A steady supply of fresh vegetables for as much of the year as possible is a good thing in the best of times. In a long term crisis it can be the difference between simply surviving and thriving. There are several methods to extend the traditional growing seasons well into if not all the way through the winter.
Extending Your Survival Gardening Season
The simplest way to extend your season is to select cold hardy crops. There are some very good choices in the form of leafy greens. Spinach, kale, chard, and collard greens are all very cold hardy, and are also chock full of vitamins and minerals that may be missing or diminished in stored foods.
On our farmstead in the Missouri Ozarks, in a mild winter, we have been able to grow collard greens outdoors and unprotected well into January. I am always amazed when I go out to the garden, brush the snow aside, and harvest fresh greens.
The addition of floating row covers can extend the season for fall crops even further into the winter. Floating row covers are simply a clear plastic sheet that is rolled out over your row crops. They provide additional heating through the day light hours and a little protection from frosts and freezes over night.
Floating row covers are also valuable to get an early jump on your spring plantings, giving young plants an edge against cold nights that might otherwise end them before they had begun. This is the easiest and least expensive form of garden “structure” for extending your survival gardening season.
High and Low Garden Tunnels
High and low tunnels are also valuable tools. These are simply an arched structure covered in clear plastic. They don’t provide the same level of environmental control as a true greenhouse, but depending on your climate they can provide winter-long production of selected crops.
Last year we put in a 70 X 30 high tunnel and were able to grow lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, bok choy, and cabbage through the winter. We were also able to get tomatoes, started indoors, planted a full month before field tomatoes were a viable option.
There are a wide variety of tunnels available commercially, but if you are the Do-It-Yourself type you can build one from scratch using PVC pipe for the frame and covering it with clear plastic. You can use a tunnel to start your garden early and remove the plastic cover when the “regular” growing season begins. Small tunnels are a good option even in a suburban back yard.
Greenhouses are another option to extend your survival gardening season. They are generally more permanent structures than tunnels, providing more insulation and protection from ambient temperatures. They are often heated, which requires energy that may not be readily available in a survival setting.
We have a small greenhouse which is used for starting plants in the late winter and early spring. A small greenhouse can be heated with a portable propane heater, a small electric heater, or a wood burning heater. One of my pending projects for this year is to incorporate a small rocket stove in our green house. Rocket stoves are extremely efficient wood burners that are used to heat a thermal mass which provides radiant heating.
A heated greenhouse can virtually eliminate the seasonality of your gardening, but they can also be cost prohibitive, both in construction and heating, and require a permanent dedicated space.
Cold frames are an awesome choice to take your growing season right on through the winter. A cold frame is essentially a bottomless box with a sky light. It should be constructed with the top slanted and oriented to take advantage of the low winter sun.
The frame is constructed of two inch thick lumber and should be about a foot high in the back and eight inches high at the front. The hinged top can be made from recycled windows, sliding glass doors, shower doors, or plastic sheeting.
A good cold frame will provide fresh salads all winter long in most climates. Spinach, leeks, scallions, carrots, and a wide variety of salad greens are good choices for cold frame survival gardening. Cold frames are very cost effective, simple to build, and produce a lot in a small space, a very valuable tool in a survival setting or in normal times.
Don’t forget about indoor gardening in your plans. A south facing window can become home to a year round herb garden. Fresh herbs can add flavor and nutritional value to your storage foods.
A little fresh cilantro from the window garden can positively transform a bland meal of beans and rice. A few sprigs of oregano and basil turn a can of stewed tomatoes into a tasty pasta sauce. Many herbs also have medicinal value, so do your homework.
Sprouting is another often overlooked form of indoor gardening. The simple act of sprouting seeds and grains increases the nutrients in seeds by 50 to 400 percent. Large scale sprouting can even be used to produce fodder for livestock, including rabbits and chickens which can be raised even in suburban settings.
How you choose to extend your survival gardening season will depend on many factors. The biggest considerations will be space, climate, and financial resources. As always, do your homework and develop your infrastructure and skill set now.
Skills and knowledge are at least as important as gear and gadgets in a long term survival context. Storage foods are your first line of defense, the ability to produce food is your defense in depth.