We all know growing our own food is a lot of work, but it will be crucial to survival post-disaster. But how can you grow and maintain a garden post-SHTF and keep it protected from those who are hungry and seeking any food they can find?
In a traditional garden you have to prepare the soil each year, plant your seeds, water everything, weed at least a couple times weekly, and keep all the pests from eating the plants before they are ready.
Post-SHTF, the scarcity of resources will challenge many gardeners who rely on store bought help in the form of perfectly balanced planting soil, fertilizers, store bought seeds, and pest control formulas.
Plants Need Nutrients
Regardless of what you choose to grow and whether it’s in containers, your backyard, a greenhouse, or a twenty-acre piece of paradise, you need to have good nutrients.
For plants to grow, they must have the right combination of essential nutrients. Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Carbon are nutrients that are produced naturally through photosynthesis.
There are twelve additional minerals plants need that can typically be managed by the farmer or gardener. Each mineral regardless of quantity is crucial. Plants lacking any one nutrient are negatively impacted in some way.
So one key to strong healthy plants is to create a growing environment or supplement the growing environment to ensure the proper combination of nutrients is available to your plants.
It’s highly doubtful that you will be able to just run to the nearest Lowe’s or Tractor Supply to pick up your bags of perfectly mixed soil post-SHTF. So to have a survival garden in the NWAWKI (New World As We Know It), you need to make sure that you can still create that great nutrient filled environment for your garden.
Gardening and growing crops has always been a very unpredictable undertaking. There are so many things that can impact your food production.
Store-bought fertilizers and pesticides won’t be available to strengthen and protect your plants post-SHTF. Pests can invade, rain and drought can wreak havoc on your growing season, soil in your area could be contaminated, and post-SHTF, your garden could be ransacked.
Natural Nutrient Management Methods
In a post-disaster scenario, growing your own food won’t just be a hobby or something you do to relax in your spare time. Being able to RELIABLY grow enough food to feed your family or small group could be the difference between life and death. One way to ensure healthier plants and increase the reliability of your food production is through composting.
Composting adds organic material to your garden and enhances the soil’s ability hold and drain moisture and to battle disease and pest invaders. It also adds important nutrients. All of this means plants grow healthier and stronger which in turn means when bugs invade or something with the weather does go amiss, such as a dry period or cold snap, your plants will be better able to bounce back and survive.
Traditional composting involves adding “brown materials” (carbon) and nitrogen (green materials) to a bin that is approximately two square foot in size. Materials rich in carbon, such as paper towels, newspaper (not shiny ads), cardboard as well as dried corn stalks, hay, old leaves, and straw will make up the majority of your compost. Some people also choose to chop up and till under their dead garden plants at the end of each season or add the chopped up plants to their compost bin.
Nitrogen filled materials will be things such as fresh lawn clippings and manure droppings. Kitchen waste is also nitrogen filled and includes coffee grounds with the paper filters which also have calcium and magnesium, eggshells for calcium, banana peels for potassium, and any leftover vegetable and fruit scraps.
Compost Management Tips:
- If you’re compost pile smells, you’ve added too much green materials or too much water.
- If it’s not getting hot, you’ve added too much brown materials.
- Water the bin only if it’s really hot or has been very dry.
- You can also add animal manure to your compost pile.
- To speed up the composting process, you can turn or flip the pile with a pitchfork or shovel.
Vermicomposting or worm composting means using worms to convert organic waste into wonderful black, nutrient filled earth that will help you to grow healthy plants. This process can also be called worm humus or manure, worm castings or vermicast.
The average two-person household will have approximately 3-4 lbs of kitchen waste each week. A two-foot square and approximately eight-inch deep box that is aerated is a suitable size for a worm bin. Some people keep their worm beds under the kitchen sink, others keep them outside or move them around the garden.
Once you have built your worm bin, you’ll need some bedding. You can use manure, leaves, strips of newspaper, or shredded cardboard without wax or plastic on it. Now add your worms. You then simply empty your kitchen waste into the bin and let the worms do what they do.
Tips for Vermicomposting
- There are several different types of worm bins you can construct depending on your needs. Research before choosing one.
- Wood is typically the best for constructing bins.
- Red earthworms or red wigglers are better for worm composting, they multiply quickly and are known to convert large amounts of organic material daily.
- Keep worm beds out of direct sun, in a shaded area as it shouldn’t be allowed to dry out and harden.
- Newly added worms can convert half their body weight daily. Add new food once old food has been processed. Once worms are settled in, healthy worms can convert their entire body weight in kitchen waste daily.
- To prevent bothersome insects and small rodents, used a closed worm bed or avoid including meat scraps in your kitchen waste.
Use the rich healthy soil created by composting or vermicomposting when you need it to build up your backyard soil or BOL garden soil and ensure a healthy mix of essential nutrients.
Free Range Poultry
When it comes to gardening, many people use free range poultry such as chickens and guinea fowl to aid in soil management. Poultry manure is great for developing rich earth. Chickens and most poultry will naturally return to their coop at night so this makes it easy to let them range free during the daytime hours.
Chickens will also scratch up the ground and eat bugs and insects to keep them from overrunning your garden. You can turn them loose in the fall and they will clean up leftover plant materials and scratch up the ground. Guinea fowl are actually great for tick control and although they don’t bark, they are quick to alert you of anything or anyone strange on the property.
Hydroponics or Aquaponics
If you believe that soil in your area could be compromised or otherwise unusable long-term for gardening, you may want to research and consider how to grow plants in water, gravel, or sand as through hydroponic production. Survivalists will also want to learn about a form of hydroponics that grows food in water using fish waste as the nutrients needed for plant growth as described in this video:
Keep in mind that both hydroponic and aquaponics methods of gardening will require some form of energy to run the pumps. They may also be more difficult to camouflage from trespassers. If you decide to go this route in a post-SHTF, you will need to get creative about how to hide it. Perhaps build the system in a pit greenhouse or walpini to keep it from view and research quiet pumps.
What Should You Plant?
Plant Quality Non-GMO Seeds
There is some controversy about GMO versus Non-GMO Seeds. GMO means genetically modified organism. GMO seeds have been altered genetically, in a way that cannot occur naturally. Consumers who buy produce in grocery stores like nice looking fruits and vegetables. The GMO process produces that look consistently. It can also prevent some of the common problems that make production unpredictable.
Keep in mind that many experienced gardeners feel that GMO seeds tend to produce less and less produce each year. This isn’t crucial when you can buy new seeds at the store or online if you need them each year.
But in a SHTF scenario, using GMO seeds mean that you could find that after a couple years the seeds you save from each plant produce less and less each year. That can be fatal and there’s no way to know until it starts to happen.
My recommendation is that you make completely certain that the seeds you are saving to use for a post-SHTF scenario are completely non-GMO which means they have not been altered unnaturally.
We also recommend that you only plant organic seeds for survival gardening, ones which come from plants that have NOT been chemically treated with fertilizers or pesticides.
How to Find Seeds
Organically grown, non-GMO seeds will give you the best chance to grow quality food for your family that will produce fruits and vegetables with seeds that can then be used for future planting.
You can generally find seeds locally now through small businesses and organizations such as local farms, produce stands, family owned garden centers, or gardening co-ops. Do not assume that seeds are organically grown especially if you buy them online.
Question use of practices for fertilizers and pest control to be sure. If you must order online, make certain you are ordering organically grown, non-GMO seeds or plants.
When buying seeds, buy from companies that have the Safe Seed Pledge. This is generally an indication that seeds you are purchasing are non-GMO. Seeds can be heirloom, heritage, or hybrid.
A hybrid seed or plant does not automatically mean it is GMO. There are natural ways to cross pollinate plants to create better results. A seed labeled heritage or heirloom doesn’t guarantee that it is non-GMO.
Natural Pest Control
Attract Beneficial Insects
Use companion planting to actually attract beneficial insects to your garden that will reduce the number of destructive insects and other pests in your garden. For example, vegetables such as carrots, parsley, and celery grow flowers that attract predatory wasps that will actually eat the caterpillars that like to feast on your leafy plants.
Other Natural Methods
There are many other natural methods for pest control. For example, use a mixture of one quart of water and two tablespoons baking soda in a spray bottle to treat any fungal diseases that may show up on your plants. Spray plants every couple of days until the fungus is eliminated.
To deter deer, you can mix a whole egg into about ¼ cup of water and stir thoroughly. Spray this mixture over your plants. Mixture will need to be reapplied after heavy rains. My grandmother also swore that stuffing a pouch of cheesecloth with a bit of human hair from her hairbrush would also keep deer away.
Off-Grid Methods of Irrigation
One very important thing to consider when growing your own food in a post-SHTF scenario is how to make sure that you have an ample supply of water available for your plants. Plants need water to grow and in many gardens, watering is a daily undertaking. Make sure you check local zoning and state laws before using off-grid methods to avoid a potential legal battle later.
Rainwater collection is one way to collect additional water to use for watering your garden. The best place to start collecting rainwater is from the top of your house roof and the rooves of any outbuildings, such as sheds or garages. If you aren’t using the water for drinking, you don’t even need to worry much about filtering it. Simply collect the water into a large tub or other container as it comes off the roof and then use that water on your garden every day.
Greywater is another way to collect water that you can use on your garden. Greywater is any water that drains from your home, except your toilet water which is considered “blackwater”. So greywater includes kitchen and bathroom sink drains, the shower or bathtub drain, even the washing machine drain.
Simply divert those drains coming out of your home so they go into your collection point and then use that water on your garden. Switch to all natural cleaners as much as possible and be cautious of any chemicals that could get into your greywater and harm your plants.
Good soil, composting, pest control, planting, weeding, irrigation, and finally harvesting sounds like a lot of work right? To top it off, post-SHTF everything else will require so much energy and time. You will be using a lot of time and energy on the other survival skills you learned so you can survive in these chaotic times.
Okay so you’ve figured out how to get the nutrients your plants need, which seeds to buy, how to protect them from pests and disease, and keep them watered post disaster. But what if I told you that having a garden will actually put you and your family in danger by making you a target post-SHTF?
It’s true. Having an obvious backyard garden could make you and your family a target in a post-SHTF situation. There will be mobs of desperate and hungry people moving through most areas. People trying to get out of town will run out of gas on the major interstates and will quickly abandon their cars. This will put many of them on foot and in search of food and water.
Everyone, even someone who has never set foot in an actual food garden, knows that those rows or that large rectangular or square area of dirt means food is or will be growing there. If you are in an urban area or within ten miles of a major interstate or highway, your backyard garden makes you a target for these masses of hungry people.
They will have no choice but to come past your home or farm. If you are lucky, they will come in the cover of night, take as much as they can carry from your garden, and leave without harming your family. But it’s entirely possible that you will wake up one morning to find your entire garden ransacked from a group of people that moved through in the night.
Even if you live farther out from main highways, an obvious food garden puts your family at risk from hungry, desperate people who may pass be passing through. Or worse, you could be confronted by a group of people with guns who want to force you to leave so they can take over your food laden location.
So short of fortifying your home or bug out location with alarms and hidden traps, or being on guard 24/7, ready to shoot anyone who approaches your garden, what can you do? How can you make it safer for you and your family to grow your own food as part of your long-term survival plan?
Say Goodbye to Traditional Garden Rows
The absolute must for post-SHTF gardening is to say goodbye to traditional garden rows. Split the garden into smaller sections and plant in different places around your land. Plant some things up near the house, other things out behind the barn, or maybe hidden in the woods. Try to keep obvious food plants in an area that isn’t visible from the road. Separate plants all over instead of planting in rows!
There are also several ways to camouflage your garden food supply so it is not visible to passersby on the road. Camouflage doesn’t necessarily keep your garden hidden from persistent seekers who actually come onto your property searching, but it may increase the likelihood that desperate people on the road will pass on by and scavenge somewhere else.
Depending on your garden location, you could use some type of camouflage netting to hide your plants or garden area from the view of those passing by. Typically used by hunters, camouflage netting could be used to help hide your food plants or even a greenhouse from view. You can also use natural landscaping to hide your edible plants from view and deter any trespassers.
Trees, hedges, shrubs, flowers, vines, or ivy can serve as a visual and/or a physical barrier to your garden area. Planting something like goldenrod, around your garden or near the road, can be enough to make people who are allergic to pollen keep moving instead of stopping. The use of poisonous plants or thorny hedges can make it more difficult for looters to take food.
Plants such as poison ivy or nettles may be enough to keep some visitors from cutting through to your garden. For an additional physical deterrent, choose Lisbon lemon trees (large green thorns), or the beautiful but virtually impenetrable thorny hedges like the Choisya trifoliate, Gooseberry or Japanese barberry.
Pit Greenhouse or Walipini
Walipinis are a great idea for post-SHTF gardening because temperatures underground would make it feasible to grow food all year. For most areas of the world, the temperature four feet down into the ground hovers around 50 to 60 degrees even in winter temperatures.
A traditional walipini is rectangular in shape and about 6-8 feet deep underground with the longest wall south facing to maximize sunlight. It’s basically an 8×12 foot rectangular hole in the ground with a roof made of slats or PVC pipe covered in plastic sheeting. A ninety-degree angle directly facing winter solstice is ideal for the roof. The roof should not be blocked or shaded by trees or buildings.
Use Multiple Locations
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket—or in this case all your plants in one location. Make sure you plant some food at your home and separate food at your bug out location. Ask or help relatives to start growing food at their locations too. Keep supplies split between both locations. If one location is ransacked or taken over, you and your family will have an alternate food supply at the alternate locations.
Another method for hiding food in plain sight in your backyard is to plant edible perennials as landscaping around your home and yard. Choose plants most people won’t recognize as food. Some examples of edible perennials include:
- Prickly pear which has edible pads, flowers, and fruit.
- Scarlet Emperor runner bean plant attracts hummingbirds and bees, looks great and has edible pods and beans. Do not eat raw beans.
- Siberian Pea shrubs as mentioned above. This is a nitrogen fixing plant, it can prevent soil erosion, they attract helpful insects, and is edible for people and for livestock.
- Day Lilies which have edible tubers and flowers
- Spinach dock or garden sorrel
- Dinosaur Kale is a very pretty flowering plant, with edible leaves
- Fiddle heads, the unopened fronds can be food.
- Ground nuts
- Hosta, some varieties have better flavor than others
- Ramps or wild leeks
- Barrel Cactus which has buds, fruit, and flowers that are edible
- Sweet Potatoes have beautiful vines and purple flowers
There are many more edible and medicinal perennials to choose from so regardless of what part of the world you are in, you should be able to grow at least some foods that won’t be easily targeted as food.
Sacrifice Common Edibles
Another way to protect your garden from trespassers and hungry passersby is to sacrifice some plants to protect the majority of your garden. For example, plant some common edible weeds such as dandelions and poke salad out near the road. Make it look like these are just plants growing wild at the edge of the road. If hungry passersby see enough edible food close by, they may take that to eat and not come further onto your property looking for other food.
Originally coined by Bill Mollinson, and further developed and enhanced by those who came after him, permaculture design principles can be applied to structural design, landscaping, and many other areas. The solution is typically inherent in the problem. It encourages changing the smallest element to product the best outcome.
In gardening, it limits your food production only by the imagination and information in your garden design. Permaculture principles work with nature instead of against it to make less work for yourself and to better utilize natural resources to grow even healthier plants. This type of concept, combined with a little creativity to keep things hidden or less obvious, is perfect for post-SHTF gardening methods.
Permaculture planting is typically done in zones around your home taking into account where natural sunlight, water, shade, and traffic patterns naturally occur. Because you utilize naturally occurring resources, your labor to water, weed, and control pests and disease is minimized.
The final method for hiding your survival garden is one that combines many of the above methods into a secret garden of food that mimics nature and helps food grow plentiful, but also allows you to “hide” your garden, basically in plain sight!
The way to do this is to research and learn how to plant your own food forest.
What is a Food Forest?
A food forest is planted using permaculture design principles and concentric circles, called guilds. It is combined with companion planting to mimic nature as much as possible, plants basically grow wild in communities that center around a fruit or nut tree.
The concentric circles of a food forest guild include:
- Canopy or tall tree layer, usually a fruit or nut tree
- Understory or low tree layer, like a mulberry tree
- Vine layer growing up those trees.
- Shrub layer, such as hazelnuts
- Herb layer such as comfrey, basil, etc.
- Rhizosphere or root layer such as Jerusalem artichokes
- Ground cover layer includes things such as clover or strawberries
Use companion planting techniques to plant your annuals such as cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes in amongst the food forest layers. They will be hidden among the “forest” and will grow much better too. Other examples of helpful companion planting for a food forest include planting:
- tomatoes next to cat nip to eliminate your green tomato horn worm issue.
- garlic and onions at the base of your trees to deter mice from chewing the bark and killing your trees.
- comfrey, mustard vine grape, and Siberian pea shrub in the same hole as an apple tree so it all works together. The Siberian pea shrub is a nitrogen fixer and the comfrey has a 30-foot root system that pulls water and nutrients from farther away so the tree can flourish.
- Peppers and tomatoes under the black walnut tree where not much else will grow well.
- Mountain mint to keep deer from browsing your secret garden.
- Short-toothed mountain mint to act as a natural pest repellant. It also attracts beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies, moths, ants, and eve predatory wasps that will eat insect pests.
For more companion planting ideas, see this chart.
It’s important to know your land well, to understand permaculture design elements, and to learn how to plan your food forest first.
A food forest if done correctly can essentially become your very own secret survival garden as described below:
The initial work of developing a food forest is all in the first year or so. If you want annual vegetables and fruit you plant them hidden within the “forest” once each season. Then you simply let nature take over.
The diversity of a well-designed food forest ensures that you and your family have food available all the time. Most people with a food forest boast more food production than one family can eat. Food forest planting can even provide plenty of water as demonstrated in the video below:
You will have plenty of water available naturally stored for leaner times.
The lack of traditional rows and spacing and the concentric circles also makes your food garden look like just an overgrown forest or field. In a post-SHTF scenario, it doesn’t mean no one will ever find it, but it does keep you from being an obvious target of those desperate and hungry crowds passing by.
In fact, your food forest will eventually make your home look like it was abandoned long ago. All but the most persistent of travelers will pass right on by your backyard without recognizing it’s a garden at all as shown in the video below:
If done correctly, you can plan and plant a food forest as a survival garden that will be hidden to prevent you from becoming a target. Best of all, it will provide you with more than enough food to feed your family, and be virtually maintenance and worry free most of the year.