What If You Are Forced to Build an Emergency Garden?

If we ever experience a collapse, those who are not prepared will be scrambling to come up with enough food. In fact, most will be scrambling to come up with enough food at some point! Some will turn to a life of crime. Others might try to build an emergency garden. But at that point, there might not be seeds at your local Home Depot or the ability to order from your favorite seed catalog.

What could people do or use to get something into the ground that could produce a crop. What follows is a guest post from Michael. He shared some insights into a “what-if” scenario. After reading his thoughts, what would you add? Be sure to leave some helpful tips in the comments.

An Emergency Garden Scenario

It’s spring 2022! Inflation and job loss have found you with extra family members living with you.  Your stored foods once thought good for a year or so spread out over more mouths, looks grim.  The grocery bill is going to be out of control soon as no employment for the unemployed guests seems available as food prices spiral out of control. You start see the emergency!

Your new guests brought little in the way of food assets but so far, they are listening to your leadership.  

It’s June 1st 2021, you’ve looked over your assets.  You have some potatoes with growing eyes available.  They are no name, white store bought potatoes.  You have a “Survival Garden in a Can” of unknown age, some Roma tomatoes, store bought garlic and some bok choy from the store.

Do You Have the Right Garden Plot?

Things you need to figure out NOW before you start. 

Do you have decent soil?  Roundup or Scotts Yard Lawns will kill your efforts shortly after you plant.  How can you tell it’s a good place to plant?  Dandelions!!  Dandelions were BROUGHT over from Europe by settlers as a Spring Tonic after eating from ever depleting root cellars all winter.  Roundup destroys them. That common weed will lead you to a good site.

What are your growing days?  It’s found by looking up your Last Frost in the Spring and the First Frost of Fall.  With extra effort, you can extend the season and should.

What is your rainfall pattern in your area?  Most places have dry months that fall in the middle of growing season.  What can you do to store up water for the dry days?  

How am I going to get rid of all those weeds where I want to plant my garden? 

Trust me, digging them up by hand is NOT the answer.  Happily, your guests brought with them a couple of large tarps plus the ones you had.  You can solar cook that weed plot into an emergency garden site.  Just chop down the large-tall stuff, check to see how many layers of tarp is needed to block sunshine and cover your soon to be emergency garden plot.

A Water Catchment Scenario

Potatoes and Their Friends

While you are waiting the two weeks to severely stunt or kill off those weeds you need to be planting potatoes.  Common white potatoes are generally a 3-4 month crop. Cut up the potatoes with eyes as so each eye has a good chunk of potato with it.  Let it dry a day to form a scab. Then plant about 3 inches deep with as much well-rotted leaves you can find as fertilizer.  They are more robust than weeds, but you do need to give them a head start and all season weed them while hilling them every week or so, so only about 20% of the foliage is showing.  You cannot eat the leaves, but hilling and keeping them damp, those green leaves become part of the tuber growing roots.  You will eat by the sweat of your brow here friends!  You want as many potatoes plats as you can secure from your food ration at the grocery store. 

Potatoes are not sexy, but they fill the belly and with the skin on, a fair bit of vitamin C to prevent scurvy. 

You also want to plant around, but not where you’re going to hill those plants to plant garlic cloves.  A garlic bulb should have several good-sized cloves per bulb.  Do not remove the “paper” of the cloves. Plant pointy end up also about 2-3 inches deep.  Garlic and potatoes do well together and garlic helps keep pests away from the potatoes.  Garlic, spring planted, will give you small cloves but some left to overwinter will give you the large cloves the next fall.  You can also get nice scapes for cooking in mid- spring unless you want more garlic “seeds.” But those seed pods will take two years to become garlic blubs.

Slimy Goop Tomatoes and Bok Choy?

Now the Roma tomatoes.  Cut a few open, scrape out the inner slimy bits with the seeds.  You get to eat the rest. Yay!  Place the seedy goop into a jar with water.  Let it sit near, but not in the sunshine.  The idea is, a few days of gentle fermenting and you can remove the seeds from the goopy mess and start the planting.  You look around and find you have a cardboard egg carton.  You carefully put the eggs in something else so you can mix up a 50-50 mix of the best soil you have plus well rotten leaf mold, make extra for future potting soil.  Place the egg carton on a sheet pan and fill each cell with soil.  Plant two-three seeds into each cell as one or two should sprout.  Water carefully as to keep the soil moist, but not wet.  Keep in a window with a bit of clear plastic over it as a mini-green house.  The container from the tomatoes will do here.

Find something that will allow drainage but hold soil for your Bok Choy.  You can eat most of the leaves but the base, if not slimy or moldy will grow roots.  Keep in damp, not wet potting soil and sunshine.  This year you might get some leaves to eat, but the plan is to get it to produce seed pods that will become dry and leathery when ripe for a fall and spring planting.

It’s Not Over Till You Pull the Last Vegetable!

You have to protect your emergency garden!  Most of your threats are from rodents, deer and such.  You set a night guard to snooze in a tent in the garden as just your normal noise keeps most pests away.

Research More Gardening Tips


9 thoughts on “What If You Are Forced to Build an Emergency Garden?”

  1. Michael

    I’m impressed Todd! You did a lot with just a sample scrap of an article.

    But the intended moral of the parable is “Don’t Be THAT Guy” start NOW. Set aside storage foods for you AND your likely Guests. Cut up that eyed store bought potato and PLANT it. Even in a dreaded HOA you can hide them in your flower gardens. Same with Garlic. The only real way to learn is to DO. A couple of bucks and some dirt time. You might be nicely surprised at an extra sack of potatoes this fall?

    Also do not be surprised if you find you missed a potato or two and Volunteer Potato plants come up next spring. Give Thanks for it 🙂 Pray but hoe the weeds (and hill the potatoes)

    Maybe it’s late in the season but you LEARN something. Maybe learn how to EXTEND your growing season with application of an old thrift store sheet to protect those potatoes from that Frost? I make a GAME of protecting my tomatoes at night with sheets, REMOVING them each morning after the frost dries and have had cherry tomatoes as late as mid fall in NH. Nice to get a hand full every few days for my cooking-salad.

    You will also learn NOW if your soil is healthy enough to grow things and thus IMPROVE it…. Dandelions are good indicators that your not in an artificially sterilized Scotts Yard zone. But ALL soil can be improved with Organic Materials.

    Anybody who has eyes to see and ears to hear should realize that food production is in the danger zone in our country (and frankly all around the world).

    Don’t Be THAT Guy who is “Surprised” when his take home pay will not feed his family due to shortages and such. The toilet Paper Fiasco last year SHOULD be a excellent SIGN of JUST HOW FAST a situation can get out of control. TP was an inconvenient problem, Hearing your Grand daughter crying “SHE’S HUNGRY” is a PROBLEM.

    Proverbs 20:4 The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.

    1st Timothy 5:8 If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

    Warning against Irresponsibility
    2 Thessalonians 3:…9Not that we lack this right, but we wanted to offer ourselves as an example for you to imitate. 10For even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “If anyone is unwilling to work, he shall not eat.” 11Yet we hear that some of you are leading undisciplined lives and accomplishing nothing but being busybodies.…

    It will be HARD to provide the Leadership your family will need to work in a survival garden. Lead by example, lead with the scriptures but LEAD.

  2. Good tips on starting garden crops from grocery store items. I would add that dry beans, like pinto beans, can often be sprouted and planted.

    As you say, someone who is trying to cobble together a survival garden using grocery store scraps is going to have a very tough time. The odds are slim that he’ll have the right kind of food scraps for his area and probably not enough to ‘survive’ on. A five-gallon bucket could turn two seed potatoes (or eye chunks, as described above) into two pounds of potatoes — and that’s if everything goes right. Ten buckets growing potatoes could yield 20 lbs. of potatoes. How long would that last?

    You also mentioned those “Seed Bank” products. They could very well contain a lot of nice seeds. What they won’t contain is the experience to grow them. Gardening isn’t rocket science, but it’s also not as simplistic as Mr. Bloomberg imagines. The Seed Bank products seem to be marketed an emergency backup tool. “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass, Plant Seeds.” The seeds might be fine, but if the person planting them has no clue, they’re liable to find out that their emergency backup plan failed. As you say, don’t be that guy. Dabble in gardening now, while there’s still time to fail and learn. You’ll know what grows well in your area and what does not. You’ll have a stash of seeds that you know will grow well, and how to grow those plants. Don’t wait for the emergency to break the glass.

    Another thing to consider for a survival garden is what to plant. As an experiment, jot down what you ate for the past several days’ worth of meals. Even if you have to guess, try to estimate the quantity too. (A 6 oz. steak, a quarter-pound of mashed potatoes, a cup of steamed broccoli, etc.) This exercise will help you see how much you consume and of what. As much as possible, THAT is what you want your garden to provide.

    I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Learn to grow what you’ll want to eat and with some idea of how much. Learn to do it now, before the emergency hits.

  3. Michael

    Thanks Mic for chiming in. A point to think about. Using a 5 gallon bucket for most garden vegetables is only useful in my opinion when you are using the limited mobility of those buckets for season expansion OR you simply HAVE no decent soil to plant a more traditional garden.

    The tarp weed smothering system is intended to give you a fighting chance to grow a good sized garden THIS year to supplement your stored-scrounged foods AND give you the ability to Expand your Gardens next year.

    I mentioned in passing seed saving techniques as as Mic mentioned Seeds *might* be scarce or not available, thus the emergency ideas.

    I’ve gotten from a eyed chunk of misc. store bought potato a harvest in the 10+ pound range by hilling soil (allowing more leaves to make roots-potatoes) AND Side Dressing with compost and such. Good production Requires Work. Weeds eat up some of your potatoes nutrients thus you Weed. Potatoes need damp NOT Wet Soil (otherwise Rot is an issue). 5 gallon buckets give limited space/Available nutrients for the bulky potatoes to develop AND are very subject to watering issues, either too wet and thus Rot or too often quickly dry and you stunt the potato’s growth.

    2 pounds of potatoes from a 5 gallon bucket is about right if everything works well. As a thought 2 pounds of potatoes is around 650 calories, nearly 200% of your daily Vitamin C requirements and oddly enough 24 grams protein.

    NOW as I love to experiment, I HAVE grown potatoes in a 5 gallon bucket starting in fall and ate the couple of pounds of Fresh Potatoes at New Years. I kept it in my double 5 gallon self watering bucket system and it was just to SEE if it could be done. My sweet long suffering lady allowed me to occupy her South Facing sliding glass door with a pair of potato pails all winter for this exercise. I HAD to use a small paint brush to pollinate the potato flowers (no bees in my home).

    As I live in NH we have real winters ™ so I was careful to close the insulated curtains every night and during severe cold snaps as not to Frost Damage the experimental potatoes.

    My wife did love the baby potatoes and garlic roasted before the final harvesting.

    Happy wife you know…. 🙂

  4. Illini Warrior

    I know it’s only a fictitious article and an example – but – you don’t plant potatoes or any other root bearing veggies in newly turned over grassland – use it for other growing purposes or leave it bare and keep working out the grass clumps and roots …..

    1. Michael

      Illini Warrior do you have any real experience doing a Quick/emergency garden friend?

      You seemed to miss it’s NOT a turned over grass system, it’s a process called Solarization that I have USED many times to kill off weeds and get one of my many gardens started up. I don’t own a rototiller as it never worked well in NH’s very rocky soil. NH is called the Granite State for a good reason.

      When I let an older plot go fallow I broadcast a mixture of soil building seeds and let it go wild for a year. Then I use the tarp system to bring it back into production. I’m too old to be shoveling up every bit of weeds and such.

      Also given it’s Spring aka Planting Season just how long did you plan on having folks “Keep working out the grass clumps” and such? Did you miss that even potatoes NEED some 4 MONTHS to generate a decent crop to eat?

      Yes you will have to weed to give your emergency garden a fighting chance.

      Please chine in with your real world ™ gardening successes please.

  5. Michael

    Todd, thanks for adding that link to the Rainwater collection article. Good Job but I didn’t even notice it until my third reading of the this Emergency Gardening article.

    Did you JUST put it in or is it easy to miss as a “Link”?

    I would have added a rain water collection comment to this article but knew you already had a good one.

    Feel free to delete this comment as it doesn’t add to this thread.

    1. Hi Michael,

      I added the link when I first posted the article. 😉


  6. Cindy Fox

    Thanks Todd, Michael and Mic for sharing.
    An excellent article & super helpful comments!
    I prefer not to wait to grow an emergency garden. I talked to a family member today that has no idea, doesn’t want to know and brushed her teeth when I talked about preparing/growing food. lol
    The last two years here I’ve lived here I did a lot of gardening. This year was more extensive but I’m learning lots as I go. This year was better since I’d saved and used last year’s seeds in spite of the lessons in squash borers. I had tomatoes even after a frost they just kept coming. I froze, dried, canned and ate a lot from the garden. One pumpkin squash to seed, cook, can and dry with enough for the next planting.
    I’ve had some success in growing potatoes in buckets and a lot in just hilling them.
    I’m not waiting for spring here in Iowa. I’ve started a lot inside already for eating over the winter including sprouts. Times are too uncertain to wait until spring. I’ll have tomatoes, and lots of other things over the winter as well as start some things later on that will go outside in the spring.
    This year I added different kinds of squash and also grew some plants for making loofah sponges. I have lots of strawberries, mulberries and raspberries I take full advantage of when things start growing. Lots of tomatoes like my Roma’s came back on their own this year.
    Before I get carried away with this comment the bottom line is not overlooking growing inside over the colder months and staying on top of the food supply. Sprouting and even doing hydroponics inside is a big plus. I seldom go to the store and pay the outrageous prices in the stores unless it’s can goods I’m stocking up on sale.
    I look forward to that article on Rainwater collection. I’m open to learning all I can.

    1. Michael

      Cindy the rainwater collection article LINK is in this article. Look for the Black label with Water Catchment Scenario and click on it.

      Glad you liked the article.

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