What food to grow in a survival garden

For many of us now who are at home to prevent the spread of the current pandemic, our mental health may take a turn for the worse if we do not keep ourselves busy. Growing your own food crops is light physical activity that keeps you on your feet, and the routine needed to maintain your crops can be meditative and mindful. Best of all, if cared for properly, your crops will reward you with a beautiful harvest.

By Julius Barcelona

Welcome back, dear budding apocalypse gardener, to the second part in this three part series of Survival Garden 101. In the last article, we discussed a few tips on how to select and prepare the area for your survival garden. Here, we will now discuss some fine and friendly food crop recommendations to grow in it.

You must be practical about the food crops you wish to grow. It may be tempting to grow cute instagrammable strawberries for the likes and shares, or perhaps you just have to have your arugula and spinach for your daily detoxifying green juice cleanse. These crops are difficult to grow properly in most Philippine cities and are not good staples food crops to have. In the event that you are cut off from your normal food sources and have to depend on your survival garden, you will want to have easy to grow food crops that fulfill a good part of your basic nutritional requirements and are propagated without much trouble.

What to grow

My suggestions for food crops to grow are the following:

Sweet potatoes/Kamote: An excellent replacement for your staple food, the roots are full of good starchy carbohydrates and fiber, while the leaves are full of good vitamins and nutrients. Kamote is a versatile kitchen ingredient, you can boil and mash for pies and fritters, cut into strips for a sweet french fry substitute, or for the more ambitious, slice thinly, dry and grind into starch powder. Plant your kamote shoots into loose, well drained soils to allow the root tubers lots of room to grow. Kamote takes around 90 days to fully mature, and you can continue replanting the shoots to propagate new plants for future harvests.

Malabar Spinach/Alugbati: A spinach with no relation to actual spinach, alugbati is also rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly its good calcium and iron content. For some people its somewhat viscous texture may be a turnoff, but this very texture allows it to be a great, low calorie thickener for soups, stews, and curries. Alugbate loves moist, rich soils, so water it regularly and apply lots of compost for it to grow lush and big. It is ready to harvest around 75 days from seed, and again is also easy to propagate by planting shoots into the soil.

Water Spinach/Kangkong: Despite its name, you may be surprised to know that kangkong is actually a relative of kamote. Kangkong is rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals and the tender shoots are tasty when freshly harvested and stir-fried. Kangkong is easily grown by again planting the shoots into soil, or from readily available seeds. As its natural habitat is in wet soil, water your plants regularly for best results. It takes around 45 days from seed to mature, and you can likewise replant excess shoots to propagate more plants.

Winged Beans/Sigarilyas: For those who have a daily recommended intake of protein, one of the best plant-based sources comes from beans, of which sigarilyas is a readily available and often underrated option. 100 grams of fresh sigarilyas pods contains 6.95g of protein, and only 49 calories. You can also ripen and dry the beans for longer term storage, which increases protein, fat, and calorie content in the beans. 100 grams of dried mature sigarilyas beans contain 29g of protein, 16g of fat, and 409 calories. Plant your seeds in loose, well drained soils, and set up poles for the plant to grow around and hold on to. The plants will usually start to flower at around 40 days from seed. If you wish to eat the tender pods, harvest them while around 3 inches or 7 centimeters. For mature beans, allow the pods to ripen for six weeks on the plant. Note that allowing pods to ripen will shorten the life of the plant, so save some of the dried beans to plant again.

Herbs, like the thai basil picture here, are a great food crop to get started with in your apocalypse garden. As a budding apocalypse gardener, trying to grow something too difficult right at the start may discourage you if you fail to cultivate your food crops properly. Most herbs are easy to grow, and very forgiving of mistakes. Also, nothing beats the flavor of freshly harvested herbs tossed into your next meal.

Herbs: Most culinary herbs grow like weeds if left unchecked, so I highly recommend keeping them contained in pots or planting trays regardless of your planting area. Many herbs are easy to grow and require only minimal care. Most commonly grown herbs in Metro Manila are genovese or sweet basil, thai basil, oregano, coriander or cilantro, parsley, chives, bunching onions, and mint. While rich in their own share of nutrients, I daresay the main value of culinary herbs are as flavorful additions to your recipes, especially considering you may have to eat the same foods every day while stuck at home and the world rages outside. They can also be allowed to flower and seed, or you can take cuttings from the new shoots to regrow.

Tomatoes/Kamatis: There is a reason why tomatoes are one of the first vegetables that comes to mind when envisioning your own vegetable garden. Tomatoes are delicious, relatively easy to grow, and are another versatile kitchen ingredient. It can be turned into sauces or jams, dried and preserved, and add some bright acidity to your dishes. Tomatoes take around 100 days to harvest from seed, and depending on the variety it can be harvested for a very long time with proper care. A good beginner variety is Diamante Max F1, a hardy variety that tolerates the high temperatures of Metro Manila, and tends to fruit in one giant go, so be ready to make a lot of ketchup. A more placid variety would be Rosanna or Apollo OPV tomatoes. These two varieties don’t fruit as profusely, but fruit more often in smaller batches, which may be more manageable for home use. Propagating tomatoes is as simple as taking the seedy pulp, washing the seeds clean, after which you can either plant the fresh seeds directly, or dry in the sun and store for later use.

Squash/Kalabasa: For those with a lot of space in their yard, kalabasa is another easy to grow crop and its fruits have a very long shelf life. Freshly harvested kalabasa is sticky and sweet and can be used in a variety of dishes. Dice into chunks for the ever present pinakbet, boil and blend with cream to make a thick and hearty soup, or slice thinly, drizzle with oil, salt, and pepper and bake to make crunchy chips. You can also set it aside to continue maturing; well matured kalabasa becomes dry and mealy and can be blended into flour for making breads and other pastries.

Apart from these, you can also dry the seeds, then bake them into a tasty snack high in healthy fats. Don’t bake all of them, save some of the dried seeds for later planting. Depending on the variety, kalabasa can be harvested anywhere from 75 to 120 days from seed. Grow them in soils that dry out fairly easily as they have a hard time with very wet soil. For those with a lot of garden space, Suprema F1 or Matikas variety kalabasa are both disease tolerant and beginner friendly. For those without the luxury of a large garden, Fairy is a mini squash variety that is a bit more space friendly.

These are but a few of the many fine and friendly food crops you can choose from for your survival garden. You can always look to the internet to look for other options as well. Again, keep in mind that while it is tempting to grow fancy salad greens, your criteria for selecting crops should be in terms of how easy it is to grow, how much nutrition it gives you, and how easy it is to propagate.

In the next article, we will discuss some basic tips on how to fertilize your survival garden, and how to recycle your vegetable waste into more nutrients for your crops. Until the next time, dear budding apocalypse gardener, I say good luck, stay safe, and always be prepared.

Photos courtesy of First We Farm and Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, together with Rich Tuason Photography.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September to October 2020 issue. 

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