How to start a survival garden and grow your own food

Container gardening your food crops is a viable option for the apocalypse gardener without a garden. Even with no soil to plant in, you can make use of any available space as long as you have ample sunlight and water. Roof decks are a great option if you have access to one.

By Julius Barcelona

The world as you know it has drastically changed. Whether you call it an apocalypse or a minor inconvenience, for your safety you must stay at home and minimize any contact with the outside world. Whatever the cause may be, by now it should be clear that there are certain essentials we should prepare in case of sudden disasters in our lives.

One such essential would be the preparation of food sources at home. Unlike what we see in dramatized TV shows and movies, leaving your home and trying to live in the wilderness is the last thing we should consider during a disaster situation. Better to prepare your food needs and store them at home. The easiest of course would be to stock up on food items with a long shelf life, like dried foods, or ready-to-eat canned and/or sealed foods that do not require further cooking or preparation.

Eventually, however, even the most well-prepared stocks of food will run out. Besides, no one wants to eat canned foods forever. This is where you might wish you had a more sustainable food source, like having your own vegetable garden to harvest food from. Your harvests can be eaten fresh, and any surplus harvest can be processed for long term storage. Fresh food also tastes much better than preserved ones, and gardening has been shown to be great for your mental health as well.

So with all that said, how does a budding apocalypse gardener go about growing their own vegetables for food? In this three part series, let me share with you a few tips and recommendations to get started. Here, we will first select and prepare where you will start your survival garden.

Growing your own food

Let us start by surveying your home for ideal locations to plant food crops. Most food crops require two basics: sunlight, and water. Look for places that have at least 8 to 10 hours of sunlight exposure if you wish to plant fruiting crops like tomatoes or squash, or at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight exposure if you wish to plant leafy crops like kangkong or herbs.

For those who have no access to adequate sunlight, then edible mushrooms may be your only option. There are multiple types of mushrooms all requiring different types of growing conditions, but if you have the time and patience, they are a good food source to have.

If you have very limited access to sunlight, say perhaps you live in an apartment surrounded by high rise buildings, then edible mushrooms may be your only option as they do not need sunlight to grow. Otherwise if you at least have the privilege of surplus income, then investing in a grow light system will at least allow you to grow some leafy crops. Do note that growlights are still insufficient for growing fruiting crops. You will also require access to electricity storage if you grow food crops using grow lights, in case of long term blackouts.

Consider investing in a system for long term water storage as well. As disasters go, our current one is fairly genteel, seeing as we still have access to our major utilities. But as future disasters may mean you are cut off from your water supply, having water stored at home for both your personal use and for watering your plants may be a strong consideration. It does not need to be fancy; gallon containers from local water filtration shops are affordable and plentiful, and are easy to store and manage. Recycle the water from cleaning vegetables, washing rice, or boiling pasta to water your plants.

Next, you must prepare your growing area properly. For those of you who have a nice yard or garden, then this is less of a problem. Check your available soil and make sure it is loose and well-draining. An easy way to do this is to dig a small hole, perhaps around 20cm deep, and fill that with water. If the hole holds water but drains away in around an hour, then hooray you should be good to go. If the water drains away immediately in less than a minute, it’s too loose. You will need to incorporate some materials like vermicast or compost to bulk up your soil. If the hole holds water for more than a few hours, then your soil is too heavy. You will need to dig it and loosen the soil as much as possible. Incorporate materials such as carbonized rice hull or coco coir dust to help loosen the soil out more.

An easy fix for any soil type is to use specially formulated soil improvers. These are materials whose main purpose is to balance out the soil structure to allow for better nutrient and water holding, and usually also make it easier for your food crops to take in the fertilizers you apply.

I recommend using Naturcomplet-G, a granulated humic acid soil improver which you only need to apply once a year. Each time you water your garden, the granules will release small amounts of humic acid which bind to your soil particles and help build it up for best water and nutrient retention.

Meanwhile, for those without a yard or soil to grow in, container gardening may be your only option. This can be as simple as using available containers lying around, such as old ice cream boxes and styrofoam fruit crates. You can also buy pots, which can run the range from very cheap, such as plastic soft pots or bags that cost a few pesos per piece, to the incredibly expensive, such as those made from fired clay or ceramic, or large concrete planters.

Whatever your container may be, make sure you are using a balanced and sterilized potting mix. I recommend using Klasmann peat substrate, or Growell potting mix as these are both tried and tested potting mixes for a wide range of plants.

Pre-built, ready to use gardening systems are a viable option for those who cannot easily invest the time and effort needed, or those who may have disabilities that prevent them from doing the work needed to prepare their space for gardening. Pictured here is the Green Thumb micro-greenhouse gardening system from Harbest, which has all the materials you need to get started on your apocalypse garden.

However, if you cannot spare the time and effort, or perhaps have disabilities that prohibit you from engaging in the activities necessary to properly prepare your growing area, then consider a ready-made planting system. These usually have everything you need to start growing vegetables at home with the minimum of fuss. One such system is the Green Thumb micro-greenhouse, which is a table with a cover of fine mesh net to protect your plants from pests. It comes with seeds for leafy vegetables and herbs, seedling trays for starting your seeds, potting mix, grow-out containers, and fertilizers, all ready with instructions for one crop cycle of leafy vegetables.

With these, we set the foundation for your survival garden. It can be a lot of work to be sure, or perhaps you have the resources to purchase a ready-made system. Regardless of how you start, you are now well on your way to having another source of food during times of disaster. In the next article, we will discuss recommendations on which crops to grow in your new survival garden. Until the next time, dear budding apocalypse gardener, I say good luck, stay safe, and always be prepared.

Photos courtesy of First We Farm and Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, together with Rich Tuason Photography.

For more information visit Harbest Agribusiness Corporation on Facebook.

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