Designing a long term survival garden

Lets say SHTF tomorrow, you break out your seed stockpile, till up some soil, and then what?  You plant your seeds and hopefully grow something.

The first year everything goes ok because you have some commercial fertilizer and get plenty of rainfall.  The second year does not go so well because you have depleted your fertilizer stockpile and there is a drought.

At this point yall are probably saying, “I will just do some composting and everything will be fine.”

This is the difference in survivalism as a theory and survivalism as an experience.

Where is that compost going to come from?  Do you have livestock so you have access to manure?  What kind of livestock do you have?  Do you have rabbits, chickens, goats, cow, horse,,, something else?  Or were you planning on obtaining livestock after SHTF?  Do you have a garden plot planned out, or were you going to bug out to the wilderness and plant your garden there?

Design Phase

As some of the readers of this blog know, my wife and I are planning  move to rural southeast Texas.  We currently live about 4 miles outside of Jasper.  Within the next few months we are planning on moving a little further away from town.

One of the major benefits of the move is my wife and I will have access to land to raise livestock and garden on.

Before we move, I am trying to get some stuff planned out, such as the water well, sewer system, garden, deck on the back of the house, shed location,,,,, and so on. One of the things I am trying to get planned out is the garden.

I am looking at having 3 garden plots – two fenced in plots with each plot measuring 25 feet x 100 feet, and one non-fenced garden plot. Lets call the two fenced sections of Garden section A and section B. The non-fenced section, which is a couple of acres will be called section C.

Fenced Garden Section

Long term survival garden diagramThe goal is to be able to use one of the 25 feet x 100 feet sections for 1 complete year. But to do this my wife and I will need access to material for composting and manure.

There is a practice called square foot gardening, its where you build a box 2 feet wide, and X number of feet long. Each plant takes up 1 square foot inside the box.

My plan, based on the square foot garden concept is to build a box 3 feet wide and X number of feet long. Each box would be 2-2x14s stacked on top of each other. This would give the box a height of about 26 1/2 inches. During the off season each box would be used as a compost bin.

Next to the house is a tree line, which is where my wife and I would rake leaves for the compost bin. On the back side of the garden is an open field a couple of acres in size, which is where we would get grass clippings. The chicken coop will provide manure. The bar-b-q pit will provide ashes.

Each fenced in area will have two rows of raised beds running long ways in the fenced area. This leaves an open section for planting crops directly into the soil.

Here is the long crop rotation plan for the fenced areas:

Year 1:
Chickens will have access to section B
Raised beds will be filled with various organic material in Section B
The front of Section A will be worked and planted during the spring
The rear of section A will be worked and planted during the fall

Year 2:
Chickens will have access to section A, to feast on the left over plants
Raised beds of section A will be used for composting
The front of section B will be worked in the spring
The rear of section B will be worked in the fall

Year 3:
The gates between the fenced garden sections are opened so the chickens have access to both section A and B
Raised beds are emptied into the soil, either in the non-fenced section (section C) or the fenced section
Raised beds are composted with fresh clippings, leaves, and manure
Non-fenced section is worked, and planted for one complete year

Year 4:
We go back to section A of the fenced in area
Since we made notes of what plants were planted where, we are careful to rotate our crops

Lets say that 1/2 of a fenced in section is not going to produce enough food for a post-SHTF situation, then we use a whole section for a season.

Section A – spring
Section B – fall
Section C – spring
Section A – fall
Section B – spring
Section C – fall
Section A – spring

Either system provides at least 1 full year of rest and composting for the garden.

Watering the Garden

Without water, a garden is pretty much useless.  So what kind of irrigation system can we design that is simple and effective?

For the sake of discussion, lets say there has been a total collapse of society.  My wife and I are having to use the hand powered water pump to get water for basic needs.  It would be impossible to draw enough water from the well to irrigate the crops, especially be hand.

Besides the garden, we have to make sure the livestock has access to safe drinking water.

I see two options, rainwater collection, and drawing water from a creek that runs through the property.

Rainwater Collection

One of my plans is to build a deck off the back side of the house.  We are looking at probably a 20 foot wide by 30 foot long deck.  The roof of that deck could provide a lot of rainwater.

Install a gutter system and build a rainwater collection barrel.  The problem then would be getting the water from the deck to the garden.

If the rainwater barrel was elevated off the ground, all I would need is a long water hose.

When American Survival Guide was being published, they ran an article about using a solar powered trickle pump.  If I remember right, their example was using the solar pump to keep a cattle water trough filled up.  So why couldn’t we use a solar powered pump to pump the water from the rainwater collection drum to the garden?

The other rain collection system I have in mind is for the chickens, and that would involve catching the rain off the top of the chicken coop.

Pumping water from a stream

Farmers in third world countries use a device called a “treadle” pump.  The treadle looks like a stair-stepper.  It works by using the stepping action to pull water from a well or stream, then push the water into the fields for the crops.

Then there is the solar powered water pump. As long as the stream is not X number of feet below the garden, the solar pump may be able to lift the water from the stream. X will be whatever the lift of the pump is.

Compost and Manure

A major part of my long term SHTF survival garden revolves around composting and access to manure.  Once the commercial fertilizer runs out, crops will need “something” to help them grow.

When we were discussing garden sections A and B, I mentioned the chickens would have access to the garden during the off season.  Even though chicken poop is rich in nitrogen, it needs to break down a little before it can be added as fertilizer.

This is one reason why I wanted a rest period for the garden plots, so the chicken poop can break down in the soil.

Besides chicken manure, I would like to add some rabbits to the line up, but those will be after the fenced gardens have been built.

Compost boxes – as mentioned before, add grass clippings, left over table scraps, and anything else I can find.  Hopefully the chickens will get into the boxes to dig around.

The digging action of the chickens will keep the boxes turned, and the hopefully the chickens will add their own fertilizer while they are in there.

Types of Crops

To make the garden a success we will need high yield crops that also contain a lot of nutrients.

A few examples – Beans, Peas, Okra, Onions, Potatoes, Radishes, rutabaga, Spinach, Squash, Turnips, Zucchini.

Corn would be another good crop, especially for long term storage, but corn is also loved by wild animals such as raccoons. Corn also contains very little nutrition content that is absorbed by the human body. If I were to raise corn, it would be for a side dish, or dried and cracked for livestock feed.

Cucumbers are a high producing crop that has little nutrition content. Most of the nutrients in a cucumber is in the skin, which most people cut off. Cucumber have a high requirement for nitrogen, which is suited for the high nitrogen content of chicken poop.  If nothing else, the cucumbers could be used as filler for the chickens.

Melons take a long time to grow.  A couple of my worries about growing melons are the wild animals that would like to make my watermelons a meal, and the water and fertilizer requirements.  Besides all of that, I would probably plant a few cantaloupe or watermelon seeds just to see if they would grow.  Would I plant a would field of watermelons?  Probably not.

Okra, I think okra needs a special mention, mainly due to the wide variety of ways it can be cooked, and its a high producing crop.  Give okra plenty of fertilizer, hot weather, and water, and you will probably be picking pods everyday, or every-other day.  The last time I grew okra I had around 5 rows that were maybe 50 – 75 feet long.  When we got rain, we were picking around 1/2 a 5 gallon bucket of okra everyday.

Then there is canned okra, fried okra, boiled okra, okra gumbo.  Harvesting okra seeds is about as easy as it gets.  Lets the pods mature, harden, then harvest and let dry.  Run a string through the pods, hang them up in a shed, then harvest the seeds the following year to plant.

Farm Equipment

Farm equipment for SHTFWhat is one tool that is going to make the difference during a long term SHTF survival situation?  The tool will have farm equipment.  Whether its an old plow that is pulled behind a truck, a tractor, tiller,,, something besides a hoe to work the fields.

Having access to a tractor or even a plow greatly increases the amount of land that can be worked.

The more land that can be worked, the more food can be grown, the more food can be grown, improves our chances of warding off starvation.

A couple of days ago my dad and I were clearing some ATV trails on the hunting lease with a tractor and bushhog.  One trail I cleared some overhanging limbs with a machete.  When dad drove the tractor through the trail, in a matter of minutes he cleared what took me 30+ minutes to do, and with a lot less effort.

A few years ago, mom, dad, my brother and I worked up a plot of land, then planted several rows of black eye purple hull peas.  Those few rows fill the bed of a short wheel base truck.