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Of all the different types of vegetables that are available to grow in your own garden, only three strike me as having the potential for use in a survival situation.

My first assumption is that you will have at least one garden at your home. Your "non-emergency" residence. You will grow your own crops and can them yourselves, setting in a large stock of home-grown food for later use both at home AND in your shelter.

My second assumption is that where-ever your Pre-Planned and Pre-Positioned shelter may be, there will be at least some space to grow a garden once you get there. You MUST be able to do this if the emergency situation forces you to remain away from home for a long period of time.

My three primary veggies are the Potato, the Carrot, and Beans. Lots of beans.

In the world today, more people eat beans and/or rice as their staple food than any other, for either 1.) choice, or 2.) necessity. Growing rice requires too much space, warm temperatures, tons of water, and cannot be grown just anywhere. So, as a survival food, growing rice is out.

On the other hand, the potato, carrots and beans can be grown almost everywhere. (Potatoes don't grow well in Florida, so extra carrots and beans are grown to replace their loss.) These crops can be grown indoors in containers using "grow lights" if you have enough electrical power to do so, but I'll assume that electricity is not available. OK, I "can" grow potatoes...I'm just too lazy.

Gardens can be cleared fairly easily, and beans can grow just about anywhere you can dig a hole. Carrots and potatoes take more cubic space, but the crops outweigh the effort.

If a good source of water is not available, then your selected survival site needs to be re-thought. You can supplement your garden water supply by catching rain water in gutters, and storing it in barrels, or a cistern of your own design. You will need water to grow any plant, including veggies.

If you haven't seen the 1986 movie CASTAWAY, with Oliver Reed and Amanda Donohoe, you MUST run out and rent it. It's "R" rated so put the kids to sleep first. I won't spoil the plot, but this movie is the antithesis of every survival instinct I ever had...or will have. It points out what can happen when a crack-pot idea turns out even worse than thought possible. I found myself watching Oliver Reed's performance and wanting to shoot him.

Let's go gardening:

A little dirt, a little water, a seed, and sunshine. Add elbow grease and you have a garden.


No matter where you go in an emergency or survival situation, the length of time you can live depends on the amount of water you can drink, and the amount of food you can eat.

You can "back-pack" in all the food you physically can, but it still won't be enough unless you can restock your shelves. Even a small garden can mean the difference between life and death. You can eat fish and game, but to have a good diet you need vegetables too. Here's a few tips from


My #1 choice for survival veggies. Potatoes are a cool weather crop. Plant potatoes in early spring three week before the last frost. If you live in a warm to temperate region, plant your potatoes in the late winter. In a truly hot climate, plant potatoes in the fall to grow over the winter.

SOIL: Potatoes need fertile, well drained soil. Potatoes need high amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Mixing compost into your bed and making sure there is a lot of organic matter will help ensure good soil conditions. Make sure the soil is easy to dig around in. It makes harvesting easier. Potatoes need at least 45° F temperatures for sowing, and 60° to 65° for optimal growing. The ideal pH for potatoes is 5.0 – 5.5 to prevent scab.

SPACING: The common practice is to keep potatoes 6" - 12" apart with row spacings of 30" to 36"

DIRECT SEEDING: Potatoes are not normally thinned so make sure you plant the potatoes at the proper spacing to begin with to avoid crowding. Plant seed potatoes 6" to 12" apart in a shallow hole 3" deep. Planting seed potatoes is the most common method of starting potatoes. Seed potatoes are actually nothing more than either a whole or section of a whole potato.
An alternate method is to dig a trench 6" to 12" deep and place the seed potatoes in the bottom of the trench 12" apart. Cover them with 3" of soil. The trench method allows you to add soil back into the trench as the potato plants continue to grow.

GREENING or CHITTING AND PRE-SPROUTING SEED POTATOES: Seed potatoes need some preparation before planting. The practice of greening and pre-sprouting seed potatoes before planting encourages early growth and hastens the development of the potatoes. Spread the potatoes to be used as seed potatoes in an open-top box, crate, or flat. Place the potatoes in the container so that the side with the most "eyes" (the little dimples) face up. Do not stack the potatoes. Keep the flats of potatoes warm and in a spot where light levels are medium to intense. The warmth will stimulate development of strong sprouts from the bud eye and the light will keep the sprouts short and strong. To get more potato plants from one seed potato, cut the seed potato into chunks so that there are at least three healthy sprouts per chunk. Make sure the potato chunks are at least 1 1/2" across. Allow these to air dry for a day or two before planting. After planting, transplanting to another location is not normally practiced.

IRRIGATION: Potatoes planted in a hill will dry out quicker so watch the soil moisture carefully. Keep potatoes evenly moist and water deeply in dry spells. (Most crop failures are due to either too little, or too much water.)

MATURITY: Potatoes are mature when the leaves die back. New potatoes are immature potatoes picked several months after planting but before the potato plants reach maturity. New potatoes can often be found when the potato plants blossom.

HARVEST: Mature Potatoes: Once the leaves of the plant have died back, use a garden fork to gently loosen the potatoes from the ground. You will see why it is important to have well-drained, light makes the harvest a lot easier.
New Potatoes: Carefully poke around in the potato hill (or under the mulch) by hand to see what's there. New potatoes are often harvested as small as a marble up to the size of a golf ball. If you find something worth taking, pluck it gently from the roots so as not to disturb the rest of the potato plant. In either case, dry soil is an advantage. In a survival situation, this harvest of new potatoes means you can eat at least one meal a day (potato soup is best) before the mature harvest is ready to be picked.

POST-HARVEST HANDLING: Brush the soil from the potatoes but do NOT wash them. Potatoes need to cure several weeks before storage. Store them in a cool, dry and DARK place during this time. (Light will make the potatoes turn green.)

STORAGE: Potatoes can be stored for 5-10 months in temperatures from 40º to 50º F, and 90% relative humidity. New potatoes should be stored at 50º to 60º F and 90% relative humidity. This extremely long storage time is why I would pick the potato as my number one crop to plant in a survival situation. Be sure that you save enough potatoes to plant the next year's crop.

REMARKS: When potato plants are 1' tall, take a hoe and make a "hill" of soil around the plant. Hill the plants with soil so that just the top few leaves are exposed. This helps prevent the potatoes from turning green and allows the plants to produce more potatoes. An alternative to the soil hill is to use mulch to bury the plants. Loose, seed-free hay or straw is good. Cover them a few times during the growing season. To get 2-3 times the amount of potatoes, plan them in vertical boxes, cribs, barrels or wire cages. Do not use old tires. Plant the seed potatoes in the bottom of the container and as the plants grow, add more and more soil during the season. Water frequently when using the wire cage as the plants dry out quickly.


My number 2 choice of survival-required vegetables. A single mature carrot meets or exceeds the US dietary allowance of vitamin A and also provides a rich source of vitamins B, C, D, E, and K. High-pigment carrot varieties are an excellent source of antioxidants thought to help prevent cancer.

CLIMATE: Tolerant of wide variety of temperatures, carrots prefer cool growing conditions. Carrots are hardy and can be planted in the garden as soon as the soil can be prepared in the spring. They require relatively large amounts of water and are not tolerant of draught. Prolonged hot weather in the later stages of development may not only retard growth, but may result in an undesirable strong flavor and coarseness in the roots. At the other extreme, carrots exposed to prolonged temperatures below 55° F tend to grow longer roots and become more slender and paler in color than expected. The ideal air temperature for carrots is between 60° - 70° F.

SOIL: Carrots prefer a deep well drained, sandy loam soils with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Root crops in general do not do well in acidic soils. Soil should be loose to a depth of 12" or more to allow for good rood development. Carrots are a root crop and grow downwards and therefore soil preparation is very important. Soils may be bedded (formed into a raised bed) to obtain optimum drainage, maximum root length, and to reduce soil compaction. Do not add compost or manure to carrot bed prior to planting unless it is very well decomposed, as too much nitrogen will encourage roughness and branching. Make sure soils are free of debris such as rocks and twigs. Smooth carrot beds before planting.

SPACING: Carrots are a relatively compact vegetables that do not require much space. Spacing is dependent upon cultivar (what type carrot it is), and desired root size at time of harvest. Carrots benefit from adequate space and when crowded are sure to grow deformed roots. If you're planning on harvesting carrots with immature roots (baby carrots) then a tighter spacing of 3/4" - 2" should be fine. If you intend to let the carrots grow to maturity, thinning to a final spacing of 2" to 4" is the goal.

DIRECT SEEDING: A well-prepared seedbed with adequate moisture is a must for direct seeded carrots. Sow carrot seeds 1/4" to 1/2" deep, 3/4" to 1" apart, within 2" rows space 16" to 24" apart. Sprinkle the soil with water but do not allow the soil to form a crust before the seedlings emerge. Thin carrots at about 3 weeks to a spacing of between 3/4" to 4", depending upon the cultivar and root size desired. Carrots don't like transplanting at all.

GERMINATION: Germinate at 85° F. Germination take between 6 to 18 days.

IRRIGATION: An even moisture supply is needed for carrots to become well established and to produce good root development. Carrots need at least 1" of water from rainfall or irrigation each week during the growing season. Always soak the soil thoroughly when watering. This will also help promote good root development. On most soils, watering once a week is sufficient. Very sandy soils may require more frequent watering.

HARVEST: Carrots are an easy harvest crop. Simply pull up the plant by the tops – the foliage. Carrots are usually harvested when the roots are 3/4" to 1 1/2" in diameter at the upper end, but you can harvest them any time they reach a usable size. For baby carrots, harvest the roots when they reach finger size and 4" to 5" in length. It is not uncommon for carrots to be left in the ground and covered with mulch until early-mid winter as long as they don't freeze. If kept at just above freezing, they will become sweeter and deep quite nicely until harvested. Some growers cover their carrots at the onset of winter with a cold frame to prevent the snow from piling up directly on the carrots.

POST-HARVEST HANDLING: Carrots harvested and handled in hot weather are more likely to decay and require extra care to prevent wilting. Wash carrots if they are harvested under wet conditions and are to be stored. Many potential decay-causing organisms are removed by washing. Also, clean, washed carrots allow freer air circulation. Promptly cool carrots to 40° F or below after harvesting for extended storage life. Poorly pre-cooled roots decay more rapidly.

STORAGE: Ideal storage for carrots is 32° F and 99% relative humidity. Mature carrots are well adapted for storage and are stored in large quantities in the fall and winter. Mature topped carrots can be stored 7 to 9 months at 32° - 34° F, with a very high humidity of 98 – 100%.

REMARKS: Do not store carrots with vegetables and fruits that give off ethylene gas such as apples and pears. Some surface browning or oxidative discoloration often develops in stored carrots. Use scissors to thin carrots at their earliest stages to guarantee you don't harm adjacent seedlings. If leaving carrots in the ground with mulch, watch for the presence of rodents as they find carrots irresistible.

If you haven't guessed by now, one major ingredient in growing vegetables is water. If your only water supply comes from either a well or a hydraulic ram, plan the water use for the garden into the equation. If at all possible, plan to use the excess water runoff from an upper supply pond or hydraulic ram as the water for the garden. The more uses you get out of your water, the less you will have to carry in buckets to water the vegetables. Rainfall is always a gamble. Many a good farmer has been starved off his field because of draught. Plan the garden location to be as close to the usable water supply as possible. P-P-P-P-P-P!

BEANS (Bush and Pole)

This is my 3rd vegetable of choice because of the ease in which they grow and the abundance of beans from just one plant. Storage of these beans, however, cannot be for long in a root cellar, but beans can be canned to last for years.

Bush beans and pole beans are very similar. Bush beans grow on a small bush of beans, while pole beans produce vines that have to be supported. They will grow up poles, trellis netting or any support that affords them purchase to climb. Even the side of your house. Both bush and pole beans can be found as both fresh and dry varieties. Fresh beans are referred to as snap beans, green beans, and yellow or wax beans. Dry beans offer the most variety of colors and flavors and include some of the oldest seed varieties available.

CLIMATE: Very tolerant of climate as long as there is good sunlight available. An air temperature of 70° to 80° and a soil temperature of 60° F is ideal for beans.

SOIL: Bean plants will grow in almost any soil with a pH above 6.0. Loose sandy loam soils are ideal for beans. Soggy soil will cause bean seeds to rot. Beans do best in well-drained soils rich in organic matter. Beans prefer lighter soil, so if your soil is heavy, add compost prior to planting. Break up clots of soil and rake the area smooth prior to planting.

SPACING: Bush beans: Plant bush beans 1" to 1 1/2" deep at 2" apart within rows. Space rows 24" to 36". Pole beans: Plant pole beans at 1" - 1 1/2" at 3" apart within a row at the base of a trellis or netting or in a circle around a pole. If using a pole, plant at least 6 bean plants at its base. Space rows of trellis, poles, teepees, etc, at 4' apart. 100' of bush beans = 50 quarts of beans.

DIRECT SEEDING: Bush beans: For a continuous harvest of bush beans throughout the growing season, plant beans every two weeks (called staggering) until about 45 days before the first expected frost date. Gently press soil cover so that the beans have good contact with the soil. Pole beans: Pole beans will continue to produce beans throughout the growing season until the frost kills them and as long as they are harvested regularly. If you have a long growing season, 2 overlapping plantings of pole beans may be needed to provide a continuous supply of fresh beans. Plant seeds as for bush beans, pressing down the soil cover.

SEEDING FROM TRANSPLANTS: Not normally done and not worth the effort. Wait until the soil warms up to 60°; this can be sped up by using black plastic over the soil and/or using plastic cold frames over the planting area until the air warms up for the growing season.

INOCULANT: Inoculants are typically dry powders that contain symbiotic rhizobial bacteria. When the seeds of legumes like bush beans and pole beans are treated with inoculant, the plants will form nitrogen nodules on their root systems as well as produce increased yields. The bean plants don't need the nitrogen fixed by the inoculant. Rather, when the bean plants are tilled under, the nitrogen in the nodules becomes available in the soil for the next crop of plants – preferably one that likes nitrogen like tomatoes. To apply the inoculant, dust the bean seeds with a light amount of inoculant as you plant. Inoculant is an especially good idea if you haven't planted beans in the chosen area before. If you are only going to be in this location for one growing season, don't waste your time and money on inoculant.

GERMINATION: Optimum soil temperature is 75° to 85° F. Bush beans will take an average of 7 days to germinate while pole beans average 14 days. Expect a 70% germination rate. Consistent, adequate soil moisture is important for good germination. Too much and the bean seed will rot. Too little and the germination will stall or even stop altogether.

IRRIGATION: Maintain a constant moisture rate during germination. Deep watering once a week is recommended as long as the soil drains well. Saturated soil increases the risk of seed rot. Once plants have sprouted less frequent irrigation is required until just before plants are about to blossom. Just prior to and during the blossom stage, ensure the bean plants have consistent moisture and deep water once a week if there is no rainfall. Be sure to water the plants at their base and be careful not to knock off blossoms while watering.

HARVEST: Fresh beans: Snap beans are normally ready to harvest about 8-10 days after flowering. Pick beans when they are pencil thin, the fruit is bright green, the pod is fleshy, and seeds are small and green. The bean pods should snap easily when bent. Pinch or cut the beans rather than pulling them as pulling the beans may hurt the plant. Harvest beans frequently, if not daily, to keep the plants producing. If bean pods reach maturity the plants will stop producing. Over-mature beans loose their bright color and become pithy and tough. Do not pick beans while the plants are wet if it can be avoided. Wet bean plants are ripe for the transmission of disease. Harvest and remove any overly mature pods that may have been missed during harvesting.

Dry beans: Leave the plants alone and let the bean pods dry right on the plant until late fall. If the climate has a high humidity or your crop is in danger of being blanketed by snow, pull the plants and hang them upside down in a shed or other protected location with good air circulation.

POST-HARVEST HANDLING: Fresh beans: Must be cooled quickly to maintain freshness. Do not use ice or water. Harvested beans should be kept dry. Dry beans: Once the bean pods are completely dry. Winnow to separate beans from chaff over a large tarp and place in storage containers.

STORAGE: Fresh beans: Best canned shortly after harvest Dry beans: Store in containers in cool, dry place. Can be kept for up to 4 years.


Potatoes, carrots and beans. The 3 magic staple foods that are easy to grow, easy to store, and don't require a lot of work. The problem now is for you to evaluate your own dietary requirements versus the following factors:

  • How much water do you have available for gardening? If the amount is severely limited, I recommend that you start with potatoes, then to carrots (water permitting) and then to beans (ditto). If you still have excess, decide carefully what your next crop addition will be.

  • How much space do you have for your garden? The size of the garden determines what you can plant. A corn crop, for example, has a relatively low yield per square foot and requires acres, not feet, of space. A tomato crop can be grown in containers just about anywhere.

  • How much additional work will it take to sow, cultivate, harvest and store the additional crop?

  • What additional equipment, fertilizers, or special storage needs are you adding? Do you have enough cans to can the harvest?

  • Can you store all the produce in an adequate storage room (like a root cellar), and still survive a long winter?

  • Do you have enough manpower (or kid-power) to tend to the fields and harvest the crop?

  • Can you grow more of what you are already growing (successfully) and trade with a neighbor for an overproduction of his/her crop? In other words, would you be better off bartering for food or growing more of your own?

  • Do you have the seeds for next year's crop? Do you want a larger or smaller yield?

  • Do you have a sufficient growing season for the next crop or addition to the crop? Can you squeeze out one more crop in the time remaining? Can you grow some indoor crops under lights?

  • If you elect indoor gardening under lights, do you have sufficient excess electrical capacity to run these lights as required?

  • Can you extend your growing season (either in the beginning of the season, or at the end) by adding a greenhouse?

  • If you want a greenhouse, do you have sufficient building materials to make a greenhouse?

During the harvest season, almost all other work stops while "all hands" get with the picking and packing of the vegetables. The plants will not stop growing just because you're tired. The weather won't get any warmer just because you don't want it to freeze. The correct timing for crop harvest has to be scheduled or planned on your best guess as to what your capabilities are to pick the crop, cure the crop, and store or can the crop.


In times of severe emergency, people will do anything to survive. If you have a lot of food, don't flaunt it, hide it. The harder it is for people to see what you have, the less likely they are to try and steal it. I can't think of a more frustrating situation than to work all season long growing and harvesting a crop, only to have it stolen by a pack of hungry people you feel too sorry for to shoot.

In World War II, French peasants hid 75% of their crops, including wines. The other 25% was written off because they knew the invading German troops would steal them...and they did. The enterprising French citizens couldn't live well, but they did live since they had planned ahead to lose 25% of their crops. Unfortunately, you can't hide cows, pigs and chickens for long, and almost all of these animals went to the German dinner table.


There is a real truth that "an army marches on its' stomach". The military art of re-supplying its' troops is called Logistics. When the Logistics system fails, the armies of the world are forced to forage and "eat off the land". That means that they will take your food for themselves and eat it. Maybe they'll pay you for it, probably they wont. In any case, if the army owns your food, you can't eat it. You can't eat money. A hungry army is MEAN! They will take it even if you don't want to sell. But they can't take what they can't find. If you have one easy-to-find root cellar with 25% of your crop stored in there, then they won't look for the OTHER root cellar cleverly concealed and dug into the ground somewhere else. The real root cellar (75% full) is only filled up at night, out of sight of snoopers and spies. The "fake" root cellar is filled in the light of day. You should eat out of the 25% cellar, but only enough to prove you are using it, not enough to empty it. Leave them something to steal. Food should be taken out of the 75% cellar only at night.

In other parts of the world, natural caves were filled up by villagers who cut huge ice blocks from the frozen lakes and carted them into the caves. That way, using the natural insulation of the caverns, they had year-round refrigeration for their produce. These caves were well hidden and protected by the town's people. Unfortunately, it only takes one "blabber-mouth" to let the cat out of the bag, and ruin the food supplies for an entire town. Share your secrets with the only people you can really trust. Yourselves! If one other person finds out, it is no longer a secret. Kids have to be told not to do what kids do best...brag and show off. Your entire years' food supply can be lost by one kid telling another kid "my daddy's food is really hidden over there...Take that!" And they will...maybe at gunpoint.

Probably the hardest thing you will ever have to do in your life is to refuse food to starving children. It takes a tough and "brutal" mind set. But you have to look past it, and remember that "there but for the Grace of God, go I". Those could be your kids standing there, and if you give away all your food, it WILL be your children next.