The Ultimate Guide to Unusual Plants for Your Survival Garden and Yard

pic of gardening tools

by AZ Rookie Prepper

I thought I would offer some suggestions for those who enjoy and use gardening as part of their preps. I don’t have a huge garden; as a matter of fact, it is fairly small in terms of square feet.

I did produce a tremendous amount of food out of that space last year as I concentrated on growing plants that produced a lot of food for the space involved. Here are my thoughts on plants that give best production for the space.

Roma Tomatoes – I chose Roma’s due to their versatility and taste and lack of waste. Roma’s have a lot of flesh per tomato, much less open space inside the tomato fruit. I eat them raw, with a good amount of taste per bite. I cook with them, making a great dish called Pasta Capri (ask me for the recipe).

They can be canned, with so much flesh they don’t need as many to fill a canning jar. They are excellent as canned salsa or spaghetti sauce. The plants don’t get too big here in Arizona, but do produce quite a bit of fruit, thus saving me water.

I produced about 20 pints and 8 quarts of canned tomatoes, salsa and spaghetti sauce last year from just three Roma plants, not to mention eating some for dinner right off the vine.

Cherry Tomatoes – I planted two sweet cherry tomato plants last year and was very pleased with my production. Most mornings when I would do my watering, I picked a handful of cherry tomatoes to take with me for lunch. This lasted for several weeks (at least 5-6 weeks, don’t remember exactly). I grew these two plants in containers on my patio.

Asian Long Beans (Asparagus Beans) – These are not common in the U.S., but I feel should be in every garden of every prepper. This is a climbing type bean that produces a huge quantity of bean pods per plant. The bean pods are thinner than your standard green bean, but get about 12-14 inches long (rumor has it that they get bitter and nasty tasting if you let them get much longer than that).

When you pick them at about pencil size diameter, they have a slight nutty flavor mixed with a mild green bean. I had four plants and canned over 20 pints of beans, in addition to eating them fresh and giving a lot away. Seeds can be ordered from Kitazawa Seed company.

Jalapeno Peppers – I found a variety that isn’t too spicy, but does have a tang to it. These plants are a must if you want to make salsa from your tomatoes and add a bit of zip to anything else you chose to add them to.

Here in the southwest, peppers are easy to grow and love the sunshine and heat. I was giving these away as I just could not keep up with the production from just four plants. I used them in my salsa and also pickled/canned four pints.

Bell Peppers – Can’t live without these great plants. Unfortunately, for some reason my bell peppers did not produce so well last year. I did have some good meals using my fresh picked ones that did grow, but my four plants only produced about 10 or so peppers.

Perilla – Also called the beefsteak plant, it is another plant from Asia, a member of the mint family. This one self seeds and apparently is considered a pest in some areas. Has a strong flavor and is used throughout Asia in a variety of dishes. I pickle the leaves with sesame oil and lots of pepper powder for a side dish (salad). Grows easily but needs lots of water. Caution !!! Do not let cows or horses eat this as it has some level of toxicity to them.

Russian Mammoth Sunflowers – Last year, I grew three of these, and the giant flower heads each produced enough seeds to fill a small peanut butter jar. After the flowers die out, cut off the heads, let them dry for a couple of days, peel out the seeds and soak them in saltwater overnight, then dry the seeds in an oven set on 200 degrees for 2-3 hours. Who doesn’t like sunflower seeds?

Prickly Pear Cactus – Easy to grow, just cut off one of the pads, let the cut area dry for a couple of days, then bury the pad slightly more than halfway with the cut at the bottom. These will grow, sometimes quite large “bushes” that can be a defensive barrier against unwanted intruders.

Additionally, the pear (or tuna as its sometimes called) is eaten like a fruit and the pads (nopal in Spanish) can be diced and used like bell pepper, battered and fried or mixed into salsa or chili. The obvious holds very true, be very careful when handling both the fruit and the pads, both have spines and glochids (little hairy spines that hurt like the dickens).

When cleaning either the pads or fruit, wear thick gloves and very carefully scrape away the spines and glochids. The pads in particular are kind of slimy,like okra, so if you don’t like boiled okra….you probably wont like prickly pear nopals.

Jujube trees – These fruit producing trees grow quickly, and produce a ton of fruit within a couple of years of planting. I live in a very dry region and I NEVER have to water these trees, yet each one (roughly 15 feet tall) produce 6-7 gallon containers worth of fruit.

They will tolerate heat and cold, only blossoming after the last frost here (late April) and the birds and bugs don’t seem to bother them much. The fruit is about the size of a fresh date, eaten fresh they have the texture of a crisp apple with a slight nutty and sweet flavor.

I made pickled preserves from them, but it’s a lot of work due to the fairly small size of the fruit. The fruit can also be dried and used to make a tea that is high in vitamin C or reconstituted in Asian soups, they really accent the flavor of chicken.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas to augment your gardening preps, I would be interested to hear what other unusual or different plants the readers of M.D.’s great survival blog grow for high volume production.

If you have other ideas, please share with us in the comments below…

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. Jesse Mathewson says:

    This is a great article, and jujube, yes!

    • Greg Monger says:

      Jesse, I wrote this 4-5 years ago. Our jujube trees are doing well this year, will probably have a ton of fruit. I probably should not have said “ultimate guide” as this is what worked for me here at that time. This year we’re growing eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and a LOT of fruit.

  2. Jesse Mathewson says:

    I am a huge fan of tomatoes, green beans (varieties) and onions. (Tucson and South Eastern Az- so you know the climate well)
    Honestly, I have always loved blossoms of the yucca, ocotillo and saguaro (dont let the tree huggers catch you harvesting) and of course as always never harvest all, just a few per plant- and my family loves the fruits of prickly pears, and the pad meat- spanish tall grass has tasty tubers as well. In addition, mesquite beans (after they turn reddish brown) make a very tasty preserve (and or flour) and are extremely widespread and available, (May through July). Pinõn trees have tasty but more difficult prepared nutty/flours as do the loacl scrub oaks and pines 🙂

    Though you have to be ready and each has a season there are many many uses and plants native to our wonderful high deserts that are extremely valuable additions or core dietary supplements.

    Wonderful article!

    (Mesquite trees budding draw out deer, tree squirrels, cattle, snakes, mice, ground squirrels, badgers and many other edible prey (be selective and of course follow local laws-but understand good food sources exist and will need protecting)

    • Greg Monger says:

      Hi Jesse, I am not a fan of the nopalitos, too slimy for me. I can eat okra all day long…I don’t know why prickly pear just doesn’t get it for me. I too like the mesquite pod flour, good stuff. Never tried the various blossoms nor the spanish tall grass tubers. Agree with the pinon nuts, they are awesome!!!

      • Jesse Mathewson says:

        ^^^ true, personally always enjoyed prickly pear pads and fruits- but understand the texture 🙂 it is like kiwi –

        Love flour from mesquites and pinons

  3. PatrickM says:

    Roma’s are my choice as well! Absolutely my favorite tomato for its versatility.

    • Jesse Mathewson says:

      Agreed, of course daughter loves cherry maters, eats em like grapes 🙂 and beefsteak make awesome canning however romas, are really amazing!

    • Greg Monger says:

      I like the beefsteak tomatoes too, but I find they always split on me here. The roma’s tend not to split. Cherry tomatoes are fantastic too.

  4. We love Romas since they take less time to make sauce. Unfortunately, they did not do well for me last year. Overall, my garden didn’t do well at all last year, except for peppers.

    I’ll likely be giving away peppers this year too. I have 18 jalapenos and 18 other hot peppers. I’ll be looking for hot sauce recipes soon.

    Good article as I like to see what works for others.

    • Greg Monger says:

      GA Red, Thank you. I like hot peppers too, but this year we’re keeping it mild. I lived in GA many moons ago (81-82) but did not get a chance to grow a garden there, was assigned to Ft Benning and was too busy soldiering to have much gardening time.

      • Greg – I can see where you wouldn’t have much time to grow a garden. It’s also really hot down there in the summer and drove through the fort many times during those years – still do at least annually now.

        • Greg Monger says:

          GA Red, when I lived in Georgia, my hobby was sweating. Did it all the time, LOL. Seemed like the mosquitoes were the size of 737’s too. I did get to go fishing there on Ft Benning, there was some spots I would love to go back to. Some really fine white bass that were good eating.

          • Sweating is definitely a large part of life here. As for the mosquitoes, my mom and brother spent a little time in Alaska and say they are bigger there. They like my DH more than me, so I just make sure he’s outside when I am. LOL The bass here is good – my grandparents had a pond on their property in Randolph Co so I learned to eat fried fish for breakfast. Good memories.

            • Greg Monger says:

              GA Red, I am not sure where your part of GA is, but I think its a fine state. I really enjoyed the Dahlanega region (spelling?) up in the mtns. The Benning area was good too. Spent a little time over near Fort Gordon and Fort Stewart also.

              • I’m way to close to the big city. I love the area north of Dahlonega – Blairsville and east toward Clayton. South Georgia is in my blood because I’ve been going there my whole life – my mom was born in Waycross and raised in Shellman. We still have family and property down there, but it’s way too hot.

  5. JP in MT says:

    If you are going to eat off what grows naturally in my yard, you need a lot of recipes for dandelion. Although I am going to put in blueberry bushed this summer in the front. The back is too small and too dead (mine waste) to even grow grass. DW is learning about growing in pots.

    • Greg Monger says:

      JP in MT, LOL….I know about dandelions. I grew up in MO and we had lots of them. I have never tried it, but they say dandelions (young leaves) are good in salad. We put in a blueberry bush this year too, hopefully we can get some berries from it. I only recently learned that they really like acidic soil so we’re putting some of our coffee grounds around the bush.

  6. I discovered the long green beans at farmers market. saved some seeds and planted the next spring. i like them stir fried with a little salt, pepper and olive oil. Finally found two packs of seeds….. only 10 seeds in each pack. so i will be careful to save and dry seeds/beans this year. They produce well and for an extended time if you keep them picked to encourage more product.

    • Greg Monger says:

      We like the long beans too, have a couple of volunteers this year, hope we can get some to eat. Kitazawa seed company sells the seeds for long beans and many other less common vegetable plants, look them up on google or yahoo search.

  7. tommy2rs says:

    Tip on cleaning prickly pears, you still need gloves but rubbing them in sand cleans them perfectly. A bag of play sand a 13×9 pan is all you need. You can also torch the pear leaves to remove spines. We used to do that in south Texas so cattle could eat the cactus. Harbor Freight sell a propane torch that will work and coupled with a tank and a wheel barrow you can clean a lot of cactus pretty fast.

    The nopales are also good cooked with scrambled eggs

    The tunas make a good jelly and pancake syrup as well. A couple more South Texas bushes provide berries that do as well – granjeno and agarita.

    Chile petin (or pequeno) are tiny but make goods pepper sauce for putting on green.
    For tomatoes try Costoluto Fiorintino, it’s an Italian beefsteak style and makes a really good quick cooked sauce. Just slice it in half and put the cut sides down in pre-heated olive oil and they melt down into a tasty sauce.

    And as a side note as kids we used to pull the stamen out of the cactus flower and break off a long cactus needle to thread through the stamen to make throwing darts. Which we mostly threw at each other. Could come in handy to know one day

    • tommy2rs says:

      argh, stupid interruptions.

      Chile petin (or pequeno) are tiny but make goods pepper sauce for putting on green.

      should read Chile petin (or pequeno) are tiny but make good pepper sauce for putting on cooked greens like turnips, mustard or collards.

      • Greg Monger says:

        tommy2rs, I think we have the same pepper, we call them pequin here. Little round peppers that are pretty hot? I like to add some of them to my salsa to jazz it up real good. As I said to Jesse earlier, I am not a fan of nopales. I can eat them but they are just slimy …which is funny because I can eat okra all day long. I guess I am just weird.

  8. Billy T says:

    Not known as an Arizona plant, but as I posted a few weeks back, Vidalia onions can be propagated here by sticking a mature onion, even a partially rotten one in the soil and watering. I believe it was Sirius who asked me if I would be willing to plant 1/2 or even 1/4 of one to see if it would live and form a new onion plant. I did split one last month and planted it at the BOL. Both halves are surviving after a month in the ground.
    It appears that the onions planted here in Phoenix area in summer will split into from three to seven sets, while those sets planted at our 6000+ foot elevation BOL in Spring mature into eating onions during the course of the summer.
    I hope this helps.

    Also, planting things of higher calorie content such as carrots and yams can be useful, particularly after SHTF. We have apple trees, berries and a wild plum tree at BOL. Planting some peppermint next to the wash to see if it will grow there. Next, mushrooms!

    • Greg Monger says:

      Billy T, Do you have to water your onions more than normal? I know onions are supposed to be a “dry” plant typically, but I would think with the really hot summers you have they would need extra water. We like the green onions and onion chives in our family, and we really like the purple onions. Have not tried to grow them here. I love the taste of walla-walla’s but have not tried to grow them either.

      • Billy T says:

        Yes Greg. We have an automatic watering system at the Phoenix location and at BOL also. Waaay more necessary in Phoenix. Not only hot but arid also. Aside from the water though, the onions do not seem to mind the heat. BOL has no winter garden, too cold, In Phoenix area, we have orange, tangelo and plum trees, all of which require all season watering.

        • Greg Monger says:

          Billy T, We have jujube trees, apple trees, cherry trees, a plum tree, a nectarine and an apricot. The apricot has not done well, too many bugs like it. We also have blackberries and now a blueberry although the verdict is out on whether it will survive. I bet blackberries would do well at your BOL although if it is where I imagine it is, lots of bears in that vicinity would love your blackberries.

          • Billy T says:

            We haven’t seen any bears, although I have seen bear tracks not too far away. Haven’t seen any cougars either, although there are many deer (cougars favorite food) all around and cougars have been reported. As far as depredation is concerned, Javelinas are the worst, deer second. Lots of bobcats, so not many rabbits.

    • Billy,
      Yep, that was me. Thanks for the info. I’m going to try that with a red onion I picked up at the store then try mushrooms grown from stems. Check out this link when it gets out of moderation. Interesting reading.

  9. Roma are my favorite tomato. I also grow cherry for salads and beef steaks for sandwiches.

    For beans, Kentucky pole beans for yield in a small space because they grow up.

    Peppers, bell, jalapeño, banana, super chillies (new) and the one everyone should grow the most Cayenne. So many uses for this medical and flavor.

    Potatoes,cucumbers,squash, zucchini,lettuce ,spinach,cabbage,carrots, radishes, onions and another important one garlic !!!
    Oregano, basil,parsley,cilantro and various teas.

    Just my prepper garden.

    Good article, nice to here other ideas.

    • Greg Monger says:

      Thor 1, I like your garden, my family and I eat all of the stuff you grow. Here in SE Arizona though, some of that won’t grow so well, I have always had a tough time with the green leafy vegetables as it is so hot and dry, particularly during June. One thing that I totally agree with is garlic !!! That ought to be a food group all its own. I really like to eat radishes by the handful with a little buttermilk ranch dressing….that is a great summer time snack.

    • I put the garlic around my tomatoes and peppers, along with onions and mint…they are happy and the garlic keeps the bugs away…and since they aren’t huge it keeps a nice border around my tom plants
      I do the cilantro, basil and catnip…good for herbs and keeps the pests away. The whole ‘companion planting’ works well as I dont have to even think about using sprays and such.
      Also I keep a good supply of Fish Emulsion on hand. The veges love it

  10. I really need to grow radishes – I eat a few every day when I have them. No ranch dressing needed.

    • I threw a bunch of them in, even though we’ve never really bought or chose to eat them in the past…I did it for my carrots…but they grew so fast and I pulled up a couple and washed them off at DANG they taste GOOD! LOL
      Hard to believe they are so easy to grow, come up fast AND taste good!

      • Greg Monger says:

        TechQN, I think almost all fresh vege’s are pretty tasty, glad you learned to like radishes. They are not super nutritious but variety is the “spice” of life.

  11. I dont know about ‘unusual’ but I chose to do the square foot approach to get more out of my raised beds. Although hubby did build me another one on Moms day…which I put my additional Corn and Bush Beans in and then added Strawberries to.
    I chose to use my border beds that I used to fill with flowers and dug them out, laid in screens for gophers and then put the ‘three sisters’ into (Blue Lake Bush Beans, TopHat Corn and Dark Star Zuchinni) along with nastrunium & marigolds for pests….so I gained an extra bed by forgoing flowers and planting food. It works.

    • Greg Monger says:

      TechQN, a good lesson to be learned here is when the SHTF, a good thing to do is what you did, forgo the “nice to have” things like flowers and grow food in the land where the flowers used to be. Although, as you pointed out, some flowers, nastrunium and marigolds in particular, are good for keeping pests away from your crops. I actually wrote this article a few years ago and MD recycled it. Its good to be reminded of things from time to time.

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