The TEOTWAWKI Garden, by M.C.

When TEOTWAWKI happens, none of us know how it’s going to go down. Will it be a natural destructive force or world war? An asteroid or weapons of mass destruction? Massive starvation or biological warfare? Maybe you’ll have to bug out and leave home. Or maybe you’ll have to stand your ground and defend what’s yours. We have no idea what the world will be like, only that it will be different.

Regardless of how it happens, after TEOTWAWKI, all aspects of survival need to be considered. Of course, hunting, fishing, and foraging for edibles are necessary. And of course, be prepared with non-perishable foods and MREs. But long-term survival requires more. It requires a renewable food source that provides a wide range of nutrients and minerals, preferably in the form of fresh foods.

And that’s exactly what gardening does. Sure, gardening provides fresh fruits and vegetables to consume now, but if you grow surplus, it also provides food for preserving for times when fresh foods are not available. What’s more, gardens can also provide medicine, as well as feed for livestock, such as bees, rabbits, and chickens. This can expand your renewable food source to include sugar, meat, and eggs.

But let’s be realistic. What we think of as traditional gardening is most likely not going to be possible after TEOTWAWKI. First, our “modern” gardens are labor intensive. If a backyard garden were truly going to provide enough food to sustain a family, it would take hours in weeding and managing, something that most likely can’t be done in a world post-TEOTWAWKI.

In addition, many of the vegetables we grow in our gardens today take three or more months to reach fruition and a long-term commitment isn’t something that may be possible after SHTF. To make matters even more difficult, modern gardening isn’t designed to self-propagate, which means more working overtime to keep things growing and producing.

And then there’s the fact that a traditional garden, with its nice neat rows and lines, is easy to see. And, if we’re planning for the worst, having strangers see your food source isn’t something we want to happen, as they could steal or destroy it, both of which could be detrimental if you’re planning on it as a major part of your food supply.

So we can agree that traditional gardening is most likely out and not realistic for TEOTWAWKI. But here’s the thing:  Humans will return to growing plants for food. It may be right after the SHTF or it maybe five or ten years down the road. But when you’re talking long-term survival, gardening will most likely have a role to play.

That’s why you should start now. Gardening gives you good practice in learning to see life from a plant’s point of view and allows you to work on your green thumb, which can take longer than many realize to develop. Gardening also gives you the opportunity to get some growing spots established for future use, just in case you need them, but more on that in a bit.

What to Grown in Your TEOTWAWKI Garden

When it comes to gardening, most people tend to grow the same types of things: tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage. But in a post-disaster world, you’re not going to want to follow that same path. As mentioned previously, many of the plants grown in gardens today aren’t the best option for your TEOTWAWKI garden. They take too long to grow, they don’t have a long shelf life, and they don’t self-propagate. Plus, depending on where you live, many of these plants may not necessarily thrive in your post-TEOTWAWKI environment.

So let go of what you expect your garden to be filled with, and, instead, consider growing some of these.

Native Plants

While tomatoes and cucumbers, which are native to South America and India respectively, are mainstays in American gardens, you should consider more native plants in your TEWTWAWKI garden. Native plants tend to grow hardier and are less impacted by environmental factors than non-native plants. Also, they’re often less susceptible to insects and diseases. Check with your local cooperative extension to see what plants are native to your area.

Perennials

In TEOTWAWKI gardening, focusing more on perennial plants, which come back year after year, will be one of the keys to success. Using perennials instead of annuals, plants that need to be started from seed each season, eliminates whole steps of the gardening process, making it so that you’re not as tied down to your garden. Consider growing foods like asparagus, horseradish, and even potatoes, which come back year after year, to free up your time and energy, yet still allow you to reap the benefits of gardening.

Herbs

Herbs may not be at the top of your priority list for a TEOTWAWKI garden, but they can do a lot more than you may realize. Herbs can flavor your food and make some not-so-edible items taste much better. What’s more, many herbs have medicinal qualities and, depending on your growing season, some come back year after year. To start, consider growing garlic, sage, and turmeric, which is rich in vitamins and has a plethora of anti-inflammatory qualities.

Weeds

While the modern gardener considers weeds to be a nuisance, TEOTWAWKI gardeners know that’s not always the case. Many weeds are edible, even good for you, and grow in the worst of conditions; they don’t need a lot of TLC and attention. For instance, dandelions have multiple edible parts, including the leaves, flowers, and roots, which can act as a diuretic and digestive aid. Plantain, a common wide-leafed plant that grows coast to coast, is not only edible but can take the sting out of insect bites when you chew up the leaves and rub them onto the infected skin.

The Unexpected

When growing a garden after SHTF, consider the unexpected, those plants that a passerby wouldn’t notice or consider food. You could also forage for these plants if you live in a residential or suburban area. Some of the easiest to grow include daylilies (they have edible tubers that taste similar to potatoes), ostrich ferns (the fiddleheads, or starting shoots, are edible and considered a delicacy in parts of the world), and hostas (early spring shoots can be eaten and taste somewhat like asparagus). As a bonus, many of these unexpected food plants are perennials and return each year.

Feed for Livestock

Also, if you plan on having livestock after TEOTWAWKI, consider growing food for your animals. Wildflowers provide food for bees, while root vegetables and vegetation provide great feed for pigs, goats, and chickens. You can also try your hand at sprouting fodder. A favorite among chickens and other fowl, fodder is quick and easy to grow and can supply you with green foliage for your animals, even in the dead of winter (as long as there’s a window nearby).

How to Grow Your TEOTWAWKI Garden

Yes, it’s hard to prepare for TEOTWAWKI when you have no idea what to expect, but that hasn’t stopped you in other areas of your preparation, so don’t let it hold you back here. It’s best to take a multi-dimensional approach and try to prepare for what situations you can. Follow these tips to get started.

Spread Out

Since it’s impossible to know if you’ll be able to stay home or stationary after SHTF, prepare for all options. Grow some plants at your home. If you have an isolated bug-out location, grow some food there as well. Heck, if there’s a bit of distance between them, try to grow some edible plants along the route. It doesn’t hurt to start a few plants anywhere you think you may later encounter.

You can even encourage your prepper friends to start their own TEOTWAWKI garden and share your plants and harvest. If SHTF and you don’t ever visit the plants you planted, consider it practice for the task ahead.

Along these same lines, spread out the garden on your own property. Plant a few hostas under a shady pine. Put some horseradish along the property’s wooded edge. Allow strawberries to grow behind the shed. Spreading your garden out gives you a couple of advantages in a TEOTWAWKI world. First, it’s less noticeable, especially from a distance. Second, if someone does spot something growing, they may not get your whole harvest. And lastly, you can give each plant the environment it thrives in, whether that’s shady, sunny, wet, or dry.

Blend It In

When planning where to put your plants, keep a couple points in mind. Per the previous point, splitting up your crops helps to keep them away from prying eyes and it makes them easier to blend in. Pair plants with similar compliments so that it becomes part of the background and is hidden in plain sight.

One way of accomplishing this is through the principles of permaculture. Permaculture is taking the natural landscape of an area (that which is permanent) and using it to your advantage for growing plants. So a natural rock wall becomes the trellis for a few squash plants and the wet spot in the backyard turns into the perfect spot for growing cranberries and a willow tree (which can eventually provide you with rods for making baskets).

Utilize Resources

When you’re gardening in a SHTF world, you need to be prepared to utilize all the resources you can. After all, you may not be able to run to the local nursery for saplings or turn on the hose when the garden’s dry.

Use the resources available to you and gather rainwater and gray water. Use it to water the plants when there’s no rain in the forecast. In this same manner, compost your scraps to provide a natural fertilizer for your plants. If you’re able to create a homestead, consider adding rabbits. Rabbit poop is an excellent fertilizer and it can go directly onto your plants without needing time to “cool” like other manures.

Along these same lines, use natural resources to protect your crops from critters and other people. Although this may not seem too important in today’s world, after SHTF, think of keeping others out of your garden the same way you want to keep them out of your stash. Plant part of your garden behind poison ivy, thorny hedges, or even stinging nettles to give a layer of protection that can deter unwanted animals and people.

Save Seeds

In a post-TEOTWAWKI world, you won’t be able to order seeds from the Gurney’s catalog or head to the local home and garden store to get what you need. That means you need to use what you have and save the seeds from the plants you grow in your garden.

First, make sure you’re growing the right types of vegetables and that their seeds are worth saving. Avoid hybrid fruits and vegetables, as well as genetically modified versions. These plants typically only bear fruit for one generation, making their seeds unreliable. Instead, opt to save seeds from non-hybrid plants, preferably heirloom varieties. Heirloom plants rely on open pollination and tend to be vigorous, disease resistant, and flavorful.

Look at each of your plants and pick fruit from one or two that look best, these are the seeds you want to save. You may need to experiment to learn which seeds are best, but it only takes a few tries before it becomes second nature.

An added benefit of using your own seeds is that it guarantees your plants grow well in your climate and the conditions of your garden. After all, the plant’s predecessors came from the same soil and thrived in your garden’s environment.

Saving the Harvest from Your TEOTWAWKI Garden

Although you love the fresh fruits and vegetables from your garden, and they add to your nutrition, the real benefit of gardening after TEOTWAWKI comes in preserving your harvest and storing it for future use.

This can be done in a multitude of ways. Hardy fruits and vegetables, such as apples, carrots, and winter squash, can be stored in a dark, cool area for an extended period. A basement or crawl space can make a great fruit cellar.

Produce can also be sliced thin and dried or pickled by preserving it in a vinegar mix. Some veggies, like cabbage, can even be fermented, which requires no refrigeration or cooking. Lastly, if available, canning or pressure cooking your garden surplus can lead to year-round vegetable eating.

There’s No Reason Not to Start a TEOTWAWKI Garden

Regardless of how you plan for TEOTWAWKI, there’s no logical reason not to start a prepper garden. Sure, you may have to bug out and not return, but if you do, at least you’ll have the practice and know-how of gardening. And if you don’t have to bug out, but can stay near your home or emergency shelter, having your garden already set up and producing food can help you survive more than you realize.

So this spring, head outdoors, examine your property, and start thinking of where and what you can grow. Then go ahead and get started. Worst case scenario, you have a few more tomatoes to eat. Best case scenario in a TEOTWAWKI situation, you have barterable goods and can prevent scurvy from developing in your family and friends.

It sounds like a win-win to me.




26 Comments

  1. Good thoughts but I have to disagree with a few points. Hybrid seeds have been bred to be very productive and often more disease resistant. While it is true that heirloom veggie are often more flavorful, people pay the extra premium that they do for hybrids due to yields and disease resistance. In general, you can save the seed from hybrids. They WILL bear a crop. What they won’t do is breed true. So if you save hybrid tomato seeds you will still get tomatoes but you will get the various parents that were used to produce the hybrid seed and not the resultant hybrid. Often these are perfectly good in their own right although not always. If you then select the best of those plants to save seed from and repeat this for a number of generations you will come up with your own seed that now “breeds true” and is essentially an OP variety. So in a SHTF situation, don’t just assume that all is lost if you’re growing hybrids.

    Jerusalem artichokes are another perennial that can be planted pretty much anywhere and will produce edible tubers. Stinging nettle is another valuable plant that can be grown from seeds if you don’t already have it. There are also quite a few perennial vegetables such as walking onions, Good King Henry, Sea Kale etc. that can be planted. I started to experiment in a small plot with many of these but stopped when I left the area to travel. I hope to try some of these again. The FEDCO seed catalog sells seeds for some of these.

    1. And that ani is exactly concerning the hybrids for sure is exactly why we should all be actively engaged in our grid down , virus, zombie apocalypse, t.s.h.t.f. \ t.e.o.t.w.a.w.k.i. activities right now before things go south.

      Bottom line every one is \ has laid the ground work for thier ” scenarios”

      If you can’t implement your stratigies now (at least a goodly portion) and see a benefit in your daily life then something is amiss or off target.

      If you can’t keep your rabbits alive pre emergency with the plethora of info freely available how can you do it during a collapse?

      If you can’t recondition your soil and keep plants alive now how will you do it then?

      Of you can’t find the time to grow your own now when you can easily and cheaply augment your supply how will you do when you are totally alone?

      What happens when your group loses its farmer specialist? You know they get the flu or shot bugging out? You might not be as fortunate as the group in Mr. J.w.r ‘s first book and have your lacking skill just happen by …

      Why would you continue to buy produce when you could be growing your own? Take the savings where you can. Use the surplus to increase your survival?

      You can live \ thrive (depending on your family size) on 100 dollars a week grocery bill. If you can eliminate that or cut it down to 50 a week (do-able I have in NYC as a single guy) that’s an extra 200 bucks a month…. That’s 2400 a year to extra supplies. …. Ammo… Irrigation…. Gold….silver… Etc.

      As I type this an ounce of gold is 1500… That’s an ounce of gold saved by buying seeds that cost Pennines….

      Why not do it now?

      If you live in an apartment look into a green wall and container growing.

  2. Again exactly. Don’t just buy seeds and store them plant them use them. By all means order extras to keep for back up but work your land now, get it producing now. If you don’t live at your retreat grow and preserve in your back yard.

    When your starting out you will bungle up alot of things.

    I’ve been growing portions of my food my whole life (until recently) when I start growing again I’m gonna make so…. So… Many rookie mistakes that if I was doing it post major problems …. I would die.

    Work on setting up your proof of consepts for irrigation. Work on setting up your greenhouse and seed sprouting and grafting skills.

    Look on line for odd colored and shaped veggies and fruits. There are many odd colored to the point of looking inedible veggies out there.

    Two such ones are tomatoes:

    These ones look purple or black
    https://www.tomatofest.com/Blue_Berries_Tomato_Seeds_p/tf-0070e.htm

    And these are the same on the outside black but bright green on the inside
    https://www.tomatofest.com/Pride_of_Flanders_Tomato_Seeds_p/tf-0403k.htm.

    You want your crops to look like a turn off. If you’d have trouble getting a 5 year old to eat them it’s a good thing.

    And btw at least one of those tomatoes are heirloom.

    I disagree with the poster about any form of food production being too labor or time intensive though. You need good to live. Securing a renewable food source that provides you basic needs as listed is paramount.

    Needs

    Calories : based off of yours and your families needs

    Vitamins and nutrients: based off of you and your families needs

    Storage ability

    Taste: taste is huge if you don’t believe me try living off of a diet of peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and rice and beans with only one veggie a day for a week. I guarantee not only will you hate it but you will lose weight just due to the fact you will get so tired of eating it you will cut your portions down… Eventually to the point you starve yourself.

    Also on the point of crops being too labor intensive there is a reason why man kind has two distinct cultures. You have farmers and hunter gathering cultures. If you look you will find they are mutually exclusive. The more of one you are the less of the other you are.

    If you wish to grow your own food and preserve it you will be. Spending your time and energy to do that. Making vinegar takes time and effort. Making alcohol (even if only used to preserve) takes time. Harvesting takes time. Crop planting takes time and planning and crop rotation is absolutely important. You should never plant a forever crop en masse out side of a few producing trees etc that have that life cycle.

    Yes you could keep asparagus growing for many many many seasons…. But it’s very bad for the soil and fertilizing needs increase for example.

    A simple semi closed loop to consider.

    Rabbits, chickens, garden.

    You feed the scraps of veggies to the rabbits.
    You eat the rabbits.
    You feed the rabbit scraps including maggot bag to the chickens.
    You use rabbit and chicken leaving for fertilizer.

    This is overly simplified but you get the gist of it.

    1. A very good point made about “rookie mistakes”… Get started and practice, practice, practice. Start with something, but do start!

      In addition to the hands-on work that will help you develop skills, do some research and reading about the plants you hope to grow. Understand your growing zone, understand the plants best suited to your zone and your specific application (outdoor garden, greenhouse, etc). Be sure as well to study soil requirements including pH values as these vary among plants, and the nutrient requirements.

      Give yourself every advantage, and again… Get started!

  3. Planting clover here and there. Where there is nasty fill dirt mostly composed of red clay I lay cardboard down and cover with wood chips or spoiled hay. Worms love wet cardboard. Planted onions a couple months ago in last years cardboard project. So far, so good. Needed a hedge. Used blueberry bushes rather than holly.

    1. Clover is a great nitrogen fixer. It gets its nitrogen from the atmosphere and it discs under nicely. For those who don’t know. Growing clover and other “fertilizer plants” and discing them under is a great way to keep the soil of your “bug out” not lived in location in good working order.

      An all natural way it remove weeds in preparation of planting (depending on your environment) is to use clear – ish plastic sheets like the ones that you would use under the sand before pouring concrete. You spread them out over very wet soil and weight down the edges. The weed \ volunteer plant’s seeds will sprout and die. Then disc them under. This will also help control pest eggs etc. Especially if done in warmer months.

  4. This is timely.
    We are ready to get our gardens planned and started.
    Great suggestion about spreading out your vegetables and fruit.
    My wife really likes her rhododendrons. We learned that planting garlic in the flower beds discourages root weevils.
    We also learned that a few marigolds around our vegetables seems to turn slugs away.
    I like to plant stuff I can eat. My wife likes pretty stuff so we work it out.
    I like to graze in my yard while I am working.

    Once again thank you for getting me fired up.

  5. Great suggestion about planting perennials and not annuals. The biggest uncertainty to me in gardening is getting things to germinate. If the plants already exist and are established then you have already overcome that hurdle.

    Tractorguy

  6. Thanks for writing this M.C., a lot of good thoughts. A hundred gardeners could write 100 articles on gardening and all come up with different ideas. In a long-term TEOTWAWKI situation, gardens are going to be the most important resource for many of us IMO.

    I think the most important point you bring out is to get going NOW. No matter where people live their soil needs improving. No matter where people live, their SKILLS need improving. Anyone who has a bunch of seeds in storage expecting to begin gardening the day after SHTF is going to discover they’d probably get more benefit just eating the seeds.

    I love efficiency so my 10,000 square foot garden is very non-labor intensive. I don’t believe in tilling except for whichever area of the garden is receiving that year’s compost pile in March. I use a lot of mulches and when I do weed, I use a diamond hoe I bought at a seed festival about five years ago. A diamond hoe works like a floor mop: the head stays in contact with the ground, cutting weeds on both the forward and backward strokes. It is super efficient compared to a normal hoe which wastes a lot of energy raising up, then coming back down, and finally doing a tiny little chop right at the end. This tool alone would probably keep more people in gardening than any other since weeds are what drive people away.

    https://homesteadiron.com/products/scuffle-weeder-hand-forged-garden-tool-long-handled-garden-tool

    M.C. I like your idea of planting some things outside of the garden like horseradish at the edge of the woods. I’m going to give that one a try.

    1. It also works well to plant some things such as horseradish, rhubarb, comfrey and medicinal herbs in the understory of fruit trees. The trees like it, the plants are accumulators via their roots and deposit useful nutrients on the soil surface through the decay of the leaves , pollinators are attracted by the flowering herbs and to the casual eye, it just looks like a bunch of weeds growing wild underneath your trees.

      1. I like your style, Ani. Be careful with comfrey. I have it from two sources that the leaves can be very toxic. And, I was eating them for awhile! Yikes!

        Comfrey is external use only.

        Carry on

      1. Once a Marine, I usually have at least a pickup load of compost every year so a tiller makes it doable. It’s enough manual work just getting it to the garden. 🙂 In the rest of the garden, a tiller just destroys all the soil structure the worms and soil organisms spent all that time building up so I don’t till. I touch up the mulch in the spring, do a little weeding if needed, then plant.

  7. Remember that in a TEOTWAWKI many of the resources mentioned will not be available. Consider a no dig garden which leaves the weeds to create root paths in the ground, add mulch such as leaves, compost, twigs, cover with newspaper while you have it or cardboard and then plant by slicing open the cover and planting below the barrier. Surround the plant with more mulch. This layering system will enrich the soil, build loose and nutritious soil and will minimize the need to fertilize. You can add wood ash as well or plant comfrey as natural fertilizer. Use companion planting for natural bug repellents such as chives or dill. Society garlic is a substitute for garlic that doesn’t look like a traditional food source but gives that garlic flavor.

    Permaculture is a great way to hide your food crops as well as expand your food sources. Both Territorial Seed and Baker Seed catalogs are filled with ideas for edible perennial plants. There is a book available called Planting like a ninja on Amazon. It fostered great ideas for planting in plain site but hiding your food.

    The internet also has many videos on permaculture gardening. We must first change what we view as food. Yacons, Jerusalem artichokes and Chinese yams are all examples of substitutes for potatoes that most people would not recognize.

    Great article and discussion! Start now and add a bit each growing season.

  8. In my 50+ years, there were very few without a vegetable garden and having moved too many times, I have experience with different climates and habitats. I have also experimented with many different types – square foot, low-till, and so on. Two things come to mind from your article: 1) Location will probably guide most of your decisions with regard to food production. So gardening should be considered in your selection of real estate; and, 2) experiment and/or practice now. WTSHTF isn’t the time to try hay bale gardening or to start establishing a permaculture. One bad season (without other preps) can become your last season. This is also true with food preservation.

    My experiment for this upcoming year is seed saving. I found a small seed company located in the area to which I am moving and purchased non-hybrid seed to attempt my first seed saving. I am about 2 weeks out from getting my plants started inside based on average last frost dates for my area, but I am chomping at the bit to get started. I spent last year doing a heavy mulch with thick layers of newspaper in the flower beds which was fantastic at keeping weeds at bay.

  9. Not sure what you mean by “fodder”. That’s a generic term, and would like better info on what you meant.

    re: Jerusalem artichokes. I like them, but they call them “fartichokes” for a reason.

  10. There is a reason why, in primitive settings, providing food is the primary occupation of everyone. Clothing is next. Providing security while you are starving and freezing is nasty and unsustainable, but in perilous times may be the only option. Production, preservation, and protection must be balanced.

    As far as “guerrilla gardening” goes, remember that the primary enemy walks on 4 legs. They have everything you do under close scrutiny, and seeing something foreign, will not hesitate to sample it. Many things we have planted have been pulled up by the roots within a day or two, by a curious deer or moose.

    Things that HAVE successfully seeded here, and self-perpetuate to some extent outside the deer fence, include peppermint, chives, strawberry spinach. Serviceberries and hawthorn trees do well. Black currants have survived. However, peppermint seems to be the best of the survivors.

    Cultivating native wild edible species is always an option. Here, strawberries and blueberries grow wild, so the domestic varieties are a good thing to cultivate

    Don’t expect to plant things, walk away for years, and find much when you return.

    Nature will revert to the wild.

    The thing I see that past generations all focused on, and modern gardeners forget, is dry grains, and dry beans. These are compact, portable, preservable sources of food that can be grown in large quantity with minimal attention. The hard part is harvesting and cleaning the grain/beans. It really helps to have a barn, and hang the sheaves up until they are dry and can be threshed and winnowed. A good threshing floor is also a big help.

    The most valuable staple currently grown by most gardeners, is potatoes. Carrots are a close second. For those in warmer climates than mine, apples and other tree fruits are priceless, and winter squash is a classic farm staple.

    If you have success in growing cabbage, sauerkraut is excellent for winter storage. The key is to use at least 1.5% salt by weight. Yes, WEIGH the cabbage. If the ratio is correct, it will keep indefinitely.

  11. A lot of the vegetables suggested are low calorie, but are OK in vitamins and minerals, the native Americas grew the three sisters (corn, beans and squash), which would keep during the winter, and easy to save seeds. Think calories!
    Fruit, nut trees and grape vines need several years to become productive. as the joke goes the best time to plant a fruit tree is 5 years ago.
    A Vitamin C source during the winter is very important. Gardens have to contend with critters, weather and bugs. Having extra seeds to have a chance of a garden the following year is a plan B. With one really bad year I figured if I had to live on the produce I would have lasted one month, this was on a 4000 square foot garden.

  12. I can’t speak to other parts of this country, but up here in NW Montana we have to contend with deer and sometimes elk. They seem to Love whatever we like to eat, even our rhubarb! So, good fences are absolutely necessary if we want to have any food to eat. Please keep this in mind if you want to survive off the food you grow.

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