June 12, 2015

10 Survival Foods You Can Grow

The iceberg lettuce in my grocery store is 95% water, all of it from California.

Never mind food security, the way our world is going we could slip into food survival at any time. What would I do if one of any number of threats tipped into crisis mode, and the supermarket shelves went empty?

One very real disruption (it is not a threat because it is currently happening) is the ongoing drought in California.

When I lived on the west coast a lot of our food came from California. Now I am 6000 km away on the east coast and guess what? A lot of the fresh food in the stores here is also from California. They are exporting a lot of water in the food I eat.

What if the drought there continues and that food supply no longer exists?

We were not always so dependent on food from far away - our diets were far more local, perhaps even from your own yard. Those are the days to which we are destined to return. And when we do, it will be good again.

“Before the 20th century, the majority of produce consumed in the United States came from small farms that grew a relatively diverse number of crops. Fruit and vegetable production was regional, and varieties were dictated by the climate of those areas.” - California Drought

10 Survival Foods You Can Grow


These are only a few examples of foods that can be grown in temperate climates. Many store very well, and a root cellar would be an excellent way of preserving them without having to depend on an external energy source.

So far I am only growing chives. They were left here by the previous occupants. I have some work to do. But it does have to be done whether it is turning new ground, raised beds, or containers.

I think about growing food every time I am in the grocery store and look at all the California water brought here in things like lettuce. California water. Scarce water.

How are you "future-proofing" your food supply?


  1. I once read, many years ago (I believe it was in the CSPI's Nutrition Action Newsletter), that iceberg lettuce is so lacking in nutrients that we may as well be trucking bags of water across the continent. Hardly the best use of either California's dwindling water supplies (to grow the stuff) or of our energy to transport the stuff. It's disheartening at times, to think of all the useless, and only-slightly-less-than-useless, stuff that gets trucked around and stocked in our stores :(

    1. Such waste will end eventually, but probably not as soon as we would like. However, I do believe we are reaching a critical mass beyond which change could occur very rapidly as conditions demand.

      I like "bags of water" as it highlights what is really happening. In my current location we are fortunate to have abundant water year round, although I have heard of wells going dry in the summer in some locations.

  2. Hi Gregg,

    if you want to get your garden started without too much digging and grow a survival food at the same time, start with potatoes using the 'no dig' method. Lay down 6 or 7 layers of newspaper, overlapping well at the edges, wet down, sprinkle on a good layer of manure and compost then put your seed potatoes on top. Now cover well with straw and water. Add more straw as they grow if you need to, to ensure that the potatoes are in the dark. You can also begin with old cardboard boxes if you have them.

    I grew about 35 kilos using this method recently - Dutch Cream and King Edwards - and they taste amazing. I'm surprised by how well they store, and have been able to share some with friends too. I also grew garlic over the last Winter and what I learned from that is that some varieties store better than others, so it's important to see which long-storers work well in your climate. Some of my garlic lasted 6 months, but some started to go soft at about 3 months. Pumpkins also store incredibly well, and there are some delicious varieties.

    Alys Fowler has a wonderful book called Abundance that you may be able to find in your library. It tells you how to preserve just about everything, including showing a wonderful method for burying a bin in the ground and layering your apples in it on straw.

    Gregg, I think you are so right when you highlight the urgency of all of this. We have heard about the water issues in California, and here in Australia we are in drought. I'm lucky to live in a town with a huge water supply, but imagine we will have to share it if things go on as they are - so water tanks need to be planned for. I feel we are already in a food crisis. I've been macrobiotic for my whole adult life but am now practising a more European version as nothing that comes out of Japan can be deemed to be safe due to the confusion and coverups with radiation testing. Someone commented on a youtube video on this subject that recently when tuna fished off the coast of California was tested every single fish had high levels of radiation.

    Seven years ago I bought my little cottage and added about 12 fruit trees, an olive,an almond and two hazels, a chook run and a large vegetable garden. My only regret is that it's not enough land to grow my own supply of firewood so I can provide my own heating too. I would like to add a beehive at some stage as well. I do need to build a covered back porch or sheds so that I can improve on my food storage in the future.

    I've also started planting a medicinal herb garden, and recently added an elder flower tree (berries and flowers can be made into medicine for colds and flu). I'd like to be completely independent of the pharmaceutical industry and I guess am also concerned about new strains of illness that doctors are struggling to treat. To me, prevention of illness by taking good care of my health seems the best option.

    Sorry for such a long comment, but I think it's so important to share information. I would love to know what others are doing to 'future proof' their food supply.


  3. I forgot to mention the point of no-dig potatoes. Once you've harvested your potatoes you will find that the grass underneath has all died off and you have lovely soil ready to plant in.


    1. Long comments welcome, especially those with so much good information. Thanks for sharing some alternative gardening options. The easier and more versatile it is, the more it will be adopted.

      Right now we are not sure how much we want to do while in a rental unit. We don't know how long we will stay here, and are thinking of buying our own bit of land (it is quite affordable out here compared to the west coast).

      Our situation might lend itself to containers for now, but I love the idea of the "no-dig" method (kind of like lasagna gardening). Containers, plus take advantage of the ample local produce, do some bulk buying at the farmers market, and spend time preserving in the fall.

      That will be our "future-proofing" for this year. Your place sounds idyllic, and ready for this new world in which we now live.

  4. Hi again,

    while you are renting, check out what this couple have achieved in their rental, it's truly inspiring. There should still be a link to a video tour of their garden, which is mostly in containers.


    1. That is awesome. Thank you. I just read an article in which a local Nova Scotia gardener was reassuring everyone that it is not too late to put in a garden. Time to get growing.

  5. Drought in California is very serious. That state does indeed grow a great deal of our food here in North America, maybe other places too. In 2007, I went on a 21 day road trip out west, mostly in California. I was stunned at how much food I saw growing along hundreds and hundreds of miles for as far as I could see on both sides, behind and ahead of me. The view put our food consumption in perspective for me. We are using a great deal of food, a staggering amount. Notice I did not say we require a great deal of food because I'm aware of how much food we waste.

    The vast amount of food grown was almost impossible for me to comprehend until I traveled California and the Midwestern U.S., Alberta too.

    A shame that so much land and precious water is used to produce a low-nutrient food like iceberg lettuce. Not to mention the greater transportation costs of transporting something that is mostly water.

    If and when I am able to have a small garden, the Three Sisters method of growing corn, beans and squash makes sense. It is an ancient Native agriculture method. A mound is used to plant all three plants. The corn serves as a pole for the beans to grow on. The squash serves as a mulch for the corn and beans with its shallow roots. That's all planted next to another mound of the same thing. You can google "Three Sisters farming corn beans and squash" if you want more info.

    I will also consider what foods I can preserve or store cellar with a focus on high-nutrient food.

    Good list of survival foods we can grow. I've recently discovered the joy of beets. My daughter used some kind of spiral maker to make long strings of raw beets. They were delightful with a piece of bread, some cheese and a slice of cucumber. I've loved raw beets ever since! Great on sandwiches. Love, love, love juice with some beet juice added.

    Last summer I had a container garden on my patio. I worked nicely. I grew tomatoes, peppers, basil, rosemary and oregano. Loved harvesting my own food and eating almost immediately! Things changed in my situation so this year I am only growing a basil plant.

    Love hearing what others are doing about food and what we are thinking about regarding food. What you, Madeleine are doing is impressive. Thanks so much for sharing. Learned for the link you provided too.

    1. Raw food is where it is at - all the energy and nutrients are still there. Will have to try raw beets because I do love beets. If you could only grow one thing, basil is a good one. I like fresh basil in salad rolls. Getting hungry...

    2. Agree about eating raw and savoring maximum energy, nutrients and enzymes. This was not intentional, but I've started eating a few bites of vegetables as I'm cutting them up to cook. Accidentally finding that I like a lot of vegetables raw.

      On raw beets, I prefer a very thin slice put on sandwiches or eaten with cheese. I bet graded raw beets would be an easy way to just put a pinch on salads, etc. Or those spirals my daughter made. Just starting out with raw beets, I probably couldn't eat a beet like I eat an apple!

  6. We grow everything on your list except for apples and garlic in addition to several other items. We love knowing where our food comes from and that it hasn't been treated with pesticides and other chemicals.

    1. You can't "beet" growing your own organic food. Way to go on the garden.

  7. Anonymous6/17/2015

    I had kale one year on my balcony. It is an amazing plant! Everytime I found a little caterpiller with my bought vegetables it got to live in the kale. The caterpillers ate almost all the kale, then they cooconed and later turned into something else. And the kale, it just grew right back and I could go get some leafs almost all the way through winter. I see how in rough times you can survive on that plant. I love growing things, this year I have tomatoes and mentha.

    I love your blog, it is very inspirering. I try to live a life where I buy only what I need, I do not always succeed and it is good to come here to remind myself what it is all about! Thank you for your words and thoughts.

    <3 Terese

    1. Terese,

      I love this story. I think you are a Buddhist at heart because of your reverence for life. Or Jain, perhaps, whose adherents practice non-violence towards ALL living things.

      Kale is an amazing plant. On the west coast I could harvest it year round.

      Be gentle with yourself, and keep on trying. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  8. Anonymous7/03/2015

    Radishes are also quick and easy food to grow anywhere: I grew some in small containers on my balcony, together with arugula, before I had a garden. I chose round varieties that don't need very deep soil, and it worked great. What's really cool is that they grow quickly, and are ready in about a month after sowing. Crispy, fresh & local salad all summer long!

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