Gardening When It Counts – Part 2, by A.K.

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Garlic deserves a place in a survival garden. Both for it’s culinary attributes as well as medicinal qualities, garlic is a champ. Plant the largest nicest-looking cloves you can find, as you want your crop to have good genetics. After harvest, dry the crop carefully. Store the biggest heads of garlic in a separate place to replant for the next crop. Either soft neck or hard neck garlic will work. Hard neck garlic produces green scapes which need to be cut off; these can be used in cooking. Hard neck garlic is reputed to have better flavor than soft neck garlic. Soft neck garlic can be braided and will store longer. I honestly can’t tell the difference in terms of flavor and grow and enjoy both kinds. Note: Elephant garlic is not a true garlic. It is more closely related to leeks. It doesn’t have the same medicinal or storage qualities as traditional garlic. I don’t recommend it for a survival garden situation.

Onions are another champ in the garden. Their culinary impact on your meals is a real plus. You can harvest some onions fresh for immediate use. Reserve most for storage, for the non-growing season. Grow what are known as storage onions — not sweet onions such as Vidalia. Sweet onions are not meant for long-term storage.

What about greens? Nutrient rich and flavorful, greens such as kale, chard, and spinach are worthy of a space in a survival garden. They’re all easy to grow, can be harvested by the leaf (instead of pulling the whole plant) and will survive light frosts if covered. Spinach is finicky about hot weather and does better in cooler temps. Some varieties of spinach are better suited to warmer weather and others do well into light frosts. If your family isn’t used to eating these crops you’ll want to be sure to introduce them to these star veggies before a crisis situation. Lacinato kale is nicknamed “dinosaur kale” due to the appearance of the leaves which may induce kids to be willing to try it. I think it’s the most flavorful type of kale, as well. “Bright Lights” chard is colorful, flavorful and easy to grow.

Getting Cruciferous

Cruciferous vegetables are a valuable contender in your garden for their nutritional attributes as well as taste. Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse as well as a flavorful addition to meals. It is also pretty easy to grow. If possible, grow varieties that are noted for producing ample side-shoots so that after the main head is harvested you can continue to harvest smaller side-shoots for many weeks. This ups the amount of broccoli you can harvest from the same space and effort. Brussels sprouts are tasty, nutritious and last well into cool weather. They can also be stored under the proper conditions. Again, not everyone loves Brussels sprouts (I do). Make sure your family enjoys them before committing to growing them. I’d suggest sauteing them with garlic or using in a roasted veggie dish as two ways in which they are very enjoyable. Any cooking method which caramelizes them brings out their flavor.

Cabbage is another veggie worth growing, not just for use in coleslaw or stuffed cabbage but for long-term storage as sauerkraut.

Carrots are nutritionally valuable and also store well. Grow the ordinary well-known orange varieties such as Nantes and leave the cutesy baby carrots or odd-ball colors for times when it’s not so critical.

Beets are another nutritional powerhouse. Used fresh they can be roasted, made into soups, or eaten steamed or boiled. They will store under the proper conditions and be used into the off-season. Some enjoy beet greens (not me, I confess). I wouldn’t utilize too much of the planting for beet greens although when thinning is needed the seedlings removed can be used this way.

Corn Requires Space

If you have enough space and it grows well in your area sweet corn can be a valuable crop. Again, it takes up a fair amount of room, is a “heavy feeder” and can be finicky. The crop can be eaten fresh, frozen, dried or canned with a pressure canner. Watch the dates for the varieties you choose to be sure that they will produce in your area.

The only peas that I consider worthy of the space and effort to grow them would be sugar snaps. As an edible podded pea that can be eaten fresh, cooked, freezes well etc. I think they are well worth growing. Traditional peas in which the pod is discarded take up a lot of room to produce very little in terms of actual food.

If your family enjoys them and they grow well in your climate, sweet peppers and eggplants are tasty additions to your garden which will allow you to jazz up your menus. Asian eggplants produce fruit faster than traditional Italian varieties so in an area with a shorter growing season these can be more dependable. If growing peppers in a shorter growing season locale stick to the varieties that are known to produce quickly such as “King of the North”. For some, hot peppers are a must. Again, they require the requisite warmth to do well so should only be grown if your climate is hot enough and your family truly enjoys them.

Cucumbers are a delightful addition to summer salads. They also pickle well which will add to the variety of foods your family will enjoy in the non gardening season. They’re not high in terms of nutrients or calories but if space allows are worth growing. I’d suggest trellising them to get them off the ground preventing rot and disease as well as a space-saver. Pickling cuke varieties are recommended as they will do double duty in terms of quickly producing lots of small tasty cukes for salads as well as for pickling.

Green or yellow beans are also a good addition to your garden. They’re easy to grow, rarely have disease or pest problems, produce a bumper crop for fresh eating and can be pickled, dried, frozen or pressure canned for storage. I recommend the bush bean varieties. Go for a reliable old-time favorite such as “Provider”.

Growing the kinds of vegetables noted in this article would be a good start in terms of maximizing your garden space and effort. Many of them will allow for both fresh eating as well as storage crops for the off-season. Some can be processed into sauerkraut, pickles, dilly beans and the like.

Perhaps Other Veggies

What about other vegetables? You might notice that I left out a fair number that are commonly grown. Do they have a place in your garden? It depends. It depends on your space and time constraints. Lettuce can be worth growing if your family enjoys it in salads and you’ve got the space. I recommend growing loose leaf varieties in which you can harvest the outer leaves for use as needed while letting the plant continue to grow rather than harvesting the entire plant.

How about others such as radishes, scallions (green onions) Asian greens (Bok Choi, Tatsoi etc), summer squash, zucchini, etc? Growing any of these are to my mind dependent only on whether you have the space and the time needed. Some have the advantage of being fast growing but aren’t going to add much nutritionally. If your family truly enjoys them feel free to grow them. An advantage of summer squash or zucchini is that they grow quickly, produce heavily and can be used to bulk up meals. Combined with tomatoes, onions, eggplant and peppers they make a tasty cooked vegetable dish. I wouldn’t grow many of these but a couple of each could be useful if you’ve got the space. Be sure to harvest when the fruit is still on the smaller side and tender. They don’t store well nor do they freeze or can well so only grow what can be used fresh. It’s far better in my opinion to dedicate more space to winter squash which are nutritionally superior and store well than to grow more than a couple of summer squash/zuchinni plants.


So what are the major take-away points here? Concentrate on growing vegetables that produce well in your locale and that are nutritional powerhouses. Favor those that store well in the non gardening season and/or can be processed by pickling, canning etc. Grow varieties that have disease resistance for diseases found in your region. Watch the days to harvest; no point growing a crop that won’t adequately produce in your growing season. Grow what your family eats and enjoys. Learn how and when to harvest and proper techniques for storage.

Here’s to a successful gardening season!

JWR Adds: For further reading on this important topic, I highly recommend getting a copy of a book that is titled much like this article: Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times. This book was authored by Steve Solomon. It is now considered a standard reference for those who are interested in preparedness and self-sufficiency. Solomon’s book is part of the Mother Earth News Wiser Living book series.



  1. FYI here in NW VA, normally easy CRUCIFEROUS vegetables have started to need being sprayed with BT starting in early June and all thru the summer. Otherwise ‘cabbage worms’ will quickly turn them into lacework. Before June and after September the BT is usually not needed.

    1. BT is a soil bacteria, has anyone tested to see if it is recoverable from sediment after treatment of puddles, etc?

      I really need to research more and cultivate my own, if it’s possible.

  2. Decades ago my Dad fought against cut worms when planting tomatoes by taking newspaper and wrapping it around the stem a couple inches ABOVE ground and a bit BELOW ground. Worked well. The crows could be a nuisance when he planted rows of eating corn. Just as they came up, they would walk along pulling them up and eating the seed. He even coated the seeds with tar, did NOT work. They still pulled them up and left them. So he just planted MANY rows, and that is how we ate corn almost daily, froze some, gave some away, and sold at little road side stand. He always grew a LOT more vegetables than 7 people could eat and put in the freezer. The 1805 house had a cold cellar, and I remember well pulling the sprouting eyes off the potatoes sitting in the large bin, in winter. He also “grew” 5 healthy “field hands” – 3 boys, 2 girls! We learned about “hard work” at the feet of a “master”, and my Mom worked just as hard, freezing, canning, cooking 3 meals a day. I did not realize 70 years ago how lucky I was.

    1. I love this comment. Younger preppers would do well to realize the storehouse of knowledge available from those of us in our senior years. We grew up at the feet of people to whom electricity and indoor plumbing were a novelty, who listened for the sound of the ice man’s wagon, and who saved bacon grease in a can on the stove! They lived in a world much like what we may be headed for, and their knowledge, experience, and skill set still echo in our families.

    2. Exactly, HI. My grandparents went through the Depression on this middle Tennessee farm. I was a college kid in the 1970’s when I asked them about it. My grandad said “we didn’t know there was a Depression”. They had their large garden, pigs, chickens, cows. Therefore had milk, butter, beef, pork, eggs, vegetables, corn, molasses, etc. The luxury for grandmother was when she could finally buy pre-baked loaves of bread, since that saved her a lot of time in a perpetually warm kitchen (wood cook stove). Lots of great memories of them, this land, and the heritage of freedom associated with it. This year one century of family on this place, but my son, a physician in Colorado and fairly liberal, has no interest in it.

  3. You really need to also grow grains — wheat, corn, wild rice, etc. Grains plus beans are the essential, vital foods. But there ain’t no free lunch — grains are high value but really consume the fertilizer.

    Plus Potatoes are good for carbs (energy). You also need a source of fats — vegetable oils like olive oil, nuts,etc.

    Carol Deppe’s book “The Resilient Gardener” is also good.

  4. A good way to save the yellow summer squash, as well as zucchini squash, is to pickle them. I add baby green beans and very thinly sliced carrots as well as diced onions to the mix. It is very colorful and delicious. I use a bread and butter sweet brine.

  5. An alternative to spraying your brassicas (cruciferous) is to cover them with floating crop cover. I make mini-hoops out of pvc conduit and drape the crop cover over and secure with bricks or clamps. It lets air, water, and sun in while keeping the egg laying moths out. This is a must for organic growing. DE is also a must.

    1. Never thought of that. Brings up a weird thing I’ve been noticing. There are so few natural pollinators here that in a way, I WELCOMED seeing the cabbage moths around, apparently pollinating hot peppers and perhaps other things.

  6. The book referenced by JWR, Gardening When it Counts; Growing Food in Hard Times, is packed with relevant information and can be read and studied even before you are living on your homestead property.

    Before I moved to the redoubt I had my bug-out bags all packed with essentials including thousands of heirloom vegetable and grain seed. Check that off the list, got the long term food part covered. Boy, was I ever naive. Once I moved up north and got my first year’s crops in the ground, I realized how utterly clueless I was. Next winter I took a four month Master Gardener class to supplement my knowledge base. That spring, I realized how clueless I still was. It takes years to learn it all, and many failures along the way, failures that could mean disaster in hard times. If you can’t grow your own food you become dependent on others, and vulnerable.

    Here are a few things I now know:
    ** Plant at least two varieties of each desired food. Finicky weather patterns and pests that show up out of nowhere may decimate one variety yet leave the other untouched.
    ** “Days to harvest” printed on seed packets doesn’t necessarily apply in higher altitudes and higher latitudes. The reason is that temperatures drop to 50 degrees at night which essentially stops plant growth at night; the plants have to warm up to start growing each day which means you need more time than “days to harvest” declared on the packet. Season extenders in the form of row covers and growing hoops make a huge difference in the cooler climes. Even if daytime temperatures are in the 90’s all summer, you must factor in the nighttime temperatures as well.
    ** Local farmers and gardeners are your lifeline. They tend to be not too communicative, but if you can befriend one of the local experts and gently pry the information out of them, they can be the most effective medicine against failure. They know about local soils, sources of composted manure, what varieties do well in the climate, when to plant what, how to start seed indoors, and a hundred other things you never thought to ask about. These are all things that you would have to learn by failures, so cultivate your local experts. You can find them at the farmer’s market.
    ** Good soil is the basis of a good garden. Good soil is precious and rare. This aspect of gardening cannot be overstated.

  7. If possible start now building up your condiment storage items, think ketchup, dill pickles, mustard, strawberry jam, hot sauce, instant hot chocolate mix-, instant coffee-once the poo storm starts those beans potatoes and spam are going to be mighty bland without something to zing them up. Over Labor Day I plan to add more condiments while they are on sale. This will tide you over until you can produce your own home versions a year or two down the road.

  8. My small novice garden in NW Montana is test bed to see what will grow best in my soil using frost tolerant open pollinated (OP) only varieties. Hybrids would produce more, but long term they will not produce at all, so scaling the garden up, and planting only be best producing OP is a strategy for sustainability. Hold hybrid seeds in reserve.

    Potatoes are easy, Yukon Gold is the best of four types tried. Giant Swiss Chard is the clear winner for leafy greens, and Bright Lights does well too. Planted densely, one can graze daily on a small patch about 3′ x 5′. Kale is much slower. OP Giant Spinach was the best early in the season, but bolted early. Turnips easily out did beets. And as a substitute for potatoes, rutabaga is going strong. Diversify trying different varieties as well as different soil types, finds the hardest. I need ‘stupid easy’ to grow in cold weather only. Will see how far these plants will do going into this winter as well.

    There is more to report. There is much to learn from even a small garden.

  9. Its already been mentioned but I have slicing my zucchini into wheels and pickling them for 20 years. Mostly as dills. One slice covers a hamburger bun or slice of bread. Never fails to be a big hit at Bar-B-Ques and Church picnics. If chopped up you can make one heck of a sweet relish!

  10. I’m curious for your opinion, fellow readers.

    For years I have read authors in many venues refer to people “growing” vegetables. Now, I’m of the opinion that I plant, tend, water, and harvest vegetables.

    The growing is done by an unseen hand, a divine hand. A process that we unthinkingly take credit for.

    Am I being too fussy? Or, is there something here regarding humility?

    Carry on

  11. We enjoyed this two-part, thoughtful article. Great advice from a knowledgeable source. Over the years we have experimented with many varieties, lured in by the yellow tomatoes, purple carrots & odd foreign fruits. Our experience is that most of those do not work in our growing zone (which is conveniently not on the seed packet of the biggest company hocking this stuff through You Tube homestead channels). For all future years we will mainly be growing tried & true, loved varieties in our garden, still leaving room for one or two well-researched trial varieties. For example, this year we tried a new-to-us heirloom tomato called German Johnson – it has beaten our beloved Brandywine in production and blind taste tests so it’s a keeper.

  12. The major overlooked item is the growing medium;soil,hydroponic,etc. If growing in local soil;ph,clay,sand,nutrients,humus. Few places have really good soil, most soil needs to be improved for the intended crop. Don’t forget the soil microbes that make dramatic differences to the gardens yield.

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