Survival gardening for depressed economic times

A guest post by Jo (Georgia)

[This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest – First Prize winner will receive a gift certificate for $170 worth of Winchester Ammo. Second Prize winner will receive 3 dozen Tattler Reusable Canning Lids . Third Prize winner will receive a LifeStraw.]

Times being what they are we’re all trying to save a little money. Here’s some tips on how to stretch that dollar even further with a home garden. Start planning now for next years growing season.

Choosing what to plant.

Make a list of the foods you eat regularly at their basic ingredients level. You have probably already done this so this part should be pretty easy. For example our family likes to have spaghetti at least twice a month. So this would be tomatoes, basil, savory, garlic, onions, peppers, etc. You can leave off things you know you can’t or don’t have room to grow such as a cow for beef or semolina wheat for pasta. Then cross out items that won’t grow in your area.

The remaining items are your working list. Next, and you may already have this data handy from your thrifty grocery shopping, find out what each of the remaining items cost, and how much of these you buy. I use tomatoes in tons of dishes, and I know it takes about a pound to two pounds of tomatoes depending on the variety to make marinara sauce for two. Tomatoes are x per pound, and I need y pounds per month. X times y is how much I would spend if I bought just the tomatoes.

Sample working list:

  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Bell peppers
  • Leeks
  • Parsnips
  • Lettuce
  • Strawberries
  • Summer squash
  • Zucchini
  • Basil
  • Savory
  • Sage
  • Celery
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Raspberries

Once you have that list you can see how much money is going to each food item you might be surprised, but now you know where your garden can impact the reduction of your food budget best.

I also found that there were several foods, lettuce being one of them that we ate frequently, was expensive from the store, but frequently went bad in our fridge before we finished it. By growing the lettuce in the garden and not picking it until I’m ready to use it I no longer waste it, or my money.

The next consideration is the amount of space you have to garden, and the yields of the things on your list. Maybe you’ve only got a balcony on an apartment that doesn’t get much sun, or maybe you’ve got an empty acre just waiting to be planted. Most of us will be somewhere in between.

But no matter how much space you have, gardening space should always be considered at a premium. To a point its better to have your garden as compact as your desired yields allow, if for no other reason than it will take less time to take care of.

There are a ton of books out there on companion gardening and square foot gardening. I highly recommend reading up on the subject. You can find these books at your local library, or on Amazon. And a lot of the information is on the internet just waiting for a simple google search.

Most seed selling websites will give you numbers in both how many seeds are in a packet, and what the expected yield per plant will be although the yield will be a broad generalization. Lots of fruit, a little fruit, etc.

They will also give you a rough idea of the plant size. Tomatoes, have a generally high yield per plant, while with carrots and leeks are only going to give one to one per seed. At the same time tomatoes take up a lot more space. Than carrots or leeks, but there’s a lot of room under that tomato plant for other things like carrots, and basil.

Here’s a list of Deep root plants vs shallow root plants. (plants that are extremely easy to grow have a star after them) If you have a container garden shallow or medium rooted plants will do better for you. Keep an eye out for varieties meant for containers if you do, for example dwarf carrots which don’t grow as deep as regular ones do.

Deep: 12 inches or more

  • Carrots *
  • Parsnips*
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers*
  • Potatoes
  • Bush type beans and snap peas

Medium: 8-12 inches

  • Herbs*
  • Strawberries
  • Compact varieties of cucumber*
  • Ginger*

Shallow: 4-6 inches

  • Lettuces*
  • Radishes*
  • Onions *
  • Garlic*

Now you may be thinking you’ve got to go out and spend money on buying these seeds or plants and that’s money I could be spending on groceries I can eat now. Not so you can get almost everything you need to garden for free.

If you live in an apartment or if you choose to container garden you might need to be a bit more creative in finding pots, old Rubbermaid tubs work well. I bet you have some laying around. Most counties have collection areas where residents can pick up compost for free, you just have to go get it. Call your county extension office and ask. If you have an outdoor garden space you can also improve any “dirt” you have by composting in some junk mail and your kitchen scraps I won’t go into this, as there has already been an article on composting.

Now for plants: Many things can be grown either from a piece of something you got at the store or from the seeds of things you got from the store. For example you can grow potatoes from a potato you got at the store. When ever mine start to get eyes I just cut a chunk of the potato off with the eye on it and stick that part in the ground. You can do the same thing with Ginger.

Onions will re-grow from the root section on the bottom, as to celery you know that part you normally throw away. Leave a little more onion attached and stick it in the ground. In a few months you will have not one but two more onions. Bell peppers grow well from seeds inside the store bought one, and so do tomatoes as long as they haven’t been bred not to.

Garlic cloves starting to get that green inside? Stick ‘em in the ground. As for other things you may find neighbors willing to give you some of their extra seed to start out. But theirs always the Dinner Garden a non for profit organization who’s mission statement is to get families self sufficient and healthy.

They have many distribution sites around the country and if you aren’t near one, they will mail you the seeds. These seeds are free and available to anyone who wants to start a garden, regardless of economic standing.

I hope this helps you all, below are some further links you might find helpful.

M.D. adds: my two favorite and most reccomended books on raising a survival garden are “Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times” and “The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times“.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. A couple other sources of nearly-free seeds (just costs postage or small shipping charge): (they offer 6 seed packs, but sent me 10 — also a great resource on winter gardening!) (seed swapping is awesome there! I’ve done over 30 swaps — also tons of gardening info) (offers free seeds once or twice a year, I got 25 full-size packs for only $5 shipping)

  2. Hi Jo

    Great Post! I really like idea of taking your menu plans and breaking it down into what you normally use and how to transfer that over into what to grow in your garden. That is so clever!

    I really second M.D. on his recommend books.

    Hope you won’t me giving my two cents on this subject, while if you are short on space or don’t have the best land etc, going with the square foot gardening is a great choice, however you do need to have a fair amount of access to water to make that work, if you only plan to give extra water to start the seeds and then mostly don’t plan on watering your garden, and you have the space to do so, consider the old fashion large row plantings that our grandparents did along with mulching.

    The second one is that while its a great idea to use seeds from things you got in the store, make sure if you are in a northern climate, that you are getting something that can grow and mature in your climate zone, example, I can grow watermelon in my area but I have to pick just the right kind for it to work, if I used the one from the store that was shipped from down south, it would not work for me..

    Move further west, or north and you need to be even more careful on picking what seeds you use for planting to have them mature in your very short growing season.

    • jo (Georgia ) says:

      Thanks for the extra insight, one of the things that makes this blog so great! Living in Ga we get more rain per year than seatle so I have never had trouble with water in sq ft gardening, but I can see how other regions could.

  3. Don’t forget sprouts as an alternative when an in-ground/dirt garden is not possible. Nothing better than fresh greens for salads. You can buy sprouting seeds or use your own – just make sure the sprouts are safe to eat, tomatoes are not. I’ve even raised sunflower sprout on a sponge.

  4. I noticed one writer in this series suggested buying silica packs to place in with seeds to keep them dry… FYI almost all pharmacies get these “stay dry “pouches in either silica or charcoal in medications and throw them away. Most pharmacies will save them and give them to you, or at worst charge a small amount for a bag full. Just heat them for a few seconds in the microwave, pop them in a clean and dry jar with a tight fitting lid, and they are ready to go. They will keep seeds dry, and they will keep moisture from dehydrated foods as well. I put two or three of the charcoal ones to a quart.DH

  5. If you get garden pests like coons, woodchucks or possums you can eat them too! Or try planting marigolds on the perimeter of the garden. That will keep some of them away.

    • Hunker-Down says:

      Penny Pincher,

      We just have our front yard, and have two 4 X 24 raised bed gardens. It’s 95% sand and I’m working to improve the soil so there will be more nutrients and less watering needed. We live in Central Wisconsin and just harvested the last of the carrots and ate the last home grown tomato. I planted dwarf marigolds on the perimeter of the garden and harvested about 3 gallons of seed!

    • Or the cat can eat them! I don’t think my cat used 1/2 pound of food all summer thanks to the gophers and chipmunks.

  6. Robert in Arkansas says:

    Thanks for the article. I started gardening for the first time 3 years ago. I sure have learned a lot. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The 2 things that were most helpful to me were 1) the square foot gardening books (old and all new book) by Mel Bartholomew and 2) taking the Master Gardener class offered by my county cooperative extension service.

    I just watched a free video at . This describes a very low maintenance gardening method sheet composting as a mulch. The video is an hour and a half long but WELL WORTH the viewing. I am excited to try this method out. Has anyone else seen this film or used this method? I would be interested on hearing about the results.

  7. One more thing: You can direct sow peas and sunflower seeds outside as early as February. (I’m in KY so adjust for your zone). Even if there is snow, if you can get down to the dirt, do it. You can also plant them in the fall and they will overwinter and volunteer. (if the critters don’t eat them) You want to start your peas that early or you won’t get much.

  8. I’m back 🙂 If you grow sunflowers you can crush and boil the seeds to get oil, then skim it off the top of the water. Good way to get cooking oil.

    • Mother Earth says:

      Penny Pincher, what an awesome suggestion. I grow sunflowers every year because I like them, now they have a purpose other than bird feed!

    • Hunker-Down says:

      Penny Pincher,

      You just solved our after TSHTF cooking oil problem. THANKS!
      Since oil goes rancid, how long can we keep the seeds before boiling? And, how long does the boiled oil stay good?

      • jo (Georgia ) says:

        Don’t forget to bag the heads so the birds don’t eat it all before you can harvest!

      • Kate in GA says:

        I tried to do this during the summer. You need over 1,000 sunflowers to get a gallon of oil. And that is if you maximize your oil production. Boiling the seeds and then skimming off the oil is the way the indians did it hundreds of years ago. It is very inefficient. Based on my experience, I am switching to peanut oil. A peanut holds much more oil then the sun flower does.

        • Hunker-Down says:


          Does it take 1,000 sunflower heads or 1,000 individual seeds to get that gallon of oil? We live in central Wisconsin and the growing season is too short for peanuts (my preference) but I think we can grow sunflowers.

          Do any northern growers have a sunflower variety to recommend?

          We have several stores that sell sunflower seeds as bird feed. Are they safe for extracting oil to be used for human consumption?

        • nancy perrone says:

          there are oil presses you can use vs boiling and skimming. Might get a better yield of oil per seed. You can also do other seeds and nuts besides sunflowers with it.

    • Growing sunflowers around here causes a lot of consternation with the local farmers. Birds can carry the seeds into fields and a sunflower popping up in the middle of a corn or soybean field can cause damage to the cutter on a combine. If you live in Farm Country, I would recommend that you cover the seed heads with a fine nylon mesh when they start to mature. This lets them get air, water, and sunlight and keeps the birds from prying the seeds loose and depositing them with the neighbors.

      • Mother Earth says:

        Wow, good point, I didn’t think about the farms around me. I’m in Ohio too so I will cover the heads next year, thanks.

  9. I really like the dinner garden resource, but they are way behind on seeds so there is a waiting list for them. They also take donated seeds (even the ones saved from a garden instead of store bought). I had planned on donating to them after this growing season but my garden tanked this year.
    I am sure many of you know this already but companion planting is not only great for saving room but also to help control pests in the garden.
    Now if only I can figure out how to keep the squirrels away…

    • robert in mid michigan says:

      use a .22 or a good pellet gun if you are in town. clean the squirell cut intio quarters dip in egg and then flour season and fry in oil. makes a great lunch.

    • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

      Rat traps. Squirrels are just furry rats. But don’t let the neighbors see you do it.

      • Kind’a hard to set the rat trap on the side of a tree.

        • Point the spring up the trunk and sheetrock screw each end to the trunk. Or set the trap along a branch they use, or bait it, and use duck tape or screws to keep it in place.

          • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

            Exactly, JSW.

            Michael C, do you must know much about squirrels? Let me help you out here. Not all squirrels are arboreal. There are some species that are strickly ground dwellers – hence the name “ground squirrels”. Other species are often seen in trees, but spend about half their time on the ground, foraging. So it is entirely reasonable to also place rat traps on the ground for squirrels. Not a problem to use rat traps for squirrels. The problem comes when they get their paw caught and start chattering so loudly that the neighbors wonder who’s being tortured. Best to dispatch the critters ASAP so they don’t suffer. Then have a nice fried squirrel dinner. Tastes like…….squirrel.

    • We have a herd of barn cats that seems to keep those critters in check also.

  10. Well am going to have to work on gardening.
    I am new to actually doing it. My pot (no not the smoking kind) was kinda, sorta a bust. But hope to do better next year.
    The reason I used pots is I couldn’t fund a bigger container garden. But I think it is doing better now that I have neglected the thing.
    I am beginning to think we should grow weeds and let the garden grow wild. Would sure be easier work.
    Well here is to Next Year!!!!!

  11. Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

    I’ve been trying to post a comment for hours, but whenever it rains my WiFi goes out along with the phone line, it’s intermittent at best when rainy.

    So, I have to type this quickly. Jo, thank you for providing the gowing depth of these vegetables. Now I’ll know what to plant in which size pot. I didn’t have a lot of luck growing anything this year, but I will keep trying and am looking forward to next season and using all the great info provided by folks like you on this blog.

    • Feel your pain, Lint. Snowing here now so the clouds are thick and dark, slows the WIFI to a crawl. Summer storms are worst, though. Nothing gets thru those clouds.

  12. Kate in GA says:


    This was a great article but I am going to disagree with you on the size of the root systems of strawberries. They only go down to 4 inches. This is a good thing for those of us in clay soil. I must pull out all the clay and replace it with decent soil. I mix it with sand for some additional help. If I had to go to 8-12 inches, I wouldn’t grow strawberries!

    Ginger also grows best as an indoor plant unless you live in South Florida. However, all other zones can place the plants outdoors for the summer and then bring them back inside for winter.

    • jo (Georgia ) says:

      Kate, I think diferent types of strawberries have dif grow depths, I got the measurment by pulling some of mine up from a spot where they were very happy. Its good that they will grow in more shallow situations that will help people growing indoors.

  13. SrvivlSally says:

    I believe in letting a few of each kind of plant go to seed just before the season is over and putting the seeds, after they have dried, into hand-labeled envelopes for the following year. Anything that I can get seeds from saves me quite a bit of money and the hassle of finding appropriate ones for my area every year. I have a green onion in one of the raised beds that has been there for over five years and it would be missed if anything ever happened to it. Thinking about survival gardening, I must get some peanut seeds so that when bugging out on the survival land there will be nuts. Fresh-roasted nuts from home are so good.

  14. We’ve always had a rather large garden (about 1/3 acres) but with all of the rain this year, and the tiller needing some repairs, we did raised beds for the first time. Although things worked out rather well considering the late planting, I was not all that impressed with raised beds for creeping plants like the various squash varieties. What we’re planning for this next year is a combination of the furrows and hills to plant corn, squash, and water melon, and current plus some additional raised beds for everything else. We’ll also be starting all of our plants from seed, where in the past we’ve purchased plants for some things like tomatoes and peppers. I think we’re also going to try peanuts this next simmer and see what happens.
    As for inexpensive seeds, Wal-Mart had seeds by American Seeds (Finest quality since 1878) for $0.20 per package. I picked up a bunch and then went back this fall and bought some more. I’ll be looking for them again next spring and stocking up. The ones we planted all germinated and yielded reasonably well considering our shortened season this past year.
    I am also planning to check out the other seed sources provided by all of you who are as a group, one of the best resources I’ve found for gear, supplies, and information.

    • Hunker-Down says:


      We only have room for raised beds and have to fore-go the long vining plants. Among others, we plant delicata squash for its relative short vine and keeping charismatics and zucchini because were nuts about zucchini bread. Unfortunately we learned that they are from the same family and will cross, so we cant keep either seed from this years crop. We found this information while studying the information at The problem is not stated specifically, I found it by comparing the Latin family names listed. I sent an email to the author and he promptly verified my assumption.
      I hope this helps, and wish I had your acreage and Gayles growing season.

      • Hunker-Down,
        I have a friend who has had some success growing squash in a raised bed and training them on a trellis. Seems like extra work to me, so I’m just going to let them spread out next year.

        • Hunker-Down says:


          We use tomato cages for dwarf cantaloupe, delicata squash, cucumbers and tomatoes. I try (and fail) to grow 1/2 acre of food on our little two raised beds. Next year we will plant carrots under the tomatoes and use the carrot footage for more zucchini.

          • jo (Georgia ) says:

            I usually plant a basil in the middle, then ring that with the tomato plants and after that scater carrot seeds in and around all those, and lightly rake them in. They all grow so well together. I do something simalar with peppers except I leave out the basil and replace the carrots with green onions.

  15. I think the major problems with my garden this year were lack of rain or too much rain. Or was it too much rain, then lack of rain? Either way, even with watering (and resultant well problems), the garden was a disaster this year. Good thing there’s still a grocery store open in town (but, darn, did the prices JUMP!).

  16. KansasProud says:

    We also have a large garden. I have 2 raised beds within the garden. In these beds go the onions, spinach, lettuce, carrots. The strawberrys are in their own circular bed in the garden. But in our climate I have found the hot season crops haven’t done that well in raised beds. They dry out to fast. After planting all my hot season crops I put down a thick layer of hay or straw to help with the moisture but also to help keep the soil a little cooler. I have grape vines on my garden fence that are well mulched for the same reasons. This past year even with all my best efforts it was pretty much a loss. I only canned 60 quarts of tomatoes. That might sound like a few but that is split with 4 families. And that was with 30 tomato plants! And no salsa, or V-8, spagetti sauce. I’m hoping for a better year next year. Hopefully, the drought will pass.

  17. I would love to see every household in the country start a ” victory garden ” of some kind , no matter where they are at .

    • I used to own a property with 14 fruit trees on it . The previous owner had planted six tangelo trees very close together , trimmed and shaped them like a hedge for privacy . When these things went off , the amount of fruit they produced was so overwhelming , we ended up juicing most of it and turning the juice into a powder for later . If you live in a warm climate , citrus may not be a bad thing to plant ( just not so many ) Nut trees are another thing I would like to try some day . There are huge pecan orchards in this area and they seem to do very well , perhaps a pecan and a pistachio tree ………. hmmmmmmmm

  18. Pete McLaughlin says:

    You will not be able to feed yourself with a garden on your apartment balcony.
    Get “Mini Farming Self Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre” by Brett Markham. he provides tables showing the number of pounds of many vegetables you can grow in 100 square feet. Then shows that 2 people need 21 4×8 raised planters and several fruit trees to provide most of the food they need to get by in difficult times.
    If it is a survival garden is should feed you and your family year round.


    • jo (Georgia ) says:

      The intent of the article is more to reduce your overall grocery costs than to be your sole source of food.

  19. Green areas can be created even in your own space be it a small balcony. A great garden related resource for gardening enthusiasts is with many ideas for the gardening amateurs and pros in the free newsletter! One just needs plenty of enthusiasm to have go at gardening be it in containers or in a yard.

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