Gardening · Homesteading

The Survival Garden

What is the one thing you should be doing right now? That would help with anxiety, boredom and isolation?

Getting a gardening area ready for spring.

No matter where or how you live. Where there is a will, there is a way. Gardening is in our DNA, no matter where we come from. You may have never grown food, but someone in your past did, and most likely did up until the past few generations, when the move to cities became common. For me, we grew produce because we were poor when I was a child. I remember having a garden till I entered my teens, and my Mom went to work, then it stopped. It came back in my early 20’s, then in my mid 30’s, where it stuck with me.

This year was an odd one. I was burnt out in early winter. I had no desire to think about our farm. Too many years of running a homestead and farm. I was about to take a year off. Then in December I started tracking reports about China. That concerned me, and if for anything it revitalized my gardening DNA. I started laying out plans. Seeds were acquired. As the months crept on, I started my earliest items (because I normally sell plants at the local farmers market in early May, I start early). A couple weeks ago I came to the conclusion that there won’t be a farmers market at all (I could be wrong….but I doubt it), and watched our state finally get put under ‘shelter in place’. With the boys at home now into their 3rd week, we make it most days to work in the garden beds. I am still doing my large plans because well….why not. At this point the goal is a full scale survival garden. Or as Grandma or Great Granny might have called it during WWII, a victory garden.

If you can grow produce for yourself, and others, you take pressure off the system. It means you don’t have to go to a store (as often). You don’t have to spend money you don’t have. And in coming weeks and month that part is going to get harder for many in the US. The other fear consumers should have is a distinct lack of produce in coming year for a couple reasons: By shutting borders we may well not have enough pickers and crops may potentially rot in the fields. If other countries become sick, we won’t get their produce shipped to us.

What is the first thing you need to do? GO BUY SEEDS. NOW. Seeds are being bought up quickly, and you don’t want to not get any. Seeds are cheap, and you can buy vegetable seeds and starts with SNAP benefits as well. Remember that, and use it if you have to take help in the coming months.

Oddly, people forget about hardware and grocery stores for seed racks. Just check the back for them being produced for the 2020 year. Most seeds have a long shelf life, if stored in a dry/cool environment. Store leftover seeds in mason jars in the dark, and while germination rates do drop yearly, you can easily keep growing from the same packet for a couple of years if need be.

When you go to buy seeds, buy things you like to eat, but also read the packet backs – know how long an item takes. If it takes 95 days to mature, you face a real issue in cooler areas. Look for shorter grow times. For example, here where we live I look for tomatoes that are 75 days and under. While the lovely huge heirlooms look and taste amazing, we just cannot get enough ripe before cool fall night to make it worth our time as we don’t grow them in greenhouses or tunnels.

Often, faster growing seeds are F1 hybrids. Hybrids have been grown to be a better version. This isn’t a bad thing. However it means you cannot collect seeds to grow the next year as they won’t grow true to type. Heirloom seeds however you can. I grow about half heirloom, half hybrid, so that I can collect seed from some. Also, consider where and how you will be growing. If you are on a patio or deck, grow dwarf or bush varieties. If you have fast garden space, then grow pole beans and peas. Squash isn’t easy to grow on a patio, but tomatoes you can. But as I said….the dreams that you buy are cheap thankfully, when you buy seeds.

Figure out how and where you can grow food. Do you have a backyard you can turn over? Do you have flower beds that already exist around a house? Can you fit pots on a small patio? If you don’t have supplies or tools, and you live in a town or city, ask in online groups if people will loan the items – they can leave them on your doorstep to make the trade. Always ask yourself what you have to repurpose into containers. Old swimming pools for children and worn out 5 gallon buckets can be converted into containers. Just drill or punch drain holes.

Getting soil can be harder, but hardware and feed stores are considered essential, so most are open. You can in many cases pay by phone and load up outside with no physical contact.

If you are opening up lawn, the land under may not be good (because the top soil was scraped and sold, then shaped and packed before the house was built). See if a neighbor has a tiller you can borrow to open the soil up. You can always buy compost bags at the hardware store if need be. But even the deadest land will grow something if you can till it open. so that it is light and fluffy once again.

The key here isn’t perfection. It is getting an area ready as soon as possible, before it is time to start growing. Over the winter you can make it better, and enrich the soil. You can (should!) start a compost pile today (if you have a backyard that is), so that by summer you have rich amendment to work into your soil.

You have time in most areas. While I have plenty of seeds germinating in my greenhouses now, the first crops won’t be transplanted for awhile still here. Our tomato plants won’t see the ground till May. Overnight freezes still happen here. So breathe a bit, but start planning now.

I’ll talk more about this in the coming weeks. But for now? Get seeds. I cannot say this enough.