Survive later by gardening now

There seems to be almost endless websites, books, lists, forums, etc. that focus on emergency preparedness and all of the areas that one should master to become “completely” prepared for disaster. When preparing to survive the end of the human race, there are some inherent problems with these resources; the first problem is that having a list won’t actually accomplish anything (action is required) and the second issue being that it is hard to master these areas, let alone gain familiarity and experience with all of them.

It is also difficult to maintain a balance in life when trying to live now, while also looking toward the future and the unknown things that may happen. I’d like to highlight the fact that we can only make our best guesses as to what may actually happen and that, because we don’t know what will or will not happen, it is best to start living now how we want to be living later. This is regardless of whether or not something terrible ever happens.

The three main reasons to design your life to be what you want it to be and start living that way now are:

  1. There can be a large learning curve associated with learning some skills and putting them into practice. You may even find that you just plain can’t do something. Finding that out now will afford you the opportunity to overcome, or at least make a plan to overcome, these challenges.
  1. When things are falling apart around you it is not the time to try to make something happen. Having the opportunity to put your own systems of support in place ahead of time facilitates a more seamless transition during your greatest time of need.
  1. Becoming self-sufficient (partially or completely) sets you up to survive difficult situations better than someone who is dependent upon the systems of support that everyone else is relying on. Especially when these support systems are strained or unavailable as the result of a disaster.

Bonus — Why would you want to live your life in a way that is not the way you want it to be?

As a result of the difficulties that can be associated with surviving challenges and disasters, the things you will need then, need to be designed and implemented now.

If you plan on providing your own food during difficult times, it is vital to start gardening now so that your skills will be sharp and food available when you need it. It’s also prudent to grow things now so that you know what will successfully grow and your time is not wasted later trying to grow something that isn’t going to work out.

Choosing What to Grow

The cardinal rule for me with gardening is to only grow what I, or my family, will eat. Growing things that we will not consume is just a waste of effort and space that could be used to grow something that we will eat. I suggest the same practice. If for some reason you have the space to grow food for others, stick to the basics unless there is a specific market for specialty crops in your area.

When looking at what you plan on growing, determine what USDA growing zone you are in so that you can properly identify what will successfully grow where you are located (pineapples don’t grow well in Alaska!).

Genetically-modified seeds and starts are garbage and should be avoided if possible. Using heirloom/open-pollinated seeds and starts will allow you to grow healthier foods, avoid negatively impacting your land and produce fruits and vegetables that can have their seeds saved for future planting.

Fruits and Vegetables

There are dozens and dozens of fruits and vegetables and each one of these has several different varieties to choose from. When looking at fruits and vegetables for the purpose of preparedness, consider those that last the longest when fresh and that can be preserved for the longest period of time.

I won’t delve into the quite-lengthy list of fruits and vegetables that can be grown, things like onions and potatoes can be kept well without refrigeration where there are things like strawberries that can be dehydrated outside for long-term storage.

To maximize your production within your space, evaluate fruits and vegetables based on space requirements and how that balances against the yield of your choices.


There are many fruits that grow on vines and the hops that are in beer grow on vines as well. Depending on your available space, adding some berry vines can be a way to expand your available options without requiring the space needed for trees.

Something to keep in mind with fruit vines is that some, like blackberries, can be invasive and ultimately choke out anything else that is growing around them. One specific advantage of growing berry vines is that they grow vertically and allow more food to be grown in a smaller footprint.

Some of the most popular fruit vines include raspberries, blackberries, grapes and climbing strawberries.

Fruit and Nut Trees

A key element to growing fruit and nut trees is the fact that they take a number of years to bear fruit and become reliably productive. As an example, depending on the variety of apple and size of the tree, it can take anywhere from three to eight years to productively bear fruit.

When planning to plant fruit and nut trees, always ensure that the proper spacing and planting instructions are adhered to. It is pretty easy to look at a three-foot tall stick and wonder, “how tall can one tree get anyway?” but without proper spacing and planting, your trees will not be as healthy and could potentially have significantly reduced production.

In addition to proper planting and spacing, many trees require at least one other tree to be planted with it so that the tree can be pollinated and produce fruit. Keep in mind that it is not always two trees of the same type. Some fruit and nut trees require another variety tree of the same type of fruit or nut to pollinate one another.

To ensure that your fruit and nuts are available when you need them most, plant them now so that they will be productive when that need arises. After all, three to eight years is a long time to wait for food when things go bad.


If you have livestock, would like to produce your own baked goods and cereals or both, growing grains will be a requirement. There are different varieties of grains and what you grow is a personal decision but look at the fact that, just like vegetables, there are grains that grow in different types of conditions and different seasons.

Not only are grains a necessity for a balanced diet and providing feed to livestock, they are easier to grow than many types of fruits and vegetables, you don’t need acres of land and there are not any special equipment requirements. Grains maintain their nutritional value when they are intact and should be stored as such to eliminate loss of nutritional value.

Of the many types of grains available, some of the most popular to be grown at home include wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats.

Gardening materials and tools for long-term preparedness

We are fortunate to have a great deal of technology available these days that can make food production significantly easier than what our ancestors were forced to endure. While these advantages are great, look at what the realities of growing food in a survival situation may entail. You may not have fuel for engines or electricity for tools, making it necessary to rely on basic, human powered tools. Keeping that in mind, here is a list of materials and tools to have on hand for gardening now, and in the future:

  • Fencing, posts and hardware for fencing (including materials to keep animals our of your food).
  • Fertilizer and soil amendments.
  • Open-pollinated/heirloom seeds for planting (some for now and more for later).
  • Garden hoses, watering cans, sprinklers and spray wands/nozzles.
  • Broadfork
  • Single Wheel Cultivator
  • Greenhouse or High Tunnel and Cold Frame
  • Gardening Plastic
  • Seed Spreader
  • Twine and Wire
  • Garden Stakes
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Buckets
  • Bird Netting
  • Machete
  • Shovels
  • Post Hole Digger
  • Shovels (Pointed, Square Nose and Hand)
  • Hatchet
  • Garden Hoe
  • Rake
  • Pruning Shears
  • Garden Gloves
  • Scythe
  • Hay Fork
  • Compost Barrel or Bin
  • Bow Saw
  • Tomato Cages
  • Files, Grinder or Sharpening Stone
  • Pick
  • Fence Post Driver

While this is a decent list, there are many things that I am sure that I missed. As the seasons change, an opportunity may present itself to buy these materials and tools at a reduced price. I placed emphasis on hand tools because of the post-disaster focus here. If you have modern power equipment, don’t forget extra parts and maintenance supplies needed to keep your equipment running in top shape.

Where to grow food

Even if you live in the smallest apartment, herbs can be grown on a table or windowsill. The more space you have, the more food you can grow.

Landscape design can play an integral part in producing the greatest amount of food. As an example of a more productive landscape, a fruit tree can be planted in place of a decorative tree. A small yard can make it difficult to garden but “flower beds” are not necessarily just for flowers. There are many things that can be grown in a flower bed like strawberries, tomatoes and carrots, to name a few. Create your space intentionally to maximize food production.

While not everyone has adequate space to grow much food at home, there are community garden spaces that are available in many urban areas. If such a space is not available, coordinate with local government and/or community organizations to see if a community garden is something that can be established. To be even more persuasive, ask neighbors and like-minded individuals to join you in pursuing community gardening space with local politicians and community organizations.

With limited space or to increase your space (while also extending the growing season), a greenhouse or high tunnel can provide an opportunity to grow more food vertically than what can be grown on the ground only.

Figuring it all out

I am a huge fan of YouTube University, where I can learn everything possible (even if it is not even real). All joking aside, there are some extremely valuable resources available to assist with learning what to grow and when to grow it, how to prepare and amend soil, naturally fight weeds and pests, how to plant and harvest, as well as how to prepare and preserve your harvest and the best part might be that they are actual videos that allow the viewer to see what is happening. I am a visual learner and while a picture may be worth 1,000 words, a video must be worth at least 10,000 words.

In addition to YouTube, you can learn more about gardening and food propagation from:

  • Local university extension offices
  • Community enrichment classes
  • Nurseries in your area
  • An experienced professional at the hardware store/lawn and garden center
  • Online courses
  • Family, friends and neighbors

When tackling new skills, don’t get overly frustrated when things don’t go perfectly the first time. That is why you want to spend the time to learn to garden now, and not after you find yourself in a desperate situation.

The bottom line is that there are some things that should not be put off any longer than they have to be. Gardening to produce your own food is something that should be tackled as soon as possible. In addition to the opportunity to save some money at the grocery store, gardening now will improve your skills, fine tune your techniques and determine the most effective and efficient methods so that you can survive later.

— Tom Miller

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Thomas Miller