Survival Gardening = Self-delusion – Readyman

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Survival Gardening = Self-delusion

Posted on March 16 2019

If you’re banking on “survival seeds,” you’ll be eating dirt burgers and ricochet biscuits. Storing seeds and planting them when times get tough ain’t how growing food works. Not by a long shot.

Square-foot Garden: winter. Hawaii. 1.5 weeks old.

Beans, tomatoes, kale, lettuces, squash, zucchini.


If you’re not gardening NOW, then your survival garden will most likely fail, leaving a gaping hole in your family’s meal plan. Here’s why:

Delusion #1: You can plant survival seeds and grow food. No matter how they’re packaged, seeds were not designed by God to last more than one year. They usually last more than a year, but their sprouting rates drop off fast, going from 90% sprouting rate to 10% sprouting rate within a few years. Packaging seeds right helps. My current winter garden (Hawaii) experienced less than half the sprouting rate using my leftover seeds from last year.

With "seed vaults" there's no way to know if these seeds will work for your family, you region and your garden (until you use them.)

Delusion #2: You can plant seeds in a seed kit and they will produce in your region. Every variety of every plant has strict preferences as to sun, heat, water, soil, acidity, pests, radiation, fertilizer, rain, wind, and twelve more things I can’t remember. Some plants will like your garden and many others will fizzle, no matter what the charts say. The only way to figure that out is to plant a lot of different plants and see how they do over several years. 

Same Square-foot Garden 1 month. Hawaii winter.

Delusion #3: If I get plants that work, sun, water and soil will make calories. Like a lightening bolt, pests and disease can and do wipe out your garden. Here in Hawaii, our major threat is slugs. In Utah, we get hammered by squash bugs and white leaf mold. Sometimes, squirrels attack. Almost always, we’re beset by aphids. Each pest and disease has counter-measures that must be attempted and mastered over the years. What you read in a book may well fail against your pest, with your vegetable variety in your region. Years of testing is the only solution.

Problem: is it too much water, not enough water, not enough minerals or pests? (turned out to be too much water.)

Delusion #4: I can roll back my lawn and plant a garden in the soil. Maybe that’s true and maybe your soil needs fertilization. Often, the first year with new soil can be good, with a steady and noticeable reduction in productivity as your big producers (potatoes, corn, squash and beans) obliterate the minerals in your soil. If you’re not already producing compost when a survival situation begins (or if you don’t have stored fertilizer,) you may only grow a stunted garden.

In just two hours of harsh sunlight, this month-old lettuce (and many like it) burned to a crisp. Survival gardening requires ATTENTION.

Delusion #5: I can plant seeds and then let nature take its course. Like a square foot garden, a survival garden requires a different kind of care—meticulously providing every need and responding instantly to threats. Over and under-watering, burning sunlight, pests, mineral deficiencies, structural damage to the plants; all these cannot be allowed under any circumstances in a survival garden. Each plant must be babied by a careful gardener since each lost plant is forsaken calories.

Emergency intervention: sun too harsh. Lost ten plants before shading them.

Delusion #6: My family will eat my garden’s produce. There is a vast difference in terms of calories between vegetables, and there are many vegetables that your family will have a hard time eating. Sometimes the problem is flavor and sometimes the problem is trouble fitting the vegetable on the menu. I’ve never been able to get my family to eat eggplant, tomatillos or rhubarb, though they grow like weeds in my garden. We don’t know how to cook them. Also, I’ve often planted twenty times too much of one thing and a fraction of what I needed of another. If my family loves salsa and spaghetti sauce, then I need to hammer down on roma tomatoes. If my family adores cucumbers, then I should plant them big. If my family doesn’t use dill, don’t plant it.

Delicately propping up Simpson Lettuce to protect from wind damage.

If you’re not gardening now, every year, then you can’t count on a garden for survival calories. Even if you’re a pro, you will still get screwed on some vegetables in a survival crisis, since Mother Nature invariably throws curveballs.

Same Square-foot Garden: 1.75 months old. Hawaii. Winter.

The kind of people who will survive in a crisis with help from their garden will be the kind of people who gardened every year. There will be few exceptions. 

"Survival Gardening" may be a fallacy, but Every-Year-Gardening could save your life. Happy dirt digging!

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  • Election John: March 21, 2019

    I imagine if your garden is very successful then you will have to worry about protecting it from hungry and possibly armed people that aren’t as good at gardening as you.

  • Phyllis L: March 19, 2019

    I am a gardener extrodinary. Or, so I like to think so at times. I have been gardening seriously for the past 12 years. I find the only way to save seeds is to grow each and every year. Then let a couple of your grown veg go to seed. eh voila! There you go, no need to worry about where your next seeds are coming from and/or the ones you have are still viable.
    Garden On!

  • russell drinkwater: March 18, 2019

    All true. Our vege garden is 30 years old and we have staples that grow from seed evry year. Summer and winter and most are selfsetters. Get yourself some malungay tree seeds and get a couple going. These are your multi-vitamin capsules in a leaf form. And yes you do some form of movable cover in summer in australia as the 40deg C heat kills many things. Not climbing spinach though it is super tough. And peanuts love heat and water if you have garden space. Plus they improve the soil with nitrogen fixing for next winters crops.

  • mark arrington: March 18, 2019

    Great information Jason, thanks.

  • Griz: March 18, 2019

    I come from a long line of successful farmers. I have spent years perfecting my vegetable garden skills.

    In addition to skills, you must have the cooperation of nature and keep animals (including the two-legged ones) from snatching the produce.

    Thus far I have concluded I am excellent at growing mold in the refrigerator, and that’s about it.

    So I am raising a healthy crop of #10 cans (among other long-term food stores).

    Hunting and fishing is another issue. I CAN do that very well, but it may also be tough to do in a survival situation.

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