Urban Survival Gardening After Disasters

by David Morris on December 8, 2011

Welcome to the December 9th Urban Survival Newsletter!

In a moment we’re going to talk about survival gardening after disasters. But first I want to make sure you heard about the unexpected way to save your retirement that I mentioned a few days ago.

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Today, I want to introduce you to a proven strategy to feed hundreds, if not thousands or even millions of people after a breakdown in supply chains. This particular topic and the background story has fascinated me for some time, and I’m excited to get to share it with you today.

One of the most frightening aspects of a post disaster situation for me isn’t zombies, mutant bikers, or drug crazed home invaders swarming my neighborhood like locusts. Those storylines are frightening, dramatic, and make good climaxes in books and movies, but they’re not my greatest concern.

Don’t get me wrong, history teaches us that when resources are in limited supply and/or when the thin veneer of society gets torn, people turn to violence and crime in increasing numbers. But even in a society like Mogadishu, Somalia, violence—even daily violence in the rare cases when people are exposed to it that often—isn’t the main concern for most people. It’s something much more basic. It’s food.

Sometimes my 4 year old decides that he doesn’t want what we’re eating for dinner. We start giving him the choice between eating or a timeout, then between eating or playtime after dinner, then, no bedtime stories, and a few times he’s made the choice to go straight from the table to bed.

In the few times that he’s chosen this poorly, it always plays out the same way…at some point he starts crying because he’s hungry.

When we’ve got plenty of food in the house and he’s hungry because of making bad choices, it’s no big deal. But every time this scenario has played out, I think about how awful it would be to be in a situation where supply chains are broken down and store shelves are empty and hear these same cries every night…not because of poor choices that he’s made, but because of poor choices I’ve made.

That’s one of the reasons why our family, and thousands of you, have taken the practical steps of laying up a store of supplies to take care of our families in the event of a disaster…As “weak” as it may sound, we don’t want to hear our kids crying because we didn’t prepare for predictable problems.

The problem of feeding your family after a disaster breaks down into a couple of broad categories…short term and long term.

If a pandemic swept the country, starting tomorrow, and everyone had to be quarantined for 7, 21, or 30 days (like what happened in several cities during the 1918 Spanish flu), you wouldn’t really have time to start a garden and enjoy the harvest or start raising animals before starving, dying, or at least becoming combat ineffective.

Of course, a pandemic isn’t the only situation that makes it important to be in control of your food supply. An oft quoted statistic is that the items on an average US dinner table travel an average of 1,500 miles to get there. Being a math geek, I always doubt the pure accuracy of statements like this, as well as the methodology of reaching them, but what I do know is that many of the things that I eat take multiple forms of transportation, types of fuel, means of communication, and methods of commerce to reach me and that if any of these break down the whole system grinds to a halt.

In a situation where any one of these links breaks down interrupts food delivery and the absence of being in control of your own food supply, you’d want to have a store of food set aside. Some people say you should have 5 years set aside, others say 2 or even as little as 1. I say that all 3 are great but that the bare minimum that every family should have is a 40 day and 40 night supply (which is why I created the Fastest Way To Prepare course). But no matter how much food you have set aside, it doesn’t get you “off the grid” or make you “self sufficient.” Food storage simply provides a stop-gap between consistent supplies of food.

If you’ve been a longtime reader, you know that I’m much better at hunting, fishing, gathering, and trapping than I am at gardening. I do garden, because I see the value and importance of doing so, but I know great gardeners and I’m not one of them. At the same time, I know how critical it is to be close to your food supply and/or responsible for your food supply in times of supply chain breakdowns, food shortages, and food inflation.

I’ve researched and/or used several food production solutions, including sprouting, micro greens, hydroponics, and aeroponics, but one of the coolest frameworks for food independence surprisingly comes from Communist Cuba…

(If you’re Cuban, I’d really appreciate your comments on this.)

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the countries that depended on them experienced considerable turmoil. In the case of Cuba, they lost an influx of cash, food, cheap oil, cheap petroleum products, and cheap petroleum based chemicals, including fertilizers.

The centralized planners had to figure out a way to feed their people, and do it fast. Communism didn’t provide an answer—in fact, it virtually guaranteed starvation for hundreds of thousands of Cubans.

So they took a decentralized approach and pushed food production down from big centralized farms to small neighborhood and family plots.

Since they didn’t have access to cheap, petroleum based fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides anymore, they were forced to figure out organic (before “organic” was cool and hip) solutions to achieve healthy crops. In the process, they ended up delivering a better product to dinner tables across the country.

One of the interesting things about how this played out is that since food production had been centralized, most families didn’t have the knowledge, skill, tools, or soil necessary to immediately have productive gardens, much like the situation in the US right now. Unfortunately, the situation in Cuba dictated that individual families needed to get the skills and tools to grow their own food almost overnight.

So, what the Cuban government did was train up a group of experts who went around at the neighborhood level and taught people how to create and maintain healthy soil that would produce healthy food. They bought and/or harvested the necessary quantity of seeds to distribute out to the people. They also did mass quantity buys or had required tools manufactured in state owned facilities so that they could distribute them as widely and affordably as possible at the local level.

Was it still communistic? To a certain extent…yes. The state still controls the larger plots, the water, and many of the tools. But the thing that was so telling to me was that the Cuban government was willing to give personal liberty back to the people to solve this HUGE problem.

Some of the plots were larger inter-city State run plots, some were neighborhood plots, and others were family plots, but the act of pushing food production down to individual families created jobs and a higher quality of food for everyone.

What do the numbers look like? Havana has a population of 2.1 million, but when you include the outskirts, it’s more like 3.5 million. 40% of the population is involved in urban agriculture…from family plots tended at night to larger community plots with full time employees. There are between 2,500-3,000 gardens that provide half a pound of fresh produce per person per day…the majority of which is consumed within walking distance of where it was produced.

Frankly, I don’t want to see this exact chain of events happen in America. I would rather not see FEMA handing out seeds, tools, and education after a disaster. It would be better than nothing, but I would much rather see individual families and companies store up the necessary knowledge, seeds, and tools to roll out completely independent training and gardening centers in the event of a long term breakdown in the supply chain. Hopefully, this would never happen, although it could with a Coronal Mass Ejection from a Solar Flare, an Electromagnetic Pulse, a meltdown of the dollar, or a collapse of the electrical grid or the internet.

On the family level, what you can do is buy more (a LOT more) of the seeds that you have experience growing with the thought in mind that if there was a total breakdown, you would quickly become a teacher and teach your neighbors how to grow food that you already know works in your area in your soil.

Some people will immediately see this as an opportunity to do a form of share-cropping, and I think that’s a great idea. In short, if you have seeds, skills, and possibly even tools, you have the opportunity to give a neighbor seeds and training in exchange for a percentage of their crop. You would then have the opportunity to consume or sell/trade the crops that you received in exchange for seeds, training, and possibly tools or the use of tools.

A couple of things to keep in mind. If you’re storing seeds, you want to keep them as cool as possible. Even though most seeds are advertised as having incredibly long shelf lives, those shelf lives are based on very low storage temperatures. A good rule of thumb is that every 10 degrees cooler you can keep your seeds will double their lifespan. So, at 72 degrees, 3 years is a good expectation. At 62 degrees, 6 years is safe. At 52 degrees, 12 years, etc. If you don’t have a basement, cellar, fridge, or freezer space, you need to dig a deep hole or plan and rotate accordingly.

Next, in addition to having the exact seeds that you have already used on hand, you’ll probably also want to have short season seeds on hand in the event that you have an early to mid season catastrophic failure.

And, unless you have an abundance of room, you’re also going to need to have the know-how to harvest and preserve seeds from one season to the next.

But, don’t let the complexity of a perfect solution keep you from taking measurable forward steps. Buy seeds, do a 1 square yard garden plot, and/or take lessons from a local grower on how to garden. Best case scenario, you’ll get to enjoy how much better food tastes when you’re close to the source. Worst case scenario, you’ll be able to feed your family, and possibly your neighborhood in the event of a catastrophic disaster.

Earlier, I mentioned my Fastest Way To Prepare course. If you haven’t gone through it, I want to strongly encourage you to go to the site and check it out. It lays out the shortest path approach for non-survivalists to get prepared for disasters lasting up to and beyond 40 days.

If you’re Cuban and/or have thoughts or experiences on this strategy, please share them by commenting below.

Until next week,

God bless & Stay Safe!


David Morris



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{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

+3 Vote -1 Vote +1Tara
December 9, 2011 at 6:37 am

Wonderful article as usual. I have enjoyed your site for about a year now, and I am so happy I found it. I am working daily to make my family as self-sustaining as we can be. Your information and the comments from others has been very helpful. In the past year, we have started raising chickens for eggs and meat and goats for milk and meat if necessary. We are always growing something. I have learned to can all sorts of things and I have a stocked pantry most of the time. Because of your weekly push, I feel pretty confident our family would make it through just about anything because we are always preparing for just about anything. Thanks again to David Morris and for all of those who reply with helpful, informative comments!


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1David Morris
December 9, 2011 at 7:04 am

That’s great to hear, Tara. Congratulations on moving forward with the chickens and goats!


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Sarah
December 9, 2011 at 8:07 pm

We too have been preparing and love all the info you have given us. I was sent a link to a blog site from a gentleman who lived through the Bosnia war in the 90’s. It was very good reading and lets you know what happens when people are not prepared. The site is: shtfschool.com.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Lindalee
December 9, 2011 at 8:24 am

Hi Tara,
I have also acquired chickens and goats. I have thought that a pair of rabbits might also be a wise investment. There are several breeds that would provide an abundance of meat fairly quickly. We purchased a farm tractor hoping to grow most of the feed for the animals as well as a garden. I have 10 laying hens and have had the good fortune of having more eggs than needed. In addition to giving many away I found that they can be frozen if you pierce the yolk. I have been dehydrating them as well. You are fortunate that your family is on board. Mine is not, my husband thinks I am a fruit loop. My son realizes trouble lies ahead but is to busy living in the moment. Good luck in all your preparations and may God bless and keep you, remember ultimately He is our source. Linda


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tara
December 9, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I would love to add rabbits to our homestead! I have read so much about them, just not the right time yet. My husband thinks I am crazy, too 🙂 My 13 year-old daughter is my biggest helper. She even did most of the chicken butchering last time. The younger two help where they can. Good luck and God Bless you, too


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ed
December 10, 2011 at 9:23 am

I’m glad to hear that you are persevering despite your husband thinking you are a fruit loop. I believe the day is coming when he will eat those words and give thanks that you were so prudent. Keep at it, Linda.


+3 Vote -1 Vote +1Douglas Gillett
December 12, 2011 at 8:08 am

I am a renter and currently cannot raise chickens, goats, or rabbits and am unable to have a garden no matter how necessary I believe they all are. My wife also believes I’m a nut-case with my penchant for storing up extra food and pantry supplies and refuses to participate in any canning or dehydration efforts. It’s a problem for many of us that our families aren’t on-board and helping to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to help us all survive the coming disaster(s). In spite of it all I am persevering – you all are an encouragement to me!


+3 Vote -1 Vote +1Christina
December 9, 2011 at 7:01 am

Hello, I love your articles 🙂 I’m not Cuban but my Dad is from Greece and he remembers during the war, when money collapsed in Greece. My Dad lived on a farm in a village with his family and they always had plenty of food because they grew it themselves on their own land. My Dad said that he remembers people from the city (from Athens) flooding the villgaes knocking on doors asking for food. My Dad remembers people from Athens knocking at the front door of their house and offering their house title for a loaf of bread or even a slice of bread. They would say what is the use of a house if we starve to death. My Dads family used to give them some bread for free, as they felt sorry for them and often a hot meal too. My Dad said that one guy ate so fast that he burnt his mouth cause the food was so hot. They told him to wait till the food cooled down so he didn’t burn his mouth and he said no way Im starving


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1koala
December 9, 2011 at 7:22 am

After reading this article and Maria’s comment I decided to save it. She writes about food and rationing in Cuba.
see maria’s comment

This is communism, pure an simple. In the interest of making everyone “equal,” everyone will suffer, and will become equally poor. Castro did the same thing in Cuba. Took private property from the people, and then assigned housing according to need; set up a ration card system for food, which is still in effect today. This system determines what type of food a family is entitled to receive, such as milk for families with young children only, so much rice and beans per month depending on the size of the family, and beef and other meat products became non-existent for Cubans. I should know, I am Cuban and I still have family that live in Cuba. The health system is also rationed in Cuba. The elderly get less assistance than the young, and the disabled get even less. Michael Moore’s movie Sicko was a lie. Cuba has two health care systems, the one that foreigners use, which is modern and provides medical services not provided in many parts of the world, which the Cuban government receives some much needed cold-hard cash for providing such services, and the local clinics which the Cuban people use, which are dirty and devoid of basic medical equipment and supplies. Until the death of my uncle a couple of years ago, my mom had to ship basic items like band-aids, aspirin, antacids, toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks, deodorant, items that in the USA are taken for granted, but are hard to get in Cuba. Yeah, Castro’s vision of an utopian society is a fairy tale and a miserable failure, and Chavez is heading full steam ahead for the same disaster, and the Venezuelan producers, the ones that work and sustain an economy will flee or stop working all together. Why bother, the government will provide. Sounds familiar? It’s happening here in the USA, and has been happening here for a long, long time. Obamacare is just the start. Be afraid, be very afraid.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1David Morris
December 9, 2011 at 8:20 am

Absolutely correct. It’s interesting to me that many, if not most of China and Cuba’s big successes are in areas where they use a capitalistic approach rather than communistic.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1kaytee
December 9, 2011 at 7:24 am

Would “canning” seeds help preserve them? And if so, would adding one of those O2 absorbers be appropriate, or not?

I have a vacuum sealer with the jar attachment, so I could put seeds in regular canning jars, or join a Mormon friend for a “canning party” and use the #10 cans. I’ve read that seeds specially packed for long term are sealed up in a N atmosphere, but nothing re: O2 absorbers. Also recommended were adding dry milk to the storage jar, and to store in the refrigerator– I’d think the O2 absorbers or vacuum would eliminate the need for the dry milk (moisture control), but not sure if they would harm the seeds.


+3 Vote -1 Vote +1gil
December 9, 2011 at 11:19 am

seeds are still live organisms, but dormant…i’ve herd that cutting off the o2 will kill them…


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1donna
December 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Subjecting seeds to the high heat needed for canning “cooks” the seeds and kills the enzymes needed for germination and life. If you decide to do this, try it first with a small sample, then try to sprout and grow the seeds and see what rate of germination you get before committing to any large batches. Cold dry storage is best for seeds as David mentions above.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1David Morris
December 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

You can “can” seeds using a FoodSaver…it’s a cold vaccuum process rather than a heat process.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1kaytee
December 16, 2011 at 9:23 am

Will probably try that– after getting my arm out of its cast. Also plan to finish “canning” my legumes jars then. I’m finding all kinds of things that I can’t do one-handed…..


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1kaytee
December 16, 2011 at 9:20 am

I meant the type of canning done at the “dry” Canneries– no heat involved. Things are packed in #10 cans, then a lid is sealed on with the “canner” (rotates around sort of like a can opener, and crimps the edge of the lids to the tops of the cans). Gil may be right, but I still haven’t received a definite answer re: the O2 absorbers; not sure how using one is substantially different than packinng the seeds in a N (O2 free) atmosphere.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1koala
December 9, 2011 at 7:26 am

Great piece on a suburban farm.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1David Morris
December 9, 2011 at 8:18 am

Yes…this isn’t for everyone. The father and 3 adult children work full time as gardeners/farmers. The first thing that’s almost completely necessary is to start by having absolutely no debt and very few monthly expenses (cell phones, cable, etc.)


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Cindy M
December 9, 2011 at 7:37 am

A good quick source of free available food: Cat-tail roots. You can find them easily they grow in drainage ditches by the side of the road or wherever there’s a pond. Scrape the roots, wash well and cut into thin strips, then dry over a woodstove for a few hours. Store in a cool dry place, wrapped in tinfoil, paper or in ziplock baggies. Add roots to a stew or put through a grinder to make flour with.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1gwhodge
December 9, 2011 at 11:47 am

Cattails roots are best in spring as they turn woody as season progresses. Pollen on top can be used as a flour extender, try 50-50 mix. Filters out toxins in polluted waters.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1kaytee
December 16, 2011 at 9:26 am

Cat-tails don’t grow without quite a bit of fussing in drought conditions….. They’re rather pricey “water gardening” plants at specialty nurseries here in San Diego.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1rich
December 9, 2011 at 7:48 am

Its a subversive plot! My wife & I are also starting gardening for the first time. We moved to a place with a yard, have a few raised beds now. We raised some lettuce & spinach & other greens in fall & had a few awesome salads. Next year we’ll be able to get started early enough to have plenty of crops. I just planted some garlic, and am going through seed catalogues. thanks.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1gil
December 9, 2011 at 7:53 am

great article David,

this article stirs up memories of the mini-series Jericho, in which the townspeople would have a vote and decide to come take your food, or your gas, or your whatever…all for the “needs of the commune-ity”.

i’ve struggle over the past few years coming to terms between when to shoot, and when to be charitable, both of which only go so far.

bottom line is this: if you have an urban garden, you need to come to terms with it feeding your family, your neighbor’s family, and everyone else’s family that passes by and sees it or hears of it…people will become like animals to feed themselves and their families, and if you’ve ever taken a bone away from a bone, you know you might get bitten.

this shows how desparately we need to get to know our neighbors and community to form garden share programs, or garden coops…

we had a hit or miss garden this past summer in colorado…some things were: awesome, some were: why did i bother planting this…

so, a few weeks ago, i went around to some of our neighbors and asked them to share their successes and failures…i also proposed to them, that this coming summer, i’m going to grow certain things that i love and grow well…and they’ll grow other things that they love and grow well…at the end, we’ll share our bounties…

i realize that i’ll get shafted a bit, it’s only human nature, but it’s a start in the right direction…and maybe it’ll expand to other neighbors, and so on and so on…

david, thanks for your perpetual vigelance…


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1David Morris
December 9, 2011 at 8:09 am

I agree with you completely, Gil. If a few people have gardens, it makes them targets. If a LOT of people have gardens, it makes them stable. It’s frustrating to me to see a great solution in the urban gardening plan that was implemented in Cuba but also see that one of the reasons why it happened was because people were coerced into getting started. I hope coercion doesn’t happen here, but I think that means that we’ll always be well short of having 40% of households with gardens.


+3 Vote -1 Vote +1FloridaDave
December 9, 2011 at 7:59 am

Sprouts are very nutritious, and they are a quick, easy and fool-proof crop. Alfalfa, broccoli and radish seeds are inexpensive and sprout quickly, thus providing a ready source of vitamin-rich greens while waiting for garden crops to come into production. I like less readily identifiable crops for emergency gardening. Everybody recognizes corn tomatoes, etc., and we would want crops that are quick growing, nutritious and less noticeable. I especially recommend radishes, turnips and beets for starters, and keep in mind that the entire plant is edible–above and below ground growth! I devote a portion of my refrigerator and freezer to my emergency and sprouting seed stock. Three sites I like are:


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1donna
December 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Don’t forget the edible “weeds” that grow naturally all around, such as dandelion, miner’s lettuce, etc. There are books on wild edibles, and some places are lucky enough to have experienced foragers who can educate others on what is good and what is not.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Mary
December 11, 2011 at 3:35 pm

What is a sprout? What is sprouting? I think I will spend some time finding out this week.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Patricia Sullivan
December 9, 2011 at 8:04 am

Thank you for this important article. Check out the revolutionary methods of Eliot Coleman of
Four Seasons Farm in Maine. He is able to grow food year ’round in Maine in cold greenhouses.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1armyprop
December 9, 2011 at 8:16 am


I am an avid follower of yours. I now own a business that makes aquaponics systems. These systems are unbelievable and are for the most part self sufficient. You can put them in your backyard, garage, or on a balcony. If anyone is interested, let me know.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Dennis
December 9, 2011 at 9:26 am

Armyprop, I am interested in hearing more about your aquaponics system.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1armyprop
December 9, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Dennis, For some reason I am not able to PM you back. You can go to my website
sageaquaponics.com or my blog,
You should be able to reach me from there. I would enjoy teaching you all of the pros of aquaponics. If your in the DFW area we can even arrange a meeting where I can show you my systems.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tara
December 9, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Me, too!


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1DanInOhio
December 9, 2011 at 9:04 am

I tried sprouting seeds and it was actually very tasty and crunchy. I also planted fruit trees in a wildlife area. Unfortunately the State decided to mow the hill that following year and the employees cut down 15 of the 16 trees I planted. They left 1 pear tree which since then produces heavily. I also noticed more than a dozen edible plants and fruits growing in the local parks. Although it is virtually impossible to liveon foraging it does add nutrition, bulk and variety to your diet. I am still trying to find edibles that I can plant in the wild that will thrive in that environment. Most of the things I planted were destroyed by other people or animals (deer). Good luck to all.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Mark Bradley
December 9, 2011 at 9:37 am

I am glad to be reading this here. This is smething I have been preparing for over many years. Iwould also mention that there are many edible plants considered to be weeds that are more nutritous than many cultivated favorites which you should not pull from you yards except to eat, unless of course your soil is saturated with Roundup or otther chemicals. Dandylions are entirely edible and very nutritous for an example, as are all members of the plantain family, and many other roadside plants.

So, does anyone really think that FEMA will be handing out seed and tools with instructions for organic gardening? If so, think again. NOPE! They have plans for much the opposite, forcing you to eat genetically modified crap to speed you on your way to oblivion and the planet into the hands of the would-be controllers who are themselves slaves to mammon. There, I said it.


+3 Vote -1 Vote +1David Morris
December 9, 2011 at 10:01 am

FEMA handing out seeds isn’t as far fetched as you might think. I don’t think it would be benevolent, but if/when the Svalbard and other seed vaults need to be tapped, FEMA is the natural arm in the US to distribute seeds to whoever is left or to whoever they choose to distribute the seeds to.

FYI, the Svalbard seed vault is a $9 million facility by the North pole that holds half a million heirloom seeds in the event of natural or manmade disaster or if genetically modified seeds cause a collapse of agriculture. Svalbard is the largest of 1,400 seed vaults around the globe, and is considered the most resilliant. How big of a deal is it? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $30 million to the project in 2010.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Mark Bradley
December 9, 2011 at 11:04 am

Yes, I know about the seed vaults. So, when the genetically engineered crops needs to be torched off the entire planet the elitist survivors can repopulate the place…. The Gates Foundation is far from benevolent as is FEMA. FEMA may hand out seed; but, I wouldn’t want to eat what it would produce.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1David Morris
December 9, 2011 at 11:55 am

That’s the interesting thing…the seeds in the seed vaults are heirloom seeds and if FEMA was handing out seeds from the seed vaults, they’d be heirlooms. Please don’t misunderstand anything I say to infer that FEMA is a great organization. I will say that a lot of the front line people in FEMA are great, caring, competent people who happen to be part of a bureaucracy that has a lot of major problems and ends up causing lots of problems and being slow to help when they’re needed…but that is something that is common to any bureaucracy.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1K & Pat
December 9, 2011 at 9:43 am

This is a good article. We are seeing more and more community gardens and interest in vegetable gardening here in Arizona. We are both master gardeners (volunteers for the extension service). We have started seed saving as well. One of the problems with it has to do with the many hybrid seeds sold by seed companies. These will not produce the same crop if saved. Some crops like corn are highly hybridized. The only heirloom varieties we have been able to grow are very tough and need to be ground into meal to eat. Blue corn bread is nice but it takes a lot of work to get from seed to table. Heirloom seeds are the best. Find out which ones do well in your area and then save seeds for the following year. We also recommend composting. This way those vegetable husks, egg shells and coffee grounds are simply recycled. Every part of the country has challenges when it comes to gardening, but it is rewarding even if not necessary for survival. In Arizona we don’t have much water and most places have poor or nonexistent soil. It is also good to learn what “natives” are edible. For example prickly pear cactus, which grows almost everywhere, is edible. Potato “eyes” can be planted to produce more potatoes. This is simple to do and even better if you let the potato sit too long and it has already started to sprout.. Best to plant in the fall for a crop next summer. We are also learning that there is a lot of interest in urban chickens. Many urban areas, especially ones that have been established for a long time have zoning that permits them. My parents came from a small town in Pennsylvania where just about every house had the remains of a chicken coop probably from the 1940s or 50s. It is interesting to see that people in urban areas including parts of Phoenix are now starting to raise chickens again.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1colargsmommy
March 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm


In regards to your wishing to find an heirloom corn . . . we’ve been planting Golden Bantam which is open pollinated. This corn is an old time favorite, both sweet and succulent. I’ve always planted Bantam, but have found it harder and harder to find. In fact, I had just about given up finding Golden Bantam seed this year

They have other heirloom seeds too. You’ll also find helpful hints on growing and saving your own seeds. Fun site.

I’m an older lady and have always gardened. They say it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but I’ve come to conclusion that I’ll have to start saving my own seed.

Food is important, but if something happens to our food supplies, that same something will happen to our medical supplies. You all might want to think about that. Herbs are what our forbearers used. You could have a small herb garden or plant a few herbs among the veggies–dual purpose–garden plants love most herbs and, you have them to use.
Mountain Rose Herbs is another fun site. Not only do they sell herbs, but the seeds to grow your own; plus they have recipes for using the herbs. I make my own salve–an extremely easy process I learned from them–which I use (and like much better) in place of the antibiotic salves you buy at the store.

Home someone finds this info of interest.


+3 Vote -1 Vote +1Charley
December 9, 2011 at 9:50 am

David, thanks for your continued efforts to help folks prepare. We too help newly switched on people to start their own preparedness. We recommend your 40 day program often.

My Grandmother was in the Great Depression, she lived in the midwest near farming. She says that if her family did not have a garden, they would have not survived. That is how bad the times were. Those words were more powerful than anything I read or watch on the news. Food is the most important prep your family can have. If I may, we talk about a tiered food strategy at theshoestringprepper.com
I strongly recommend finding seeds that will grow locally. Learn to garden, realize that if you don’t know and haven’t practiced, you are setting yourself up for failure. Gardening is not as easy as one would think. Stock up on supplies you will need such as fertilizer and pest control items.
Thanks again David for helping others become more self reliant.


+3 Vote -1 Vote +1Karen Cook
December 9, 2011 at 10:09 am

Even under the repressive government of the USSR, gardening on private plots flourished and produced a significant portion of the produce available at markets. Communism’s main failings are centralized planning and control (one-size-fits-all doesn’t) and cults of personality. Look at the variety in your local grocery store over time and notice that the amount of choice is diminishing; this is //corporate// central control, and just as bad if not worse than communism.


+3 Vote -1 Vote +1Mark Bradley
December 9, 2011 at 11:24 am

Thanks for the pertinent comment karen. my estimation, since Corporatism is the parent of both communism and capitalism and has engineered both as divide and conquer strategies to confuse and distract people, it is the source of the corruption and therefore worse.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Sharon
December 9, 2011 at 10:53 am

K & Pat.

I live in Phoenix and would love to chat with anyone knowledgable in organic gardening in this area. If I say I( find this a challenging climate (in more ways than one) wou you understand?


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Mary
December 9, 2011 at 11:40 am

What can an 85 yo widow living alone do about raising her own food?


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1donna
December 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm

sprouts are easy and can be done in small batches; or grow cherry tomatoes in a pot if you can’t garden outdoors. try different plants to see what grows well indoors or on a porch or balcony. Try a hanging strawberry basket. I gave my parents (in their 80s) two potted citrus trees (meyer lemon and satsuma mandarin orange) that have started bearing fruit. You might need a grow light to keep them producing through winter’s short days depending on where you live, but start small and do what you can.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Mary
December 9, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Thanks, Donna.


Vote -1 Vote +1colargsmommy
March 25, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Hi Mary,

You might also want to try a few plants in planters. Depending on how much area and now nimble you are, you could plants greens, tomatoes, multiplier onions . . . green onions that multiply by adding bulbs. You could use something like an old galvanized wash tub, an old roaster that is no longer usable as a roaster, etc. If you have a problem bending or getting down on the ground, place them on platforms so that you can sit beside them to tend them. Good luck and happy gardening.

Another Mary


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1mike
December 9, 2011 at 11:55 am

glad to see more people are getting in to this decided to plant my first garden i n about 35 years this past spring and easly fed myself and both of my kid,s and there,s and was still able to put some up,and the garden area was not that big only 15 by 50 will make it bigger next spring and am planning on drying some.one thing to keep in mind get non hybred seeds so you can save some for the next year.taste,s a lot better than store bought to.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1jonathanAZ
December 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm

My problem growing is either wildlife getting it first, or with raised pots, heat or right now since the jet stream fell far into mexico last year, cold, as in 17 degrees on several nights last winter. And popular wisdom says plant in fall here, experience says differently. As there is much agriculture in this area, probably with chemical controls, well… I am looking at solutions and at fixing the broken chicken coop and livestock area on my property. Thanks all for the discussion.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Sue the frugal survivalist
December 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm

My husband and I have been gardening in Sacramento since 1971. We have 12 fruit trees, 3 nut trees, 4 grape vines, 5 blackberry vines, a 20 foot asparagus bed, and a large fenced ( to keep dogs out) vegetable garden. Only recently have we grown potatoes and dry beans. In a long term disaster, even though we might have enough food for ourselves and close neighbors, we would have to relocate because the city of Sacramento would be full of starving citizens. Our plan then would be to join relatives in a rural area where we could, after about a year, once again be self-sufficient. We have an emergency supply of heirloom seeds and enough gardening knowledge to pull it off. We also have a gardening library at home and The Encyclopedia of Country Living , an outstanding reference for anyone who needs to live independently after a societal collapse. However, to do this, we have to have a year’s worth of food set aside in order to survive until crops can be harvested.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1gwhodge
December 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Other food especially for livestock: Duckweed. If you do a greenhouse, include rabbits in it to raise CO2 levels which helps plant growth.

Rabbit and chicken manure, wood ashes, and earthworm casings make a decent sustainable hydro/aqua-ponics solution.

For max soil gardening/composting see Ecology Action http://www.biointense.com . They teach in 140+ countries and publish in a number of languages. Great research of food crops from all around the world, Max calories/area and max weight/area for these food plants. Dave for a profitable conversation talk to John Jeavons. His 40 years of work in this field are found in “How to Grow More Vegetables …. In Less Land Than You Imagined”. Also see Carol Deppe’s “The Resiliant Gardener”.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1MissArleen
December 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm

gwhodge I cannot get the link for biointense.com to work. Could there be a typo? Thanks!


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Martin
December 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm

We have tried gardening all 6 years we have lived in the Central Utah mountains. Not much luck. Last year we did get some bell peppers and tomatos, most everything else failed. One July a couple of years ago, we lost two crops of peppers and tomatos, One to freezing, and 3 weeks later, the other to heat in our little green house! We simply gave up that year. We are going to try again this spring with a bigger garden and our little green house in full sun (when we get it). Very short growing season here and most of what we plant freezes before it ripens. We keep trying and eventually hope to get it right.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1David Morris
December 9, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Didn’t you get the memo? All you need is a can of seeds and you can instantly have a bountiful garden that will help you survive anything if the shelves go bare. 🙂 (In case anyone is confused, the preceding statement is dripping with sarcasim.)

Keep at it! At some point, your best bet might be to find someone close to you who’s got gardening in your area figured out and pay for some of their time to help you cut the learning curve.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Martin
December 10, 2011 at 11:41 am

Thanks Dave. I do have a good friend who is successful with his gardening here. But he has a large greenhouse which he says is easier to keep the temp uniform. Right now a large greenhouse is not in the cards, but we do learn from the friend and he does give us some of his bounty. Unfortuneatly, fresh produce here is terrible, so we have to rely on frozen stuff, which is harder and harder to find produced here in the U.S. Once a year we do buy fresh produce from the local farmer’s market (50 miles away) and then can as much of it as possible.
Keep up the great articles. I look forward to all of them.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Mary
December 11, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I really tried gardening this year. I got plenty of tomatoes for myself off of 8 plants. I got 1 green pepper off 2 plants. My lettuce, cucumbers, cantelope, onions croaked. Even my radishes jumped but had no bulbs on the bottom. The only thing that won’t stop growing are the potatoes. The green tops are 4 feet tall and still growing in December in VA.
I haven’t dug any up to see if there really are potatoes down there. Most of the stuff I planted were seeds from that famous Survival Seed Bank you are supposed to be able to bury and keep 20 years.

When I added up the cost of seed and water (I even bought vegetable soil) and all the work, I think I will let my neighbors do the gardening. I’ll help defray the costs.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Thinker
December 9, 2011 at 6:50 pm

My Dad has a nice site in northern Ohio that used to have a very nice garden. I would like to use it again, but even though it is now in a quite urban area, the dozen herd of deer make it impossible. They were not there in the 50’s, but have been compressed by the urban sprall.They eat everything in sight, including the so-called “deer-resistant” plants. Of course, it is now not allowed to “thin the herd”…. Any suggestions short of a stockade?


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Zeb
December 31, 2011 at 12:43 am

A solar powered electric fencer with multiple strands of wire and a mix of hot pepper sauce in a garden sprayer. Deer don’t like hot. They won’t touch the mustard greens but eat the turnips in the next row! Make the fence wires a lot higher, lower, and closer together than you think it should be. Deer jump high and coons crawl under.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1MrGeezer2U
December 9, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Heirloom seeds are available from most seed catalogs and local organic garden stores. It would be best to use heirloom seeds all the time and save seeds for next year and save additional seeds in case of crop failure. In a couple of years you would have all the seeds needed for survival and trade.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1kaytee
December 16, 2011 at 9:34 am

You might chck if “Seeds for Change” is still in business. Most of their seeds are heirloom/non-hybrids, and all are organic.


+2 Vote -1 Vote +1Frank33
December 11, 2011 at 10:59 am

David, thanks for another interesting and valuable article. I’ve taken your Urban Survival Guide and 40 Day/40 Night courses and we are slowly progressing to be as prepared as we can for the uncertain future we all may be facing. I find comments to your newsletters from other “preppers” to be particularly informative and helpful. I’d like to solicit some guidance for a proposed garden.

We are healthy retired folk living in central Florida – living in a maintenance free villa in a gated community. I say this since we have very limited “outside” space for a garden. We do, however, have a large screened-in lanai. My thought is to build “raised beds” for a modest “Square-Foot Garden”. My concern is for proper draining of the beds. Many of the articles I’ve read on this say that the beds must be “bottomless” which means any watering of the plants will windup on lanai pavers, which may or may not cause us problems. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Please keep the good work David – many of us are eternally grateful for your guidance.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Miss Kitty
December 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm

I notice that a few commenters here are Arizona-dwellers like myself. For those of you not already aware of it, the non-profit organization Native Seeds/SEARCH, which is based in Tucson, has a seed bank of various fruits, grains and vegetables that are native to the Southwest U.S. and northern Mexico. They publish a seed-listing catalog and you can buy seeds from them by mail or via phone or internet. They have a website. Their basic idea has been to save and promote traditional, regional, heirloom varieties that do well in tough climates (but may also thrive elsewhere, too). They’ve been at this work for years and have become quite knowledgeable and successful at what they are doing. Anyone interested in growing native heirloom varieties might benefit from checking them out. They are a 501( c) 3 nonprofit — if you join up with a modest donation, you can get their seeds and other products (related books, etc.) at a 10% discount. It’s a really good resource.


Vote -1 Vote +1TheDude
December 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I started thegardendude.com website a few years ago to chronicle my attempts at learning how to garden in a standard, urban lot. You can see videos of various ways to grow, preserve and prepare veggies. There are also many resources to guide your gardening experiments. I’m still not very good, but am much better than when I started.


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1Stephanie
December 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I enjoyed your article. I am a gardener and I’m prepared to feed my family with my gardening skills. If for some unknown reason that fails then I can always forage for food. knowing what you can eat in the wilderness is always helpful as well.
In reference to the seed life. Different seeds have different shelf lives. Carrot seeds are only good for a year, but celery seeds are good for ten!! Some seeds do need special care to make them last longer, but some don’t. I just like to keep on gardening and if something happens I’m prepared. It’s easier to stay ready than it is to get ready, most of the times. I’m still working on stock piling weapons though…


+1 Vote -1 Vote +1jack
January 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I live in the country, have a large garden and have problems with deer. I have an electric fence that usually stops them, but not this year with a low mast crop. My local state officials advised the following, which they say has worked for all who have tried it. Take aluminum foil, cut a 12 x 12 piece. fold it in thirds so it is 4 x 12. Crinkle the bottom. Put peanut butter on the creases. Put a piece of cotton on the bottom with vanilla extract. Attach this to the fence wire. If the wire is placed at about 30″ and 14″, it will work on deer and smaller critters.


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