With feelings of food insecurity on the rise, starting a survival garden may have crossed your mind more than once. Even though we usually have enough food being produced and sold every day, the current crisis has reminded most of us of the possibility that shelves at the local grocery store may one day be empty.
With many countries in quarantine and practicing social distancing for the foreseeable future, it’s a perfect time to become a little more self-sufficient and plant a vegetable garden that feeds you and your family. (It is springtime after all!)
Starting a garden can be a wonderful way to get the family outdoors more often, and can give you the peace of mind of knowing where your next meal is coming from.
Starting a Survival Garden
With all the chaos playing out in the world, it can be hard to know where to start. In this article, I will list some easy plants to begin with, as well as some basic information that will help you get your garden going!
There are a few simple things to keep in mind when starting a brand new garden. For example, you have the option of starting with seeds that you will germinate or buying seedlings and mature plants from your local nursery. And then you will want to think about other factors such as budget, space, and sunlight available to you.
Make sure you buy non-GMO seeds so you can save the seeds for extra food security!
Will you need a greenhouse (for colder climates), or will you be planting directly into the ground? How much time would you like to spend maintaining your garden every week? Take note of these while you are planning your survival garden.
One thing to pay attention to is which climate zone you live in, as this can dictate what time of year you want to start certain plants in your garden. The good news is that this is as easy as looking up where your area falls on a Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
Now that you’re thinking about these components, let’s look at the best plants to start with in your survival garden.
Best Survival Garden Plants to Start With
Herbs are a great way to start a survival garden because they are relatively easy to grow and they are very useful. Not only will they be a great addition to your cooking, but herbs generally have good health benefits as well. You can eat them fresh or you can dry them to make a healthy tea for later in the season!
Thyme is a great tasting herb that adores full sun and is very easy to grow. Thyme is also mildly antiviral which can prove useful in a survival garden. Mostly hardy from zones 5-10.
Rosemary is another sun-loving plant that is easy to grow, tastes great, and adds health benefits to every plate.
It does prefer to be planted in the ground once it reaches a certain size, and if left to its own devices it will become a fragrant bush that attracts bees to its beautiful flowers. Rosemary is usually only hardy in zones 8+ as it does not like the cold, but can be kept in a pot indoors where it gets ample sun if you live in colder climates.
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- Produces lovely blue flowers in the summer. Great gift idea! Perennial plant.
- Grows well in Zones 6-11 Evergreen. Grown organic - non-GMO
- Grows to 3-4 feet tall x 3 feet wide. Use in containers, garden , or vegetable garden.
Mint is one of my favorite herbs to keep in my garden because it smells great, tastes great, and it grows like a weed.
Many gardeners have horror stories of one mint plant taking over their whole yard, so I would use a pot to cultivate this one. Mint is a runner, meaning that it spreads across the ground rather than growing upward, so a long pot with good drainage would be best.
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There are many different varieties of mint including peppermint, spearmint, and chocolate mint so you can pick whichever one smells best to you. You can use your mint to flavor drinks (even your water), and make teas to cure a bellyache or headache. Hardy from zones 4-9.Amazon product
Basil is an herbal favorite because it tastes good when added to almost anything! Add it to your smoothies or your pizza for a fresh and healthy taste.
Basil is usually grown as an annual (meaning it needs to be replanted every year) because it is finicky in both the hot heat of summer in some climates and the cold of winter in other climates. Hardy from zones 2-11.
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Leafy Greens and Grasses
We all need greens in our life. Greens such as kale and lettuce don’t take up a ton of space, though you may need to plant a few of them to get a high yield. What’s great about these greens is that they generally don’t take a long time to produce, so you’ll be able to plant 2-3 crops per season.
These plants do well with partial to full sun depending on how hot your climate is.
Kale is tasty and packs quite a few vitamins and minerals into its leaves. Generally, you can harvest a bundle of kale from 70-80 days after seeding. Hardy to zones 7-9.
Lettuce and all its varieties are a staple in most homes. Lettuce can be harvested in 70-100 days depending on the variety. Butterhead lettuce can be harvested whenever you think it’s ready, but Romaine and Crisphead will need more time. Hardy to zones 4-9.
Cilantro is an easy garnish to grow yourself as well. Cilantro has a quick harvest time, and can be used 3-4 weeks after sowing your seeds! But if you let the plant keep growing, it will become coriander – another great addition to your cooking.
Hardy from zones 3-8 for springtime planting and zones 9-11 for fall and winter planting.
Carrots are also a tasty addition to your survival garden. There are many varieties to choose from, but they are generally ready to harvest between 50-75 days. You can also eat the carrot tops and greens, which are full of vitamins and protein and may even aid in digestion! Hardy from zones 3-10.
5. Green Onions
Green onions are a delicious addition to your garden. They are a miraculous green that will keep on growing after you have picked them unless you pull them up from the roots.
I often find myself cutting a piece to snack on while I’m working in my garden, and of course, adding it to my homemade meals. Hardy in zones 3-11.
Corn is a great way to grow your own type of grain. In a survival garden, having corn gives you the ability to dry the kernels and grind your own cornflour if needed. But in general, it is a great addition to the garden for the yummy corn that you’ll produce.
Generally, corn husks will be ready to harvest after 100 days when the husk silks turn brown. Hardy to zones 4-8.
To mill your own cornflour and other grains, I recommend getting a good quality mill, like this one:
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- Hopper capacity (wheat) approx. 1.23 lbs.
- Grindstone ø (corundum ceramic stones) -2.76 inches
- Recommended for 1-2 persons
Wheatgrass, which is not actually wheat, is the highly nutritious grass that is commonly added to smoothies and health drinks. It is fast-growing and can be grown very easily in compact bins inside.
What I love most is that this grass can be used to cheaply feed your livestock animals, such as rabbits, chickens, and goats if you’re ever in a tight spot.
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Gourds include a range of favorites like pumpkins, watermelon, and squash. These plants can grow to be very large and can be both vining or bushy. And what’s great about this group is that each squash or pumpkin you grow will usually have many viable seeds that you can then dry and use to plant your crop next season.
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Pumpkins are extremely easy to germinate when started from seed and will grow to be quite large plants. Different varieties will give different-sized pumpkins, which you can then use for baking, jack-o-lantern carving, and even as a tasty additive to your dog’s food! Hardy to zones 4-9, and they enjoy full sun and warm weather.
Squash varieties are some of my favorite vegetables to eat on a regular basis. Like pumpkins, these plants can grow to be quite large and need space to spread their roots and leaves, but they produce more often. You can grow both winter squash (tougher skin) and summer squash (tender skin) for more consistent harvests.
In general, squash does best in slightly warmer climates, such as zones 7-10.
Melons are just delightful and delicious plants to grow for yourself. Vining and bushy like their cousins, they have similar requirements when it comes to warmth and sun. Watermelon and cantaloupes may take quite a while to develop fruits, but the rewards are more than enough!
Melons are mostly hardy from zones 3-11.
Nightshades include some of the most commonly grown plants in both agriculture and survival gardens. And just like gourds, these will produce viable seeds that you can plant again next season.
Potatoes are a staple for many across the world, and very easy to grow as well. Simply let a potato from the store grow roots, plant it in some dirt, and water it regularly. Soon enough, you will see green leaves sprouting into the air. From then on, they grow very rapidly.
Another way is to buy seed potatoes, which will ensure you don’t introduce common potato diseases into your crop, such as Early Blight, Black Scurf and Pink Rot. You may find that, once you have these diseases, it’s impossible to get rid of.
Also, practice crop rotation with Nightshades, and don’t put all your Nightshades together in one area!
Once the leaves start to brown, you know it is almost time to harvest the potatoes in the ground. Hardy to zones 3-10.
Tomatoes are another favorite, and very easy to grow. They prefer full sun, and they vine quickly. It is advisable to place a tomato cage around the plant when it is small and let it trellis into the cage as the plant grows.
Prune back dead branches and stems as the plant grows – and it will grow quickly! Hardy to zones 5-8.
Peppers, no matter the variety, are easy to grow and will give a plentiful harvest throughout the growing season. What I love about peppers is that you can choose a variety based on your taste.
Legumes are great plants for growing plant-based protein in your survival garden. There are running, bush, and vining types of both peas and beans so you can choose your variety based on your space and your needs.
Beans include green beans, lima beans, pinto, and black beans, kidney beans, and many others.
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All of these varieties can be picked and eaten fresh or left to dry on the vine. Drying the beans helps to preserve them for later, and is often what is done with varieties like pinto and black beans. These plants are full of protein and essential fiber too!
Hardiness zones differ for each variety, but generally, beans do well in mild to warmer climates.
Peas include snow peas, sugar snap peas, and chickpeas. These are generally picked while still green on the vine rather than dried and can be eaten raw.
Many pea plants make for a great trellising addition to a garden as well and produce wonderful “fruits” that the whole family will love. Hardy mostly in zone 8.
If you’re like me, then no garden is complete without a tree or two. Not only will trees produce shade during the hot months, but they will often produce more fruit than you know what to do with.
Before choosing a fruit tree, make sure that you read up on whether that species is self-pollinating or not. If, like apple trees, it is not self-pollinating, then you may need to plant two of the same species in order to obtain a plentiful harvest.
1. Citrus Trees
Citrus-producing trees like orange, lemon, and lime are delicious and beautiful additions to your garden. These trees are inexpensive to buy from most nurseries, and they will produce bags and bags full of produce. You may even have enough to share with your neighbors!
These trees do well in warm climates with little to no frost, mostly in zones 8 – 11.
Avocados are another lively addition to a garden. Avocados themselves are abundant in essential fats and are delicious too! The downside with this plant is that you will have to wait a while before it actually produces fruits – about 10 years if you start it from a pit, and a few years if you buy one from a nursery.
But even so, having one in your survival garden ready to go would be a good idea. These trees do best in warmer climates, zones 8 – 11, but can be kept potted indoors in colder climates.
3. Plum trees
Plum trees are not self-pollinating and as such need to be planted with a companion plum tree so that bees can help with pollination.
This is a deciduous tree, meaning that it will lose its leaves in the winter and bloom with the prettiest flowers in the spring. These trees are hardier than the other two trees in cold weather, and of course, produce the most delectable fruit of all time. Hardy in zones 3-8.
Getting Started With Your Survival Garden
So now that you know where to start and what to start thinking about, it’s time to begin your very own survival garden! Take it slow, and learn what works for you in your space and your climate. It may be a good idea to start with just 3-6 plants and work your way up from there.
While you’re at it, experiment with starting plants from seed versus buying seedlings from a nursery and see what fits your budget and needs. At the end of the day, learning how to garden is an irreplaceable skill for you and your family and will give you peace of mind if the grocery store doesn’t have what you’re looking for in the future. Have fun and get outdoors!