Surviving EMP: Suburban Circle Garden- Part 1, by Northwest Native Elder

Being descendants of Native Americans and Swiss/German immigrants, my family has survived and thrived off our land for generations. We hunt and gather an abundance of local food– venison, salmon, elk, smelt , crab, clams, acorns, huckleberries, and seaweed– from the Redwood Forests, Wild Rivers, and Mighty Pacific Ocean, and we cultivate our “civilized” gardens and orchards, grown in the manner brought by our European ancestors. Having the best of both worlds so to speak, we have never really experienced a lack of food in our area. The art of gathering, growing, and preserving food for winter has always been the top priority for us. Preparing for disasters has also been a full-time job around our home, and believe me where I live in the Pacific Northwest there are plenty of disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, wildfires, drought, economic collapse, foreign invasion, and/or EMP to prepare for. While all these can strike quickly with little or no warning, only the EMP can cause major world-wide or national damage to civilization as we know it. Unlike a regional disaster, this will effect a large area with no one really left to help you because of a major societal collapse. If you are lucky enough not to be radiated by a nuclear meltdown or freeze in the winter, you will still want to eat at least a few times a week. In pockets here and there across our great nation, there will be hundreds of thousands of people (perhaps millions) that will be living in the quiet desperation of starvation. Any food at all will be like gold. I often think, “What if it was just me, a woman alone? How would I do it? How could ANYONE do it? What if I only had a handful of seeds and a few hand tools? What would I need to have on hand to make it as easy as possible, or just possible, period?” Let’s not be sexist; many men will be in the same position. I hope to help a portion of these people by teaching non-gardeners how to start a garden, even if all they have is your basic suburban back yard with a lawn that has never had the soil turned over.

Growing your own food is a skill that takes practice, practice, practice. We have heard this mantra so many times. For those of us who love to garden, this is no chore. We “practice” like it’s play rather than work. However, for the majority of people the “practice” will only begin after having the nerve to start. I am a gardener with over 40 years experience, but when faced with an article that rambles on in extreme depth of information, my eyes glaze over. I can’t imagine someone who cares very little about gardening being able to even get through the first couple of paragraphs! How can we encourage people to start if the information is so overwhelming?

I would like to share the Circle Garden, which is a simple low-cost garden plan that can be started and successfully completed either today or at worst after a catastrophic event by the inexperienced gardener (IF your gardening tools are purchased NOW and seeds are bought and kept fresh YEARLY). The plants selected are easy to grow, long keepers, and high in nutrition and flavor with low maintenance. With enough plantings, you will have extra to share or trade, and although you may still have some crop failure from lack of experience, for the most part you will have some food and some seeds for next year, and some is certainly better than none!

I am going to say right now that you need to modify your store plans from three months to a year, where you are right now, so stock up on nonperishable food!!

Food that you have stocked up on will eventually run out and you will become fully dependent upon the food you and your neighbors can grow. Although my family lives on an acre of property with a well established garden with fruit trees and hundreds of acres of farm land around us, I know most of the population is not as well placed as us and furthermore may not even have a basic understanding or desire to garden. Most of us will have shelter (unless you are driven out by nuclear meltdown or gangs), but having food and the water required to grow/raise it will be a different story for all of us. Hopefully, if an EMP happens, it will be at the beginning of the growing season, allowing for maybe three months before you can start to harvest. As the realization of the magnitude of what has happened, emotions will be running high. I would hope you will have a means of self defense for yourself, your family, and your food source. Remember there is safety in numbers. Get your neighbors on board with this simple plan. The more neighbors around you that have food, the more you will be protected. As you start your garden, you may feel overwhelmed by everything that is going on around you. It’s okay to dig and cry. I’ve done it many times for reasons much less devastating than what will be happening to you during an EMP event. Always remember our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has said, “I am always with you even until the end of the earth. I will never leave you or forsake you.” So let’s get busy!

Step 1: Go shopping!

The following list contains those items that you must have for this bare-boned gardening operation. Like-minded neighbors could share the cost and usage of the tools but would need to buy their own buckets and garbage cans.

Seeds: You will need at least two packages of the following seeds:

  • Tomato,
  • Squash,
  • Carrot,
  • Onion,
  • Cabbage, and
  • whole Garlic.

    These must be all non-hybrid (heirloom) seeds, which means they will produce seed that you can plant and have the same crop the following year. Hybrids may or may not be true to what you plant. For example, hybrid carrots may have been cross bred with turnips. This means the seeds may produce turnips, carrots, or a mixture of the two; at worst, the seeds may produce nothing at all. Nothing is stopping you from purchasing more seed than this but money. Another reason to bring your friends and neighbors on board is bulk purchasing. Walmart sells cans of “Non-Hybrid Survival Seeds” by the can for less than $25 and includes over 8000 seeds. Keep seeds in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight until needed. You may certainly start your garden before a disaster strikes, and it is always preferable to practice. Just be sure to always keep your seeds and equipment fully stocked.


  • Shovel: the best you can afford, because it will be doing a lot of work!
  • Garden claw: to break up hard, packed soil. It does the same type of ground tilling work as a rototiller but using no gas or electric power. These are indispensable for breaking up the hard packed soil of a suburban backyard.
  • Flexrake Hula Ho: These can be purchased on Amazon or Walmart. They come in different lengths, and depending on your height you should pick the size that is most comfortable for you. Weeding is a most time-consuming chore and hard work. The Hula hoe can blast through the weeding in a fraction of the time it takes with other methods and is not back breaking. These are indispensable for weeding a large garden! Make sure you are using it correctly and not upside down.
  • Ten 5-Gallon Buckets: Food grade buckets can be purchased at any hardware or Walmart type store for a few dollars a piece on sale. These will be used for the following purposes:
    1. Manure tea to fertilize your crops.
    2. Water (individual bucket and cup watering of plants reduces weeds and encourages a one-on-one relationship with your plants which will keep you aware of any pest and/or disease problems.) You will need two for watering, so you can carry an even amount of water in each hand to balance yourself. You don’t have to fill them up to the top the first few times around. Slowly each day add more water, and soon you will have the muscles to carry full buckets. My 85-year-old aunt waters hundreds of her tomato plants this way, and if she can do it, so can you!
    3. Carrot root cellar storage, only without the root cellar.
    4. Making sauerkraut
  • Large Plastic Garbage Can(s): for rain barrel on down spouts of roof. You may buy as many as you have down spouts and can afford. Roof water off composition shingle roofs is probably not the best water for drinking, but it’s fine for watering a garden. It may also be your only source for water if municipal services are not available.
  • String or twine: (In a pinch you can use shoestrings, belts, or even tied together plastic bags or an actual measuring tape.) This will be used to measure your garden circles so you know where to dig. This is not something that has to be exact.
  • Small Wagon or Wheel Barrow: To use for hauling buckets of water and gathered materials to bring home and so forth.
  • Salt: For canning or pickling and for making sauerkraut. (If you are lucky enough to have some meat with excess left over, you can also use this for a salt rub on strips of meat to hang to dry for jerky.)

Step 2: Secure a Water and Soil Source

If you still have running water after the disaster strikes, store as much as you can. Ancillary generator pumps may be working for a while. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS! Fill bathtubs, kiddie pools, and any and all empty containers you may have. Later, you may be forced to gather water from outside areas to get water to your home. These areas might include ponds, streams, rivers, and irrigation ditches. Your large plastic garbage can can serve as a rain barrel or you can also fill it up with your 5-gallon buckets. A small wagon or wheel barrow will be very useful to haul the water-filled buckets back home. Your plants can get by on an amazingly small amount of water, if you hand water. This means applying the water directly from a container to the bottom of the plant. Next, you need to have soil to work with. When you get right down to it, we are basically all made of dirt (well, carbon, but it’s from the earth). To survive in this world, you need food grown from dirt. So, first and foremost, if you don’t have any dirt, now is the time to acquire some. If you currently live in a situation, such as an apartment/condo/motel or any place without a stitch of soil, consider moving, or if that is impossible then join together with like-minded people for a community garden. City, county, or state parks, churches, and fraternal organizations are places to start. If you are like a lot of Americans, you have a small back yard to work with. That yard must be totally given over to food production. You may ask, “When can I start working the ground to prepare my garden?” This link gives information for planting for each state. You must use some common sense here though. if your area in still freezing cold or raining so hard that everything is muddy, it’s probably not the right time to start. Once you have water and soil, you must choose a sunny location within your yard with at least 8-10 hours of sun a day. Without proper sunlight you might as well not bother to plant anything except maybe lettuce, and that won’t see you through a long cold winter. Southern exposure is the preferable spot.