Many of us have vegetable gardens as preppers. They’re touted as among the most important things you can do to better prepare your family for hard times. Obviously, the ability to eat is up there on my priority list as well. The problem I see is that I don’t believe we’re being realistic or, at least, honest with ourselves when we talk about our survival gardens.
Consider this vegetable garden (pictured right). As backyard gardens go, it’s pretty large. How big do you think it is? I’ll save you the trouble, it’s approximately 30′ x 15′. In square feet that’s 450 ft^2. Impressive, right?
Well, I was flipping through a book I enjoy reading, Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times, when I happened upon the page that discusses how large his garden is. Depending upon what numbers he uses, Steve Solomon (the author) says his beds are about 2000 ft^2 of usable growing beds. Doing the math says that his garden is at least four times larger than this one.
There are other considerations, such as the fact that he lives in a climate that allows for growing virtually year around as well as the fact that he actually has two identical plots that he uses to grow food, except that one plot is left unused at all times. The important part, in my opinion, is that Steve states even his vast garden only supplies about half of the calories that only he and his wife consume year around.
Think about that for a moment. Given everything Mr. Solomon has going right for him, including his huge garden, he’s still only able to supply half of what two adults would require! Now, what about a whole family? Or, a family and those who show up at your door TEOTWAWKI + 1? Dare I mention the neighbors?
Now, I haven’t been 100% forthright with you yet. There’s also a backside to this vegetable garden. At the rear of the fence is another plot where plants that take up a lot of room are grown, including corn and squash. This plot measures roughly 90′ x 7′. In square feet that’s about 630 ft^2. Now, if we add both of the plots together, we get let’s say just over 1000 ft^2. Now we’re up to almost half of what Steve’s garden is.
You know, I still haven’t shown you everything in this backyard. There also happens to be a descent sized greenhouse, as well as blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes, strawberries, and grapes planted along the inside fence-line. As suburban gardens go, I haven’t seen a better one around. And, no, it’s not mine. It happens to be my father’s-in-law, so I’m quite familiar with it.
As many gardeners are well aware, the problem with gardening is that the food comes in waves, usually over the course of a month or two. I know…. we’ve seen our fair share of green beans and tomatoes lately! But, even with the huge waves of veggies we get over the summer, it’s not really that much food at all.
For example, and I should clarify that I haven’t done any experimenting at all, the green beans alone might equate to being a huge part of a few dozen meals over the course of the summer; the same can be said for any other vegetable in the garden. Add it all up and, being very generous here, I could image maybe a month of hearty meals coming from this garden alone. If we stretched it, maybe two months. So, two months out of twelve… that’s not so good. If we were able to match Steve’s garden then we’re up to two months–maybe four–of meals, which is still a fraction of what we need.
Granted, there are ways to stretch the yield a bit, such as staggering planting crops throughout the season. The thing is that even this strategy can only go so far. It’s not like I can plant tomatoes in the middle of winter and expect anything to grow. In reality, there’s a small timeframe for this idea to work. The climate also makes a difference. Here in the midwest, it’s difficult to grow crops through the winter, but it can be done. In Tasmania, where Steve Solomon lives, the climate is far more favorable to year-round growing, which means he is likely to get more than one growing season. In addition, I would imagine that intensive gardening techniques, as well as the fertilizer used, and maybe even heirloom seeds versus “regular” store-bought seeds may also make a difference. But, enough to double or triple the food yield? I don’t think so.
On another topic, many people suggest the ability to preserve garden foods, but I really don’t think that many of us will have enough–if any–leftovers to even bother. Maybe this is useful for people who live in a very harsh winter climate. Even then, I would suspect that most of the food grown will be consumed.
So, if we did everthing right, we increased the garden size to at least 2000 ft^2, had a favorable climate to grow in (so that we could grow year-round and get more than one growing season), then we might be able to get half of our meals/calories from our garden… maybe. But, everything has to be right. We can’t have a crop failure. The reality is that many of us don’t have the luxury of a year-round growing season. We don’t have 2000 ft^2 gardens already growing. We probably don’t even have the seeds to make that happen.
This is why stored food is a MUST!! Unless you want to eat every other day or only a few times a week then you simply MUST supplement any food you can grow. Of course, you can look at the other way too: any food you grow will supplement what you have stor