Step 3: Buy the best of plants for surviving
I have listed the vegetables below that I have planted and that have proven successful for me. Also, I have ordered the following plants from 1-5 with #1 needing the most sun and #5 needing the least sun. They will all benefit from the most sunlight they can get, but tomatoes need full sun and heat. It is a short list but an important one. These are the plants that you, as an inexperienced gardener, will have the best chance at growing, storing, and surviving on. You may have to supplement your diet with animal protein of some kind, but remember “any food is better than no food”. When it is time to buy seeds, you may want to think about buying enough for your neighbors who surround you. This is inexpensive insurance to protect your own garden. If they plant their own garden then it is that much more food for everyone. If they do not want to grow food, then they will eventually have to steal from someone. Therefore, most will likely not be alive at harvest time anyway. (This is a time you may also want to study up on home/self protection.)
- Tomatoes: These are a basic ingredient for stews and an excellent source of vitamin C. We prefer the “Early Girl” variety because of its quick maturing time, abundance, and meatiness for canning. [Editor’s Note: This is a Monsanto-patented, non-GMO but hybrid seed.] You may not be progressed to the point of canning or have the supplies to do so, but a tutorial for the proper procedure can be found on this website. It is easy with the right equipment on hand. You may not want to waste valuable fuel canning, but remember that tomatoes can also be dehydrated. Simply slice and place on cookie sheets or another flat surface in a well ventilated warm area, free from dust, until dry. Store them in jars, plastic bags, paper bags, Tupperware, or anything to keep germs and animals out. Tomatoes like frequent, deep watering to their roots but want dry leaves, so keep the plants dry and ground moist.
- Winter Squash: I am recommending the “Sweet Meat” squash. We have found that it is an extremely long keeper and an excellent producer. It will easily take over a whole yard, but don’t let the prolific nature of the Sweet Meat deter you from planting it. Preppers with small yards will appreciate the fact that you can trim the runners back to any size you want. Squash prefers a wet/dry watering cycle with dryer ground towards the end of season. Avoid watering the leaves, as it is prone to mold/mildew. Harvest when the leaves are dying back and before the first frost.
- Garlic/onions: These are for seasoning of stews as well as eating fresh. Cooked onions and garlic add flavor to any meat you may be able to obtain. They will also keep you healthy and help avoid bland food burnout. Water them evenly, and let them dry out towards the end of the growing season. Harvest when the tops are dying down and brown. You may remove flower heads on garlic to increase bulb size. Next year’s garlic can be grown from garlic cloves. Let some onions go to seed for next year’s crop. Harvest in the fall and store in a cool dry place away from potatoes and squash; they will not keep as long if they are stored with these other vegetables.
- Cabbage: A word about cabbage pests– destroy all pretty white “butterflies” you see. They are cabbage moths, and they will lay eggs on your plants that will hatch into worms that will eat your cabbage. Hand pick any you see and squish them. If any of your plants look like they have been cut at the stem by the soil and literally look like they have been fallen by a lumberjack, cutworms are the culprits. Dig around by the stem and within an inch deep you will find a cutworm. Immediately destroy it. You can save yourself some grief by putting cutworm “collars” around the stem of the plant when the plants first come up. I make mine from the cardboard centers of toilet paper rolls, but you can fashion them from any pliable cardboard or plastic you have on hand. First, cut your toilet paper rolls in half so that you have two smaller rings. Then, cut the small rings lengthwise to enable you to wrap it around the stem and push it down into the soil about an inch. This will prevent the worms from gaining access to the tender young plants. There is no need to remove the collars; the plant will just push them out of the way as it grows. Slugs and snails may be a problem for you also if you live in a damp area, such as the Pacific Northwest. They can quickly destroy a garden, so keep an eye out for them. If you have a flashlight, look at night for them when they come out to eat. Laying boards or cardboard nearby your plants will encourage them to crawl under to escape the sunlight. Check underneath everyday, and collect the ones you find. If you are lucky enough to have snails like we have in the Northwest, they are edible. Fry them up with a little oil and garlic or steam them, if all you have is a pot and water. Also check underneath the leaves of mature plants, since they love to hide there also. Other pests include gophers, moles, rabbits, deer, et cetera. If you are in a fenced, suburban neighborhood, the larger animals may not be a problem for you; however, the smaller ones can dig their way in. If you have a bb gun or pellet gun, you can keep watch until one pops his head up and take aim. If you don’t have a gun suitable for this chore, you may have to be more creative with a trap or poison. Remember to water evenly to prevent splitting of the heads and harvest when heads are full and solid. You can eat your cabbage fresh; however, for survival purposes, it is best to turn it into sauerkraut with this recipe. Cabbage’s vitamin C absolutely soars when turned into sauerkraut, and the microbes in it will keep your insides working properly. You can store it for many months.
- Carrots: These are another vitamin-packed veggie that can be eaten raw, dehydrated, or stored in buckets of sand (my personal favorite method). The sand method of carrots storage is something we have been using for years and works amazingly well. We have crisp, sweet carrots up to and over a year old. If you live where an abundance of sand is available, you are lucky. It doesn’t matter whether it be beach or desert, as long as it doesn’t have any serious contaminants, like oil or gasoline. If you plan ahead, you can buy a couple of bags of sand from the hardware store. To use this sand storage method, when you harvest your carrots cut the tops off and rub the cut end in dirt to cover any cut area. Only keep carrots that are free from rot or rodent damage. When you have finished this chore, fill the bottom of one of your 5-gallon buckets with about an inch of sand and lay your carrots side by side (but not touching each other) until there is no more room on that layer. Cover the layer of carrots with sand, and repeat the process until you reach the top of the bucket, covering the last layer with sand. Place the lid on the bucket and store in a cool, dry place. You may use them at any time, but make sure they are always covered with sand. While growing carrots, be sure to evenly water them. They like moist soil but will crack if they are too dry followed by a large amount of water.
Step 4: Building your circle garden
All this being said, if you make it to the point of being in your back yard with a shovel in hand, we will now begin to garden as if our lives depended on it. Read the following in entirety before starting!
First Circle- Carrots
For the first and inner circle, pound a wood stake (or a kitchen knife, pencil, or anything you can push in the ground) in the spot of your yard that you would like to be the exact middle of your circle garden. Attach your string and measure out to where you can still reach the center stake. You will make the first circle this size for your carrots. This allows you to properly tend and weed them, and it protects the tender morsels of carrot tops from animals by being enclosed by the rest of the garden. Take your shovel and dig in a shovel’s depth around the perimeter of your circle, following the length of the string around until you have come back to where you started. Do this partial digging all over your circle, leaving the grass in place. If your grass is easy to remove, do so by hand. If your soil is hard packed, like many suburban yards, you will then get your garden claw and work the grass until it is loosened enough to remove. When finished with this step, you will have a circle of exposed dirt. Work the soil with the claw and shovel to make it loose to a depth of 12 inches, if you can. If not, six inches would be the bare minimum.
Your soil may need some additional nutrients, which you may or may not have on hand. If you don’t have any compost or fertilizer on hand, you may use your own feces and urine. [Editors note: As usual, SurvivalBlog will add a strong proviso here. In our opinion, the risks of this practice far outweigh any potential benefit. Please search the blog for “night soil” or “humanure” for more details.] This suggestion may be repulsive to many but watching a loved one die from lack of food from a crop failure or reduced yield is much more repulsive to me. Human waste fertilizer is used in many parts of the world quite successfully. You should avoid using human waste from anyone that is obviously ill. You will not have public sewer service anymore, so use one of your 5-gallon buckets for a toilet to collect waste. Urine may be used anytime, but human or animal feces will require a cooling off period, so it won’t “burn” your plants and kill them. Find an area of your yard that is far from everything else and use 1/3 manure with 2/3 of the grass you have scalped off to reveal the dirt for your garden circles. Just pile alternating thin layers of greens and “browns” until you end up with a compost heap that is one square yard and a bit taller than that. Mix the fertilizer into the soil and water until moist. Let sit and turn over for a few weeks. If this may not be something you want to do, consider getting a rabbit or two. They are prolific poopers that will eat garden scraps and can be used for meat as well. You will need a male and female of course, if you plan on having more. You may plant one packet of carrot seeds now. Spread the seeds evenly over the soil and cover with 1/4 inch of soil. If you live in a hot area, you can plant in the evening and each following day. Keep the soil moist. If the planted seeds dry out, you may lose them; so, moisture is VERY important. Carrot seeds may take up to three weeks to sprout, so be patient. When you do start to get carrots or weeds sprouting and you are not sure which is which, snip a little off and rub between your fingers. Carrot tops do smell like carrots. Remove the weeds of course but do not thin (removal of carrots that are too crowded to reach a mature size) until they are much larger. You may not have to thin at all, depending on how evenly your seed was sown. Carrots are biannual, meaning they only produce seed on the second year, so you will be leaving the middle six inches of your circle of carrots in place so that they will produce seeds the following year. The second package of seeds will be to plant next year in the same spot surrounding the seed carrots. The third year you will be using your own seed. Filling in this first circle of your garden may take you an hour, a day, or several days depending on your stamina. Work in the morning or evening if your Spring weather has extreme heat. Don’t be discouraged if this sounds complicated, just follow step-by-step and know that the rest of the veggies will be much easier
Second Circle- Cabbage
Measure out about three feet and dig out 12-inch diameter circles, spacing them about three feet apart. This will give you about twelve planting holes for your cabbage. Dig in the same manner as the carrot circle, using your shovel and garden claw. As you can now see, you are not tilling up your whole yard but leaving yard grass between. This is used for your walking paths, and the grass can be kept down by walking on it or clipping it in your spare time. If you are not spry enough to step over your cabbages to get to your carrots, just leave one cabbage circle undone for an entry in to your carrot circle. Build a dam/saucer of soil around your plants to keep the water from running off and away from your plant. Hand watering at the stem is the most efficient method of watering. You can also use newspaper or any paper to “mulch” by laying it flat over the soil around the bottom of your plants in order to help retain moisture.
Third Circle- Onions and Garlic
You will have to have viable garlic on hand to break up into cloves and onion seeds. Measure out from your cabbage plants about two feet, creating a new circle. This circle will be a solid ring. Half will be for garlic cloves and half for onion sets. (Onion sets are small onion plants that have been started indoors first. Onion seeds are hard to direct sow, and inside starting will be your best bet. If you have any crop failure, it will most likely be the onions; so don’t be discouraged. Garlic is super easy to grow and will provide you with the same seasoning flavor.) This circle of garlic and onions will help protect your cabbage and carrots from pests, as they do not like the strong flavor of them.
Fourth Circle- Tomatoes
Measure outward in the same fashion to a distance of two feet and plant your tomatoes in a circle around the last. This circle will be like the cabbage circle with individual spots for the tomato plants. Tomatoes will also need to be started from seed indoors, like onions. They are not as temperamental as onions, and you should have no difficulty growing them. Make sure they have plenty of sunlight while indoors on a sunny windowsill. Transplant outside when they have true leaves and the danger of frost is over. Bury them up to their “necks”, so to speak, as they will produce roots all along the stem. You can train them to climb up a support or just let them grow on the ground. The main concern is plenty of sunlight and heat.
Fifth Circle- Squash
Measure out at least four feet to plant your squash in the same circle manner as cabbage and tomatoes. Squash may be directly sown into the ground after the soil warms. Squash will be the plant that needs the most space but can be trained to go almost anywhere– up fences, down driveways, on porches. You get the picture; it GROWS! You can always trim it back, if it starts to invade your other vegetables and probably will have to. As you get to this point, the circle planting pattern can morph into an oblong one, especially since most suburban yards are rectangle in shape. Once you have planted the basics of your survival garden, you can add any other seeds that you may have on hand, such as lettuces for shady places here and there. Summer squash/zucchini can be planted in any corner of your yard and is quite prolific also. You can eat them fresh or dehydrate, as they are not really good keepers but may last a few months. I have drawn a diagram of the circle garden for a visual aid. As you can see, it is not perfect. Your garden doesn’t need to be either. The dark shaded areas are exposed dirt, and the white areas are lawn.
I write this in memory of my elderly friend, Helen, who lived through the Great Depression and said to me, “It got to the point of all we had were turnips, but they kept us alive.” Now I’m not a big fan of turnips, but I can see the wisdom of something being better than nothing, and it is my hope and prayer that you don’t give up on yourself, your families, or your neighbors but try to be as prepared and determined as possible to work together with a Christian attitude for a life beyond an EMP.