Planning Your Survival Garden – How To Live Off The Land

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The planning stage is often the most exhilarating and the most overwhelming part of creating your survival garden. There is just so much that you could do! If you find yourself getting stuck, go back to the basics and remind yourself of your limitations, but also your overall goal. If in the future you are feeling there’s too much to do, it’s a good time to return to this chapter. Look over your mission statement again, reformulate it if need be, consider your long-term plan, and adjust it if it is turning out to be more work than you originally expected.

Your Mission Statement

Now have a good idea about what you have to work with and what kind of gardener you want to be, maybe even need to be, in order to achieve your goals. It is time to take that information and turn it into a commitment.

A survival garden is a long-term project, and long term-projects tend to fail with undefined goals and no accountability. A mission statement solves both problems.

Your mission statement shouldn’t be more than a paragraph or two long, but what it should do is to state clearly what your purpose with this project is, whether that is to supplement your supermarket purchases with calorie-dense foods in case of prolonged food or income shortage, or to live a gourmet, off-the-grid homesteader life.

You should be walking the line between not too specific and specific enough. Overarching categories of plants and animals might be mentioned, but there is no need to name species. That sort of information may change along the way, rendering your mission statement useless. Keep it broad enough to be flexible.

Feel free to make your values shine! The more conviction there is behind your mission statement, the more inclined you will feel to live up to it, and the easier it will be to make decisions accordingly. If you want to only grow organically and with minimal reliance on outside water or fertilizer, put that in there. If you only want to raise animals that you can legally and in good conscience slaughter yourself, write it down. This is a commitment to yourself and your self-sustaining future.

Developing Your Vision

Once you have a mission in mind, you can let your imagination roam free and explore dreams and possibilities to your heart’s content. Just remember that the ideas you end up putting into practice should be in line with the goals in your statement.

If it helps you to visualize, make a rough sketch of your space. Study it. Are there different zones that pop out at you? What about how you use your space today; are there some areas that seem to belong together? Are some spaces are heavily trafficked, whether by foot or vehicle, whereas others you rarely seem to visit at all?

Do you want an herb garden? If you want to grow your own medicinal herbs, they needn’t be near your kitchen, but herbs for cooking probably should be close at hand. Many gardeners have the best of intentions but balk at running a hundred yards in the dark of night to hail some sprigs of parsley for a garnish, or fresh mint for a cocktail.

Do you have a nice little patch of land that you pass by on your way to the garage every day? That’s a great place for growing things that require extra attention or daily maintenance.

Are there any natural borders tying together sections of your space? How might you use hedges or pathways to your advantage?

Try to envision an objective for each of your spaces, but don’t be afraid to combine different functions in one space if they could be mutually beneficial. Your chickens might live in the orchard, where the trees and shrubs would help to protect them from large predator birds and the chicken droppings feed the fruits and berries. If you aren’t allowed to ruin the suburban look of your neighborhood by pulling up the front lawn, think about how your herb foliage and berry shrubs may look ornamental in your flower beds.

As you start to get a feel for what different spaces might be used for, how will things like water access affect your plan? If you have animals, you need to be able to get fresh water to them, and if you live in a dry climate you may need water close to your food plants. Will you need to adding more water access to the area? Carrying watering cans gets very heavy when your area hits a dry spell.

Drawing Your Plan

Some people are a bit intimidated by the idea of drawing a garden plan. There is this idea that it’s something that experts do, landscapers and farmers who, unlike most home-growers, have training. In reality, there is absolutely nothing to be intimidated by. Even the simplest sketch is a great tool that anyone can use to start growing food.

If you already have a surveyor’s map of your property, you can use that. If not, you will need to decide on a scale (e.g., one inch on paper equals ten feet in real life). Take a piece of paper and a pencil, and go outside with a yardstick to start measuring the border of your land, drawing it to scale as you go along. If you don’t have a yard, draw up the spaces that you do have available, including room on floors and counters. Next, draw in buildings and features such as fences. If you are drawing a small space, like a yard or balcony, make sure to shade in areas that must not be blocked. Lastly, add natural features such as slopes, ponds or large trees. During this drawing process, online map and satellite picture services can prove very useful.

Make several copies of this map so that you can sketch freely. As a final step, try adding in everything you visualized in your garden. You might find that some of your previous ideas won’t work with the space, or that your ideas so far have tended to respond to only one part of your mission statement. If so, go back and develop a new vision for what is missing, taking that into account as you make a new sketch.

If you feel uncertain about how to divvy up the space for planting, wait to complete your plan until you have finished reading this e-book. That way you will better know what is feasible and what amount of space you might need.

Writing Your Plan

If you find that your project is going to take more than a season or two to finish, you may benefit from writing down your plan in prose form or a list.

Divide your long-term goals into manageable annual or seasonal benchmarks, and remember to take your experience level and abilities into consideration. If you are entirely new to vegetable gardening, or are very busy, turning 10,000 square feet of grass into vegetable production is not going to be a one-year project.

Beginner gardeners who bite off more than they can chew tend to find that the weeds take over before they have even finished planting their new space. Maybe your plan for success will take four years, converting 2,500 square feet per year.


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