Great gardens that grow heaps of high-calorie food don’t just happen – you have to build them. I learned that this year when I tried growing a guerrilla garden in a nearby field, described here on FinalPrepper. To summarize, I sprayed Round-up on a 10’x10’ plot in an abandoned farm field, chopped holes in the ground every square foot, and then dropped in a couple of corn kernels. No watering, no fertilizing, no amendments of any kind to the soil. Just to see what would grow, if I needed extra growing room in a SHTF situation, and couldn’t spend lots of time tending my guerrilla garden. These lessons learned can also be helpful if you are converting a part of your entire lawn to a survival garden after SHTF.
Lesson #1 – Unimproved field gardens are not as productive as established gardens, so expect less food.
My home garden produced 16 pounds of field corn in 100 square feet because the soil was improved with composted kitchen scraps, and I could water it during dry spells. My guerrilla gardening only produced about 4 pounds in 100 square feet. Therefore, we have to improve the soil and/or plant more land for a needed quantity of food when starting a garden from scratch.
Plan of Action #1 – The soil in the field is piss-poor: compact, full of clay, and lacking in humus – probably why it was no longer used as a farm. To improve the soil for next spring’s planting, I turned over the 10’x10’plot with my trusty spade. Next, I hauled a couple of 30 gallon bags of grass clippings and fallen leaves from my car, down the path about ¼ mile, and spread the contents over the plot. Finally, to break up the clay and improve fertility, I spread about four pounds each of lime and pelletized gypsum. I will turn and add the same amendments in the spring a few weeks before planting. Once the crop has sprouted, I will mulch the plants with grass clippings to reduce evaporation and the need for watering.
Lesson #2 – Deer and other wild animals will eat whatever they can find, unless they can be scared away or blocked.
Plan of Action #2 – Because the plot is far from human activity, the deer see my guerrilla garden as safe for them. My job is to make it seem inhabited by humans to the deer, without giving its location away to human passersby. I have read that clothing that has been worn keeps a human smell for weeks, and can be used to repel deer, or funnel them to a kill zone. I can try that with the orphan and “holey” socks my wife is determined to throw away. I have also read that human hair and urine have a repellent effect when sprinkled around a garden perimeter. Rather than courting danger by transporting sloshing bottles of urine in my car, I think I’ll stick to saving floor sweepings when I cut my children’s hair. In a SHTF situation, I could dump our semi-composted humanure on the garden to keep everybody away!
Lesson #3 – Crop selection is important.
Corn seemed to be a good choice for field planting, as it has a high calorie density/pound, but it turned out to be a terrible choice for guerrilla gardening. Because the corn that did develop was so tall, it was exposed and the opposite of stealthy. Any hungry deer or person within 100 yards could spot it, but because we are in an “all-normal” situation, only deer attacked it. Also, corn is needy, requiring lots of fertilizer or rich soil and plenty of water.
Plant of Action #3 – Next spring, I will plant sweet potato sections with eyes in this plot.
- Sweet potatoes can be planted earlier (late April) compared to corn (mid-late May) in our region, as the growth is underground for a few weeks, protecting it from frost.
- Because the crop is underground, it is less vulnerable to attack by animals or people.
- The vines are above ground and low, less visible, and could easily be mistaken by people for vines of some non-edible plant.
- Sweet potatoes provide more calories per square foot than corn, at least in my garden. My 10’x10’ garden plot of field corn produced 1600 cal/lb x 16 lb = 25,600 calories. My 10’ x 10’ sweet potato bed produced 390 cal/lb x 108 lb = 42,120 calories.
* Sweet potatoes are more vulnerable to underground pests like moles. While last year I got a harvest of about 108 lb, this year moles ate all but about 2 pounds of my crop, and I didn’t even know it until digging time! Next year I will definitely defend my garden with some of these mole-proofing ideas, but I will put away needed supplies this year.
* Corn can last for several years when stored in a cool dry place, sweet potatoes generally last about a year in a root cellar. I had good luck with my sweet potatoes in the basement this year, as we just finished eating the 2014 crop early this October.
* Sweet potatoes require loose soil, so they are more work-intensive and only suitable for small gardens, not acre-sized fields.
* Corn is more versatile than sweet potatoes – You can cook cracked corn, grits, hominy, and grind cornmeal for bread. Sweet potatoes you can just bake whole, or put into stews.
Lesson #4 – The one plot I had was found and attacked by deer.
Plan of Action – Next year I won’t “put all my eggs in one basket”. I started a second garden next year, out of sight of the first plot, by turning and amended another 10’ x 10’ plot. That way, if someone hungry discovers the first plot, all is not lost, and if both plots are safe, I have doubled production. This lesson applies to other storage decisions, like splitting your emergency food storage into two areas of your house, or burying some in a cache in your backyard.
It is important to know how to quickly build a survival garden. Even if you are not lucky enough to have an abandoned farm near your house, you may still have an urban lot, remote public park, or other area where you can try your hand at guerrilla gardening. Just be discrete, and don’t get caught. If you want to play it safe, just pick a sunny part of your lawn, and start converting it into a garden this fall – the experience gained may save your life!