Smart Survival Gardening

High Calories + High Nutrition + Easy to Grow = Smart Survival Gardening

It’s time to get serious about survival gardening. Too many of us still grow our gardens like we’re hobbyists.

“Mmm… let’s see… I think I’ll plant some jalapeños for salsa, some nice lettuce, and maybe we’ll try peas again…”

There are lots of vegetables that are fun to grow—but they’re not the kind of crops that will sustain you through tough times.

I believe there are three main considerations you should take into account when planning a survival garden: calories, nutrition and ease of growing. Today I’ll take a look at all three and help you think through good options for each.

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Have you ever tried to fill up on salad? It’s not easy unless you load up on the croutons, dressing, shredded cheese, bacon bits, olives…

Try filling your stomach with plain lettuce. There’s really not much to run on.

A survival garden’s primary focus should be on keeping you and your family filled up and running. Going without enough calories dulls your mind and saps your strength, so plan them in when you grow your garden.

Grains are one of the most common sources of calories; however, they don’t usually make much sense to grow on a small scale due to the large amount of work that goes into harvesting and processing them.  There’s also mounting evidence that some grains really aren’t all that good for you (I’m looking at you, wheat!).

Roots are the best options for a survival garden due to their high caloric yield and ease of preparation for the table.

Potatoes are the king of root crops since they’re high calorie, easy to grow, produce good yields and are also decent nutritionally. I’d follow them up with sweet potatoes and turnips. If you have at least a subtropical climate, you can also grow some of the super-productive root crops from the tropics such as cassava and true yams.

Other possibilities include beets, carrots, daikon radishes and rutabagas.

Gardening with Nutrition in Mind

Once you’ve planned in lots of roots, it’s time to think about the wide range of vitamins and minerals that will keep you in good health.

Some of the best sources of nutrition are wild foods such as nettles, berries, nuts and various foraged greens; however, there are quite a few very healthy vegetables worth planting as well.

One of my favorite is kale. Every fall we plant a big bed of kale and other greens, allowing us to eat salads through the winter. Your climate may not allow this luxury; however, if you grow a good round of nutritious vegetables like cabbages and carrots into the fall, they can often be stored for a decent portion of the winter. (All winter, if you ferment the cabbage into sauerkraut!).

In your survival garden, just skip the lettuce and go for health-packed vegetables like turnip greens, beets and broccoli. Onions and garlic are both nutritious and medicinal, so plan some of those in—plus, don’t forget the herbs! Rosemary, oregano, mint, parsley—these are nutrient-dense and healing.

Gardening with Ease of Growing in Mind

Some plants are too picky to be worth considering in a serious survival garden. This is going to vary according to your climate, the quality of your soil and the cultivars you select.

For example, I had good luck growing tomatoes in Tennessee clay, allowing my wife and I to jar tomato sauce for the pantry. In my home state of Florida, tomatoes aren’t worth the trouble.

Likewise, you may find carrots to be poor yielders in your garden. Or maybe you can’t get a good head of garlic to set.

If that’s the case, I give you permission to quit growing those problem vegetables and grow something else.

Picking plants the grow with little care is a good idea. If the power goes out, would your garden die in a few days without water because you’ve got a bunch of picky plants? Do you really want to be hauling buckets over to your prize head lettuces every morning?

Go for the scrappy staples that will tough out adverse conditions and ditch the silly stuff. Grow whatever high-calorie and high-nutrition plants you can grow with the least amount of work.


In my gardens I grow lots of sweet potatoes, true yams, cassava, kale, cabbages and mulberries.

These plants just do really well and I can rely on them. I can’t trust eggplant (plus it’s not really a nutritional powerhouse or high-calorie crop), corn, white potatoes or dry beans to do well in my climate, so I limit their growing space and concentrate on the easy stuff. You can do the same. If you feel like a failure with certain crops, move on and grow the stuff that works. I know you may be emotionally attached to giant bell peppers or spotted chick peas or reticulated snake roots…. but let them go if they’re not working.

A survival garden is a food factory, not a hobby—and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a full plate of homegrown calories and nutrition than have to live on freeze-dried string cheese, gastric pain-inducing raviolis and cardboard-flavored apple pie substitute from a survival food company.

Plan your survival garden right and you’ll stay full and healthy no matter what happens.