Copyright © January 14, 2011 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
for New Gardeners
All Rights Reserved.
To grow your own vegetables you will need some seeds, some good rich soil, some water, and lots of sun.
Do not buy hybrid vegetable seeds. Most hybrid seeds are only good for one growing season.
(Hybrid Seed Note: Some people recommend that you should try to reverse engineer the second generation seeds from a hybrid vegetable to get one of the original parents of the hybrid vegetable. I totally disagree with this recommendation. During a serious hard times event when your family may be desperate for food, and when you have to work hard all summer trying to grow some food, then why would you want to bet your life and the lives of your family members on some random experiment where you are trying to force some second generation hybrid seeds to grow something you can eat. This is a gamble I strongly recommend that you do not participate in.)
Instead please look for and purchase heirloom vegetable seeds or open-pollinated vegetable seeds, unless you have a very good reason to do otherwise.
Many of the heirloom vegetables have been popular with home gardeners since the mid to late 1800s.
Heirloom seeds will produce the same exact vegetable year after year after year if you will save the seed that is grown each year and plant it again the next year.
During a serious hard times event I suggest you consider growing mostly root vegetables, such as beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, radishes, turnips, and peanuts.
The edible part of a root vegetable grows below ground. Therefore it is invisible unless you know what is growing below the vines or leaves you see on top of the ground.
However, in order to provide some reasonable variety in your meals and to help avoid appetite fatigue, you will also need to grow some vegetables where the edible part of the vegetable is above ground. Anyone who happens to walk by your garden area will see these vegetables and they will know exactly what you are growing and how much you are growing.
Therefore in order to help minimize the complete loss of your entire vegetable crop to looters and thieves during a serious hard times tragedy event, it might be a good idea to have at least two or more vegetable plots. One vegetable plot should contain your above ground vegetables and it should be conveniently located in any area that gets full sun all day. A second or third vegetable plot should be in a more obscure area that also gets full sun and it should contain your below ground vegetables. You should probably allow a few random weeds to grow in this area to help hide your below ground vegetables. Since the vegetables will be growing below ground the only thing visible above ground would be some leaves or vines. And unless a person knew exactly what type of leaf or vine it was, then it would be very easy to mistake those leaves and vines as random weeds. In order for this to work you should not plant your underground vegetables in a nice neat straight row. Instead plant them in a random haphazard fashion all over this remote garden area, and whenever possible, mix the different types of vegetables together so you don’t have all the leaves of one specific type of vegetable growing close to one another. This means each type of vegetable would be randomly scattered throughout this garden plot and this would help to create the visual picture of lots of different types of weeds just haphazardly growing together.
The heirloom seed varieties recommended below are ones I have had previous experience with. There are a lot of other good heirloom varieties in addition to the ones mentioned below. Therefore if you are not able to find the varieties I suggest then it is perfectly okay to buy a different heirloom variety of vegetable seed.
Beans: Pinto, a heirloom bean.
Pinto beans reach full maturity in about 65 to 90 days after planting depending on your climate.
Almost all beans, except green snap beans, contain lots of protein, lots of carbohydrates, and lots of calories. Therefore beans are a very good choice for a hard times garden.
Pinto beans may be eaten as green snap beans when they are first harvested if the bean pod is still soft. Or you can remove the pinto beans from their pods, discard the pods, and dry the beans for future consumption. Pinto beans also make excellent refried beans.
Dry pinto beans may be purchased at your local grocery store in one-pound, or two-pound, or four-pound plastic bags. Dry pinto beans are usually sold very close to the area where white rice is sold. All dry pinto beans are the same and the only difference between the major brand names is how many times the beans are sifted and cleaned to remove tiny dirt particles or tiny twigs.
Planting Instructions: Soak the hard dry pinto beans for one hour in lukewarm water. Place the beans inside a damp towel in a warm dark spot for about 4 days and they will sprout. Plant the sprouted bean 1-inch deep about 6-inches apart in warm soil (60ºF).
Beets, Regular: Detroit Dark Red, a heirloom variety since 1892.
Detroit Dark Red beets will reach full maturity in 58 to 65 days after planting. Therefore you may be able to harvest two crops of beets in one growing season.
The Detroit Dark Red beet has edible green tops and edible beets. You can usually harvest the green tops several times during the growing season without hurting the beet below ground. This is a significant advantage during hard times because your body will crave fresh green leafy vegetables. The beet leaf greens taste great in a salad. The Detroit Dark Red beet also stores well for winter consumption.
Planting Instructions: Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep and 6 inches apart. Do not plant beets in the same area two years in a row. Rotate beets with either corn or potatoes to maximize the yield from your soil.
Beets, Sugar: Sugar beets will reach full maturity in about 45 days after planting.
Regular beets have about 6% sugar but the special sugar beet has between 14% to 20% sucrose sugar. You can extract the sugar from these beets and make a sweet sugar water or a sugar syrup and you can still eat the beet that remains in the cook pot.
One internet store that sells Sugar Beet Seeds is:
Planting Instructions: Plant the seeds 1/4 inch deep and 6 inches apart in the early spring. Keep the ground moist by covering the ground with a layer of mulch. Do not let the ground dry out. Sprouts will appear in about 14 to 21 days. Weed frequently. When the leaves are 12 inches tall they begin storing sucrose sugar in their roots.
Harvesting Instructions: You may harvest the green leaves anytime and eat them as a salad green but be careful to not damage the top of the underground beet when you harvest the green leaves. Dig or pull up the beets when their roots are 2 inches or longer.
Carrots: Danvers Half Long, a heirloom variety since 1871.
Danvers Half Long carrots will reach full maturity in about 75 days after planting. Therefore you may be able to harvest two crops of carrots in one growing season.
The Danvers Half Long carrots are excellent for storing, freezing, or canning.
Planting Instructions: Soak the seeds in water for about 3 hours. Plant each seed 1/2 inch deep. When mature, eat the carrots fresh in a salad, or cook them in stews or soups. Only plant one carrot variety per year, or plant different carrot varieties at least 1,000 feet apart. If you have short mild winters then you may leave the carrots in the ground all winter and harvest them as you need them.
Corn, Sweet: Stowell's Evergreen, a heirloom variety since 1848.
This is a white corn. It will reach full maturity in 80 to 100 days after planting.
Planting Instructions: Soak the seeds in warm water for about 3 hours. Plant 2 inches deep and 12 inches apart in warm soil.
Harvesting Instructions: You can harvest the corn before it fully ripens by pulling up the entire corn stalk with its roots still attached. Then store the entire corn stalk upside down in a cool indoor area. The corn will continue to gradually ripen and you can eat fresh corn on the cob every month for another 3 to 5 months. That is why this corn was named "evergreen." (Note: If you allow the corn kernels to completely dry out on a few ears of corn then these will become corn seed and they may be planted in the spring to yield a new crop of corn.)
Corn, Dent: Reid's Yellow Dent, a heirloom variety.
This is a yellow corn. It will reach full maturity in about 115 days after planting.
Reid's Yellow Dent corn may be eaten fresh when it is first harvested or it may be dried and then ground into corn meal using a wheat grinder.
Reid's Yellow Dent corn may be purchased at the internet store listed above that sells Stowell's Evergreen Corn.
Planting Instructions: Soak the seeds in warm water for about 3 hours. Plant 2 inches deep and 12 inches apart in warm soil.
Caution: Corn is open pollinated by the wind so plant different corn varieties as far apart as possible. In other words, plant the Reid’s dent corn far away from the Stowell’s corn.
Harvesting Instructions: Leave the best ears on the stalk. Harvest and eat the other ears as fresh corn. Wait 4 weeks and then pull up the stalks with the corn. Peel back the husks. Hang the corn on their stalks upside down in a well-ventilated area for 4 more weeks. Wait until the kernels are hard and dry. Twist off the full kernels of corn using your hands. Discard the small kernels near the end of the cob. (Note: The dried corn kernels are corn seed and they may be planted in the spring to yield a new crop of corn.) When you need some fresh corn meal you can grind the corn kernels in a wheat grinder. The corn meal may then be used to make a wide variety of tasty things such as corn bread, hush puppies, nacho corn chips, and taco shells.
Okra: Clemson Spineless has been the most popular heirloom okra since 1939.
Okra may be fried or used in gumbos and soups. Okra contains vitamins B6, C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and protein. Okra seeds were first brought to the United States by African slaves because okra was one of their primary native survival foods.
Planting Instructions: Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep 12 inches apart in warm soil.
Harvesting Instructions: Grows to full maturity in 50 to 60 days. Okra will grow into plants that are between 3 to 5 feet tall but when the plant gets to be one foot tall it will start yielding okra. Okra plants will produce okra to eat continuously during the entire growing season but you will need to cut the young pods off the plant frequently and eat them within 2 or 3 days after harvesting.
Onions: Although onions are a root vegetable they have two major shortcomings during a serious hard times event:
1. You can smell the onions from a good distance away while they are growing.
2. I have not been able to find a heirloom onion seed variety that produces an onion that has an acceptable flavor.
Therefore I grow whatever onion seeds I can find at the seed store each spring. I have had good results with white onions and yellow onions. I no longer grow purple onions because they do not store well. If you don’t eat purple onions very soon after they mature then they go bad very quickly.
Onion seeds may be planted in the very early spring. If you have mild winters then onion seeds may be planted in the fall for harvesting the next year.
Yellow Sweet Spanish: A hybrid variety that reaches full maturity in about 105 to 130 days.
Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep and about 3 inches apart.
White Lisbon Bunching: A hybrid variety that reaches full maturity in about 40 to 95 days.
Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep and about 1 inch apart.
Peanuts: Buy a bag of raw peanuts (unsalted, unroasted) at your local grocery store and then follow the planting instructions below.
Peanuts will grow in clusters underground to full maturity in 120 to 150 days.
Peanuts are a good choice because you can eat them fresh and you can easily make your own peanut butter using an ordinary food blender if you have a little vegetable oil or olive oil. Only plant one variety of peanut each year.
Planting Instructions: Plant the peanut inside its pink paper thin seed coat for the best germination results. Plant the peanut between 1.5 inches to 2 inches below the top of the ground in soil that you have dug and loosened. You will need a 12 inch diameter wide hole at least 12 inches deep for each peanut so the peanut plant can easily grow underground to its full size. Dig the hole, replace all of the dirt in the hole, step on the dirt to pack it down, and then dig a small hole in the center of the original hole that is no deeper than 2 inches for the peanut. After planting the peanut, cover the peanut with dirt, and step on the dirt above the peanut to drive out any air. Then water the ground and wait.
Harvesting Instructions: When the above ground leaves turn yellow, dig up the entire plant and store indoors for an additional four weeks in a cool, dry area. Leave the peanuts inside their shells until you are ready to eat them or use them for seed. If you shell them for seed, be very careful to not break or tear the pink paper thin seed coat around the peanut.
Radishes: Cherry Belle, a heirloom variety and an “All American Selection” winner in 1949.
Cherry Belle radishes will grow to full maturity in about 20 to 24 days. This has two significant advantages as follows:
1. You have a fresh vegetable to eat in the very early part of spring.
2. You can plant radishes several times during the spring, summer, and fall and continue to harvest fresh vegetables throughout the growing season using the same exact small plot of ground.
The Cherry Belle radish may also be grown as a fall crop.
Most radish varieties will mature in about 20 to 25 days. However, some radish varieties will require about 50 or 55 days to mature so you should read the seed package very carefully before you invest in radishes.
Planting Instructions: Plant the seed 1/2 inch deep about 1.5 inches apart. Radishes do not keep well so each spring you should plant one or two rows of radishes every two weeks. This will provide fresh edible radishes for your family to enjoy throughout the spring, summer and early fall.
Potatoes: Red Skin potatoes will reach full maturity in 90 to 100 days after planting.
Remove one red skin potato from your next bag of red potatoes and set it aside and wait for it to grow sprouts about one-inch long. Cut off about 1/2 inch of the potato with the sprout. If there are more than 3 sprouts at one small spot on the potato then break some of the extra sprouts off the potato. Let the cut sprout "harden" in the air for two days. (Note: You can eat the rest of the potato after removing the sprouts.)
Planting Instructions: Place the cut sprout cut side down about 4 inches above the bottom of a large deep planting pot and then cover it with about 3 more inches of dirt. When the green vine appears cover it with 2 inches of dirt. When the green vine reappears cover it with another 2 inches of dirt. Continue until you eventually reach the top of your planting pot. Water as necessary. When the top green vine dies wait 2 more weeks and then harvest the potatoes in your pot.
Spinach: Bloomsdale, a heirloom variety since 1908.
Bloomsdale spinach will grow to full maturity in about 45 to 50 days. You can eat some of the baby spinach leaves at about 25 days.
Spinach may be eaten fresh, or it can be boiled, or its leaves may be dried and eaten during the winter months. Dried spinach leaves should be boiled in some water before eating.
Planting Instructions: Soak the seeds overnight. Then plant the seeds 1 inch deep about 9 inches apart. Plant spinach every 2 weeks to produce a continuous supply of spinach for fresh eating, or boiling, or drying for the winter. Spinach prefers the cool weather of early spring or late summer.
Tomatoes: Roma, a heirloom variety.
The Roma tomato will reach full maturity in 75 to 80 days.
The Roma tomato is excellent when eaten fresh and it can be made into a tomato paste, or tomato sauce, or it can be one of the major ingredients in a homemade Mexican salsa.
Visit your local grocery store and buy one fresh Roma tomato, slice it, carefully pick out the seeds, and then eat the tomato slices.
Planting Instructions: After you have dried the tomato seeds on a piece of paper you can plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep and about two feet apart. You will need to support the tomato plant as it grows with wooden stakes beside each tomato vine, or with a wire cage around each tomato plant.
Turnips: Purple Top White Globe, a heirloom variety since 1870.
Purple Top turnips will grow to full maturity in about 52 to 55 days. You can plant turnip seeds again in the late summer to yield a fall crop of edible greens and turnips.
The Purple Top turnip produces an edible green top and an edible below ground turnip.
The Purple Top turnip stores extremely well for winter consumption.
Whenever possible, select a turnip variety with edible green tops and edible turnips. You can usually harvest the green tops several times during the growing season without hurting the turnip below ground. This is a significant advantage during hard times because your body will crave fresh green leafy vegetables. Turnips are usually grown in southern climates whereas rutabagas are typically grown in northern climates.
Planting Instructions: Plant the seed between 1/4 inch to 1/2 deep and space them about 3 inches apart. You may eat the above ground greens but do not damage the top of the turnip when you harvest some of the greens.
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