Survival Gardening: Part 2

The answer to everyone’s question is “No”, we are not too late to get started on our Survival Garden for this year, not for most of the population living in the United States and Canada.  It keeps snowing on me here in Utah, so I’m still waiting.

This is the 2nd post in a series on Survival Gardening
Read Part 1:  Survival Gardening

I just moved into a new place and so I haven’t been able to do my fall preparation like I normally would, but that’s just the way it is sometimes, so don’t sweat the small stuff. Just like survival in the woods, we start wherever we are and go from there, we do the very best we can under the circumstances.

Many times people are frustrated because they hear the radio shows, read the books, view the Emergency Foodvideos, and find their situation doesn’t match up to what they are hearing from the experts.  Most of those gardening shows are set up in the ideal circumstance, but you will find there is a lot of leeway with Survival Gardening.

So with that aside, you can start your garden with me, and we’ll do the best we can, and we WILL have a nice garden.

The very first thing to do is decide a few things you would like to eat, notice I did not say grow, we are planting a vegetable garden, so we will plant what we like to eat.  I will make a suggested list in a moment.  The second thing to consider kind of goes along with the first, and that is, what kind of space do you have to work with?  If your space is small, some plants will be eliminated right off the bat.  So now let’s list some crops that are common and are not space restricted.  The first five prefer cooler weather.

  • Peas, plant from seed anytime now
  • Brussels Sprouts, get seedlings from nursery
  • Cabbage, get seedlings from nursery
  • Cauliflower, get seedlings from nursery
  • Broccoli, get seedlings from nursery
  • Carrots, plant from seed when soil warms
  • Beets, plant from seed when soil warms
  • Beans, green and dry, plant from seed anytime after last frost
  • Spinach, plant from seed after last frost
  • Potatoes, plant eyes, in the bottom of furrows after last frost
  • Tomatoes, get seedlings from nursery and plant after last frost

OK so now you have a few choices of crops now let’s look at the space that is available to you. Long term foodEverything I’ve listed can be grown in small spaces in little cubes or pots of one kind or another, or you can do rows or raised beds like usual.  Make up a sketch and start laying things out, don’t worry about being fancy or buying some software to do it, it’s just not that complicated.

Consider also how or if you will water, I live in the desert of the Western United States so watering is mandatory here, and I do my own thing with commercial type drip irrigation.  I mention this here because I bury my drip lines before planting.

Now that we’ve come this far, our next task is to get some ground prepared. If you did that last fallTomatos great, if not, don’t worry all is not lost. The main objective now is to loosen the soil that has compacted over the winter, get some air into it, break clumps up, and incorporate some organic matter, well rotted if possible since we don’t have time now to decompose it.

I prefer raised beds always, but I don’t go buy a bunch of boards to do it. Here’s what I do. After the ground is prepared, I mark my rows, usually about 30” wide, then I move the dirt in the walkways on top of the rows so they are higher, then I just work this dirt in and level it all off.

One of the advantages to raised beds is they warm up faster in the spring, especially if oriented East/West, it’s also an easy way to provide a deeper root zone, another advantage of raised beds is the soil starts to dry out sooner in the spring.

For small plants like peas, carrots, beets, and beans I will plant 3-4 rows on the raised bed, for the Long term foodother plants I listed other than tomatoes and Potatoes, I do a zig-zag pattern 18” apart off the center of the row, this allows me to plant more in the space than straight down the row.  If I’m planting corn I do a double row, with a drip line between each  row.

So that’s how I typically do my modified version of raised beds. In my last place I got where I never tilled the walkways just the beds.  Now let’s get some planting beds done.

Next time we’ll plant a few things, talk about the row covers I use, and expand our planting beds.

My Simple Raised Bed in 4 Steps

Here’s a quick step by step on making a very simple raised bed.  In this example I make the bed 18 inches of  loose soil, the bed is 30 inches wide and 10 feet long.  It took me an hour to make this raised bed in ground unused for years.  So let’s do it!!

Step 1: As you can see this is just a corner of an old pasture. You could use a tiller, but I want to Long term foodshow you just how easy this is to do. For breaking up soil I like to use a spade fork as shown. It penetrates the soil easily. I started in the bottom left, and just used the fork to turn over the soil. I worked bottom to top in a row, then just row by row till done. I turned over soil in an area about 3 feet wider than the raised bed will be.

Step 2:
Once the area is turned over with the spading fork, I use the rake, in a chopping motion Emergency Preparedness Foodwhen breaking up clods, and then start working the soil by raking back and forth.  I pull out any large grass clumps that don’t break up, I also remove any rocks.  Now I’m starting to smooth the soil.

Step 3: Now I mark the size of the row, I just had a phone line buried recently so I had gathered up the yellow flags they left behind, I’m using them here to mark the boundaries of the raised bed.

Emergency Garden
Step 3: Marking the Row

Step 4: Next I use my 3 foot wide landscape rake to pull soil from the sides (walkways) to the Emergency Gardenmiddle. This gives height to the bed.  The bed is formed. I tamp the sides a bit to firm them.  So that’s it, a simple raised bed at a very low cost!!!

Until next time this is Perry Peacock, doing Simple Gardening…

Survival Gardening is special series by Perry Peacock of Wilderness Innovation Team for

Photos by:
Perry Peacock

Joel Jefferson
Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here. Read more of Joel's articles.

41 thoughts on “Survival Gardening: Part 2”

  1. I have a 'black thumb'! If I get within about 15 feet of a plant and stay there very long, they die. Fortunately, 'she who must be obeyed' is good with plants and such. I simply provide donkey labor and try not to get too close to the plants until it's dinner time.
    A good series and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

  2. We have been very blessed with early warm weather, and we are already reaping the bounty of our edible landscape. Keep them coming, this series is great.

  3. I too have planted a garden for the first time. My grandfather was a farmer and my mom was a farmgirl so I am taking advantage of what she remembers doing as a child on the farm.

    I invested in a rear tine tiller to help me break up the garden.

    I live in East Texas and I out of ignorance planted a few things to early, at least according to my father-in-law but, some of the vegetables in my raised beds are already producing. I have already started eating broccli and radishes. I have Strawberries, Lettuce, onions, squash, and garlic that will be ready soon.

    It is relaxing and rewarding to work in the dirt and have it yield crops.

  4. I didn't know you were in Utah. I am in Salt Lake myself. It has been a very weird spring so far. I was snowing here this morning again. Great post. Looks like you are getting a good start.

  5. This is looking great, we've got a good crop of spices ready to go in the ground along with tomatoes, squash, peas, and strawberrys. I need to make better use of my plot though, perhaps another area of garden?

  6. I would love to see everybody in this country planting a ” victory garden ” in whatever space they have . This can be done even in the inner city . Tobacco seeds may be a good one to stash away for a trade item if the worst did happen . There is some good information on plants and survival gardening in .pdf form at in the downloads section . Good place to go for the beginning prepper to start his library .

  7. I did not see in your small list, onions. Why?
    I would like to plant some onions between our flowers.
    Green onions as well as white and red. How? When?

    Thanks keep it up!

  8. I am also in Utah! Strange weather indeed. Keep wanting to go out into the yard to till and mix compost but then it rains, or snows or both. The wind knock over one of my gardens fences and the fence around my compost pile. The kitchen counters and dining room table have plenty of seedlings growing just waiting to put them in the ground. Hopefully in the next few weeks. Thanks for the info.

  9. Now i live in Ohio and have been farming for most of my life, having it handed down from generations. But, I have alos studied the old fashioned methods of agriculture and I like how you are using hand tools and nothing motor powered. We grow al kind os veggies and this year finally we used the compost from our sheep pens as fertilizer which I've been suggesting for a while. But I also noticed youre not including onions or garlic, these are easy and serve not only as great food but many animals that like your tomatoes or turnips( which we like more than radishes) wont go near garlic so consider using it around the plants you want protected. An Potatoes can be grown in half barrels really well, if you have mice issues in your fields for the root veggies, but with carrots you need really loose soil, and wiht turnips plant tons of it in the fall it will attract deer for hunting.

  10. I have a silly city boy question. I live in north L. A. County and my house built on fill dirt( crappy clay ridden dirt). I have had a garden at my old house where the dirt was great (and old). This stuff is horible. I also have field rats all over the neighborhood. These are the small annoying ones not the big tasy ones. I can’t bait them (small dogs that bring in dead rats and play with them on the couch hen we are gone for the day).

    How do I improve my soil and what do you suggest to keep rats out of my garden.

    • Spec,
      Re: the rat problem – have you considered an air rifle? If you see them and IF California and LA allow the air rifles – might be a solution to your problem. I used my Benjamin growing up to keep rats away from our house. That and a really, really good ratter of a cat kept things under control. While the cat probably did most of the work, I did my part as well.

      • I live in Georgia and we have nothing but clay in most places. What I have always done is use composted manure and peat moss (nowdays I use mushroom compost instead of peat) to fertilize the soil and make it lighter (less compacting). My dad always did this too when I was growing up. It works very well, I am always giving away excess melons, cukes and okra.

        • Misty,
          compost is a good idea. two years ago I broke my heel and the compost pile I'd just started sat there for 2 years. I just had it cleaned up and that is some FANTASTIC growing medium.

    • The quickest way to improve clay soil is to plant a deep rooted cover crop. Cereal rye or oats along with vetch or field peas works great. In one growing season the soil will literally be transformed! For a good resource check online for "Managing Cover Crops Profitably". It's written more for farmers than gardeners but pretty easy to understand and apply the principles to a garden. To get rid of the rats, also gophers and voles (depending on where you live) you could encourage small hawks like kestrels. Kestrels are the smallest hawks and can clear an acre of gophers in one growing season. They're not big enough to attack most pets and farm animals. But if you have baby kittens, baby chicks, or miniature dogs, they are easy prey for a kestrel. All you need to do is provide a nesting perch. Once again there is info online.

  11. Question.
    my rather small back yard was cool decked over by the previous owner. I'm loath to pull it all up but I'd like a garden back there. Any idea on how well a garden frame would work back there? Say about 4 ft. wide and 12 feet long with dirt about 2 ft. deep? I am thinking that if I set it on plastic to protect the cool decking I don't need a bottom to the frame. My frame in the front works very well but it is on soil so there is no "bottom" like there would be in the back. Suggestions would be appreciated.

    • My wife and I have poor soil in our yard as well. We are doing something called "square foot gardening." Essentially its using a raised bed – ours is 4'x4' and 6-9 inches deep. Its designed to be efficient and easy. So far so good (and neither of us have green thumbs). We got the book ("Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Bartholomew) from a second hand store but I know most libraries carry it as well. You can find quite a bit of info online too.

      • When looking for the vermiculite in his book you will find it quite expensive. It's also used in building insulation. You can buy it in big bags cheap.

  12. If you live in a colder climate , I recommend a Maine coon , they are large and rugged as far as cats go . Im sure you would like to be spending your time doing something else besides pest control if you dont have to .

  13. I am (alas) in a semi-urban environment , but there are rats, squirrels and 'possums about, as well as feral housecats. Ever since I started setting out a small can or 3 of fish-based catfood in my tiny 'flowerbed' vegetable garden, every few days, a few years ago, 'yard apes' are the only remaining serious garden pests. The cats will work for you at very low cost.

  14. Im in Utah also… My problem is I REALLY want a garden, but we dont have any fence around our yard yet and frequently have deer coming into our backyard… Any suggestions?

    • I've heard alot of people around here say they use human hair (collected from a local barber shop or beauty salon and "refreshed" often) scattered around the garden. Also, just being in your garden frequently will leave your scent and most deer will shy away from that.

    • You can try taking antibiotic soap bars and a stick puch the soap bar on one end and pree the other into the ground. Deer do not line the antibacterial properties of the soap. Another way is a motion sprinkler…I believe Cabellas sells them. When a deer comes in the yard, the sprinkler goes off, reaching out and touching the deer. Scares the crap out of them. They learn. Deer away sold at Home Depot works wells too. Stinks. Won't spray it on the crop but around the yard…like a barrier.

  15. Thanks for the ideas. I'm in N. Cal. Dirt compacted, bad back, so tried pots…Not too successful as peppers and eggplants were tiny little things. Maybe wrong plants. So this time would like a real plot…but dogs would piss on it and squirels help themselves (I've tried offerings on the fence, they like a wide variety in their diets, lol).

    So I think I shall try to get some cheap chicken wire. I do think it is important we learn how to do this. Rediculous that we don't. (I have to say, I'm a failure at pest control and don't want chemicals, that kinda defeats learning how to do it with minimum).

    Grubs are biggies, as are slugs, snails and white fly. (My roses rusted out this spring, just cut them back again today, don't know what's up with that, never happened in 6 years living here :^( But of course I would not be eating the roses…or would I? (Is that what rose hips vitamin c is?)

    I recommend trying gardens to everyone I talk to, but I think we all need to have a seed supply on hand. I really appreciate all the ideas on this site. Thanks for helping the hippies stuck in cities.

    • I can sympathize with you on the dirt, I'm in S.Car. with the red clay. What we did for my mother is use pots and Miracle- Gro soil. This year we used Miracle-Gro Water Control Potting Mix and are having good luck. Lots of tomatoes. Good Luck with your garden. 🙂

    • Giant Book of Garden Solutions by Jerry Baker gives some very useful none lethal means to manage varmints and some garden diseases. The hair thing didn't work for me – they must be used to my smell since it was my garden they were ravaging.

  16. I don't have a lot of area to plant so I started putting all my plants into pots around the house, saves on room and no critters or prying eyes…

  17. As someone who has 8 raised bed planting areas; multiple fruit trees and plenty of good organic seeds, I won't be doing any outdoor gardening this year. I've instead decided to do what gardening I can in a greenhouse – watering plants with reverse osmosis water. I'll also have plants in my house. I expect the nuclear fallout from Japan will be contaminating the water and soil in my West Coast area for years to come. And no one in govt. will test the water, the milk, the fish, etc. for radiation. This truly saddens me, as I loved my garden and my produce. To those of you in more protected areas, I wish you the best.

  18. If you live in a desert then raised beds are probably not the way to go, like you mentioned they dry out faster, meaning you have to water a lot more if you live in a dry climate. If the shit hits the fan and your municipal water stops flowing that's going to become quite a big problem. I've heard about using sunken beds to help keep your garden from drying out.

  19. Hey guys, Hit me up if you want seeds that will make you more than self sufficient. I have Heirloom seeds, they are healthier than the regular Hybrid seeds and are naturally Disease and Insect repellent. If you plant 10 seeds harvest the produce from 9 and let the 10 plant get over ripe, then get the seeds out of the over ripe plant, and plant them the next year, that is something you CAN NOT do with regular Chinese made Wal*Mart seeds…these were raised here in the USA and will work better than most of the other stuff…they are a grand investment…I heard victory gardens mentioned in earlier posts, this is what is ideal, cuz with these your completely self sufficient…see if you can find some locally, if not i have them for sale… E-mail me @ [email protected]

  20. Nearly all vegetable seeds prefer 68-77 degrees to germinate, regardless of being a cool or warm weather crop. Most cool weather crops need to have the seed planted when the weather is quite warm and then finish ripening in cold weather. But most nurseries don't have seedlings in late summer. You can start cool weather veggies from seeds indoors, under flourescent lights, about 10 weeks before transplanting in mid summer. Winter root crops should be planted by seeding directly into the garden in late summer. Planting from early spring to late summer means you can harvest all year without a greenhouse, even in the northen continental US. Timing is everything.

  21. CaptBart Gardening is no different my friends. It requires patience, knowledge and experience and then you know what Mother Nature sometimes come along and throw her monkey wrench into it. Just keep at it and one day you'll have a "Green Thumb".

  22. The forms of crops which can be greatest for hydroponics are ones with skinny spider-like roots.
    Vegetation that have a bulb root system are nonetheless greatest grown in the conventional soil method
    inside a pot or outside. When you find yourself ready to start, germinate the seeds to your crops
    like you normally would. When the seed has began to sprout and has roughly 2-5
    millimeters of progress it is ready to transplant to the hydroponics container and start


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