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Emergency Vegetable Seeds for Hard Times

Copyright March 16, 2013 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.

Early Golden Bantam Corn Almost everyone understands the importance of food to their survival.

Unfortunately most families have less than a one week supply of food in their homes. During a long-term hard times event most of these families will not survive.

Other families do have a reasonable amount of emergency food in storage. These families will have a much better chance of surviving a long-term hard times event.

However, regardless of how much emergency food you may have stored, your family will eventually eat all of it. When that happens you should have the ability to replenish your food supplies using:

1. gill nets,
2. animal traps and snares, and
3. vegetable seeds.

It is a good idea to plant a garden each year to gain some experience with vegetable plants. If your space and time is limited then you can grow one or two vegetable plants inside your home in flower pots in front of a window that gets good sun for most of the day. Some suggestions on how to do this are on my web site here.

It is also a good idea to buy a few fresh vegetable seed packets each spring and save them for a future unexpected hard times event. Put the seed packets inside a plastic zipper freezer bag, close the zipper on the bag, and store the bag in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator. Do not store seeds in the freezer.

Basic Information about Vegetable Seeds

There are two different types of seeds:
  1. Hybrid Seeds: These seeds will produce the exact vegetable advertised on the seed packet the year the seed is planted. The vegetable that is grown may not produce any seeds. Or the vegetable may produce sterile seeds that won't sprout and reproduce. Or the vegetable may produce seeds that grow into one of the two original parent plants. Therefore hybrid seeds should be avoided by anyone who is interested in the long-term survival of their family.
  2. Heirloom Seeds or Open-Pollinated Seeds: These seeds will produce the exact vegetable advertised on the seed packet the year the seed is planted. If you save the seeds that are grown with the vegetable that year and plant those new seeds the following year then they will produce the same exact vegetable next year. And you can continue this process year after year after year. Therefore heirloom seeds are the best choice for anyone who is interested in increasing the long-term survival chances of their family.
There are several ways to acquire seeds:
  1. Specialty Garden Stores: These stores sell garden equipment, plants, and supplies as their primary source of income.
  2. The Garden Department inside a Store: Some stores have a special garden department in one section of the store, such as Walmart, Lowe's, Home Depot, and many hardware stores.
  3. Seed Display Racks in Other Stores: During the spring of each year you can sometimes find special seed display racks in a variety of stores, such as grocery stores and dollar stores.
  4. Internet Seed Stores: Seeds may also be purchased online. If you are looking for a specific type of seed then it is sometimes easier to find that seed at an online seed store.
Some stores only sell seeds in a small flat seed packet. But some stores sell seeds from bulk storage containers by the ounce or by the pound. My experience has been that I can get a much better value when I purchase seeds from bulk containers. I get a lot more seeds for a lot less money. The seeds are put into a small brown bag and the bag is taped shut and then the type of seed is written on the outside of the paper bag in ink. This works well for me because I do not need the pretty seed envelopes that contain planting and care instructions because I already know those things. Or I can look this information up in one of my books if I need to refresh my memory.

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.

Root Vegetables

Beets, Detroit Dark Red: Grows to full maturity in 58 to 65 days. The Detroit Dark Red beet produces an edible green top and an edible below ground beet. 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 stores well for winter consumption.

Carrots: Any variety available for sale in your area. Danvers Half Long carrots are excellent for storing, freezing, or canning.

Onions, White or Yellow: Any variety available for sale in your area except purple onions. Onions typically mature in about 110 to 115 days from seed. In my opinion, cooking meat with onions is an easy way to make wild game meat more agreeable to the taste preferences of your family members.

Radish: Any variety available for sale in your area. Most radish varieties mature in about 20 to 25 days. However, some radish varieties require about 50 or 55 days to mature so you should read the seed package very carefully before you invest in radishes. Cherry Belle is a good radish and it matures in about 22 days. Radishes grow reasonably well from early spring through late fall so they are a simple easy way to add a fresh vegetable to what may be an otherwise bland meal.

Turnip, Purple Top: Grows to full maturity in 52 to 55 days. The Purple Top turnip produces an edible green top and an edible below ground turnip. 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. The Purple Top turnip stores extremely well for winter consumption.

Peanuts: Buy a bag of raw peanuts (unsalted, unroasted) at your local grocery store. Peanuts grow in clusters underground to full maturity in 120 to 150 days. Peanuts are a good choice because you can eat them fresh or you can easily make your own peanut butter using an ordinary food blender if you have a little vegetable oil or olive oil.

Potatoes, Red Skin: Red Skin potatoes will reach full maturity in 90 to 100 days after planting. Potato seeds are not as predictable as other seeds. Therefore most potatoes are grown from the short white sprouts that appear on the outside of a ripe potato. You can eat the rest of the potato after you have correctly removed the sprouts for planting (instructions are at the end of this article).

Above Ground Vegetables

Okra, Clemson Spineless: Grows to full maturity in 50 to 60 days. Clemson Spineless has been the most popular heirloom okra since 1939. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep 12 inches apart in warm soil. 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. 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.

Tomatoes, Roma: Grows to full maturity in 75 to 83 days and they contain less water than other tomatoes. The Roma tomato may be eaten fresh or it may be converted into tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, Mexican salsa, or catsup. Some simple recipes are on my web site on the following web page: Grandpappy's Homemade Tomato Sauce Recipes Using Fresh Tomatoes.


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.

Bean seeds are usually not sold in seed packets on a seed rack. Instead dry beans can be purchased in most grocery stores in the same general area where white rice is sold. Dry beans are usually sold in one pound, two pound, and four pound bags. If you are buying dry beans to plant as seed then a one pound bag will probably contain a lot more beans than you can plant in one year. A one pound bag of dry beans will cost about $1.25 in the spring of the year 2013.

Some simple recipes for dry beans are on my web site on the following web page: Simple Bean Recipes.

Beans, Navy: Grows to full maturing in 70 to 115 days depending on your soil, the amount of sun, and the amount of rain. Navy beans are excellent for baking or in soup. Or you can dry the beans for future consumption.

Beans, Pinto: Grows to full maturity in 65 to 90 days depending on your soil, the amount of sun, and the amount of rain. 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.


Almost all the corn sold in seed packets, and in bulk seed containers, is some type of hybrid corn. The one exception in Bantam corn. If you can't find any heirloom corn in your area then you may need to purchase your heirloom corn seeds over the internet.

Corn, Yellow: Early Golden Bantam is a heirloom corn. However, Bantam corn is also now sold under a variety of mixed hybrid names that include the word "Bantam" so please read the package label carefully before you make your purchase.

Corn, White Sweet: Stowell's Evergreen. It will reach full maturity in 80 to 100 days after planting. It may be eaten fresh or the entire corn stalk can be pulled up and hung upside down indoors and the corn will continue to gradually ripen and you can eat fresh corn on the cob every month for another 3 to 5 months.

Corn, Yellow Dent: Reid's Yellow Dent. 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 fresh cornmeal as it is needed using a wheat grinder. This is a significant advantage during hard times because cornmeal can be used to make corn bread, hush puppies, taco shells, and corn dogs. Some simple cornmeal recipes are on my web site on the following page: Simple Cornmeal Recipes.


The above recommendations do not include a lot of popular vegetables, such as green beans, lettuce, cabbage, melons, cucumbers, and peppers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with planting these other vegetables. However, if have a small area in which to plant a garden, or if you have a limited amount of time to invest in gardening, then you may wish to focus your efforts on the vegetables that I recommended above. These vegetables are relatively easy to grow, they have a limited number of diseases, and they all dry easily in the sun, or they store very nicely for winter consumption without sun drying. Carrots and radishes can actually be stored in the ground during the cold weather months and dug up as you need them.

Planting and care instructions for the above vegetables are on my web site on the following page: Vegetable Recommendations for New Gardeners.

Instructions on how to produce seed from the above vegetables are on my web site on the following page: How to Grow Each Type of Vegetable Seed.

Famine Footnote

During previous famines some families have had to make a very difficult decision each winter concerning the seeds they had set aside to plant the following spring.
  1. Cook their seeds (corn, wheat, beans, etc.) and eat them now in order to survive the winter. Then try to find someone in the spring that still has some extra seeds to share for planting. The problem with this strategy is that every family may eat their seeds during the long winter and no family will have any seeds in the spring. This means that spring will not be a time of renewed hope but of continued starvation.
  2. Save their seeds for planting in the spring. The problem is that some members of their family may starve to death during the winter. But if they can survive the winter then they will have hope in the spring because they will be able to plant their seeds and within three or four weeks they can begin to eat a small amount of their new crops.
If you have a reasonable emergency food supply, and a reasonable emergency vegetable seed supply, then perhaps your family will never have to make the above decision.


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Grandpappy's e-mail address is: RobertWayneAtkins@hotmail.com