Quick References

How Far Will Your Survival Garden Get You? (The Truth Is, NOT Far At All)

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

13 comments to How Far Will Your Survival Garden Get You? (The Truth Is, NOT Far At All)

  • Janice

    I agree with Jen, something is better than nothing. We all need to do and be our best. Just do the (absolute) best you can and it will be enough. Get stored food, have a garden it all goes into surviving and thriving. I am just getting started and while I have a nice back yard only half of it gets full sun and I have never gardened before. I hope to start soon and do the best I can. That’s all I can do; well that and more importantly trust in God to see me through.

  • T.R.

    I would suggest to anyone to read up on rooftop gardening and urban gardens for confined areas . Why ? because these people have come up with some extremely ingenious ways of using relatively cheap materials ( some even free ) and turning them into gardens that will give you the maximum yield of food in a tiny space . If you use these ideas in areas where you DO have space , you could triple your food output vs. the traditional methods of farming .

    • I’ve generally subscribed to what I’ve found in Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon, which emphasizes spreading out gardens in order to deal with limited water availability. Though, I may have to change my strategy.

  • Bev

    Please understand that I am far from anti-garden! But, having gone on a “hunter-gatherer” diet for 2 weeks (meat, veggies, fruit, no grains) wow, I was hungry all the time!
    I can see why peasant stock (that’s me!) gains weight so easily! The body would have to be thrifty to survive.
    That said… :) A garden is an absolutely wonderful way to supplement your food storage! Every single thing you can use from the garden is something you don’t have to buy or barter for. A dollar packet of seeds, “exercise time”, and you can save a $100 on fresh sweet corn! What about the cost of watermelon, even if you only eat it 4x during the summer? Potatoes?
    Even a small garden can save you over $1,000 in groceries that are better tasting and better for you! Have you actually tasted a home grown strawberry out of the garden? The burst of flavor in your mouth? What about raspberries, a fresh onion, fresh sun warmed tomatoe?
    And what about all the lessons the garden teaches the kids!

  • I don’t live in the city. I have an acreage in Canada and I’m using this time to learn how to make the garden as extensive as possible. I’m working now on the autumn planting of beets, beans, peas, turnips (don’t know if they’ll do anything), potatoes, and a few other veggies that have about a 60 day growing window. I’ve had the cannon pot and pressure cooker working full days for weeks now, but I’ve put down a lot of fish and shellfish, too. I’m learning to get through until the next growing season. But I will have winter plant life that I’ll be supplementing with what I have and what the grocery store can provide.

    Mind you I have two horses and hens and a great deal of barter power already, just to start off the hard times, but it will still be a very difficult time if no one around me has prepared for the worst.

  • Morris

    Well,scratch that idea (serious gardening). I can’t even afford the
    fencing that would be needed to keep the midnight shoppers from visiting.

    • Getting you to NOT garden was NOT my intention at all! I just wanted people to be realistic about it. Gardening is definitely something I encourage people to do, not only for the nutritional benefit, but the experience as well. Being at least somewhat self sufficient is the best thing you can do and growing your own food is a huge step in that direction.

    • The midnight shoppers are pretty tasty themselves, especially the little bunnies that are unfortunately avoiding our garden/bunny abbatoir. In some cases the midnight shoppers provide more food then the entire garden (i.e. we have a cute little deer that has been getting closer and closer to our garden the last few weeks that I’ve already been sizing up… sausage, cube steak ;-).

      • Good point. I didn’t consdier woodland critters as being something that would come from a garden, although, it makes sense because they are definitely attracted to the food.

  • Bev

    There is a reason that my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother were under 5′ tall and under 100 lbs. and most men were 5’5′ or less and under 145 lbs. lack of nutrition!
    People generally didn’t start getting taller (if living on the farm/homestead) until after the 1950s when grocery store food became common–better nutrition :)
    Raised bed and intense succession planting will bring you a much better harvest. But, yes, consider the garden as a supplement to your stored foods!
    I have a permaculture going here with raspberries, blueberries, apple trees, walnut trees, rhubarb, elderberry, currents, American cranberries, worden grapes (ymmmm), stawberries, asparagus, cherry tree, blackcaps, mulberry tree, raised bed intensive gardens and adding space for the corn, vines, and larger crops. Plus two sheds and a permanent greenhouse to go up this fall. Chickens of course! Two hayburners and a donkey and I’m in town!
    But I wouldn’t want to survive off our garden! I would be hungry all the time and lose a lot of weight–which I can afford :)
    There is a reason our parents and grandparents left the farm for the city!

    Bev :)

    • Well said! The notion that we can all survive because we have extensive gardens and even farm animals is a myth. We really need help from other people and other food sources.

  • Jen

    I understand that our small garden won’t get us far but it is far better than no food at all and at least we’re getting some nutritious vegetables from it on occasion. :)