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One Reason NOT to Rely on a SHTF Vegetable Garden

SHTF Vegetable Garden

Seeing as though the traditional gardening season is coming to an end for most of us, it got me to thinking about the many months until the next gardening season starts, usually in March or April. Yes, yes, I know you can grow root crops and there are such things as cold frames and greenhouses but that’s not what led to my next line of thinking…

Many preppers seem to expect to rely on their SHTF vegetable garden when times get tough, which is a noble goal for sure, but one that I feel is unreachable for the vast majority of us. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a garden or even that you shouldn’t try to grow your own veggies for SHTF. Not at all.

On the contrary, I feel everyone should garden however they can, wherever they can, whenever they can… right now! It’s at least one step closer to being less reliant on “the man” or, at least, the folks at your local grocery store. 😉

Regardless of my opinion on the subject of attainability if/when SHTF as well as general self-reliance, there’s another problem that I feel most people are missing in their food prepping plan and you really need to look at your own diet to determine whether this is a problem for you or not.

The Most Likely Scenario…

I see is that most people do something like this along their prepping transition:

  1. They start buying MREs and other freeze-dried meals because somebody told them to. Don’t do that.
  2. Then they wise up and start stockpiling caned and boxed foods that they typically eat and eventually their pantry starts to overflow. That’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s probably a great first start and what most people, me included, would recommend.
  3. Eventually, they realize that if/when SHTF their canned and boxed food isn’t going to last very long so they start adding foods that will last a while, including rice, beans, grains, etc. Maybe they add it to their regular diet, maybe not. I’d suggest that you do add them to your diet for a variety of reasons, such as getting your body used to the food and so that you actually have a clue how to use it.

I’d imagine some people stop there and if you do it’s a bad move. Why? Because you’re like missing an important part of your nutrition that can only be found in foods like vegetables and, hence, the NEED for a SHTF vegetable garden. No doubt those who plan to have such a garden–and certainly those who garden already–have a huge “leg up” on those who don’t.

But, you know what I don’t hear?

I don’t hear a plan for their dietary needs (and wants) much beyond that.

For example, most Americans include meat and dairy as a large portion of their diet each and everyday. Regardless of whether you or I think it’s good to do so or not, there are going to be problems during SHTF if you expect to rely on whatever food you have in your pantry, the bulk foods you expect to subsist on, and your more than likely meager vegetable garden… and I mean “meager” in the nicest possible way. 🙂

The problem, therefore, is that by expecting to rely on a vegetable garden you’ve essentially made yourself a vegan and didn’t even know it!

Of course, I’m assuming a few things and I should say that know people who are vegan and they seem to do relatively well on it. But that’s by choice. There’s a huge difference in a choice to go vegan and doing so because you didn’t plan otherwise.

What’s missing, obviously, is the meat and dairy.

Let’s talk about meat for a moment…

Now, I’m sure some of you are hunters and fully expect to be able to bring home a nice catch whenever needed. I’m not a hunter so I cannot speak to the probability of this directly but I’d have to imagine that plenty of other people are going to have the same thought and, sooner rather than later, that food supply you expected to rely upon is going to dwindle or at least become much more difficult to acquire. By the way, if you’re an accomplished hunter you can come live with me for SHTF. 🙂

Perhaps some of you have a chest freezer full of meat. Great. Eventually that will run out and there is certainly the potential problem of having to keep the chest freezer running. Odds are that you’re going to have one heck of a meal or two shortly after SHTF when you find you don’t have enough fuel to keep your chest freeze going and now all that meat is going bad.

Yes, you can attempt to preserve it in some fashion (such as smoking the meat) but have you ever done that? How well is that going to work when you’re under a time crunch because your freezer meat is going bad? Perhaps there are other possibilities such as preserving in salt… do you even have enough salt to do that and will that even work with the meat you have stocked? These are just a few things off the top of my head to think about with regards to meats.

If you’d like options that can last for decades, try our various protein options that include diced chicken, sausage crumbles, ham, turkey, eggs, and more!

What about dairy?

People eat a lot of cheese and milk products as well as butter which are kind of hard to find in a SHTF vegetable garden. 😉 And, besides, these products don’t store well in almost any form except for being powdered. Moreover, I wouldn’t suggest trying to dehydrate these items on your own. I tried to dehydrate eggs once and made a big mess! But that’s not even the real concern with doing so. Commercially-dehydrated options are best for health safety reasons.

Apparently it is possible to can these foods if you’d prefer but I doubt they last very long, not nearly as long as powdered options. That said, dehydrated dairy products can get expensive so maybe it’s something to look into as a short-term SHTF solution. Regardless, most of us aren’t going to be able to replicate the quality of commercially-dehydrated options for safety and longevity. We carry a wide variety of dairy options, from instant and powdered milks to various cheeses, yogurts, and butter… most of which will last for years unopened.

Concluding Thoughts About a SHTF Vegetable Garden

The point is that you can’t just rely on your SHTF vegetable garden without also considering the rest of your diet. If the expectation is that people were to “rely on their SHTF homestead” then that would a different scenario altogether. But most of us don’t have that option.

My advice? Really take a look at your diet–whatever that might be–and think long and hard about the foods you have stored as well as your plan for replicating your diet during SHTF. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds but there are options. You just have to plan for it now!

By Damian Brindle

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24 replies on “One Reason NOT to Rely on a SHTF Vegetable Garden”

You are wrong about the cheese part of the dairy problems. I have been making my own cheese wheels for several years. A hard waxed cheese like cheddar will stay good for 10+ years under the right storage conditions. You cannot store any cheese that has been sliced. I recommend a cheese making guide for making some yourself. Another benefit is that homemade cheese is fantastic.

I think my point was that most people don’t have the ability or the ingredients (in this case fresh milk) to make the cheese, among other foods. You say “under the right storage conditions” which means what exactly? Many foods can last a long time give the right conditions but that’s precisely the problem when SHTF. While I certainly commend your ability and willingness to make your own cheese–that would be fun to learn one day–I do suggest you really consider how long your cheese wheels may last during a SHTF event.

I have a 10,000 SF garden, my first one this year, we worked hard at knowledge and efficient setup. Massive sucess, will be better next year, without all the prep work.

it is producing all we need for 2 humans and 2 very large german shepherds, and wwe buy eggs, milk, and occasional meat, like turkey at a buck a pound.

Don’t forget that one can add sprouts to the diet if you have some seed for quick growth in a jar.

My wife used to sprout… I might have even wrote about it in the past. That’s certainly a good thought and something most of us can do with stored wheat rather easily.

I planted a 30 by 30 garden in my back yard “back to Eden” style, deep mulch, no till, very little weeding or watering. My yields varied from OK (the eggplants) to pathetic (tomatoes and potatoes).
The kale and brocolli gave virtually zero return. If we were dependent on this year’s harvest we would be starving. I expect better results as my soil improves, but the point is START NOW. I beg to differ w/ towtruck, chickens are a win/win/win endeavor. Eggs, HQ fertilizer, then meat. But if not for you, consider cavies or rabbits. Domestic animals are not high maintenance, just a small constant chore. We leave the chickens for days at a time with auto feeders/waterers. But not for weeks.

Sorry to hear you garden didn’t work out as planned… that always seems to be the case when a new endeavor is started. I’ve never NOT tilled like I’m supposed to. In fact, I generally subscribe to tilling deeper than recommended as per the book “Gardening When it Counts” (you can find it in the recommended books sections). Of course, I have seen some interesting ways that people garden such as in bails of hay but never been that ambitious. 😉

There is an excellent tool for assessing whether your long-term food production will meet your nutritional needs:

I use this website all the time because I am not a dietician but I need to know if what I’m stockpiling, or what I’m planning on growing, will keep me from becoming nutritionally-deficient.

I used that tool to assess a heavily-vegan garden plan called “One Circle.” To be fair, it’s a pretty good, compact, workable, tested plan. But the calories and other macro-nutrients are lite, so I modified it.

Steven Harris is fond of saying solar power isn’t a magical light saber. Seems like preppers who put most of their mental energy into the bullets side of the beans-and-bullets equation, tend to think of vegetable gardens as a magical light saber — that if the SHTF, they’ll plant a garden and get by just fine.

They’ll be hungry. A couple hundred square feet of garden will not supply manna-like year-round food. As you and others have pointed out, it takes a lot more space than people tend to think, and takes a ton more time to tend.

The key to subsistence gardening is to get your head around the notion of time-shifting. Grow what you can store for later. Unless you live on a tropical island, gardens don’t produce food year-round. It will be bare dirt for maybe six months of the year. What do you eat then?

Knowing how to garden successfully is a great skill to develop. Everyone should know how to grow their own food. But people need to be realistic. Spending all your time tricking out the perfect AR, while counting on that little can of “Survival Seeds” to take care of the rest, is a recipe for doom.

It’s just not being bare for six months, it’s also the time it takes to grow another crop. The fastest growing veggies are greens and snap peas and they can take two months. You must be able to grow enough veggies to last a year or so till the next time your crops are reading for harvest and storage. You also have to plan on crop failure or underproduction and still have enough to let to go to seed to have enough seed for the following season plantings. It’s also good to have a way to start you seeding indoors or in greenhouses. If you have a short growing season then it’s a necessity.

Quite true about having to wait for growth. Up here in New England, we can’t grow greens year-round. I’m not sure a heated greenhouse would solve that. There’s just so much less sun in the winter. The indians didn’t have greenhouses either, and got by. The corn harvest was just once a year. The collected grain then parceled out to last. Same with the beans. They hunted when the time was best (not all the time) and preserved the meat for later. They also moved around to where the food was — in the woods for the blueberry crop, to the streams for the spring fish runs. Always with preserving the temporary overabundance to supply during the lean times.

Yes, a wise farmer/prepper would allow for poor harvests or losses by saving more than he had to (not just-in-time planting). Only the most Joseph-like storage plans will get someone through the unavoidable bad years.

With ‘failure’ in mind, people need a working garden up and running -beforehand. Starting the 200 sq ft “survival seed” garden, after SHTF, will not be a cornucopia light saber. Not everything grows lavishly everywhere. For instance, in my garden, I can grow navy beans with reasonable success. Corn, not very well (though I keep trying it, mostly because I’m stubborn). If I was planning to survive on my garden’s corn yield, I’d starve. If SHTF, I won’t be planting tons of corn. I get better yields from other things. A person won’t know what will give them good yields (or not) without having run through several seasons.

Post-SHTF is a poor time to start figuring it out.

Native americans needed square miles per person to forage. One of the things about selling Manhattan for beads is that it was too small to support a tribe.

There are partially underground greenhouses called Walipini that are not that expensive, and some have included wood burning rocket mass stoves to grow warm weather crops. permies dot com has a section on them

All I’m saying is that foraging will be an absolute requirement regardless of how much land we have to cover to keep eating. Just a thot, thx.

Everything you said is true and you said it well, I wish I had your gift of converstation. But the alternative to gardening is that by the time your supplies run out including seed, you must be able to transition from gardening to foraging. This can be done with a little effort, and it must be learned before you start on you last can or jar of beans, or dehydrated whatever. Those that haven’t learned to forage before shft are in for trouble. thanks

I definitely agree with towtruck about throwing spacing out the window. I’ve been gardening for many years and have never worried about spacing. I just plant my seeds and that’s that. You also need to experiment now with what you can and can’t grow. I so want to grow broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and a few other things but can not get them to produce so I have moved on. Every year I will try a few new things just to see what I can grow. When I have a winner I make sure to plant it every year. Also you will have to save seed from your vegetables. In SHTF you won’t be able to order more seeds. You will have to provide your own. I too have 6 approximately 4×8 garden beds and can grow enough to feed my family and give some away. Of course in order to have food during the winter you will have to preserve what you grow in the summer and fall. Learn these skills. I do have quite a bit of canned food, rice, beans etc. stored as well.

Saundra: Excellent, excellent, excellenct. I too have much trouble with brocolli, cauliflower, and brussel sprounts and we have found that cooler weather helps them very much. For winter growing try putting clear plastic on top of your grow beds. You will have to put in some stakes to hold it up but it may be worth it with a heat lamp inside. Just a thot. We live south of I-10 so our growing season is virtually year round. Hey, God bless and thanks

I wasn’t done yet, sorry. When you plant, forget spacing, plant thick, very thick, eight or ten per inch regardless of vegetable variety. Remember you will start thinning and eating when they are only one inch tall. Throw spacing out the window. Also usually no more than two waterings are needed to get them to the edible stage and sometimes none at all, no kidding. Forget weeding just don’t get the young weeds coming up mixed into your vegetable leaves unless they are edible too, such as purselane. Forget sunshine, you can grow them in the closet if you have one big enough for a planter box. You can use any plastic container that is at least two inches deep to grow them in your living room. Use your imagination, we have to unlearn some things, so keep an open mind. Insects won’t cause you much damage if any at this young life stage. Also, it definitely takes some getting used to, but some of the creepy crawly things are edible. Study on your own for that. Also we keep a bee hive in our yard right in the middle of the residential area. We don’t need bees for our garden because we never let the plants get big enought to bloom, but they travel far and wide around town and this year we got over fifty pounds from that one hive. They tell us honey, stored in jars, never spoils. Well thanks again, eat healthy, and let’s put the doctors out of business, thanks.

I don’t know a lot, but I do know gardening. Not the ‘master gardening’ stuff where people pronounce every veggie by their latin name. Nope, we’re talking food on the table just like my grandmother taught me back in the sixties. She learned this from raising nine children during the great depression. There is just not that much to know, so why grind on it? What is said here is proven fact, we have been doing it too long and it works if you don’t complicate it. REPEAT, DON’T COMPLICATE IT, PLEASE. First, get acreage, even one acre out of you mind. Whoever said you need an acre to feed one person is way, way off course. If the navy gave you and aircraft carrier would you know what to do with it. A canoe would be better wouldn’t it? So please understand that acreage can be very detrimental to survival. You may want to buy a tractor and implements not to mention expensive fuel and maintenace. Then there are fences to put up, trespassers to contend with, increased propert taxes, and security risks,just to mention a few headaches. Therefore, Think Small! A few planter boxes can provide one person with all the calories needed to survive and thrive. Currently my neighbor has eight planter boxes, 4’by 8′ and they feed the two of them very well. You have to change the business as usual memtality though. We don’t let veggies grow to maturity, quite the contrary. When the plants are 1″ tall we start eating. Almost all veggies, including corn and okra are edible at this stage. There is a vast armada of nutrients and cancer fighting agents in plants at this young age. Just as we taught him, he plants one planter box every three days with the veggies of his choice and he has once to go hungry. We have 16 planter boxes the same size as his and we the four of us never go hungry either, never. Once you start this, if you choose to do so, you will be amazed at how the weight falls off, the double chin goes away, the bad stuff in your blood waves byebye, and health is restored. Read the old testament, people lived 900 years and beyond eating the green herbs of the field. Read Revelation, where the tree of life yeilds 12 different fruits each month, but isn’t it strange that the “leaves” of the tree of life, not the fruit is for the healing of the nations: [Re.22:2]. This system works beyond question and can save you thousands of dollars each year in groceries. The only drawback is you have to continually buy seed so don’t do the ounce pack deals, buy bulk wholesale. The savings on groceries will more than offset the cost of seeds. In closing, no matter what anyone tells you, unless you are from the extreme old school, put animals and dairy out of your mind too and keep it that way. Animals are more trouble than they could ever be worth, consume far more than they deliver, need constant attendance, and in general cause a lot of tear jerking when you have to kill and butcher them. An exception to this, except the tear jerking, may be rabbits. They still have a stomach you have to fill each day, carry diseases, and cages have to be cleaned. But they are delicious, and multiply faster than the folks in section eight housing. Goats, even while you are travelling can be haltered and led and forage as they walk. They provide good milk and meat if you can skin one out and butcher it. That’s about the only good thing I can say about animals.If you own a horse or cow and your name is not Bill Gates or Warren Buffet then sale the cursed thing, you can’t affort it. Another option people are wasting money on is aquaponics or hydroponics, whatever they call it, it won’t work when the grid goes down because how are you going to run your water pump without electricity. Even in the good times disease travels to each and every plant via the water canal. In closing, don’t, don’t, don’t purchase potting soil. Use the soil the Lord provided. If you have extremely poor soil then throw on some rabbit manure. Use it fresh off the farm. If anyone tells you that rabbit manure has to “cure” for a year before using on the garden just smile and ignore. Rabbit manure is not a hot manure like cow, horse, and chicken manure. If you don’t have money to purchase lumber for planter boxes that’s ok, just plant on the ground. God Himself planted a garden in Eden, and He did it the old fashion way. If you will do this plan without any of the gimmicks the garden centers offer then you will be doing yourself a big favor. As far as shft goes, guarding your garden will be less difficult because the average gang member or church member doesn’t have a clue that they can eat squash, watermelon, okra, etc. when they are only one inch tall. PS: you can eat cucumber plants, but not more than an ounce at a time. They are not poison but will cause nausea if eaten in quantity. Grandma forget to tell me about that…God bless her! PS2: You can throw away the stove or the campfire…nothing from your garden needs cooking now. So there, Christ bless and eat healthy. thanks

Towtruck, you allude to a lot of knowledge about gardening and how to grow and eat your veggies when young, etc. I grew up on a farm in Oregon and still do a lot of gardening. I would be interested in where to gain some of the information you are talking about.

Not to mention that gardening can be an intensive sport. Lots of weeding, pest control and watering required to bring in a healthy crop. Then, if you don’t plant sequentially (say beans every 4 weeks), you may end up with a pile of vegetables all at once. I suspect that too many buyers of canned heirloom seeds have yet to put a spade to dirt and may be in for a rude awakening. Regardless of the time and trouble, it remains a good idea for those who have the room to get started and learn the ropes – don’t wait until life depends of a garden.

I’ve read that it takes at least 1 acre of veggies per person to be able to sustain living from one harvest to the next. If you add in any livestock then a minimum of 100 acres is needed.
I imagine you can get by feeding a family of 4 on less than four acres, specially if you live in an area where you can get a summer and fall crop in. Here in NC if we shade young plants in mid summer we can get two summer crops in depending on the veggies. Plus you will need all the farming equipment that will be needed to do it all manually if necessary. The square foot gardening method is great for small plots but will not supply near enough veggies for a large family but it’s a good supplement to stored foods and will make them go farther.

I agree 100 percent. I was always taught to “store what you eat and eat what you store”. Canning meat is not hard, you just need a pressure scanners. The mechanics are not much different than water bath canning. Times of extreme stress are not the time to radically change your diet, you’d be almost guaranteed to have stomach problems. Learn SEVERAL good recipes for cooking your dried foods and eat them regularly. Eating should be a pleasure, not a stressful event.

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