Dig Your Survival Garden

America used to be a nation of family farmers and gardeners. My grandfather took great pride and joy in his backyard food factory. The local climate supported not only staples such as corn and string beans but more exotic produce such as apricots and walnuts.

Before the rise of the military-industrial complex (a by-product of the Second World War) folks admired anyone with a “green thumb” – that is, a capable gardener.

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Survivalists have always maintained that when the SHTF, people with useful and productive skills will be in demand and better equipped to clean up the ‘S’ and get things working again.

There is no doubt that learning how to raise your own food is a top-shelf survival skill. The good news is that you don’t need a large area of land to get started. Apartment dwellers can raise potted produce.

Have you heard about survival gardens designed to yield enough vegetables to feed your family all on its own? The very idea of such a thing is totally empowering – even if the ‘S’ never does hit the fan. (And let’s hope it doesn’t.)

Planning is essential to carry off a survival garden. First, figure out how many daily calories are needed to keep you and your household members healthy. Remember to include your furry family, too – assuming they eat veggies.

Then, find foods you and your crew like to eat that can provide enough fat, carbs, and vitamins for your daily needs.

This task alone may sound daunting but it doesn’t have to be that hard. The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) has published a handy Dietary Guideline which shows how many calories per day people need, by age, gender, and physical activity level.

For example, the average 18-year old male needs 2,400 calories a day to maintain a sedentary, low-activity lifestyle; 2,800 calories a day if moderately active; and 3,200 daily calories for an active lifestyle.

A 2-year-old girl, by contrast, only needs 1,000 calories a day regardless of activity level.

Get most of your calories – 45 to 65 percent – from good carbs, which have 4 calories per gram. Someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day needs 225-325 grams of carbohydrates.

Everyone needs to consume a moderate amount of fat every day – between 20 and 35 percent of total calorie intake. Fat has 9 calories per gram so that same person on a 2,000-calorie daily diet needs 44-77 grams of fat.

Finally, every balanced diet should include 10 to 35 percent protein. Our 2,000 daily calorie consumer needs 50-175 grams of protein which has 4 calories per gram.

One secret to success in growing your own vegetables and fruits is to begin with foods you really, really like to eat. Are you a fancier of corn on the cob? Would you drool over some freshly-steamed asparagus? Or would some salad and sandwich lettuce keep you happy?

Go ahead and list your favorite veggies. Pick one or two besties to cultivate as you learn the ins and outs of outwitting the weather and garden pests.

Online searches can reveal oodles of valuable information about how to grow your own survival garden. You can also watch DIY (Do It Yourself) videos. Get to know your neighbors who garden. Most of them will be thrilled to share their passion with you.

Different plants thrive in different types of soil, in shade or sun, with or without water, and grow well or poorly when located next to certain companion plants.

Don’t get hung up on all the details. Pick a couple of veggies to experiment with and just go for it. I started with three varieties of cherry tomatoes because I’m no fan of the big ones. This gave me a nice taste test and side-by-side comparison about which kinds tasted better and resisted varmint attacks.

Armed with knowledge, this year I expanded my garden to include cucumbers and brussels sprouts, both personal favs of mine. Turns out that every creature, great and small, adores all cabbages, including the brussels sprouts. So far, sprinkling hot pepper on the leaves is an effective repellent – but if there is little to no harvest, guess what won’t be featured in next year’s garden?

There is no shame in planting young starts from the garden center to gain a gardening edge. Select the most vigorous and healthy-looking plants available and keep them moist until they go in the ground.

Die-hards will want to grow from seed. It’s much more economical if you acquire the knack for nursing tender sprouts until they are big enough to go outside or in an individual container. Down the road, you may begin harvesting and processing your own seeds.

Peas, bush beans, carrots, and potatoes are all easy to grow. If you want high-calorie crops, go for potatoes, winter squash, corn, beans, and sunflower seeds. Veggies that store well include beets, turnips, carrots, cabbage, rutabagas, kale, onions, and leeks.

Excess produce can be preserved by drying (dehydration), freezing, and canning (which should be called “jarring” since most people use Mason jars rather than metal cans).

My early childhood memories include touring not only Grandpa’s garden but also clambering down the wooden steps into the cool basement whose walls were lined with shelves stocked with Grandma’s canned goods.

Sharing a love of gardening with our kids is one way to make sure we all enjoy the peace of mind that comes from being prepared for worst-case scenarios. At the same time, we can instill life-long family values and a true love for Mother Earth.

Can you dig it?