Emergency food storage plans are designed to accommodate short-term, long-term, and multi-year preparedness situations, but the best strategy is to develop gardening skills to make you less reliant on what you’ve got stashed away. If you’ve never gotten your hands dirty, it’s a good idea to build up your gardening skills, even if you don’t have your own patch of dirt.
Backyard Gardening: Beginner Varieties
If you have the room to garden, you’ll want to start with the easiest varieties that offer multiple skill-building opportunities.
Bush beans, pole beans, and tomatoes are easy to grow. The acid in tomatoes makes them a good “practice” fruit for canning, and those who want to learn how to pickle will find string beans to be a forgiving veggie (and a great garnish for end-of-the-world Bloody Marys). Practice your seed-storage skills with beans and tomatoes, and learn how to slice and sun-dry the latter.
Both make great container plants, given enough room, though you really do need more space to be able to develop a worthwhile bean crop.
Imagine yourself sneaking over to a weedy vacant urban lot in the middle of the night, dressed in dark clothes, brandishing a sharp, metal, spear-shaped object. You’re not going to bury a body; you’re about to dig up a few carrots or potatoes to supplement your canned food supply.
“Guerrilla gardening” is a movement first conceived to turn unused urban properties into impromptu vegetable gardens. In a long-term emergency situation, and with the right choice of vegetable species, guerrilla gardening can put food on your table even if your own garden patch is limited to a window box, or what you can grow on your fire escape.
And even if you have a backyard or even a patio, these vegetables are good starter projects with which to build up your gardening skillset.
Low-Profile Root Vegetables
Root vegetables like carrots, turnips, and parsnips look like weeds above ground, but underneath they’re packed with nutrition. Mature roots can stay in the ground until you need them, and some—like mangel beets—grow up to 80 pounds with little coddling.
Most families are familiar with carrots, and parsnips aren’t much of a leap. These, as well as turnips and mangels, can be roasted, boiled, or mashed. Sauteed turnip greens add another item to your menu.
Planting root vegetables involves cultivating sand into the soil to allow the roots to grow downward. Old cardboard or newsprint can help keep the soil moist and your immediate growing area weed-free, reducing the number of trips you need to make to your guerrilla garden.
Potatoes are among the easiest plants to grow. Here’s an easy backyard method that also works great if you’re thinking potato “cache” rather than potato “patch”.
- Gather some dirt in a burlap sack. Large dog food bags also work well.
- Cut beer coaster-sized holes in the sack.
- Quarter some spuds so each section has at least one “eye”
- Plant a section in each hole, covered with two to three inches of soil.
- Keep the soil moist, but not wet.
- Once the surface greens have died back in fall, tear open the bag and harvest your starch-rich spuds.
Some gardeners have experimented with heavy-duty garbage bags, brown paper leaf litter bags, or even old, ratty tarps to contain their potato patch. Others have cut out the middleman and grown them from unopened bags of potting soil or manure, though these aren’t the best camouflage for anyone scrounging for growing medium.
Storing Root Vegetables
Go to your nearby playground, creek, or river and bring home a couple buckets of sand (smooth sand is best). Once you harvest your root veggies and potatoes, remove all the stems but don’t wash the vegetables or damage their skins.
Arrange each item in a plastic crate (wood or sturdy cardboard is best if you have it) with an inch of sand between and over them, and store the uncovered crate in a cool, dark, dry place that doesn’t freeze. This will prolong their edibility for about six months or more. Foragers can also store apples this way.
You don’t want to draw attention to your living, growing food caches. Your time will be valuable, and in an emergency, the more you’re out and about, the more you’re at risk. Alternative watering methods, like mulching, keep your guerrilla gardens going without expending too much effort.
Unglazed terracotta is porous, allowing water to slowly seep into the surrounding soil. In some arid countries, farmers make special jugs, called oyas or watering pots, to bury among their crops to keep them irrigated. You can purchase watering pots at big-box home improvement centers and garden supply stores, or you can experiment by gluing bases over the mouths of regular terracotta pots, upending them, and using the drain hole as a filling point.
You can leave out some rusty cans or scrap plastic here and there onsite to catch water for your oyas, or bring along some gray water (preferably cloth-filtered, so as not to clog the ceramic’s pores) for irrigating your urban crops.
Keep Growing Your Gardening Skills
Gardening takes practice, and it’s a skill you want to learn well before your life depends on a resupply of nutritious food. If you don’t have room at home, seek out and join a community garden. You’ll make new friends, learn the basics and, whether or not the flag goes up, develop a source of healthy, nutritious produce.