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4 Tips for Growing Your Own Food For an Emergency

While most emergencies are resolved within 72 hours, it is possible for a disaster to knock a community out of ‘normal’ for weeks or even months. In the last few articles of this series, we discussed how to catch and prepare fish to eat. Fish are a great source of proteins and nutrients in an emergency. However, humans need a more balanced diet to thrive.

Gardening and agriculture are great ways to bulk out your long-term food supply. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and tubers can all be grown in Canada. As anyone who has killed a few dozen house plants will tell you—it’s harder than it looks! Here are our top tips for growing your own food in an emergency.

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1) Do your research

Plants need 4 basic things to survive: sun, water, nutrients, and air. Different plants will need a different balance of these components. Search online or go to your local garden centre to see what plants will grow in your area, and in your specific garden. As a general rule of thumb, most edible plants like full sun (7+ hours of direct sunshine).

2) Practice

Dandelions might be able to grow through a crack in the sidewalk, but most plants are a little bit pickier. Practice developing your green thumb by planting your own garden or potted plant and trying to make it grow. You’ll find some plants suit your gardening style better than others. Try different options to see what will work for you. Personally, I tend to over-water my plants, so I have the most success with thirsty plants like berries and tomatoes.

3) Buy Your Seeds & Keep Them Current

Not all seeds are created equal. Many dollar stores will sell plant seeds, but in my personal experience a significant percentage of these ‘budget seeds’ are already dead and won’t sprout. I recommend sticking to those from your local garden center and keep an eye out for “Heirloom Seeds” as these are generally of a higher quality.

Seeds have varying shelf lives, depending on the plant. Seeds for beans, carrots, celery, chard, eggplant, peas, pumpkin, and squash can last up to five years if stored in a cool, dry place. Rotate your seeds after enough time has passed and replace them, or keep your garden blooming to have ready-access to grown foods.

4) Prepare for the growing time

Plants take time to grow. It will usually be several weeks before you can use them as a practical, sustainable food source. Be sure to store enough food to get you through this initial growth period. Cans of food, dry foods, and regularly rotated pastas/ready meals are great ways to bulk up your pantry. Don’t want to worry about changing out your expired food on time? Visit our Emergency Food Storage pages and pick up some XMREs or freeze-dried food. Some options have shelf lives of up to 25 years!

How Many Plants?

So how many potatoes does one person need to survive? Or carrots? Or lettuce? How do we know how many of any individual variety to plant in order to keep ourselves fed in an emergency?

Well, you can cultivate a garden for many years, carefully documenting how much it yielded in each season and whether you needed to plant more or less of each plant in the next year… OR you can check out this helpful chart from Garden Gate Magazine, where other people have done all that hard work for you.


Like so many other skills in life, the best way to become good at growing your own food is to practice doing it. Develop your skills, tools, and seeds BEFORE you need them. It’s always the best choice when preparing for an emergency situation. So, head on down to your local garden centre and bulk up your food storage options and you’ll feel ready for anything in no time!

This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author and emergency preparedness professional.

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