By starting an urban survival garden, you are tackling an immediate problem that impacts your life. You are also actively prepping for harder times ahead!
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Life in the city has its benefits. Otherwise, why would more than 50% of the world’s population choose to live in urban areas?
Being close to your job, healthcare, access to different markets, cultural events, diversity, and educational centers are defining factors that most people appreciate about city life.
But it also has its disadvantages.
As any city dweller can tell you, space is at a premium. There’s not a lot of it, and it is shared by many people.
For many folks, it’s also a problem that many urban centers are essentially food deserts. Fresh produce can be hard to find and expensive when you do.
Can you imagine how hard it will be to find fresh food when SHTF, the grid goes down, or transportation collapses?
When you start an urban survival garden, you are taking on an immediate problem that impacts your quality of life. At the same time, you are actively prepping for harder times ahead.
As an urban prepper, you already know that preparing for the unexpected requires action now.
If you’ve never been much of a gardener but are interested in the idea of starting an urban survival garden, this informational guide is for you.
There are a lot of challenges to starting an urban garden, but none of them should stop you from enjoying the literal fruits of your labor.
One of these challenges is misinformation.
On most prepper websites, the information about how to have a survival garden is downright misleading. To an experienced gardener, it’s obvious that some of these people who wrote these articles never planted a seed in their life.
On traditional gardening websites, there is a complete lack of information on how to do things in a survivalist way. They just assume things will always be the way they are. You’ll find an abundance of “buy this” and “buy that.”
But let’s be honest with ourselves.
When SHTF you won’t be able to just run out to the store to buy more seeds or potting soil.
Besides, your home or apartment is probably too small to build up a sizable cache of potting soil and gardening supplies that will eventually run out anyway.
If you want to have the best urban survival garden, you need to know how to grow food without counting on commercial products.
In this informative guide on how to start an urban survival garden we’ll discuss:
Creative solutions for planting in small spaces.
Opportunities to plant elsewhere in the community.
What plants need to grow and produce.
How to make your own potting soil and fertilizer.
Effective pest control techniques.
The best urban survival garden crops.
How to produce your own survival seeds.
In a hurry? If you just want to get to our conclusions, here are our top picks and recommendations!
This is the big question that has brought you to this article. The simple short answer is to just do it.
The long answer to this question is more questions.
The first thing you need to do to create your survival urban garden is to analyze the growing space that you have available to you.
What kind of outdoor space do you have available to you? Do you have a balcony or small patio? Do you have a small backlot? Do you have planter boxes on your building or areas of landscaping? Do you have a roof you can plant on?
What kind of indoor space do you have? Do you have windows available? What about window ledges? Or bars on your windows?
How much sunlight can you count on? Are your planting spaces facing north, west, east, or south? How does the amount of sunlight shift with the seasons? Do you get stronger sun in the morning or afternoon? What kind of sunlight do your outdoor spaces receive?
What kind of weather do you get? Do you live in a northern city with harsh winters or a southern one? Are the summers unbearably hot without AC?
By answering each of these questions you should be able to decide the best types of crops for your survival garden and the best methods to plant them.
After you do an in-depth analysis of your environment, you should be able to know if you will be planting principally in containers, in small beds, or strategically undercover as urban landscaping.
If you have more space at your disposal, and you're not stuck in an urban environment, you can check out our comprehensive guide on how to start a survival garden in a suburban or rural home.
Creative Solutions for Planting in Small Spaces
The first thing you need to figure out is how and where you will be planting your survival garden crops.
The most common options that urban preppers and homesteaders have are:
Indoor survival gardens planted either hydroponically or in containers.
Vertical survival gardens utilizing planters or small raised beds, trellising, and hanging containers.
Hidden survival gardens planted ‘incognito’ as landscaping around buildings, parking areas, or small green spaces.
No matter where you will be planting, you are most likely going to need containers.
The Best Containers to Use for Your Survival Garden
Unless you want to do a hydroponic setup, which we’ll discuss later, you are going to need a lot of containers for planting an urban survival garden.
How do you know which are the best containers for your plantings? Here are some criteria to keep in mind:
1. The shape of the planter.
First off, it is recommended that you look specifically for planting containers that are square or rectangular in shape. This will allow you to line them up, one next to the other, creating a maximum amount of planting space.
2. What is the container made of?
There are a lot of different materials that planters can be made of. Plastic, ceramic, terra cotta, wood, or metal are just a few options. Planters made out of recycled materials are also becoming common.
You will most likely choose your planter based on how they look.
But there are some distinct advantages or disadvantages to each kind of planter that you should consider.
Pros: inexpensive, lightweight, hybrid designs (like special planting bags, or large capacity potato planter bags)
Cons: Weakens and degrades with sun exposure and time. Concerns about plastic chemicals leaching into food crops. Look for planters labeled as #2 HDPE, #4 LDPE, and #5 PP. These are considered the safest planters for producing food.
Ceramic or Terra Cotta containers:
Pros: Bottom heavy, porous, retain heat
Cons: Breakable, cause more frequent waterings, can overheat in hot weather.
Pros: Lightweight, durable, cold weather resistant, can be custom built.
Cons: May be cured with dangerous chemicals, susceptible to rot.
Pros: Will not chip, break or rust when properly lined and sheltered from the rain.
Cons: May contain lead, can rust when exposed to rain or not lined properly, heat and cool quickly.
Fabric or Cloth Planters:
Pros: Greater breathability for the roots of your plants, may be biodegradable, lightweight, versatile size and shape options
Cons: degrade quickly, can be impractical indoors
3. The depth of the planter.
Most vegetables will grow just fine in soil that is at least 6 inches deep. Find planters that offer at least this much space of vertical depth to assure greater success with your plantings.
4. Adequate drainage.
This might seem obvious, but you’d be shocked at how many commercially available planters are out there that do not offer enough drainage.
Plastic planters will usually have “punch out” holes that let you adjust the drainage on the container.
For ceramic or terra cotta planters, it can be a bit of a challenge to open up a larger hole… you can risk breaking the container.
Metal and wooden planters can usually be accommodated with a simple drill.
5. How heavy is the planter?
Sometimes you will want a heavy planter, and other times you will want a very lightweight planter. It depends on what you are going to plant and where.
If you will be planting something in a windy area, heavy is good. However, if you are planting on a small balcony, you might need to keep the weight of your planters to a minimum.
Choosing the best containers for your urban survival garden will require you to consider all of the factors mentioned above. There is no one standard “ideal”.
What you plant will depend on where you plant. And where you can plant will have a lot to do with what the ideal planting containers look like for you.
Ideal examples of practical survival garden containers:
Keter Easy Grow Planter Box
This large capacity planter box can be used indoors or outdoors.
It’s got enough room to grow some basic root vegetables such as beets or carrots. You can plant practically anything in it!
Last update on 2023-03-11 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
A Word About Using Recycled Containers
We keep mentioning that one of your goals for your urban survival garden should be to not rely on commercial products.
This includes planters. One day, if society falls apart, you may have just as hard a time finding planters and planting containers as you do commercial fertilizer and potting soil mix.
Please understand that reused and recycled containers make excellent options for your survival garden. The characteristics and pros and cons discussed above will all hold true for improvised and DIY planters.
The following items make excellent containers for your plants:
Homemade cloth bags or recycled cloth market bags
Broken pots and pans
Cracked buckets of all sizes
Old Tupperware or plastic food storage containers
Plastic food packaging (such as rice or bean bags) are great for starting seedlings for transplanting later.
After SHTF, even the lowliest plastic packaging will become invaluable for your urban survival garden.
Before using recycled containers, make sure they did not previously hold any materials that are toxic or contaminating. Wash and scrub the container to remove any residues. Carefully open up drainage holes in the base of the container.
You can choose to enjoy attractive commercial planters while it’s still an option. They are undeniably more practical. But never forget that someday, you may not be able to count on replacing them.
It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan for improvising planting containers.
Other Ideas for Maximizing your Space Potential
Another way to maximize your potential growing space for your urban survival garden is to make some simple adaptations to your infrastructure.
Try “stacking” your plantings in the limited growing space you have. Take advantage of every bit of sunlight to grow as much food as possible.
Last update on 2023-03-11 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Expanded Options for the Urban Survival Garden
If you are fortunate enough to have access to a rooftop, check into the possibilities of expanding your urban survival garden to it.
Before you get started, make sure the roof is able to handle the load of your survival garden.
Gardens are heavy!
If you are thinking of expanding your garden to a rooftop, keep the following in mind:
The roof should be mostly flat.
You need to have access to an outdoor water faucet for easy watering.
Be aware of how much wind your rooftop receives. Plan accordingly with bottom heavy planters and wind resistant plants.
Check to see if you have an area for tool storage.
Once you have the OK to start your rooftop survival garden, get to it! With so much space, you will be able to put in raised beds or larger containers for more extensive planting.
Undercover Edible Landscaping
If you live in an area that boasts even a minimal amount of land for landscaping, congratulations!
Permanent planter boxes, mini gardens beside an entrance, or even that green space between the sidewalk and the road can all be planted out with edible food.
Because this food is, by nature, in full view and accessible to the public, you will want to disguise it.
You can disguise your survival garden by using strategically chosen varieties of plants that most people will never recognize as food.
Consider using perennial varieties that are rated for the zone where you live. You can also mix in interesting annual crops that will escape the notice of most folks.
Depending on the space you have available to you, you may even want to consider planting fruit or nut trees!
Raised Garden Beds
Having access to a small lot, or rooftop garden, you might want to consider building some simple raised or elevated garden beds.
Elevated garden beds are basically extra large, flat, and wide planters with legs. They are elevated, making it easy to access and to maintain your crops.
Raised garden beds are installed at ground level. They can be installed on top of cement with no problems.
These are typically custom built for the space you have available to you. Plan carefully the length, width, and height (depth) of your garden beds because they are essentially permanent installations.
Make sure to take necessary measures to assure for adequate drainage.
If you do a quick search on urban farming or vertical farming, you will see lots of images for the modern hydroponic farm.
Growing your food without soil is possible.
Basically, you "plant" your crops in either a PVC tube or some kind of plastic container that contains a nutrient rich, water based solution. The roots of your plants will grow into and feed off of this nutrient solution.
There are a lot of DIY plans available for free on the internet. It's actually very easy to get started with a basic hydroponic setup.
With just a minimal investment, you can install a basic hydroponic grow station in even the smallest of spaces.
It is really easy to create a well balanced nutrient solution using worm castings, fish, and blood meal, together with a few other key ingredients.
The advantage of growing hydroponically is that you eliminate the need for heavy soil and cumbersome planters.
The disadvantage is that you become reliant on nutrient mixes to fertilize the water your plants are growing in.
The thing is, and that we have to continually think about as prepper farmers, is how to maintain your hydroponic survival garden after SHTF?
Unless you have access to fish scraps, blood from the butcher shop, and different mineral salts - you might find it a challenge to maintain a hydroponic set up after society collapses.
One of the best solutions for having very limited space is to band together with other urban gardeners to work a community garden.
Usually, community gardens will assign you a specific plot that is yours to plant with whatever you want.
These are a great solution for finding the space to produce bulk crops such as corn, squash, or beans. These crops are traditionally more difficult to grow in containers in the quantity that you will need to survive.
Community garden spaces typically provide a space for composting. As we will discuss later on, compost is just as important for your urban survival garden as the seeds you will be planting.
You should absolutely consider joining your community garden group if only to have a space to access abundant high quality compost.
The other advantage of community gardens is that you will create a network of acquaintances with whom you can share seeds, trade excess crops, and exchange invaluable knowledge and experience.
The disadvantage of a community garden is that they are fairly public spaces. If SHTF, the crops located in community gardens may become a target for less prepared and hungry neighbors.
While times are good, take advantage of the extra space that community gardens provide. Build your urban farming skills and increase your harvests while you can.
Honestly, every urban survival garden farmer should have a worm bin. These take up a relatively small amount of space and produce incredibly rich compost and liquid fertilizer.
With the right sized worm composter in your organic survival garden, you can produce nearly all of the compost and fertilizer you will need to grow your crops.
You basically feed the worms organic matter. This includes certain kinds of food scraps from your kitchen or garden trimmings.
The worms will munch all this up and churn it around. The moisture that drains out of the bin you can collect and use as liquid fertilizer. The chomped up and processed organic matter is called worm castings.
Once the worms are done with it, this can be stored until the time comes to replant and dress your soil. Worm castings are the best compost available!
Last update on 2023-03-11 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
If working with worms is not your thing, composting without worms is another great option to generate compost for your urban survival garden.
Composting can be done indoors or outdoors.
Find the place where you want to put your composting bin, and then you will know what size composter you need to find.
You will need to layer soil, food scraps, and organic matter such as paper or leaf litter. Every few weeks, you'll need to stir the mix. This will speed up the composting process.
You should have at least two containers. When one is full, you can let it finish its composting process while you fill up the other.
When the compost is finished, store it until you are ready to add it to your potted plants or refresh your potting soil.
Pest Control for your Urban Survival Garden
As an aspiring urban prepper farmer, you might assume that problems such as bugs and pests won’t be an issue for your potted plants.
It’s not like you are planting out a huge extension of delicious food that will attract all different kinds of aphids, caterpillars, or flies.
But, actually… you are. It’s maddening how those little buggers show up out of nowhere, ready to ruin everything.
You have to be prepared to handle them
First off, prevent serious pest problems by making sure your plants and the soil they are in are healthy! If your plants are healthy they will be able to defend themselves better against any attack.
Second - don’t be lazy and rely on harsh chemical pesticides. Never forget that after SHTF they probably won’t be available.
The simple solution to any problems you may have with pests in your survival garden is a basic insecticidal soap.
Mix one tablespoon of a simple liquid soap to one cup of vegetable oil. Store that in a jar.
When you see bugs on your plants (or fungi, for that matter) take 2 tablespoons of that mixture and blend it into a quart of water. Spray directly on your plants, taking special aim at those pesky bugs.
If you want to amp up the power on your homemade insecticide, consider adding finely ground hot pepper powder or finely mashed garlic to the mix.
Compost should not stink. That being said, when you are composting, either with worms or without, you may discover that things get a little smelly.
That just means you are not doing it right.
Be sure that when you add fresh kitchen waste into your composting bin, you dig it into the compost that is already in process.
Then, be sure to cover everything up with a fresh layer of dry organic matter. Finely shredded newspaper, cardboard, or even dry leaves should work just fine.
You will also want to make sure that what you are adding as fresh waste is appropriate for your compost bin. If you have worms, you may find that there are some things those guys just don’t like.
Can I grow medicinal plants in my urban survival garden?
You’ll notice that aloe vera was included in our lists of the best crops to grow for your indoor survival garden. This is a very common houseplant that is also spectacularly useful as a medicinal plant.
Other medicinal herbs that you can grow include lemon balm, chamomile, turmeric, ginger, and lavender amongst others.
Each of these medicinal plants can easily be grown indoors and in pots. In your urban survival garden, all of your potted plants should serve a purpose!
Once you have your survival garden crops harvested, be sure to check out our guide on the best methods for survival food preservation. These will ensure your prepping is not in vain and you'll have plenty of food if SHTF.
Good Luck and Happy Urban Gardening!
With all the information you’ve just read, you shouldn’t have any problem getting started with your urban survival garden.
As you gain experience and develop your ‘green thumb’, you will continue to investigate and learn all of the fine details that go into producing a successful harvest.
Knowing how to maintain an urban survival garden is a satisfying hobby in good times and an invaluable survival skill when times are hard.
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