Learn Survival Gardening Basics

Survival gardening is a skill you'll need to be totally self-sufficient during a survival situation. In the long term, you must know how to provide your own food by growing it.

Like the quote says: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." You'll no longer have anyone available to provide you with a meal – you'll have to make it all for yourself.

When disaster hits and the cozy world of grocery stores and packaged foods goes away, you'll only have your own skills to rely on to avoid starvation.

If you've never planted a garden before, it's not too late to learn survival gardening. You don't want to wait until you're in an emergency situation to start trying to build an adequate survival garden – you need to get started now!

Gardening isn't always as easy as just throwing seeds into the ground; it takes trial and error to find what works right for you and to get your garden in prime condition.

Underground Greenhouse

Rick Austin, the Survivalist Gardener. Click to order from Amazon

Plotting Out Your Survival Garden

Space may not be on your side when disaster strikes, so maximizing the land available for your survival garden is very important. Wherever you plan on taking shelter during a long term emergency is where you should build your garden.

Many gardeners have turned to the square foot gardening, which uses smaller raised gardens that are densely planted. This type of garden helps prevent weeds and conserve water and fertilizers by having less of an area to feed.

Again, it's best to get started now and have a survival garden that's ready to go when you need it. Determine the size of your garden(s) and outline with railroad ties or 2 x 6s. Add organic compost, fertilizer and high quality soil to your garden(s) until it's at least six inches high.

If you're not sure about the basics of composting, there are plenty of articles available, and it's a great way to cut down on waste and develop high-quality food for your garden.

Items for Starting a Survival Garden

If you want to have a proper survival garden, you'll need a few things:

  • Seeds
  • Seed starting soil
  • If you're in an emergency situation, you might not have the luxury of seed starting soil, so you could just use dirt from your garden.
  • Large, deep plant flats. By using a deep flat, this will save you from having to transplant seedlings later
  • Water. Set aside an additional store of water for plants so you don't have to tap into your emergency water supply for consumption. You could rely on good old mother nature, but during times of drought, you might want water for your plants.
  • Five gallon containers
  • Fertilizer. While not a necessity, it can help a lot.
  • Pesticides and fungicides
  • Yard tools – shovels, rakes, hoes
  • Rain Barrels
  • Canning supplies
  • Tomato Cages, Chicken Wire, Stakes. They're "luxury" items that aren't required, but they can help manage certain vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.

Survival Seeds

To begin survival gardening, you'll need good, strong seeds. If we're living in a disaster-plagued world in the future, you can't go to the store to buy plants already grown – you'll have to grow your own from seed. Use the Survival Seed Vault to get going.

Begin stocking up on seeds from your local garden center, as these can keep for up to ten years in the right conditions. Choose seeds that are non-hybrids like heirloom tomato varieties, Golden Bantam Sweet Corn, and Marketmore Cucumber.

Using non-hybrid, non-modified seeds will ensure you can harvest new seeds year after year. My Patriot Supply makes an awesome emergency seed supply kit with over 3,000 seeds and 20 varieties of vegetables.


To help create a strong batch of plants, your best option is by starting the seeds indoors during early spring. This step may not be viable depending on the emergency situation you're in, but by starting seeds indoors, you can increase their survival rate and amount of produce they yield.

In a bucket, dump in your seed starting soil and add water slowly so that the soil becomes moistened but not soggy. Add the mix to your containers and make quarter-inch deep holes for the seeds and drop in one seed per hole.

Space them about an inch apart. Keep the soil moist, and within 5-10 days, you'll have little sprouts shooting up from the soil.

After a few weeks, and when the weather consistently stays in the 50 degree range at night, it's time to "harden off" your plants – getting them acclimated to outdoor living. Put them outside in a protected shady spot for a half day at first, and gradually increase the amount of time they stay outdoors.

After a few days, move them into full sun, starting with mornings then all day long. If possible, transplant your sprouts into the garden in the late afternoon or on a cloudy day to reduce stress and shock.

Direct Sewing

If you don't have the time or resources to germinate seeds indoors, your next option is to directly sow the seeds into the ground.

Wait until the weather is consistently warm – above 70 degrees during the day. When conditions are finally right, dig quarter-inch holes, and place one tomato seed in each hole.

Because direct sowing can be less predictive than indoor starting, you may want to consider planting more seeds than you think necessary.

Cover the holes and keep the soil moist during the day. The seeds should germinate within ten days and your first sprouts will begin poking through.

Survival Garden Care

Once your seedlings are in the ground, you should put cages around the tomatoes and peppers, and train your cucumbers or other sprawling, vining plant to grow up a chicken wire trellis. This will prevent the foliage and produce from touching the ground and being killed by pests and disease.

On average, most plants need about 1-2 gallons of water a week. If there is a good rain at least once a week, then your plants will probably be okay.

Having extra water on hand is a great way to keep your plants alive during a drought, so consider stocking a little extra and also consider investing in some rain barrels to recycle water naturally without cutting into your resources.

Under normal conditions, gardeners fertilize their garden once a month or so. However, during times of struggle, you may want to conserve your fertilizer and only use once or twice a season.

Just like any garden, your survival garden might run into problems with disease and pests.

During times of emergency, this is simply unacceptable. Keep some pesticide and fungicides with your survival garden supplies to help you combat this problem.

Harvesting Seeds

Click to order the survival seed vault from Amazon. Heirloom and organic seeds to plant your survival garden with

To keep your survival garden going year after year, you'll have to save the seeds. Some vegetable and fruit seeds are easy to save while others require a bit more work.

Peppers, peas, beans, and lettuce seeds can be saved just by removing them from the produce, separating them, and letting them dry on a plate or hard surface until completely dry.

After that, put them in an envelope or bag with the name of the plant written on it, and store in a cool, dark, and dry place.

Corn, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli require letting the plant go into flowering stage, which is usually a few weeks after the “eating” stage. Once you see the seeds forming, you can pull the plant and let it dry naturally. With corn, just shuck the ears for corn seed.

Tomatoes, cucumber, melon, and squash require a more intensive, yet easy, process. Choose only the best looking fruit and cut it across the center. Do this for separate types of plants (meaning don't mix tomato and cucumber seeds in the same cup).

With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and the "gooey" part and place into a cup or container. Add a little water so that the seeds float and cover the lid with a paper towel or plastic wrap.

Set the container in a warm location for 2-4 days. You'll know the process is done when the seeds settle to the bottom of the container and a layer of mold grows on top. Remove the mold and pour the rest of the container into a strainer.

Wash the seeds off and lay individually on a towel and let them dry for 5 days or longer. You'll know the seeds are dry when they don't stick together.

Visit our helpful links on more gardening methods and ideas:

Urban Gardening and Container Gardening

Gardening the Natural Way: Back to Eden

Go from Survival Gardening to the Survival Foods menu

Learn more about Survival Gear and Skills at CantinaWest

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