C asks about guerrilla gardening for survival and wonders which plants might survive in the wild without much care. Sounds straightforward—until you find out where she lives.
Hoping all is well with you and yours. I would like to present a question or 3 and see if maybe you can assist me. I’m not finding a whole lot on true guerrilla gardening. I will try to explain. It is really more of a survival type of gardening.
The way I always understood guerrilla gardening was when living way out in the sticks with basically a tent, cave, or some other type of shelter. Taking seed out and making small little gardens, sometimes a couple miles apart. Always around rivers, steams, or other constant water source in case you cannot keep it watered at all times and preferably vegetables that nature takes over and they just keep coming back every year.
Spuds is a prime example of that and plan to test carrots this year if I can. I think peas will come back also. When the pods dry out and hit the ground. If animals don’t get them first. I know for a fact that if I leave a potato in the ground it will sprout up all by itself the next year. Even after tilling the soil and planting something else there. Wonder if beets will come back also. There are certain foods I would love to have out there.
I’ve babbled enough, on to the question(s). If you don’t already know, can you help me find out what type of vegetable will easily go to seed and start growing all on their own the next year. When I move out there again, I can’t live on just potatoes and fish and what few berries I find this time. I need a little better diet this time around. Because I do not plan on coming back to society after a year or so this time out.
I’ve been learning to take seed from fruits and get them growing, so I plan on taking those types of seeds with me also and get some trees going with fruit. I know it will be a few years before I start getting fruit, but if nothing else I can live on fruit just as easily as veggies. But I will need to basically create orchards over time. Because when the deer, bears, and other animals realize there is a sweet food source nearby, I’ll have every wild animal out there at my doorstep. So I want to spread those trees far and wide. Of course, they will likely line every spot I can get near a river above the high water marks. I live in snow country and will be staying in snow country. Montana.”
Let’s see if I can be of some help.
Determining What Will Work in a Guerrilla Garden: Natives First
I have grafted peaches onto wild plums growing on the roadside and planted loquats and yams in empty lots, as well as cassava canes behind a Ft. Lauderdale foreclosure.
Yet one big problem with guerilla gardening in the wild for survival is that most food plants simply don’t want to produce much, if anything, without care.
Before we get into more common species, let’s look into foraging what may already exist, plus expand the population of those edible plants if possible.
There is a site dedicated to info on Montana plants which looks like a good resource, though you have to pay for access to the complete database.
Thomas J. Elpel and Kris Reed also have a guide titled Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve tried to learn the wild edible plants.
I have a good collection of Florida foraging books that served me well in the Sunshine State. (In my current location, I haven’t had as much luck finding resources—often due to local names and difficulty with the language. I may have to write my own.)
If I lived in Montana, I’d do the same thing: I’d start a collection of local plant-foraging books and learn the species that were already available.
How does this relate to guerilla gardening?
Once you know what grows wild, you can encourage more of it. When I lived in Florida, I would collect seeds of edible species and scatter them. I would also identify locations where good edibles grew and watch the area.
When I harvested, I made sure not to over-harvest. If possible, I would encourage the populations by spreading them to similar locations. I buried mushrooms in the mulch around my yard and scattered their spores everywhere.
Ponds are a good place to hunt and . . . encourage . . . wild edibles. Cattails are a well-known food source, but duck potatoes may be even better for survival, and they also grow in Montana.
Guerrilla Gardening Cultivated Crops
I have experimented with growing plants with almost no care. C is right that it’s a good idea to grow in wet areas if possible, as water is the main limiting factor on plant growth. However, there are two other other huge issues with planting in the wild:
- Weeds—particularly vines like bindweed—can overrun plants rapidly without a gardener working his or her magic.
- Deer, rabbits, and other wildlife can take out wild-planted crops in moments.
Think about how hard it is to grow a normal garden in your backyard. Every year, something comes for your plants—whether it be potato beetles or a wandering woodchuck, rats in your corn or a neighbor’s chickens tearing up a newly planted bed of peas.
Hornworms, squirrels, stinkbugs, slugs, crows, ants . . . .
C notes this issue. The deer, bears, etc., will come!
It’s a wonder anything survives.
Nature is mean. Almost every plant you see is the one survivor out of thousands or millions of seeds and seedlings that didn’t make it.
Dandelions scatter thousands of seeds for the few dozen that pop up in your lawn. Maples drop buckets of whirling seeds and scant few find good growing conditions and survive to adulthood.
C is already experimenting with potatoes and beets, which is good. Keep experimenting and experimenting with everything you can find and test.
One option that I know will establish in the wild is Jerusalem artichokes. They will continue to grow for years and years and can survive lots of cold. I don’t find them to be particularly digestible, though. Your mileage may vary.
Growing trees in the wild is a good idea, but I would add nuts along with the fruit. Permies.com has a thread on nut-growing in Montana which contains useful info. It’s going to take a long time to get fruit or nuts, especially in Montana’s climate, but I still think it’s worth planting them.
In conclusion, my advice boils down to this:
1. Learn the wild edibles
2. Cultivate more of the wild edibles
3. Experiment and experiment and experiment
I would also research what the Indians did and how the early settlers survived. Personally, I think if you really want to grow enough calories, you’ll have to have one garden for a kitchen garden that is highly tended and protected, and then grow and test guerrilla gardens outside of that. Planting a guerrilla garden for survival may be possible, but it’s hard to pull off.
The cassava I planted behind a foreclosure eventually died without giving me anything. The yams in the empty lot stayed alive, but didn’t give me usable roots the first year. Then I moved, so I don’t know how they turned out. The guerrilla-grafted peach is probably eaten by plum branches at this point.
It ain’t easy. Good luck.
What Do You Think?
What suggestions do you have for successful guerrilla gardening—in snow country and beyond? Let me know in the comments below!
This article was originally published on January 21, 2019.
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David The Good is a Grow Network Change Maker, a gardening expert, and the author of five books you can find on Amazon: Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Create Your Own Florida Food Forest, and Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics. Find fresh gardening inspiration at his website TheSurvivalGardener.com and be sure to follow his popular YouTube channel.