What to Grow in Your Apartment to Survive a Collapse
Spaces, Light, Water, & Air
What to Grow & Why We Chose What We Chose
The List & Why
If you are ever forced to spend a prolonged period in your apartment, either in lockdown or quarantine, or you ever have to in the future, you’ll quickly realize that while you can, technically, survive on your cupboard, stored foods, dehydrated foods, beans, and rice, nothing beats fresh vegetables and plants for their essential nutrition and their psychological boost. So much prepper information is out there about high protein, high starch, calorically dense food you should have in your supplies, and there’s plenty of information about starting your micro-farm if you’re fortunate enough to have a sliver or parcel of land. If you’re prepping in an apartment environment, you shouldn’t just be prepping to bug-out. That may not be an option all the time. You need to prepare for bugging-in, and that means, to survive an extended bug-in, you will need to grow enough rich plant foods to help you survive an extended period in doors.
In a previous blog, we covered the essential elements of the apartment micro-farm, and we received so many questions seeking more specifics about what, specifically, to grow. There’s a lot of information out there, but much of it isn’t really practical for the urban prepper. In this blog, we’ll look at the essentials for the urban prepping gardener, why we chose the 25 plants we’re recommending here, and then a list of the 25 plants we suggest you grow and why we chose them. At the end we’ll give you a tip for pollinating your plants, since some plants will need this to produce fruit, and we’re assuming you don’t have a beehive in your house. So, let’s get to it.
Spaces, Light, Water, & Air
In our earlier blog we go more in-depth into the 3 essential elements your plants need: space, light, water, and air. Check that blog out for a deeper dive, but a quick summary of each of these: First, you need to assess your growing spaces. Windowsills, porches, counter space, vertical planting on walls and windows, and even grow tents are all options. It is possible to place LED grow lights under a kitchen cabinet and convert counter space into your own growing area. Be creative, but assess the amount of space, light and air your grow spaces have to understand how you might need to supplement.
Second, light: If you have a full sun balcony you’re in great shape, but that’s not typically the setup of an urban apartment. Fortunately, grow lights have dropped from hundreds of dollars to under $100, with many options under $20. Light supplementation will take a sallow plant to a high producing, thriving plant. LED grow light strips are easy to use and install under cabinets, and grow light bulbs are under $10 and will easily convert any old table lamp to your plant’s best friend. Long exposure to UV light can be dangerous, but your typical small wattage bulbs like these are low heat and a very low dose of the UVC wavelength. They can often be used in conjunction with a timer, so you can run them when you are away or not in the room. If you have them come on at night, place your cellphone and money in a tray near to the light for an easy way to sanitize them while you sleep. I’ll put a link to several options for these lights in the comments below.
The third essential is water. You don’t want to water your plants over hydrating yourself, but remember that plants can use water that is unfit for you to drink. Any balcony rainwater collection system is highly encouraged. Collecting water from your shower and using it to water your plants is another effective way to keep your plants watered properly. Plants in direct sunlight will need more water, and many plants will welcome a mister from time to time. Know which ones though. You should avoid ever getting the leaves of tomatoes or squash wet, as this can easily result in powdery mildew, especially in areas with challenged direct sunlight. We have found that one of the keys to a decent garden is to water on a schedule and consistently. Forgetting or skipping the schedule can cause the plant to stress and will decrease your harvest.
The fourth essential element is air. Don’t forget that your plants are breathing in carbon dioxide through the stomata plant cells in their leaves. A plant can easily absorb all the available carbon dioxide around it in an hour. That’s great for you, because it’s putting out oxygen in your environment; but you need to make sure that your plants are getting enough oxygen. Even a USB fan circulating air is enough to allow your plants to breathe.
Space, light, water, and air. You need all four for a successful indoor apartment micro-farm. If your plants aren’t doing well, you are probably missing one of those vital elements. A final thought on this, to truly be prepared you should consider how you will supplement these vital elements in a grid down situation. We already mentioned collecting rainwater, but consider some type of small, portable solar panel sufficient enough to run some low wattage LED grow lights. This will create a more self-sufficient independence for your grow space.
What to Grow & Why We Chose What We Chose
The American diet is horribly dependent upon the big 3: corn, soy, and wheat. In fact, our dependence on these big 3 foods is at the expense of our health. Many people are coming down with allergies to soy and wheat, and alone they don’t have enough of the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Go into any grocery store and outside the periphery of the meats, dairy and vegetable sections, it’s mainly foods that are all heavily processed corn, wheat, or soy. We’ve moved away from eating the abundance of foods that easily grow and require very little processing before finding their way onto our plates. Don’t even think about growing corn in your apartment garden. While you can easily do it, we think for the space it takes versus the yield, it isn’t worth it. That being said, having the seeds in your supplies is a good thing.
So much of prepping, as we mentioned earlier, focuses on high protein, high starch, calorically dense food, and these are important; however, your apartment garden plants should focus on nutritional density, medicinal and physiological fortification, and minerals and vitamins. While your beans, rice and pasta can provide the bulk of your proteins and starches, your plants can fill-in all the gaps to make you not only survive but thrive.
So, the plants we chose here may not be things you find in your large grocery store. They may not be plants you ever thought you could eat. The plants in the list were chosen because of some combination of ease to grow, nutrient density, or their medicinal profile or their effects on our physiology. For each plant we will emphasize one of these aspects.
The List & Why
So here are the 25 plants for your prepper apartment survival garden. They are in no particular ranking because what you choose to grow is going to depend heavily upon your growing space and what you need to supplement your stored foods.
Sprouts. Whether alfalfa, mung bean, clover, broccoli, or Adzuka. Sprouts are not only easy, but they typically produce at a 7 to 1 ratio. One large mason jar of seeds stored in your supplies can, potentially, produce 950 grams fat, 3230 grams of protein, and the same amount of fiber. As they only require water and a windowsill’s worth of light, and can easily be stored in dry seed form, sprouts can be an amazing survival food. Sprouts and microgreen sprouting have become very popular, so there’s an abundance of products and writing on the subject. The key with sprouts is that you can harvest nutrient-dense foods in around a week. Most plants you will have to wait over 60 days before you can harvest. This makes sprouts a good emergency food as well. They’re easy, nutrient dense, and with such a balanced high protein and fiber profile, you could survive on sprouts for a long period of time. When you rinse your sprouts, reserve the water for your other plants.
Tomatoes. With over 10,000 known cultivars of tomatoes, you’re almost guaranteed that there is one that will thrive in your apartment garden. From the pea-sized currant tomato to, cherry, to styles specifically meant for small porch pots, a handful of tomatoes can provide you with essential calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and almost 1,500 IUs of vitamin A. You can grow varieties in window sills, small pots, and even as a hanging plant. Even if you don’t grow them, having them in dried form in your food stores. They can easily be hydrated or powdered and added to foods. They retain their nutrients better than most plants.
Chives. I’ll cover several herbs, but the chive definitely stands out as a powerhouse in your home garden. It’s, essentially, a grass type plant, so it grows really well once you get it in the right 4 elements. Chives are a nutrient-dense food. This means that they are low in calories but high in beneficial nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are in the Allium genus, which also includes garlic, onions, and leeks. A potentially positive relationship between Allium plants and certain health conditions such as heart disease, inflammation, and high blood sugar. These plants may also have antitumor and antimicrobial effects. The CDC gives it a nutrient density score of 54.8. That’s an indicator of the bioavailability of the vitamins and minerals, their density and amounts. That’s also higher than a lemon, sweet potato, tomato, even a pumpkin. In addition to giving a mild onion flavor, it can easily be dried, stored and powdered right over your food. Like the tomato, chives will retain their nutritional profile. It’s one of the best and easiest herbs to grow.
Parsley. The only other herb I’ll mention here, though there are many more, is Parsley. Parsley is very easy to grow and has a nutrient density 0f 65.59. It is loaded with iron, a, c, and k vitamins. It’s so easy to grow and can easily be harvested and dried for later use, that it earns a spot on this list.
Scallions. If you don’t throw out the bottom inch or two of your store bought green onions, you can easily regrow them to full length in a coffee cup of water. To think, you’ve wasted all that money buying them when you could have been growing them in your window sill. Also a member of the Allium genus, the CDC gives it a nutrient density score of 27.83.
Garlic. If left too long on the counter, that clove of garlic will probably begin to sprout. That’s how badly this plant wants to grow. That’s how easily it grows. Put that clove in a little water for a few days, then transfer to a small pot of dirt, and you can harvest the green tops and flowers for consumption and a brand new head of garlic at the end of your grow season. While you can’t eat tons of garlic, nor survive solely on garlic, it does have a really good profile of amino acids, minerals, and nutrients. As part of the Allium family, as well, it can help fortify your physiology and has strong antimicrobial properties.
Lettuce. Don’t throw out that bottom two inches of your romaine lettuce head. Like the green onions, you can regrow this easily in your window sill with some water. Transplant it to a small pot and grow it even bigger. Lettuce has a reputation for being a filler that provides little nutrient value, but that’s actually a myth. Leaf lettuce actually has a CDC nutrient density score of 70.73. It contains a decent amount of vitamin A and potassium. It’s nutritional value and ease of growing scores it a place on the list.
Watercress is a bit more challenging to grow because it’s essentially an aquatic plant. If you have an aquarium you’re not using, this plant will grow easily. It will grow in well hydrated soil, as well, and doesn’t require a lot of direct sunlight. The main reason to grow it is that the CDC nutrient density score for it is 100. It’s a powerhouse of vitamins and nutrients that your body can easily access.
Purslane. If you’ve never heard of it, I wouldn’t be surprised. Purslane is a leafy vegetable that most likely originated in the Mediterranean region. It is widely eaten throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It is an annual succulent with a slightly sour and salty taste, making it an interesting addition to the plate and palate. It mainly grows as a weed in the American yard, which means you can forage for it in areas you know aren’t sprayed with weed killers or pesticides. In traditional Chinese medicine, purslane was widely used to treat everything from diarrhea and intestinal bleeding to hemorrhoids and dysentery. It’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A & C. Purslane likes a lot of sun.
Strawberry. Strawberries don’t have a great nutrition density score, but they have a decent amount of vitamin C, manganese, and folate. They’re also easy to grow in a pot or flat. They can provide you needed sugars, they love water and direct sun, but can grow in a variety of environments. You can eat them fresh or dry them to save for later, as they retain their nutrition when dried and can easily be hydrated.
Beans. I know, you have those dried pinto beans in your supplies. If you run low, you can grow more by sprouting them. A bean is the seed of one of several genera of the flowering plant family Fabaceae. It is one of the oldest cultivated plants. There’s a reason for this, it grows easily and will thrive when trellised on just one patio wall. The protein and carbohydrate properties of beans makes it another food you can easily survive on. There are so many varieties that I will only mention a few that you can easily grow, starting with the soybean. Put a few soybeans in soil with water and light and you’re on your way. They grow amazingly well and can give you a wall of green leaves. After you harvest the beans and throughout the plant’s life, you can also eat the leaves. I bet you didn’t know that. With any leaf from any plant you are planning to eat, check multiple sources to make sure it is edible. Some leaves of some plants contain toxins that can cause nausea, paralysis, even death, though the plant’s fruit is fine to eat..
Green Beans. This is another great plant. Green beans are the unripe, young fruit and protective pods of various cultivars of the common bean. The leaves are fully edible, as well. They grow very well and can give you a wall of shade. There are a number of varieties, so you have many to choose from.
Lentils. Much of the world would starve were it not for the lentil, but you would be surprised how few people eat them in America. Lentils are a significant source of protein, dietary fiber, carbohydrates and dietary minerals. Mature plants will grow well when trellised and you can harvest them in about 80 days from planting.
Peas. Peas have to get a mention in this category. Like the rest of the Fabaceae family, they’re easy to grow and solid producers. The Fabaceeae family of plants is definitely a choice for your micro-apartment garden, but there are really too many options to list. Hopefully, the one’s I have listed will help you decide what’s right for your space.
So as to not create a blog that is too long and too large of size, we’ve created a part 2 blog which contains plants 15 through 25 along with my tip for a bigger harvest at the end.