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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.