For a lot of survival-minded folks, gardening is one of the first, most logical steps to take toward self-sufficiency. Most of us agree that when the Schumer hits, the thin veneer of society will be removed so fast that in weeks we won’t even remember it was once there. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that during hard times, a garden could become a prime target for theft, destruction, raids or other attacks.
The most discussed hypothetical garden raids include a Golden Horde or Mutant Zombie Bikers who, like locusts would descend upon your garden and rip it to shreds, leaving nothing more than a memory and bare dirt. For a lot of us, we imagine fighting to the death with our battle rifles. They can have my turnips when they pry them from my cold dead fingers and such.
The second scenario is much more chilling and difficult to deal with. This scenario is the nearly feral child or the father stealing to provide for his children. How do you defend your garden against desperate but opportunistic feeders? Furthermore, should you? Obviously harming any trespasser is a savage thing to think of, much less do. Surplus garden harvests should be doled out as charity but in a controlled manner and at the owner’s discretion.
There is but one real solution to both of the scenarios I mentioned. That solution I call the Five C’s. By following all of these steps, you can take a broad-spectrum approach toward garden safety. The garden is not advertised except to those who can help, the risk is shared when possible, and defended when all else fails with less than lethal means. These ways allow you keep your garden safe in some passive ways that don’t require a constant guard.
Conceal—the best defense is to hide what you would otherwise need to defend. That’s not to say you don’t still defend your garden. If it’s hidden well and everyone in your cadre keeps tight lips, there is little chance that it will be found by opportunistic feeders or roving hordes.
The best way to hide your garden is to use land features. You want your garden to get plenty of sun from exposure to the southern sky (if you are in the northern hemisphere) so keep that in mind when deciding on position. Utilizing slopes is a permaculture practice. If you can find a nice south facing slope and you position garden beds down the slope (but stay away from the bottom where frost is a threat) you can potentially hide a garden in a way you could not if that garden was on the apex of that hill. The ideal position is a piece of land where the only approachable position is from the north and it would have a hill facing that direction. The backside, which faces south, would be ideal land for a garden. Be sure to terrace and add swales where appropriate to retain water that would normally run quickly down a hill and away from your plants.
Permaculture can help us in another way by allowing us to use the high canopy at the edges to hide your food crops. Again, southern exposure is key but if you leave your large forest trees in place, they can hide your garden efforts from strangers. This is a good technique for land without the hill I mentioned above. The large canopy trees would serve as a living hill and would hide everything south.
If there is a lawn near the garden you can let the lawn grow up around the edges to keep it hidden. In a SHTF scenario with no fuel or running mowers you may not have any choice in that matter. You can also plant annual or perennial flowers nearby that grow tall to hide your garden. As a welcome side effect, these flowers will sometimes bring in pollinating insects and repel bad ones. Grow Echinacea (coneflowers) or Calendula (pot marigold) for a concealment effect and for effective herbal medicine.
Camouflage—this is not the same as concealing your garden. Concealing implies that something is positioned to prevent it from being seen. Camouflage implies that the thing you want hidden is in sight but just not apparent or conspicuous. Placing something under a rock conceals it. Making it look like a rock camouflages it. In areas where your garden may be seen, grow ground-hugging crops that blend in. Tomatoes are tall and produce huge red fruit that can be seen from a long distance. Save them for your inconspicuous areas where they can be concealed. Instead, plant lettuce and carrots (which produce wispy leaves). Instead of planting pole beans and climbing peas, use the bush varieties that stay close to the ground. Root crops are great for this purpose. They never grow much more than a foot tall. The greens are quite nondescript while nutritious. You can cut them at opportune times for food and then still harvest the roots (that are almost completely covered) at a later date. Don’t plant varieties or types of plants that are colored differently from the adjacent areas. If you lawn is bright green then red rhubarb is going to stand out like a sore thumb. Don’t grow bright yellow crookneck squash. Instead grow dark green zucchini squash. You can even find tomatoes or peppers that are colored differently to prevent the contrast of red fruit on green foliage.
Contribute—this is the most obvious thing that many people overlook. A sense of community is absolutely necessary for the self-sufficient life. Gardens tend to be a feast or famine activity. Unless you are the best planner in the world and nature works for you at every step you will have huge harvests and then suddenly nothing. Share your crop when you can. You will build community and gain guards. In my industry we have a term called buy-in. If your neighbors buy-in to your garden and relish what you share they will certainly help you guard the goods or weed or water. You get the point. Sharing converts potential thieves (not that our neighbors aren’t honorable people) into partners.
If you get your neighbors involved, the food security of the neighborhood will also increase. They won’t have reason to steal your food if they have their own. Plus if one person’s garden gets raided and they have the only garden then all the eggs were in that one basket.
Contain—this point goes along quite well with both camouflage and concealment. Your garden must be contained. This is accomplished in two ways: keeping it close to living areas and keeping it enclosed.
The first is obvious. Keep the garden as close to windows and your living areas as possible. Period. You need to be close to your garden to provide proper care anyway. Permaculturists call this a Zone 1 kitchen garden.
The second is a little less obvious. Try to locate your garden in funnel areas. Make sure that if anyone wants to come into your garden they are funneled into a known route that can be watched, blocked or trapped. Utilize thorny bushes such as blackberries to close off your garden in vulnerable areas.
One bonus method: on fruit trees, prune branches so that they cannot be reached without a ladder. If you have a ladder and thieves do not, you have access and they do not. They risk being caught or injuring themselves climbing for fruit. Only desperate people will try this. If they are truly desperate then you should provide any help you can.
Con—when all else fails use the practice of deception. “Did you hear about old man Gregor? He shot at some carrot-nabber last week.” Spread rumors and have your community spread them as well when the opportunity seems right. Just remember, the cobra strikes as a last resort. It puffs up and folds its hood out so it doesn’t have to strike.
Most people are unprepared to defend a garden by force. Those who are prepared will avoid it at all costs. If you learn and hone the five C’s of protecting your garden you can make sure you never have to put yourself or even others in desperate situations in which there are few or no options.