In this blog, we will identify over two dozen plants you need to get in the ground this month to grow some of what you eat and start your survival garden. With each plant, we will identify why it’s essential to get in the ground now and why we selected that plant over the thousands of others you could be growing. Let’s see, and then let’s get to planting.
Many cultures have survived on little else but potatoes as a diet staple. The great thing about potatoes is that they have a long growing season, and if you can’t get around to harvesting them, you will simply be creating a perennial potato patch. Depending upon your climate, potatoes left in the ground will either sprout and grow new plants in the spring or overwinter, endure the frost safely underground, and sprout new plants next spring. If you use our above-ground container technique, you may have to insulate the container or move it into your garage if your climate gets bitterly cold, as the container will not insulate from frost and freezing as well as the Earth. Once your soil has dried out a little and is an average temperature of 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you should plant your seed potatoes in moist, heavily composted soil. Potatoes don’t like floods but do like a steady moisture level.
The typical white potato has all the essential amino acids a body requires to build proteins and repair and maintain cells. If you solely ate potatoes, you would develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It won’t sustain you forever; however, leaving it in the ground or storing it in a dark, cool, dry place for months makes this a great survival food. Seed potatoes planted on April 1st will take at least 20 weeks to mature, putting your earliest harvest opportunity around August 5th. If you leave them in the ground even longer, you will get bigger potatoes. We recommend you plant your seedlings now in compost-rich soil and nurture the plant for as long as possible, with a harvest date no earlier than September or October. When you harvest, leave some behind in your potato patch for next year’s crop.
We give these a category of their own first because they are not actually potatoes. Second, our bodies process the starches at different rates so we don’t get insulin or sugar spikes. Nutritionally, they are very similar, but 100 grams of sweet potato will give you 107% of your daily value of Vitamin A. In contrast, the equivalent grams of potato will give you a tenth of 1%. The plants are more finicky than potato plants, favoring warmer climates and longer growing seasons. The plus, though, is once you have your patch established, you can simply bury the vines after harvest, and you’ll have another set of sweet potatoes next year. Leave these in the ground and harvest as you need them, assuming there’s no heavy snow on the ground which would deny you access to them. They’ll get larger and larger with time. The minimum time required to harvest would be 90 days if conditions are perfect, but we use the same 20-week timeframe as potatoes before we even consider taking a look. You can harvest when the plant dies back, and they have a shorter shelf life than their cousins, but they will still last a long time and can be dehydrated or freeze-dried easily.
Garlic, Onions, Allium
Garlic takes a long eight months to mature, bulb onions a minimum of 100 days, and scallions a little over two months. Even before you harvest the bulb, you can harvest a few leaves, the flower, or the scape to supplement your diet and flavor your cooking. These plants don’t contribute much to your nutritional intake, but they have copious amounts of several vitamins and minerals. The allium family has interesting health benefits, like reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol, and possibly protecting against oxidative stress.
The other reason to plant Allium is the number of plants to choose from. There are around 700 species of garlic and 1,000 different types of onions. There’s probably a variety indigenous to your area, so you have almost assured a harvest. They can also grow relatively close together, with garlic with just 4 inches between plants and some onion varieties right on top of each other. We start planting after the frost and plant every week for three months to guarantee a long harvest window stretching well into fall. Garlic is ready for harvesting when the foliage begins to yellow and fall over. Some varieties mature faster than others. However, if this yellow occurs before mid-June to August, that is probably an indication of pest damage or nutrient deficiency. We grow around five dozen garlic plants, elephant garlic, potato onions, Egyptian walking onions, bunching onions, and a giant onion variety. Some varieties, like the Egyptian walking onion, will grow as a perennial, so we can plant it once and enjoy it for a lifetime. Onions will prefer moist soil but do pretty well after flooding. In drier climates and with inconsistent watering, they will develop poorly. These are also excellent indoor windowsill plants.
Ginger, turmeric, Sunchokes, beets, turnips, carrots, and other root vegetables all benefit from a long growing season. We featured Sunchokes in an earlier video. And we have encouraged you to eat your carrot tops in other videos. The longer these plants are in the ground, the larger and, in some cases, the more prolific they become in later seasons. Leaving them in the ground and harvesting them as needed until the very last day gives you a natural means to store them. Carrots and other root-type vegetables will get woody if they get too large, but they can still be cooked down and softened. Carrots and beets will need at least 50 days. We plant carrots not in a row but throughout my garden. We have also had decent results growing them in a 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. Sunchokes, ginger, and turmeric are slow growers and will take a long time. Wait to harvest these until the plant starts to die back.
All these root vegetables will last a long time in a cool, damp climate like a root cellar. Our ancestors grew them, harvested them, then ate them all winter until they were gone.
Lettuces make the list of April plantings because they take such little time to harvest and benefit from the moist conditions of April showers. You can enjoy fresh salads in just a month or two from the time you sow seeds. This plant grows well in containers on window sills or stackable containers in the garden. It’s excellent for hydroponic setups. We have learned over years of planting to plant a little each week, so I am constantly harvesting and not just harvesting everything all at once. You will get little nutrition from lettuce, though it has a decent amount of vitamins. You will get 1 gram of fiber per cup of shredded lettuce, and lettuce is 95% water. It can temporarily give you a feeling of fullness while contributing to your hydration and vitamins. Most importantly, lettuces are easy to grow and quick to large harvests. Plant some in April, but also be prepared to plant some right after any disaster where the supply chain may break down.
Most peppers require soil temperatures between 75 to 85 degrees for germination and well over 100 days to harvest from planting seeds. Unless you start them indoors at a germination station, as we showed you in our recent video, you may want to buy seedlings if your growing season is short. Fortunately, there’s been a recent popularity explosion in gardening and pepper varieties. You can find everything from long sweet peppers to scorching hot peppers. There are over 50,000 different types of peppers that we know about. One word of caution, though, we never buy a small pepper plant from the nursery already showing fruit. You want it to start fruiting in your soil under your conditions. Not only can you shock the plant and stunt or kill whatever peppers or flowers are on it by transplanting, but it may not yield a large harvest because the plant has already entered its fruiting phase.
Peppers like warm soil and moist conditions. They prefer to be watered sparingly. They will let you know they need water by drooping their leaves. Peppers are grown as annuals but are, in fact, perennial plants, so you could technically bring a pepper plant indoors during the winter months. We often get a couple of years out of my pepper plants because there aren’t any extended periods of frost where we are. If frost and freezing temperatures concern you, consider bringing good pepper plants indoors over winter. Peppers are excellent and prolific producers in containers and pots, perfect for balcony or windowsill gardens.
Amaranth, Sorghum, Sunflowers
Consider Amaranth, Sorghum, and Sunflowers if you want a garden that doesn’t look like your typical garden but has excellent nutrition. Except for the shorter time to harvest sorghum, the other two will take over 100 days to harvest. The birds will let you know when these are ready to harvest. Before that, the plant will die back a bit and dry out. When that happens, clip the heads and dry them out by hanging them upside down. Just 4 Amaranth stalks will provide you with more than 1000 calories of a complete protein source, containing all nine essential amino acids. These gluten-free seeds and pseudo-grains don’t look like your typical garden plants, and they are nutritional powerhouses. Plant them in April and enjoy them year after year softened in broth, mixed into salads, or dried and powdered into flour. These are some of the ultimate survivor foods which belong in any survival garden.
Legumes: Lentils & Beans
We wrestle with whether to use our precious garden space growing beans every year. We usually do it as a companion plant to fix nitrogen in the soil. In this way, they share space with other plants. The main reason we have this dilemma of whether or not to plant is that these are all cheap to purchase dried in bulk at the grocery store. The problem with that is the lack of variety. You can only get under 50 types of the 16,000 legume species. From peanuts to black beans to red lentils to pinto beans to soybeans to peas and red lentils, there’s a seemingly limitless range of plants to choose from. Another consideration is that commercially grown legumes often have lots of pesticides and herbicides used on them. If you share any of those concerns, consider planting legumes with other plants throughout your garden or dedicating a patch to them. These are staple plant-based food sources that keep millions of people around the world alive. It will take at least 50 days until harvest, so put them in the ground now. When you harvest, you can dry them easily and store them for a year or longer in some cases. They’re a great source of nutrition, fiber, and protein.
Squash requires space and time, but April is a good time to plant it. Over 100 types of squash are categorized into both summer and winter varieties. You can plant either category in April. If space is a concern, consider a bush variety like Zucchini. If you can keep bugs away, you can grow massive two-foot-long zucchini, but it will start to get woody at that size. Still, it can be easily cooked, grilled, or blended into soups. Squash with a harder outer skin will keep longer than your root vegetables, which is why squash is considered a survival food. One 2-pound squash can be easily stored, transported, cooked in various ways and is loaded with carbs and protein. It can also feed a small family. If pests are a problem, consider hard-skinned varieties and put straw or grass clipping under the fruit as it matures. Consider trellising vinier varieties. Finally, if you want juicy watermelon this summer that is free of pesticides and homegrown, get your plants in the ground now, as they will take about 100 days to give you fruit. That will get you to a target date right around the 4th of July.
If you like tomatoes, April is a great time to get them in the ground. Like peppers, many 4-inch or larger plants in wide varieties are available at many nurseries if you don’t want to start them from seed. When you plant them in good, compost-rich soil, plant them deep and bury all but the top two sets of leaves. If you have ever examined a tomato leaf, some are fuzzy. Those tiny hairs, when covered in moist dirt, change into roots. This method is a quick means to develop a more extensive root system. The better your roots in the early days of the plant, the better the fruit when it is time to pick it.
Never get the leaves wet when watering, and always water at the base. Tomatoes will only need about an inch to an inch and a half of water per week, so never soak them. I include tomatoes here because there are sprawling indeterminate and short compacted bush varieties. With 10,000 known types, one suits you and your space and time constraints. These are also excellent sources of potassium, vitamin C, and folate. Tomatoes can be temperamental and frustrating at times to grow. Watch for caterpillar or tomato worm infestations and treat at the first signs of infestation.
There are other plants you could be planting right now, and we encourage you to download our growing guide and review our gardening playlist to get a full range of your options. These are the ones we recommend you get in the ground this month as soon as your last frost day of winter. Use good, rich, well-composted, and amended soil from the start, and your plants will establish good roots first, then leaves, then fruit. With careful and consistent attention and watering, you will have a massive harvest spanning 30 days to 9 months. A garden is the best way to supplement your food sources, insulate yourself from rising costs like we will see with lettuce in the next few months, and begin to understand what you are consuming and how it was grown.
Pick all or a few of these plants detailed in this video, and start your journey to self-sufficiency today.
As always, stay safe out there.