Growing your own crops may seem daunting at first, but it's something humans have evolved to do very well, and is essential in times of food scarcity.
We've become accustomed to going to the supermarket and buying produce with ease, as and when we need it.
But the 2020 coronavirus scare has made a lot of us think long and hard about what we'd do if a food shortage became a medium or long term issue.
The great news is that growing your own is fun, healthy, and easy when you know how. And some crops are much easier to grow than others.
Here's my list of crops to grow for a survival situation; ensuring you have a varied, nutrient-dense diet, and the ingredients to make delicious food.
This list will be particularly handy for vegans and vegetarians, who will want easy-access to plant-based sources of protein, iron, and zinc – should the worst happen.
21 Easy-to-Grow Survival Garden Crops
Beans have a high-calorie content, are protein rich, and come packed with nutritional value.
Beans can be eaten fresh, and also dried for long-term storage.
Beans grow fast and come in many variations – from French beans to Broad beans – and most are very easy to grow.
Aside from being a good survival crop, beans have a special relationship with the soil that keeps it fertile for further growing.
This symbiotic relationship sees beans convert nitrogen (N2) into ammonium nitrogen (NH4), which they release into the soil (1).
Potatoes provide good sources of potassium, fibre, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. They are also rich in protein and carbohydrate.
This root crop can grow in different types of soil types and can survive different climates, thus making it a good food staple, even in an urban setting.
Potatoes can be grown in a wooden box, five-gallon buckets, grow bags, and even in a trashcan.
Potatoes can be boiled, baked or fried, and they store well too.
Grow right through the summer into autumn for winter storage.
Carrots are rich in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and minerals.
This high-carb crop thrives well in sandy and well-draining soil, and can be covered with mulch if you live in a warm climate.
Carrots tend to withstand frost and many varieties are pest-resistant, making them a good survival crop and one that can handle a cooler climate.
Carrots are easy to grow, but do watch out for carrot fly. This is a black fly that feeds on the roots of carrots and related plants such as parsnip, celery and parsley.
Just like carrots and most brightly colored vegetables, squash is rich in vitamin A.
This high-carb vegetable comes in different varieties that are all rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
Summer squash grows quickly, so it is best harvested and eaten early in the year, while winter squash takes time to grow and is most suited for long-term storage.
If you choose to plant both varieties, start planting the seeds for winter squash first.
Winter squash can be harvested whenever the fruits have turned a deep, solid color and the rind is hard.
Kale is considered a superfood because of its nutrient density.
It is rich in fibre, antioxidants, and vitamins A, K, and C.
It is usually cooked and added to soups and stews, and used it salads. It can also be dried for storage.
Kale may not be one of the best survival crops in terms of calories, but it is a nutrient powerhouse and pairs well with many foods. It can also be grown in winter.
Indeed, this winter-tolerant crop tends to taste slightly sweeter when the first frost arrives, whereas a lack of water can cause bitterness in the summer.
Sweet potatoes are denser in nutrients than standard potatoes.
This variety is packed with vitamins B and C, beta-carotene, fibre, iron, calcium, and selenium.
As a vine, this tropical and subtropical tuber has edible leaves that can be a good source of greens, too.
Sweet potatoes tolerate drought and heat very well, and some varieties grow abundantly, especially when the right conditions are observed.
Sweet potatoes can last a month or two at room temperature and will even last longer once cured (air dried) at about 85 to 90 degrees in the first five days after harvested.
Lentils are super healthy. Like beans they are high in protein, boasting about 18 grams of protein per serving.
This healthy legume is also rich in B vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, and magnesium.
Lentils blend well with other ingredients as they absorb flavors easily, especially in soups and stews.
Add to curries, salads, or eat standalone with some garlic and salt and pepper.
Lentils are known as a cool-season legume and can be sown 2 weeks before the last frost.
They germinate quickly, in just 10 days, and come to harvest in 3 months.
Known for their immune-boosting properties, onions contain vitamin C, B-6, and magnesium, and are high in polyphenols and flavonoids.
But the main use for onions in our survival garden is to provide flavor to our dishes. And the great news is that onions are easy to grow.
Onions can be planted indoors, which makes them perfect for an urban setting. They can be harvested young, and you can eat the greens too.
You can even plant whole onions and just harvest the greens, which will keep on growing.
You might also consider growing leeks, a crop that belongs to the same allium family.
When you consider survival garden crops, you probably think about starches like potatoes, and protein-rich foods like beans.
But in times of isolation, you need to keep your cardiovascular and immune systems in good shape by ensuring you get a good balance of nutrients and phytonutrients.
Tomatoes are packed with antioxidants, and vitamins A, C and K. They also contain folate, potassium, and phosphorus, and carotenoids such as lutein and lycopene.
They can be eaten fresh but also dried or frozen, and even processed into sauce.
Grow tomatoes indoors or outdoors, but remember they need plenty of sun. They thrive in warm weather, so don't leave them out overnight if the nights get cold.
Pretty much any green is easy to grow and could make this list, and spinach is no exception.
Ready to eat in 4-6 weeks, this nutrient powerhouse is packed with vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C and K, calcium, and potassium.
This leafy green can be eaten fresh in salads or green smoothies, sautéed with other vegetables, or crushed into powder once dried.
Spinach is perfect for a limited growing space and can be grown indoors on a windowsill.
This will avoid the hazard of pests such as leaf miners and cabbage loopers, which lay larvae on the leaves.
If not growing indoors, grow in a greenhouse, or at least under netting when young.
Beets are also referred to as beetroot, as the round root is most commonly consumed.
The leaves can also be eaten, and work well in salads and smoothies.
Beetroot is highly nutritious and rich in minerals such as iron and folate.
Beetroot is also rich in nitrates, which has been shown to enhance physical endurance by improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure (2).
Moreover, they grow very fast and endure cold weather reasonably well.
Berries are an essential part of any survival garden.
These juicy super-fruits are typically high in fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidant polyphenols, making them one of the healthiest additions to your survival garden.
Best of all, berries store well frozen, and when processed into jam or jelly and stored in air-tight containers.
Strawberries are perhaps the most popular and easiest to grow.
Blueberries and raspberries will need a season to establish, and will crop well in the second or third season.
Garlic is an ancient, natural medicine used for its antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Just like onion, garlic is not just healthy but really worth growing for the purpose of flavoring your dishes.
Garlic is easy to grow, tolerant to frost, and can be stored for a long time once harvested.
Growing garlic can also ward off insects and pests in your garden, and the bulbs from the previous season can be used for planting garlic again.
Melons are low in calories and high in water content, electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals.
Melons such as watermelons and honeydews grow abundantly between late spring to early fall but like squash take a fair amount of space to grow.
Melon makes for a perfect dessert on its own, but can also be made into shakes for the kids.
Be mindful of freezing some varieties, since the texture will change considerably and can be soggy when thawed.
Cabbage is a leafy plant, low in carbs and an excellent source of fibre and vitamins B6, K and C.
Its nutritional content is best maintained when eaten raw in salads or slaws, or if fermented into sauerkraut and kimchi for longer storage.
Both green and red varieties are good for the immune system, blood circulation, and digestion.
Cabbage thrives best in a cool temperature but can still be harvested twice a year.
Harvest in spring so that it comes to harvest before the summer heat, or start in mid to late summer so that it comes to harvest during the cool days of autumn, winter, or early spring.
Corn is rich in fibre, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B1, B9, and C.
It is a staple in many cultures, not least because it is a healthy carb and easy to grow.
Corn is suited to growing in a yard and can serve as a natural trellis for crops such as pole beans.
After being harvested, corn can be dried and nixtamalized before being ground.
Nixtamalization is when the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater (but sometimes wood ash lye), washed, and then hulled.
Corn flour can be stored dry in an airtight container, for use in baking and as a thickener for soup.
Peas are a rich source of protein, fibre, iron, phosphorus, and B vitamins, making them an ideal survival crop.
They freeze well and can also be dried.
The growing season of peas is fairly short. You can sow seeds in late-February to June, and harvest between May and August.
Cucumbers are very easy to grow and are renowned for producing a large harvest.
Cucumbers are loaded with antioxidants and often cited for their body-cleansing properties.
They are also full of water, which will help rehydrate your body during a survival period.
To grow successfully, simply make sure the plants are watered regularly, which in the summer will most likely mean daily.
Use in salads, pickles, and drinks (smoothies or water), and eat cut into sticks for a healthy snack.
Easy to grow and pretty pest resistant, peppers come in many varieties.
Most varieties are rich in fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants, and beta-carotene is found in red bell peppers.
Small, spicy peppers grow abundantly in hot countries, and can be grow indoors or in a greenhouse in cooler countries that have a long summer.
Bigger varieties like bell peppers will do well if the weather is warm. Grow lots for a good harvest.
Chili peppers are excellent for adding spice to a dish, and can be frozen and dried.
Along with your onion and garlic, peppers will bring life to any dish during the survival period.
Due to high carbohydrate and protein content, grains are a staple famine food. And barley is one you can grow easily.
A cereal grain, barley is high in fibre, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin.
It is an excellent food source that does wonders for the heart and body by keeping cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels low.
Barley can also be used for brewing beer – though I wouldn't waste it like this in a time of survival!
Just like most grains, barley flourishes during the summer.
The time to harvest barley is when the grain heads hang down and the grains are hard enough.
A herb garden is easy to set up and takes little effort to maintain.
Despite being eaten in small doses, herbs are nutritious and essential for adding flavor to any meal.
Thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, bay leaves, oregano, basil, and chives are good options for every garden.
Don't forget mint too. Careful though; mint grows like wildfire and will take over a plot in no time. Grow it in a pot to restrict space.
Herbs grow best during the summer and can be stored for winter months after being dried and placed in glass jars.
Many of the common herbs used in cooking are perennial, so you will benefit from a repeat harvest in subsequent seasons.
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