Have you ever watched the show Doomsday Preppers? Years ago, I watched several episodes which I found both entertaining and enlightening. The show followed individuals who put a great deal of effort and energy into preparing for a number of catastrophic (‘sh*t hits the fan’ = SHTF) world events which would change life as we know it (‘the end of the world as we know it’ = TEOTWAWKI). These people are probably feeling pretty pleased with themselves right now and muttering “I told you so” while sitting on a mountain of toilet paper.
Similar to some of those people (but not in the same extreme), I love being prepared. I love planning and making lists. I meticulously combed through our emergency kits within the last few months and replenished and supplemented our supply. It felt pretty good and gives you a feeling of control when faced with the unknown. And it’s reassuring given our current circumstances that I have these modest supplies in the event of an emergency.
However, one thing you can’t include in an emergency kit? Fresh produce. Yes, fresh food might be considered a non-essential luxury in the event of an emergency. But what about sustained circumstances which impact your food security? I am fortunate to have the confidence in my ability to produce a long growing season of fresh produce. And now that I have polytunnels, hopefully I will have access to fresh food all year-round.
In all likelihood, in most types of emergencies, you will be “bugging in” (I picked up on some of this prepper language!) if it’s safe to do so. That means you’ll be staying home, where your garden is most conveniently located. If you have a productive garden, you can use it as part of your emergency plan. I’ve even seen some “preppers” refer to their garden as their TEOTWAWKI garden. Perhaps not a bad idea.
In my previous post about food security, I described how I was in the midst of changing my garden plans for this year. I am going to try to stuff every reasonable nook and cranny with fruits and vegetables. My front yard foodscaping plan will weigh more heavily on the edible plantings this year. In thinking about my garden over the last few days, I have decided to prioritize FIVE things in particular:
I want to choose varieties that I have planted before and that I know work well for my climate and soil. I want to select things that are tried-and-true so that I can have a greater degree of assurance that it will be a successful harvest.
2) Trouble-free Crops
I want to choose cultivars for pest and disease resistance. I don’t want to lose the time and energy (and soil!) that is put into a flop crop. I don’t feel like I have time to waste
3) Long Harvest Windows
Ideally, I want something that is going to keep on giving. I want to include lots of cut-and-come-again veggies and I want varieties that are going to produce more as you continue to harvest them. I want something I plant at the beginning of the season to produce until it runs out of steam in the fall (wishful thinking).
4) Heavy Yields
I want something that is going to give me the more edible material for the least amount of effort. I want one seed to give me a large crop.
I want to ensure that I select varieties that can be stored long term. I plan on freezing, refrigerating, or self-storing (cellar-style) as much as possible.
Selecting Vegetables for My Emergency Supply Garden
Having said all of the above, I realize that perhaps it might mean that I won’t be planting as many heirlooms or varieties with ornamental value. I will still try to use high-quality non-GMO and organic seeds whenever possible.
So you ask, what are my top picks and why? Well, here we go…
Potatoes: A reliable crop, which is usually trouble-free, with a long harvest window starting with new potatoes, a potentially very heavy yield, and excellent storability with minimal effort depending on variety. I have selected Norland and Yukon Gold. I have a full 4x8 bed set aside for my seed potatoes.
Onions. A reliable crop that is usually unbothered by pests and diseases. The harvest window is short but they can have a very long shelf life if stored correctly. Onions are a versatile vegetable that can be cooked with virtually anything! I selected a variety pack of onion sets (yellow, white, red); I will not be planting from seed due to the extra time and effort.
Peas. Peas are a staple in my house and they are eaten abundantly fresh and frozen. Last spring, I grew enough to eat fresh and sometimes even two meals per day. I plan to freeze extras or give some away if we have an excess. I want cultivars that will grow vertically on trellises to maximize the square footage of my garden. My choices? Oregon Sugar Pod II (snow pea), Super Sugar Snap (snap pea), and Alderman (shell pea), all of which I have grown with great success.
Beans (snap, i.e. long). As with my peas, I want to grow my beans vertically. This means that I will be using pole beans which have a longer harvesting window but they still have heavy yields. My crop last year suffered from bean mosaic virus and stink bug damage, so I’m actually going to try changing the variety in hopes of remedying this. I plan to freeze excess as usual. I have selected Seychelles and Hilda Romano.
Beans (drying). I have not tried growing beans for drying before this year, but I feel like this could be very important for fall and winter protein. They are grown in the same way that snap beans are grown, though they are left to fully mature before harvesting. It is important to note here that drying beans may also be eaten as snap beans if harvested young/immature. I have selected: black turtle, Taylor Horticultural, and Dragon’s Tongue.
Carrots. Depending on the cultivar, carrots can have a long shelf life if stored correctly. I wanted a longer harvest window, so I chose both quick and slower growing varieties. I have selected Bolero (slower growth, longer storage), Nantes, and Napoli (faster growth, better for fresh eating).
Cabbage. This is a new choice for my garden. It is something that can be directly sown in my zone (8a) and stored for longer periods. I am starting with a fast-growing variety (Tiana) and following with a storage variety (Danish Ballhead).
Swiss Chard. Even before this post, I would wax poetic about Swiss chard. It is a cut-and-come-again vegetable which just keeps giving (until November in my garden!). It is a real workhorse in the vegetable patch which doesn’t get as much attention as it should. I have used Ruby Red for the past two years with great success and I will be using it again. I blanch the stems and leaves separately to freeze and they turn out great.
Spinach. Another cut-and-come-again vegetable which can be planted early and keep on giving until the weather gets too warm. Spinach is versatile and very nutritious. It can be blanched and frozen without taking up much freezer space. I prefer Bloomsdale.
Lettuce. Yet another cut-and-come-again vegetable. I find Coastal Star tolerant of a range of temperatures and slow to bolt. It is a pretty resistant variety of romaine, which I find doesn’t get a buggy or sluggy as other lettuce.
Tomatoes. I want versatility in my tomatoes. I want cherry tomatoes for eating fresh, and I want Roma for slicing, stewing/sauces, roasting, and freezing. I don’t want a fussy indeterminate variety as I don’t want my time occupied by staking, training, and pruning. I want determinate varieties; Tiny Tim and Roma are what I have selected.
Squash (winter). I have selected to include winter squash, rather than summer squash, for their storability. Squash take up a lot of space, especially the vining/trailing varieties. I have chosen buttercup (First Taste), butternut (Waltham), and pumpkin (Early Sweet Sugar Pie). I am probably going to have to add these to my front yard to give them the space they need.
Parsnips. These will serve as my fall root vegetables that can be stored in-place in the garden, or in a root cellar. I have selected Hollow Crown.
Rutabaga. As with parsnips, these will be one of the root vegetables that I will be growing for fall harvest and beyond. They keep well in the garden or a root cellar. I have selected Laurentian.
Turnip. Yet another long-storage root vegetable. I have selected Purple Top White Globe.
Parsley. Parsley is easy to grow and it produces plentiful foliage for a very long period. The best part? It is highly storable once dried and sealed properly. It can be used to season pretty much any vegetable dish. This is a decadent add-on.
Garlic. Along with parsley, garlic is not a necessity (though some might argue that!) but it is versatile and stores well. It is very low maintenance, just set it and forget it. For those reasons, I will also ensure that I include more garlic this year.
And there we have it. These are the vegetables that I will really be throwing my efforts behind this year. I will be growing a variety of other things (especially because I already have them growing) but I want to make sure that I baby these crops.
In addition to these vegetables, I also have a number of fruit trees which I will ensure that I give some extra TLC so that I can maximize my harvests.
Have a look at your access to outdoor spaces. Do you have a deck or balcony which can fit several pots or containers? Do you have space for raised beds in a yard? Can you plant vegetables in your existing beds and borders? Do you have access to a community garden or friend’s or family member’s garden? You may have multiple options for finding and using outdoor spaces for growing. Once you find a space, you can make a plan. The sooner you make a plan, the sooner you are going to be eating your own fruits and vegetables and improving your food security.