up the center of the tower. Watering would entail filling up the pipe and letting it drain out into the potting mix. At worst, should be better than nothing :)
Another thought on plant towers: I was planning on putting mine in an area that gets a lot of direct sun all day, so I was planning on using a couple white kitchen trashbags perforated at bottom) vs black plastic sheet just to keep from turning it into a solar oven.
White bags makes sense. You can practically turn a bag of leaves into perfect soil over the summer in a black bag. So with your plant tower and pvc/drip system, how much water would each plant get? How often would you fill the pipe?
You could probably do a calculation on pipe/drip hole size and come up with an ideal plan. I was going to go with a “hillbilly wing-it and see” solution with stuff that got tossed in the dumpster when they rehabbed a neighbor’s house :)
Can’t wait to see what you come up with, Wyz.
DIY Natural posts a good piece on common tomato growing problems; thought you might want to take a look:
Solutions To Common Problems in Tomato Plants
The Ready Store (Ready Reserve Foods advertises here!) has a great post today that I’ll call, “Aquaponics 101”:
great aquaponics link, servantheart, thanks :)
If you haven’t seen this one yet, check out http://gardenpool.org/ – We don’t all have Arizona sunshine, or an abandoned in-ground swimming pool, but a great source of ideas, anyway :)
I got a happy surprise today, while checking for bugs – 3 tomato fruit starting already, and about 8 peppers :)
LOOKATCHU, Farmer Wyz! Way to go!