Smart Inner City Gardening For Urban Preppers

Inner City Gardening For Urban PreppersAlmost all of the survivors who have made it through a collapsed economy ordeal in the inner city have mastered two basic skills. These two skills are foraging (to the maximum extent permitted by law and beyond) and inner city gardening.

It didn’t seem to matter how many guns or how much ammunition they had, or even the extent of their trading stocks of booze, light bulbs, medicine, and soap. Prepared retreats were important but seemingly not vital.

What really counted were scrounging and foraging skills and, most importantly, the ability to produce edibles from tiny, tough-to-manage inner city garden plots. Related skills at off-season gardening were another real plus when the flag went up. Stark, bare grocery shelves caused food riots and panic among lesser peoples, but survivors with a green thumb always seemed to come through.

Some of the problems of lack of soil, water, fertilizer, and sunshine city gardeners must overcome are obvious. Others, exacerbated by hordes of starving people gladly willing to eat anything they can lay their hands on, are not so obvious. This last problem at a time when people will gladly kill for a meal is not apparent to survivalists who never actually put their skills to the test.

The Venezuelan example

Venezuela is an economically brain dead country, and it will take years for it to recover. The large exodus of starving people will make things even harder. Because of the presence of contending forces of Nicolas Maduro and his trigger happy government troopers, the region is a clear example of what an economic collapse scenario looks like and how it affects the people. Regular citizens who did not want to, or did not enjoy, roaming the forests at night with the firm purpose of shooting their neighbors were just barely making it.

Peasants who put out a crop or managed to forage wild edibles from the jungle usually had them rudely and forcibly ripped off by one or more of the contending groups. Not to mention that starving neighbors kept sneaking in the fields at night in hopes of finding a tuber or two with which to shore up their lagging caloric intake. Most farmers ended up posting armed guards to defend their crops.

Although difficulties still exist, one thing we learned from Venezuela is that potatoes make ideal survival crops. Potatoes are the first candidate for inner city gardening because no other crop produces as much food per acre of ground. Potato tubers are an excellent nutritionally balanced food source. They are reasonably easy to grow. They can be stored fairly well but, most importantly, they produce five times the edible product as compared to any other plant or vegetable. Not corn, wheat, rice, barley, or even algae or seaweed will yield up the amount of usable groceries that potatoes will.

Tuber start for inner city gardening

A thriving hill of potatoes can be started from a tiny, insignificant piece of tuber or even piece of skin otherwise far too small to have any nutritional value. On the downside, the small but vital piece of seed potato can be really troublesome to store for any extended length of time. The world over, seed potato storage is the Achilles tendon of both propagation and, of course, related consumption.

The first six weeks of storage everything is fine as frog’s hair, provided the tubers are kept in thin, open trays so that air can freely circulate around them and that they don’t get too warm.

After that, unless the spuds are kept at 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit with only diffused light reaching they will send out white sprouts that turn green as soon as they reach light. Old fashioned root cellars dug into a hill-side took advantage of the natural ambient coolness of the earth and, of course, were dark. They also allowed for an exchange of cool winter air into the cellar to act as a refrigerant during the winter.

This movement of cool air into root cellars insulated to a constant temperature is vital but often ignored or unknown to modern Americans. City survivors should plan to store both their eating and seed potatoes in an unused cellar or perhaps behind a pile of rubble, under some kind of roof.

Suggested article: How To Preserve Food In The Ground Like The Pioneers

No matter where they are stared, conditions should be cool and dark, yet protected from freezing, and airy. It is also necessary that the place of storage be inconspicuous. Always store in open trays or in hanging bags of porous, open material. Very few vegetables have a high rate of respiration that is commonly found in spuds. Tightly packed, they quickly heat and destroy themselves.

Darkness in the storage is a plus if it can be arranged. I usually store my spuds in open wooden slatted boxes in the garage. The garage is dark but not cave-like. I am careful to eat away any tubers that show signs of starting to sprout or on which the edges have frozen.

High humidity and moisture within reasonable limits in the storage area will keep the spuds fresher and more appetizing. Even good storing varieties have a 78 percent water content. Some potatoes such as Red Pontiacs are 89 percent water. Dehydration can produce a thin, wrinkled product, unappetizing but still nutritious.

Selecting varieties

All healthy potatoes will sprout profusely by the end of six months. Commercial potatoes are treated with a material culled ”sprout nip” and will. As a result, store for longer periods of time. Wise survivors should always plan to eat their potatoes us they sprout.

Selecting appropriate survival varieties is critical. Red Pontiac potatoes, for instance, store very poorly under stressful conditions. Russet Burbanks store OK. The really excellent variety of potato for the survivor is the Nooksack. They will keep like so many stones for months on end. However, Nooksacks are so dormant they are tough to sprout in one’s garden in early spring.

As a survival measure, a few small but healthy sprouting tubers can be planted in the offseason for seed in large plant pots, flower boxes or even in an indoor sandbox in which soil has been placed. Figure at least two cubic feet of soil per hill in a closed container. Rubberized wastebaskets are ideal for this sort of project.

The soil in the pots is best if it is composed of 60 percent compost and about 40 percent fairly clean sand. Sand or even screened building debris is relatively easy to scrounge ill the city for survivors. Acquiring compost is mostly a matter of being alert to scrounging opportunities.

These offseason boxes of spuds should be kept in the warmed, fairly well-lit shelter area. At about 70 to 90 days, the growing tubers will have formed and bulked. At 100 days the plant will start to die — depending, of course, on the variety being raised.

The upside to this scheme is that urban preppers can eat what few tubers size up in the pots and use the remainder when the regular summer growing season rolls around.


Potatoes are my first choice for inner city gardening to have a profitable survival garden. But other than the large yield, semi-storability, and nutritional value they are a regular pain in the behind. They easily catch a variety of bacterial virus and fungus diseases similar to humans. Like people, they require a fair amount of water, and they require proper fertilizer (vitamins).

In a survival context, phosphate will be the most limited and scarce element. Potatoes must have a source of water-soluble phosphate on which to feed. Compost can produce nitrogen, or it can be produced by growing legume crops. Potash is usually naturally available, but there is no way I know of to produce “organic” phosphate. As a result, I keep a couple of plastic bags of 18-46-0 (118% nitrogen-46% phos-phate-0% potash fertilizer) in my survival supplies. This is the most potent fertilizer available.

There are a few other characteristics that should especially endear potatoes to city preppers. Whether in a pot or in a small plot of ground, they take very little space. They can be raised in fairly cool – even off-season -environments if one has the water.

With the municipal system in all probability shut down, city survivors are going to have to make provision to catch and store water a long time before irrigating with a gallon per plant per week becomes an issue. City gardeners in Venezuela use plastic sheets to catch water and funnel it into large earthen crocks.

Other crops for inner city gardening

Weeds do not impact potatoes to the extent they hurt most above-the-ground vegetables. Peas and beans, for instance, are great short season vegetables that produce relatively large amounts of food per unit of area. However, beans and peas are quickly stunted by weeds. In addition, these vegetables develop above the ground in plain sight of every starving passerby.

City survivors who have relied on inner city gardening as part of their survival plan report that they are far more successful with underground crops than anything else. Many of these crops tolerate some weeds among the plants that additionally tend to hide them.

Other than potatoes, these crops include red beets, carrots and perhaps turnips. Recommended above-the ground vegetables might include cabbage, whole pod peas – suggested because they are extremely short seasoned — and some gourds and squash that like zucchini produce prodigious amounts of edibles hidden beneath leafy vines.

As survival vegetables, carrots have some drawbacks. In these times carrots tend to generally be hybrids that revert back to wild varieties if left to go to seed. Carrot seed stores poorly, losing about 50 percent of its vigor per 12 month period. In effect, this means that only 12 seeds out of 100 will sprout. After three years of storage, survivors who will count on carrots for food must store large quantities of seed and rotate the old out on a regular basis.

On the other hand, some older open pollinating varieties of carrots are available if you ask your seed supplier. Carrots are raised easily on very limited strips of soil in median strips on park-ways or in parks. They hide well among the weeds, and they can be stored in the ground till needed in many places in the U.S.

A quick tip to get rid of weeds

I spray the 40-day old standing crop of carrots — weeds and all — with a fine mist of fuel oil. Fuel oil works as soil as any herbicide costs a whole lot less in a survival situation and, of course, would be available when other materials are not.

The trick is to spray only a narrow band right over the carrots. Killing the weeds on a larger radius around the crop will flag its location to every passerby.

 It also helps mightily to plant these or any seed at random rather than in rows. Nature abhors straight lines, a far-ranging scrounger will soon discover. Squash and gourds are especially good at growing at random but cannot usually be grown in cool, off-season environments.

Use your environment to its full extent

In all cases, the city survivor must take advantage of every piece of soil available. Past experience suggests that there never will be a great many choices of locations. In many instances, the urban prepper might have to walk long distances. This is OK until one must start carrying water and/or the neighbors notice a pattern and discover the garden.

In China, I have seen gardens built on tile roofs and in cemented courtyards where the people hauled the soil in a basket, one at a time from rural areas at the city’s edge. The Chinese also survive by raising crops on fences hanging off roofs and in roadside ditches wherever there is even the tiniest bit of soil.

As with everything else the clever get along nicely while the not-so-clever might find they have to carry buckets of water, soil, or walk several miles per day to places they can garden.

Suggested reading: Organic Pest Control For Your Garden

Red beet seed stones a bit better than carrot seed but is a lot bulkier. Unlike carrots, beets usually are not hybrids. As a general rule, a few plants can be left to mature into seed for the following year’s crop. On the other hand, seed crop beets must have around 150 to 180 days of frost-free weather in which to set seed. In many places in the U.S., this is not a problem.

Beets sowed even fairly thickly but at random through a patch of weeds will not usually attract attention. Beet stems and leaves are excellent eating. Keeping the plant trimmed back a bit will not hurt the crop once it is 45 days old and will provide an additional source of nutrition. Red beets fall somewhere between carrots and potatoes for storability. Unlike carrots, which should be left in the ground, beets should be dug and stored in well-aired racks.

Fallout On Vegetables

Since the HBO’s Chernobyl mini-series is a hit right now and it raises awareness of what a nuclear survival scenario may bring, I think it’s a good idea to cover this topic when it comes to inner city gardening.

In a nuclear survival situation, gardeners must be very cautious that they do not carry hot fallout back to their retreat on the vegetables. Nuclear elements are not water soluble and thus will not be taken up internally by plants. However, tuber and root crops grow right at the surface where hot fallout could be deposited that could cling to the crop. Wash the roots thoroughly, check them with a dosimeter or survey meter to be double sure that they are all right.

In 2001, I visited a garden in northern Germany one kilometer from the Danish border after Chernobyl. The vegetables were fine, but the top temperature of an inch of soil was, for a few weeks during the critical growing period, fairly hot. Fortunately, the residents owned a survey meter as part of their survival gear. The fact that he had a survey meter and knew how to use it prevented concern on his part and tended to soothe the angst of the neighbors. By the time the harvest was ready, the radiation levels had dropped considerably. After washing, residual levels were very low to ailment no detectable.

Other inner city gardening examples

People in Finland have augmented their food supplies by raising very short season cold weather crops in window hoses. Their crops Include peas, lettuce, radishes, and even tomatoes. Any crop raised indoors or in a window box can be assisted mightily by watering with hot water.

Soils heavy in organic compounds similar to those survivors will build from compost, hauled in soil and crushed rubble will hold the heat from the water. Vegetables so watered will sprout and grow much more rapidly.

Gardeners in Iceland make extensive use of geothermally heated water to warm their garden plots and greenhouses. They have incredible success in spite of the often dismal lack of available sunlight.

I am not personally charmed by the lettuce and radish pan of this business. Lettuce is not particularly significant as food for survivalist and radishes are, in my estimation, negatively significant to inedible

As previously mentioned, fertilizer for a garden is much more of a problem than city people without one or any background would ever suppose. Without the proper soil nutrients, one’s producing ability is greatly diminished.

In Somalia, the natives try raising squash in the cities. Whenever so much as a teaspoon of a nitrogen phosphate fertilizer is added, the yield goes up as much as fivefold.


Successful inner city gardening is a function of the energy and resourcefulness of the gardener. If seeds and a bit of fertilizer are stored against the day of need, and if tools are available to work the ground that the urban prepper is clever enough to discover or produce, then all that is left as hard work and water.

With a bit of luck and subterfuge, the edibles won’t be discovered. The urban prepper will find himself with another source of food with which to weather the crisis.

Other Useful Resources:

Survival Lessons from the 1880s Everyone Should Know

Find Out What’s the Closest Nuclear Bunker to Your Home

Learn how to Safeguard your Home against Looters

The vital self-sufficiency lessons our great grand-fathers left us

Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation during a major disaster

1 thought on “Smart Inner City Gardening For Urban Preppers”

  1. Good article. We have 1/4 acre of (sub)urban farm and orchard a few miles away from downtown.

    I totally agree with you about potatoes. They are probably the best crop for calories/labor. But they are fairly slow to grow (3-6 months, depending on variety)….

    This is why I disagree with you slightly on lettuce and radishes. Most food crops take several months before they produce edible food. Greens and Radishes can be edible in as little as 20 days from planting seed. True, they do not have a ton of calories. But they will provide some immediate fresh food to supplement the dried food we would be eating for the first few months.

    Thanks for the info about fallout. I had been wondering about that scenario.


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