Cassie Johnston at Wholefully has put together a guide on emergency gardening for those who are thinking that maybe this pandemic won’t just be over in two weeks or feels like maybe the grocery stores won’t be as full as you’d like any time soon – How to Build a Cheap and Easy Emergency Vegetable Garden
I once heard that when an emergency happens, it’s not what you have that’s most important, it’s what you know. I’m not sure I really grasped how true that was until we landed ourselves in a global crisis.
While some people have gotten comfort from stockpiling toilet paper, throughout this, I’ve found great comfort in my gardening, preserving, herbalism, and general homesteading knowledge. Even the most robust stockpile runs out, but my ability to grow my own food and medicine never will.
Over the years, we’ve done a good amount of high-quality gardening content here on Wholefully—but that was more from a hobbyist perspective. This article is different, because the times right now are different. This article is designed to teach even the newest of gardening newbies how to plant an emergency vegetable garden (AKA: a survival garden) in even the smallest of spots. Below you’ll find the quick and dirty basics for getting a garden set up on the cheap, what plants I would put in my survival garden, and how to maximize space for food production.
A word of warning: this isn’t going to be an Instagram-worthy #plantlady garden. This also isn’t going to feed your entire family or give you the prettiest heirloom tomatoes. But what an emergency vegetable garden can do is give you some supplementation to a diet heavy on pantry staples, plus give you a much-needed physical and mental outlet for anxiety. It also helps you reclaim just a little bit of control in this uncontrollable situation, and that’s a win.
Where do I even start with gardening?
We’re going to just cover the extreme basics of gardening here to get you started with an emergency vegetable garden, but we highly recommend consuming more gardening information to maximize your growing potential. Here are some resources:
- Organic Gardening: Planning Your Garden by Wholefully
- Organic Gardening: Choosing What to Grow by Wholefully
- Organic Gardening: Starting Seeds by Wholefully
- Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by Edward C. Smith
- Guide to Vegetable Container Gardening by Farmer’s Almanac
How do I build emergency vegetable garden beds?
If you have some sort of outdoor space that is exposed to the sun for at least 4-6 hours per day, you can grow your own food.
If you have a balcony available: Collect as many large containers as you can find. These don’t have to be traditional pots—whiskey barrels, five gallon buckets, and even small trash cans work. Just make sure you poke or drill holes in the bottom of repurposed containers for drainage. If you are buying new, I really like the fabric smart pots that are out now. They are affordable, easy to grow in, and you can get them in a variety of sizes. Also, don’t forget that you can grow in hanging baskets!
If you have a small amount of greenspace available: A single 8’x4′ raised bed or even a square 4’x4′ bed can produce an absolute TON of food. If you have a patio or a small yard, a raised bed is the way to go. These are the plans we used for our lifetime raised beds, but they are pricey to build and probably not the right option if you are building a survival garden. If you want to do it affordably and quickly, I highly recommend using half cinder blocks to form the outside of your bed. Half cinder blocks (AKA: 4″ cinder blocks) run around $1.50 each, and you can build a very sturdy 8’x4′ bed with them for less than $30. It takes less than 20 minutes to form the bed, and you can also grow herbs and flowers in the holes of the cinder block—utilize every space you have! We used this method in our apartment garden in the city (off the side of our patio), and it worked well for us for years.
Of course, you can also repurpose other materials if you have them available. Bricks, wood, and tires can all be used to create garden beds. Anything that can hold soil in will do the trick—again, it might not be Instagram worthy, but it’ll grow.
How do I prep the site before I put the beds down?
First, you’ll need to remove any sod (grass) that’s below where your raised bed will be. If you have time on your side, you can use a tarp or black plastic and stake it down at the bed site—leave it for a few weeks to cook in the hot sun, and the grass will die. Time not on your side? Use a spade or shovel to cut out the sod. Then place the bed right on top. The more you kill the grass underneath, the less you’ll have to worry about weeds poking through your garden.
If you’d like, you can also put landscape fabric down to protect from more weeds popping up, although that’s definitely not a necessity…
Vegetable Gardening with Lorraine: Survival Gardening
Backdoor Survival: 13 Best Staples for a Survival Garden
Survivopedia: Survival Garden Basics