I get regular e-mails from The Survival Mom. Learning to prep is a steep curve, and I have definitely not reached the pinnacle (and, after all, who has?). But I got this very relevant e-mail from her last week (copy-pasted below), and I think she is absolutely right.
Hi there, ,
After being in the survival and prepping niche for more than 12 years, I’ve heard just about every survival strategy and tactic there is.
One of the most popular is this, “Learn how to grow your own food.”
And more recently, “Better get a garden started right now!”
That isn’t a bad idea, but for the vast majority of people — like 75% or more — it’s not only unrealistic but foolish to think you can grow enough food in a garden to sustain life.
“How much did you say I have to grow???”
Just to maintain average health, the average adult needs anywhere from 1600 calories to 2000 or more per day. The most popular and easiest to grow vegetables, like tomatoes, zucchini, and cabbage, have around 20 calories per serving. Clearly, the typical vegetable garden is not going to save anyone’s life
Let’s take a look at potatoes. They’re a lot higher in calories (160 for a medium potato), very versatile, and they can store for long periods of time. To live on nothing but potatoes, you would need to grow around 6000 potatoes per person per year. This can be done, but you’ll need at least an acre of land, growing nothing but potatoes, not to mention optimal growing conditions, farming equipment, fairly high level skills, and knowledge.
You’ll get the calories you need from those potatoes, but is that any way to live? For a year?
Have you ever tried to farm even just one acre? I never have, but I imagine it takes more effort than a few Square Foot Gardening boxes!
Growing one or two other high-calorie crops will provide more variety, but you’ll also need more land. No one really wants to survive on just potatoes and maybe some corn or beans, so raising chickens, some rabbits, and maybe a few goats seems like the way to go — but have you ever done that before? And maintained a couple of acres of crops at the same time?
How will you preserve all the food you grow, and maintain healthy soil so it keeps producing? The depletion of nutrients from soil is a significant issue, so to keep your multi-acre garden producing enough food to keep from starving, you’ll need to factor in the right types and amounts of fertilizer.
There are hidden expenses in all these endeavors that you usually won’t learn about until they suddenly become urgent!
What a garden is good for
Depending on a garden for survival is unrealistic for nearly everyone. An old farmer once told me, “It takes about 10 years to get to know your land,” and even if all you’ve ever done is some container gardening, you’ve probably learned the truth in that statement!
A more realistic plan for integrating a garden with your prepping plans might include:
- Use it primarily to grow herbs and seasonings. These can easily be dehydrated and would be one less thing to purchase and stock.
- Use it to grow seasonal vegetables and extend your growing season with a greenhouse, the use of cold frames, and/or indoor garden with grow lights. Do what you can and enjoy the process.
- Focus on the easiest and fastest-growing vegetables for your zone, grow as much as you can, and then preserve with canning, pickling, and/or dehydrating. These will add fiber and nutrients to your other stored food.
- Learn how to grow anything that has the highest calories, and experiment with different crops until you find the one that is the best fit for your growing zone, the amount of land you have, and your specific growing conditions. This might take a while.
- If you live in an area prone to drought, take this into consideration! There are some food crops that require less water and smart techniques for using the water you do have.
- Use it to teach gardening and the love of nature to your kids and grandkids.
Personally, I use my garden as an excuse to get outside and into nature every single day, and for me, that’s reason enough to always have some type of garden. I just don’t have any expectations that it will someday save my life with its bounty, or lack of, depending on the year!
I’m not trying to discourage you or mock your plans for survival
The plans we make ahead of difficult times and worst-case scenarios need to be made with the least amount of emotion and the clearest view of reality.
I cannot stress that enough.
Gardening can be incredibly expensive, and in a time of inflation and unpredictable product shortages, this isn’t the time to pour money into something you hope will be life-sustaining only to find out how impractical and difficult it really is.
We’ve all heard stories about the $45 tomato — or maybe you’ve grown one of those yourself!
Calories count. Nutrients and micronutrients are vital, but if there’s anything susceptible to the whims of Mother Nature, it’s growing food.
So what is Plan B?
Keep working on your garden and improve your skills and knowledge each season and with each seed planted — if you’re enjoying the process and have the time, money, energy, and manpower to continue. Expand your garden. Try new crops, but also integrate some of these into your plans and routines:
- Learn to forage in your area.
- Continue building your food storage, “stack it high and deep.” The plain truth is that 10 cans of pinto beans will always be cheaper for the average person than trying to grow your own and a heck of a lot easier and faster.
- Work towards a well-balanced food storage pantry. Minimum goal: 90 days worth of food.
- Learn gardening skills through your county’s Master Gardener program. If your county doesn’t have one, then find a county in a similar climate and growing zone, and see if you can take their course. Many courses are now online. Do a search for your county’s name + Master Gardener.
- Might there be a community garden near you where you can rent a small piece of land to grow more food or volunteer in exchange for a share of the harvest?
- Take a look at this list of places to find free or nearly free food. Focus on what you can later preserve by canning, pickling, or dehydrating.
- Visit a farmer’s market and see what crops and varieties they’re selling for ideas about what grows best in your area.
- Get family and close friends involved. The more you all learn and cooperate together, the better the chances are that you can grow much, much bigger amounts of food.
Survival is more than just “get a garden started”
I really do wish it were that easy! However, you’ve probably learned by now that “survival” is never a one-size-fits-all and there are always multiple layers for your plans and preps to be effective.
All the best,
5 thoughts on “Link: “Don’t Count on a Garden to Save Your Life””
I’m with you. My sister has a huge garden, but she’s too far away. I have cans. I like the idea of foraging. Our electricity is going out today, for 5ish hours. I just installed a generator so we’ll see how that works (which only works if NG lines are working).
What a world.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Interesting! She actually finished the e-mail with a paragraph teasing her next one, which was going to be about dealing with planned, multiple-hour power outages.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh, that was a fantastic email and I was glad to read it. I’ve heard anecdotally from some old farmers that it takes about 5acres to support 1 person (because potatoes do not have all the nutrients we need, booo!). No way I’m going to deal with 5acres of dirt.
LikeLiked by 1 person
There are plants that can be planted together that can benefits each other in different ways. So you can plant two or three different plants in one acres and more food.
Potatoes can not be planted with any other plant. They will suck up all the nutrients from the soil.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes, there are different approaches. I have not planted any potatoes, but that’s because I live in the middle of a huge potato-producing area and I can usually beg free potatoes off of farmers whom I know. (Good relationships with those around you are another part of prepping, of course.)
Around here we have commercial farming, so it is definitely monoculture, but people do rotate crops, not planting the same field with potatoes every year. Other crops include wheat, hay, corn, sugar beets, and mustard, and sometimes I see them just plant grass over a field. I think that’s when they want to leave it fallow, but don’t want wind erosion.