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Can A Home Garden Produce Enough Food To Live On?

Tess Pennington
October 5th, 2018
Ready Nutrition
Comments (42)

This article was originally published at Tess Pennington’s ReadyNutrition.com

Tess is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint: How To Survive ANY Disaster

Have you ever wondered why you should start your own garden when food is readily available at grocery stores?  What about those who would love to be self-sufficient to the point of living off the food they can grow on their own land? The simple answer is yes, this is possible, but it will take hard work and dedication.

Most Americans firmly believe its impossible to be self-sufficient, and those values are all but permanently ingrained into their minds from a young age. Even people who know that organic agriculture is just as productive as industrial agriculture often think you need to have acres and acres of land to grow all of your own food. But that simply is not true. According to the Small Footprint Family, applying certain techniques and principles can get you set on the lifetime journey of potentially being able to grow all your food on as little as a quarter of an acre! Even people in most suburbs could give this a try!

Obviously, how much food you need and can grow will depend on a variety of factors, space being just one of them.  You will also need to take into consideration the size of your family and how much food they actually require. A large man will eat quite a bit more than a 5-year-old girl, however, that girl will also grow to consume more. These are a few factors to keep in mind when beginning to consider self-sufficiency. You should also consider the climate in which you live.

In the 1970s, research by John Jeavons and the Ecology Action Organization found that 4000 square feet (about 370 square meters) of growing space was enough land area to sustain one person on a vegetarian diet for a year, with about another 4000 square feet (370 square meters) for access paths and storage. The math works out to a garden plot around 80 feet x 100 feet (24m x 30m). But that is only the beginning.

After determining if you have enough space (calculate more for a larger family) you should also calculate how many pounds of each vegetable you consume as a family in one week. This will give you an idea of what you should be trying to grow.  For example, if you eat 5 lbs (about 2kg) of potatoes each week as a family, that’s 20 lbs (9kg) a month and 240 lbs (109kg) a year. You’ll need to grow at least 240 lbs, plus a little more to make up for any loss of plant to disease, pests, and other often unforeseeable problems.

*Another helpful tip to keep in mind: There is no sense in wasting good garden space growing onions if no one in your family likes them. Plant what you eat and the reward for doing so will be greater.

You should also try to plant early, mid, and late varieties of your crops. This will provide a steady flow of produce spread throughout the growing season even if yours is shorter. It can also help to reduce losses due to pests and diseases as your plants will be in different stages of growth at different times. For example, GoVeg.com suggests if you’ve decided on growing potatoes you could choose 3 different varieties – one each of first early, second early, and maincrop varieties. Many other crops have seasonal varieties too, including peas, beans, apples, onions, and corn. You’ll also want to replant as you harvest your first early potatoes in June. You could then plant, for example, a quick growing crop such as some beets and still have enough time to harvest them as well.

You could also employ the use of greenhouses, cold frames, or a hoop house to add an extra few weeks at the start and end of the growing season. In cooler climates, this will ensure you are much more successful with tender crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons. They will also help to protect your crops from unseasonal weather such as wet summers and from some pests such as birds, small mammals, and deer (although an effective fence to keep deer out is still recommended). It’s always an added and welcome bonus to be able to harvest fresh produce early in the season!

Build An Underground Year Round Greenhouse For Less Than $300!

Another important thing to keep in mind is just because you may not have the knowledge or skillset yet to master a self-sufficient garden, that is not a reason to give up. Growing your own food doesn’t have to be about being totally self-sufficient, as that is going to have to come in time and with often several seasons of practice. Whether you have a few containers by your back door or have a 2 acre plot of land you can use, you’ll be able to add fresh ingredients to your meals, reduce your grocery bills, and maybe even discover a love for nature and gardening along the way! Another great side effect of growing even small amounts of your own food is that children often learn early how to eat better and stay healthier as they grow into adults. Getting your kids involved at a young age will spike their curiosity, as they love to eat the foods they have helped nurture an grow.

*Helpful Hint: grow snap peas along a fence just for your kids. They are easy to grow and withstand a frost quite well. Help your kids plant the seeds and water them. Show them how the peas look when they are ready to eat. Allow them to eat their peas off the plants whenever they would like as a healthy snack. My children love this and they go out on their own to weed their snap peas and taste the fruits of their labor all summer. It’s very rewarding for a rather small cost.

The Prepper's Blueprint

Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster. Because a crisis rarely stops with a triggering event the aftermath can spiral, having the capacity to cripple our normal ways of life. The well-rounded, multi-layered approach outlined in the Blueprint helps you make sense of a wide array of preparedness concepts through easily digestible action items and supply lists.

Tess is also the author of the highly rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. 

Visit her website at ReadyNutrition.com for an extensive compilation of free information on preparedness, homesteading, and healthy living.

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Author: Tess Pennington
Date: October 5th, 2018
Website: http://readynutrition.com/

Copyright Information: This content has been contributed to SHTFplan by a third-party or has been republished with permission from the author. Please contact the author directly for republishing information.

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  1. For $25.00 to $75.00 or more you can buy an Apple tree or another fruit or nut tree and have free food for twenty-five years or longer; or you can buy an organic apple for a dollar or so or other fruit, put the seed in a damp paper towel inside a sealed plastic bag inside a cool dry closet for two weeks, plant the sprouted seed in a pot and grow a fruit tree from seed.


    • grandee says:

      until a late frost kills all the apple bloosoms.

      no apples.

      they make a nice shade tree tho.

      happened to mine this year. I got 3 apples from my trees 🙁

      • Maranatha says:

        Have you tried Japanese plums? They are delicious and abundant on even a small tree with very little requirements.

      • I have an established apple tree, about 25 years old. freaking huge. seems to withstand late Ohio frosts quite well. I actually cant deal with all the apples, even with canning etc.

        for the suburban dewllers, also check your local roadsides, greenspaces, and treelines of local farm fields- theres frequently good, fast producing berry bushes and forgotten fruit trees in surprising places..

  2. Boyo says:

    The question that few articles if any actually cover are worthwhile crops for general planting vs survival planting.

    3000 kcal/day is a little more than a million kcal/yr.

    Celery is about 64 cal/lb and thus low value to me in a survival scenario. Lots of energy, time, space and resources into the plant and not a lot out of it.

    Potatoes can be in the mid 300kcal/lb and with the right potato, a potato tower can increase yield per unit of area. Tests indicate people can live on potatoes and water for at least one year with no ill effects.

    Giant orange amaranth can produce a pound of seed per head at its best. That’s 1700 kcal/lb. Seed is tiny and a lot of work needs to go in to separating the seed . I’ve tried,

    Small nut trees (10-12′) need time, but can produce 20lbs . I have almond and American hazelnut. Still young and I’m not sure if that yield is meat or with shell. Anyway , nuts are energy dense and around 2600kcal/lb. Mild nuts are crack cocaine to squirrels which are listed as 544 kcal/lb.

    Prepare accordingly.

  3. billy bob says:

    been there done that.tough to do in big cities even with plenty of good ground.nothin like wakin up in the morning and your gardens look like the apocalypse after the invasions of racoons possums and such.well as my sister in law says”critters gotta eat too!”

  4. southside says:

    Thanks everybody for good info

  5. Nicus says:

    A well groomed commercial apple tree produces about 1,000 lb of apples. At roughly 250 cal/lb that’s 250,000 cal. A couple apple trees will go a long way toward producing a person’s nutritional needs and you can make cider from them too!

  6. Nailbanger says:

    Can a home garden produce enough to live on?
    If you live where Rellik and I do maybe, or far south, mebbe, or Ketchupondemads neighborhood, but maybe not so much farther noth, its possible, but that learning curve is steep and unforgiving

    • fishandmud says:

      Nailbanger : Not in the South either. Summer is to hot. The other thing not mentioned is, I only use fertilizer you are going to have access to after TSHTF, and this article is for store bought fertilizers. The big box store is NOT going to be open when TSHTF. Now, if you want to get a false sense of security, go ahead and pour the fertilizers to your garden and start bragging about how you can grow more than you can eat. If you want to learn how to do it without fertilizers you need to start yesterday. I bag my grass when I mow my lawn and pour it between the rows. Till it in next season and start all over. 2 seasons is it. If you use shade cloth, in the South, then maybe 3 crops but when you use your mulch for fertilizer your garden will grow great but SLOWER than with store bought. Hence 2 seasons. The one thing I have not done yet but will work is aquaponics. That is your only chance to live on 1/4 acre. I have 62 fruit trees, nut trees, and vines and 5000 sf garden and the ole lady goes grocery shopping every week. Harvest a few deer a year and have a freezer 1/2 full of fish and she still goes grocery shopping. The next and most important thing is what grows great in my soil might not grow 10 miles down the road in yours. Save extra space for experimentation. Good luck and start now.

      • Nailbanger says:

        Yep, good point on the fertilizer,
        Manure, compost, organic mulch, cover crops, interplanted clovers etc,,,,
        White clover or that red clover make great living mulch,

      • TharSheBlows says:

        Raise Rabbits, they will produce all the fertilizer and high protein for your diets. Get all the pen hardware, watering and feed dishes set up now prior to this great reset a comming.

    • Phoenix says:

      Growing year-round is possible in the north; it’s just not easy :p It comes down to knowing what to plant and when, really, which is quite difficult when winter comes in November some years but not til January in other years! The plus side to growing through winter is you don’t have to deal with slugs, aphids or any other insect pests. Dogs keep everything else away 😉

  7. kay123 says:

    When I lived in town I planted a four foot
    tall cherry tree. Then planted Strawberry patch
    35×8 feet with Ozark Beauty plants for
    golf ball size strawberries. We got about 30
    berries that first year.

    The deer herd (8) decided to live next to my yard
    They loved to graze on my beautiful rose garden,
    hosta plants, tulips, hydrangeas and my cherry
    tree they chewed down to 3 foot tall.
    Japanese Beetles invaded the berry patch, as well as
    rabbits, squirrels, and deer..
    I got NOTHING FOR ALL THAT WORK…. and my
    landscaping looked like he!!!!!

    I have lived for years on farms and never seen so much
    wild life as I saw on that 1/2 acre city lot with wooded
    areas adjacent to mine.
    Nobody had gardens there for blocks around
    without 6ft. wooden walls around their yards..
    and contained big hungry dogs!!

    • Old Guy says:

      Yes it doesn’t matter where you live. If you raise crops or livestock some varmit will take advantage to obtain a easy meal. Ive got 6 ft chain link fence. And It isn’t enough. So I kill and eat those deer ,squierrel and rabbits. I kill the coons and opossums and throw them out on the highway for the buzzards & crows to eat. Dust plants with Diatomayceath earth to control insects. You gotta be vigilant, persistant and deadly.

  8. Old Guy says:

    The short answer is No it cant. We haven’t any control over the weather. This year it was too wet and cold for early planted crops. My early planted corn was a failure. I replanted the first of June and that corn began tasseling at the same time it began to rain a lot. It did very good. If you plan to grow 100% of your food My opinion is a greenhouse would be necessary. I was thinking about building a small greenhouse on a 8 x 20 ft trailer, That way I could move it into the barn, or into the sun or shade as the weather dictates. I grow a type of white sweet potato that’s easy to grow and produces a great yield.

    • NorseMan says:

      Old Guy – you nailed it – critters, insects, hail, too much rain, too cold, plant disease, etc would mean going hungry.

    • DaninTexas says:

      Old Guy, what is the name of your white sweet potato, got gumbo clay with lots of humus, yellows do good but not like I expect from them.

    • Archivist says:

      No. The short answer is yes you can.

      You can, freeze, or dry food during the good years. Then, if your garden doesn’t do well one year, you still have plenty of food to eat.

      My parents had a small garden, but there was always plenty to can.

      BTW, our garden never failed to produce, not a single year. We never had a greenhouse either.

      You need to have a supply of water for dry seasons, and you need the rows to be raised enough that too much rain won’t drown your crop. I see a lot of gardens planted either flat or with very little hilling. Experience helps a lot.

      Also, if your potatoes are hilled up, you can pull out new potatoes from the sides of the hills without disturbing the plants.

  9. bb in GA says:

    Sweet potatoes are king in calories per acre. Regular Irish potatoes come in pretty good too in that department.

    Sweets 307 kcal/ft^2

    Irish 279

    Peanuts 102


  10. Boyo says:

    Typical yields for amaranth range from 750 to 1500 lbs/acre. So one pound of amaranth, planting 2 acres, can produce 1500 to 3000 lbs of grain. You can store a single pound of amaranth seed, and have enough to plant a large area of land.

    • Boyo says:

      I am falling in love with amaranth. Not so much as in flavor but for the numbers.
      Depending on variety the seed can be from 0.6 to 1mg each or at least 1000 seed per gram ! You can have a half million seeds per pound !

      That’s a crop you can spread around as food security. The more full bellies are in one’s area, maybe the more stable it would be. As a hobby only a couple plants need to be grown if your area allows. Only a pound or so of shaken out seed per year could be a hell of a seed vault for piece of mind.

      How many tomato plants would one need to gear up production of something like that?

      Look up available types. Some are for seed only, some for greens and some for both .

      They can show off like an ornamental but with perks.

  11. Maranatha says:

    J. Russell Smith believed that tree crops were the most underutilized food resource in America.
    It’s notable that wild edibles like acorns, maple syrup, hickory nuts, and locust beans are not routinely harvested yet they were in history by indigeneous people all over the world.

    Likewise the most beneficial abundant protein source in nature are insects which likewise indigenous people at throughout the world.

    So cultivation is not the only solution. Yet realize that whatever you harvest will result in a loss of food to many critters thus reducing their local numbers and will cause them to migrate.

    You cannot support agriculture without plant and animal manures either from growing to till under or as fertilizer. Yet these have fodder requirements meaning even more land use and harvest and in a SHTF scenario…without fuel.

    You should consider raising snails as they sometimes do in France in order to acquire a protein source. The easiest aquaculture project is raising tilapia. It’s utilized in 3rd world nations as well as being an infrequent science project in American primary schools.

    There’s quite a famous documentary from the nineties about a family of vegetarians who slowly improved a tiny plot using the French biodynamic method of double dug gardening to grow an immense amount of food. Then they also raised goats for milk and chickens for occasinal eggs. They not only eat this food near exclusively, but sell the excess locally.

  12. Beaumont says:

    Something needs to be said about tools, garden fixtures, and soil, each little thing, going bad, without continual, human intervention. The trick of all tricks, in these discussions, is that there are no tricks.

    While I do believe that our carrying capacity is overextended, some human presence is beneficial and necessary. We don’t expect to be outside. “People watchers” point and stare. But, civilized places used to be crowded with brute labor.

    Who are we carrying.

    Most people, in our overcrowded situation, have “earned” virtual money, on some honorary job placement. It could have been in the video game world of Minecraft, in that it produces no physical substance.

  13. MKGunnells says:

    You need to know your soil before you try to grow anything. If it is poor, like mine, you will need plenty of fertilizer. Vegetables will take longer to grow, and you will also have issues with pests. There are plenty of ag-extension resources on the web about pest control.
    I’ve also used hoop houses to grow in winter. I’ve built a 20’x50′ PVC hoophouse for around $350. Another one, 15’x100′, was around $200. Using these tunnels, I was able to grow summer squash, and other warm season vegetables, in December and January. Yes, it’s very hard work and can be extremely frustrating. If I had better soil I might have been able to make a career out of it.

    • Archivist says:

      You could can the summer squash during the summer and then eat them during the winter. That way you don’t have to be working on the garden during the winter.

      That’s what my family did. We grew vegetables during their natural seasons, preserved them, and then ate them the rest of the year.

  14. The more you get into gardening in a big way, the more you need to develop your food preservation skills like pressure canning. Even with skillful planning, the output from the garden varies over the season.

  15. If you keep bees, they help by pollinating.

    You get the benefit of honey which stores forever. Honey can be used on burns and as a salve on wounds as an anti-bacterial anti-fungal. Make a sports drink for hiking with a quart of water, 2-4 tablespoons of honey, a teaspoon apple cider vinegar, a little salt (1/16-1/8 teaspoon).

    Research which plants kill insects that attack your crop and plant them with the food plant.

    Chickens, rabbits, and goats are useful as food but also provide fertilizer. Rabbit poop is best as it can be applied without waiting. Chicken poop can burn the plant if you don’t let it sit for a while. But it works well if you do. Chickens eat insects which helps, too.


    • Goat poop, like rabbit poop, is ideal and can be used with or without being composted.

      It is dry, virtually odorless, and has practically twice as much nitrogen as cow poop. It does not
      attract flies and therefore will not have maggots.


      Poop, manure, shit: a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet.


  16. Maranatha says:

    In the South, we have lots of heavy clay which of course impedes root growth and thus resists proper cultivation and lowers yields. The permanent solution is introducing river sand to bust up clods.

    The highest yields are either using Chadwick’s French biodynamic method or using Sepp Holzer’s Hugelkultur method. The later is drought resistant as well. That is crucial under SHTF situations and no city water pressure.

    The only other way to increase yields is to increase the length of the growing season. These are contingent upon rainfall, soil temperature, and sunlight levels. The former translates to reservoirs of water and plumes and low tech drip irrigation. The latter translates to cloches and free standing low tech greenhouses. The latter is crucial to survival where there is wide variation in temperature over the season.

    Nut trees are able to produce the most calories from fat,protein, and carbs due to root length. Almond trees though use immense amounts of water. Any oil bearing plant is essential due to producing fat, protein, and carbs. The other plants are producing sugar from carbs and vitamins and minerals as they generally produce low calories.

  17. bart says:

    The hope here is having the means to hold out till normal returns. What if it does not? Then what, cannibalism? Thoughts?

    • Beaumont says:

      ref —
      food as a weapon

      In the case of the Irish potato famine, all of those natural causes appear to have been speculative. It seems to have been an arbitrary interruption in shipping.

      Under Communism, it was believed that an overabundance of food could be used to raise an army. Farmers were successful, as crops were adapted to local conditions. The harvest was pulled out, into the middle of their streets, burned, and they were shot. The charge was “primitive, or original accumulation” (of wealth). A Communist figure of speech.

      I bring these up, because you can see exactly what people do, when the food runs out. Here are modern examples.