In year one, you had a 4 x 8 (more or less) bed of
vegetables, and while it was fun and tasty, you'll have noticed it didn't feed
you much, or for long. You'll need more growing space to feed yourself all
year, plus plenty of gear, like glass jars and pressure canner, a chest
freezer, and thousands of square feet of gardening space, not just 32 of them.
You need more trellising materials, and you need several tools beyond your
fingers and your junk-drawer scissors. You'll want compost bins and leaf-mold
bins for soil improvement every year. You need fruit trees and bushes, which
cost more than 25-cent seeds, and the trees likely won't bear fruit for 3 years
from planting. If you eat meat, you'll need a meat source. You might want to
build a smokehouse or solar dehydration system for jerky and a greenhouse and
rain collection barrels. You need, in short, money to get into gardening in a
Now it’s time to get into the crux of the situation.
Survival farming. What do you need to do that?
You need tools and seeds and skills. You also need more land
than I have.
|you won't need this many tools, but you'll need some|
How much space do you need to live on your own land?
There's a lot of debate about this, but I've experimented in
my climate and think the most optimistic estimates you can find online are far
too low. In 2000 square feet (and that includes some paths--to get around to
weed, water, and harvest), I can grow enough veg and fruit to feed myself for a
year, assuming normal losses to pests and surprise freezes and too much or too
little rain. I think a second person could eat from only another 500 square
feet, if we were careful with our planting and did trellising of squash and
melons so they didn't sprawl and take up so much ground.
In a normal world, that 2500 square foot garden for a couple
is all you’d need to eat for a full year. With 2500 square feet of space in
garden, you would never need to spend a dime on fruit or veg at the store. You
could build up to that much space in 3 years, and if there were a limited
disaster (truckers all went on strike, so no veg/fruit were being delivered),
you could eat. You could barely survive on that and possibly whatever meat you
had the in your fridge and dried beans in your cupboard.
But let's imagine the worst-case scenario, and we need land
to create everything we'll need, year in, year out. If I had 4 hens for eggs
and 3 breeding rabbits for meat via their offspring, even if I tractored them
on pasture, I'd need a lot more space to grow their hay and grain. If I had a dairy
cow in addition, it'd take 5 acres minimum…plus a few acres of woods both to
burn for heat and to attract deer that I'd also hunt for meat. If I had goats
and not a cow for dairy, I could get by on 3 acres.
Still, I’d want you to own 8 fertile acres if you really
wanted to plan seriously for a survival scenario. 5 cleared, 3 in woods,
ideally abutting another property with more woods on it. (More woods = more
And even in this situation: rabbits, hens for eggs, hunting
deer in your woods, a cow for dairy products, you need to breed a dairy cow or
she'll stop giving milk, so who has the bull? When your hens stop laying in
year 4, how do you replace them? And farming 5 acres with hand tools (we're
assuming a total collapse situation right now, so there's no diesel or petrol
to run tractors) is one heck of a lot of work. 3000 square feet even is a lot
of work, as I can attest!
Whew! You're not ready for the jump from year 1's 4 x 8 bed
to the 8-acre farm in year 2, even if you could afford the land right now. For
now, you expand slowly on the property you own/rent, and you quit expanding
when you run out of land or time or patience. But in expanding, you're always
developing those skills that might keep you alive in some distant future.
Understand that food self-sufficiency isn't the work of one year or two years
for most people. Getting to that point will likely take you five hard years of
Remember my 4 x 6 foot plan as a sample for your year 1 garden? You'll need 100 of these to feed two people.
Some other issues to consider. If you're a vegan or
vegetarian, or if you think a SHTF scenario might force you to be one, you need
crops that have fat and protein and calories, which many vegetables are short
on. In my climate, that's likely to mean potatoes, peanuts (barely doable for
me—they need a long growing season, and we had an early frost this year that
might have killed a peanut crop), sunflower seeds and storage (or shell) beans,
like pintos or Great Northerns, cowpeas, and lentils. Pumpkin and squash seeds
are also good, though they are more like a bonus to the main crop of the flesh
of squash, and remember to save some seed for next year's crop first! Corn,
Brussels sprouts, peas, and artichokes are good protein sources, though
artichokes are quite particular about climate. Potatoes, peanuts, and squash
take a good deal of growing space. Squirrels love peanuts and sunflower seeds
and took my whole crop of sunflower seeds last year. (I assume it's the high
calorie/fat thing that attracts them so, lots of energy for very little work.)
So I'd have to kill them anyway to save the crop, and it seems to me if I kill
them, I may as well eat them. Vegetarianism in a survival situation makes
little sense, though you might well eat meat less often after collapse of
civilization, and one squirrel might be the only meat your family gets in one week.
What you also notice quickly with gardening at my level of
self-sufficiency is this: you get sick of crops that tend to come in all at
once. When tomatoes are coming in, you eat tomatoes two meals per day until you
can't bear it another day. When summer squash is coming in, you get sick of
summer squash. Sometimes you have a big lettuce salad every day for lunch for 10 days
running and would just about tackle a stranger to steal their turkey sandwich
to get some variety into your diet. So preserving is important, and getting used
to less variety is important as you mostly eat crops that are in season. If I crave a
spinach salad in August, tough, I can't have one. In my
climate, I'll need to wait until October when I can harvest one again. You
begin to value crops like potatoes and winter squash and onions that store
easily, don't need canning, or electricity to freeze, and can be eaten either
at harvest or up to 8 months later. In a SHTF fan scenario, if there's no
electricity, it's storage crops like that which will feed you. You could always
water-bath can on a wood stove or over a barbecue pit--if you have access to
woods and saws and axes to cut your wood. If you're in an arid and hot climate,
you can dehydrate veg in a screened box outdoors. But it's traditional
root-cellar crops plus any meat you can hunt that'll feed you most of the
winter, and with the least effort.
You'll also learn to succession plant (you plant carrots and
cucumbers every 2 weeks so you always have a few coming in and never three
hundred at once because what can you do with 300 cucumbers beyond can pickles?) You grow 2-3
varieties of a crop that'll come ripe at different times (summer and fall
raspberries, for instance).
And there's a lot of tedious work in preserving. Shelling
peas and storage beans is BORING--at least for me it is. That's the time you
want some audiobooks. And if SHTF, yeah, no more audiobooks. In that world, you
have your 12-year-old kid read to you from a paper book, both to practice
reading, and to entertain you while you shell and shell and shell those peas
you're going to can. A day of canning tomatoes and tomato sauce and salsa can
be six hours long and involves a lot of cleanup. You'll appreciate having done
so in the dead of winter, to be sure, but don't think it's no work at all. It's
Of course, in a SHTF scenario, you don’t have to show up at
a job, so you have the time to do it all. Good thing! Spring and autumn are
busy times in the garden and kitchen.
You'd have to learn how to make your own vinegar to preserve foods in a SHTF scenario, or rely entirely on the crock process of making pickles and sauerkraut where anaerobic bacteria create the vinegar and preservation. And then you'd need one massive store of salt on hand, or a salt mine on your property. If you have the right climate, or can pull a lemon tree in and out of your home, there's another natural source of acidity to help preserve foods.
I'm hoping to be 85% food self-sufficient this year as an
experiment, though that includes fishing and hunting offsite, so you might not
count that as truly self-sufficient. I'll be vegetable self-sufficient, I
believe, in 2020, which is my third year of gardening here (and seventh
gardening year of my life, in three different climates). In 2021, I should be
vegetable and fruit self-sufficient. In 2022, I'll have more fruit variety and
can finally harvest the asparagus and rhubarb I planted this year. For the
other 15% of what I eat this year, I'll still need to buy dairy products, eggs (unless I decide to get
hens, which now that I’ve found a local source for $2/dozen free range eggs, I
probably won’t!), and staples like oil, salt, vinegar, flour, yeast, and spices
that I can't grow like cinnamon and nutmeg. And bacon for my BLTs. Bacon is
If a SHTF scenario came, I could live without that 15% extra
food, but then I'd also have to defend the large garden I have going—it'd be
very attractive to any hungry person passing by. To be blunt, I wouldn't
survive for long in a true apocalypse. So for me, this effort is about safer
and healthier and tastier vegetables and fruit, a way to get daily exercise
that I enjoy far more than I enjoy going to the gym, and making this land that it cost me to buy (and still costs me, with my insanely
high property taxes) pay me back financially in some way. Also, I hate lawns,
which seem to me the most ridiculous crop ever grown. (Unless you’re a cow and
can eat grass.) I'd rather weed and plant and pick two hours a day than mow one
hour per week. If there's economic collapse of a limited sort, if Amazon quits
taking books like mine, or if vegetable prices soar, I'll still be able to feed
myself for as long as I'm spry enough to work the garden and walk to the nearest
river (only 1/4 mile, and only 3 miles to the nearest pond) to fish it.
Is the effort worth it? For me, yes. I'm not only eating
well, I'm having fun. For about $300 spent per year, plus my time, I can grow $1000 worth of food. With seed saving, I won't need
to buy many seeds in the future. (I don't buy any plants at all and start
all my own plants indoors under shop lights, from seed.)
Admittedly, I can't write 5 books a year and have that garden both, even once I'm past the hard part of creating the new beds out of lawn. I
couldn't work full-time at a non-writing job, commute, and care for this much
garden alone. If I had three small children, it'd be hard to manage both them and the
garden. A 3000 square foot garden/orchard plus preserving the harvest is close
to a half-time job for one person, though two healthy people and a teenager
could manage it in their off-hours.
But the taste of a carrot pulled after the first two frosts
in the fall? That first BLT? Tomato soup like nothing you've had from a can?
Foods like ripe currants and ground cherries that don't appear in any local store? Salads I'm sure don't have e coli in them? Yes, they make the work totally worth it.
|What I ate on July 30 last year: scallion, carrots, tomatos, ground cherries|
|2 days later, more food. Kale and chard in addition|
Try a garden, and see if you agree. I hope you never have to
live 100% from your own mini-farm, but if you do have to, by starting the process in 2020, you’ll have the skills
already. Good luck!