Gardening only seems easy if you’ve never done it before. For those who have experience with it, they know good and well how complicated the undertaking can be.
There is always more to learn and more to do if you want to ensure that your hard work doesn’t go to waste and that you pull in a bumper crop.
If you are starting out gardening “cold” with no experience and no information, you’re going to waste a lot of time, money, and effort for very little or even no gain.
But having the right manuals and information close at hand can make that learning curve a lot less of a learning cliff. Even veteran gardeners will benefit from having plenty of reference materials on hand.
Below are 20 gardening PDF downloads that deserve a spot in your survival garden library.
1. Planning a Garden, Clemson University
If you don’t have a garden, and you’ve never started one, you probably don’t know what you are doing.
Planning a garden is a lot more involved than scratching out some dirt and dropping some seeds in the ground while hoping for the best.
There’s a lot that goes into site selection and actually locating the individual plants that you are cultivating if you want your success to be assured.
This detailed guide from the University of Clemson will walk you through all of the factors that should be accounted for before your shovel ever touches the soil. Download it here.
2. Container Vegetable Gardening, University of Florida
For some gardeners, space is at a premium outside or they just want to start a sort of side project garden in a different location or to supplement what they are growing in the ground.
This is where container gardening comes in handy. Container gardening is, just like the name says, the practice of growing vegetables and other plants in containers instead of directly in the earth.
Most of the principles stay the same, but this method of gardening has its own challenges and eccentricities. Knowing what they are ahead of time will save effort in the long run.
The University of Florida has produced an excellent guide on the topic that you can download here.
3. Gardening in Small Spaces, University of Kentucky Extension Service
The idea of planting a survival garden might sound great to preppers who have plenty of property and wide open spaces to make you so.
But what about folks who are crammed into the suburbs or, even worse, the middle of the city? Is the prospect just out of the question for them? No, it is not.
No matter how space-limited you are, even if you don’t have access to bare ground at all, there is something you can grow in a garden using container gardening techniques and other resources.
The University of Kentucky has produced an excellent specialized guide on the topic. Download here.
4. Master Gardener Program Handbook, University of Idaho Extension
This is it: The Big One. An immense book covering absolutely everything you need to know in order to tackle the countless challenges that you’ll face when gardening.
Horticultural theory, growing zones, plant health, techniques, tools, composting, pests, bed preparation, and construction- everything.
It is not as digestible as some of the other books on our list, but it is an indispensable reference and excellent once you have a little bit of experience and know your way around your own garden. Get it for yourself here.
5. Starting Garden Transplants, Iowa State University Extension
The typical conception of a home garden, of any kind, usually begins with the planting of a single seed.
You might indeed start your plans from seed, but not always, and transplanting veggies and other plants directly into your garden can save you a ton of time and labor compared to establishing plants the old-fashioned way.
However, transplanting is something of an art form itself and you’ll need to master this skill if you want to maximize efficiency.
The good news is that most of the subject has already been figured out by Iowa State University, among others, and they have provided a helpful and really thorough guide. Get it here.
6. The Drip Irrigation Handbook, NETAFIM
If your plans are going to make it to maturity and harvesting, they’re going to need water and a whole lot of it.
Proper irrigation techniques can get your plants the water they need, when they need it, and often without your direct intervention.
Drip irrigation is one such technology that is easy for an individual to set up but it can save you time and effort out of all proportion with its difficulty.
For a traditional garden, raised beds, large containers, and most other methods it is a great option. You can learn all about it in this guide from Netafim. Download it here.
7. Short Season Gardening, Jo Ann Robbins and Wm. Michael Colt
One assumption that will routinely come back to bite beginning gardeners on their behind is the notion that growing seasons are standard wherever you might live.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
If you live in a region with a short growing season you’ll need to adapt your techniques and your approach. Get a guide on short-season gardening right here.
8. The Fall Vegetable Garden, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service
The idea of tending to a garden is invariably linked with spring and summertime weather, but not all plants and veggies grow and produce in these two seasons.
Some aren’t ready to harvest until late fall, and accordingly, you’ll need to understand how to handle and tend to fall vegetables if you want that beautiful autumn harvest that can sustain you until next spring.
Yet another excellent guide on the subject, produced by Purdue University’s Cooperative Extension service, can be had right here.
9. A Guide to Raised Bed Gardening, University of Florida Extension
If getting down close to the ground is it difficult or just too tiresome, you might consider gardening with raised beds.
Aside from making your plants easier to reach, especially when they are just starting, it has some other advantages as well.
Raised beds are easy to make if you are crafty, and it’s possible to repurpose common items to be used in the same way.
Check out this guide from the University of Florida as a replacement or supplement for traditional gardening methods. Get it here.
10. Vegetable Production Planning Chart
Are you gardening to keep yourself and your family in produce year-round? Are you doing so as a hedge against loss or disaster?
Do you know how much food, precisely, you can expect from a garden of a given size or a certain number of plants? You probably don’t, and hoping for the best is not a survival strategy.
This simple, clean vegetable production and planning chart can show you exactly what amounts of food you can expect from a given number of plants.
If you want to go from supplementary to subsistence gardening, and eventually have a surplus that you can home-can or store in some other way, this is an indispensable resource.
If you’re brand new to gardening, make sure you grab this and then sit down and do some planning with it before you begin. Download here.
11. Growing Vegetables Organically, University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Cooperative Extension
We take for granted the sheer amount of resources we have for gardening these days in the form of chemical fertilizers and supplements, along with genetically modified plants that are far more productive and hardier than heritage strains.
However, there is an increasing clamor concerning the short and long-term health consequences of such technologies, so organic food and organic gardening is very much a hot topic.
I’ll tell you: the bottom line up front is that organic gardening is significantly harder than using the modern stuff mentioned above, but the results will give you a food of an impeccable quality that is completely safe for human consumption, especially over the long term.
The University of Georgia has produced a thorough handbook that you can download here.
12. The Vegetable Gardening Encyclopedia
Every gardener has in mind growing their favorite vegetables, but I will bet you my bottom dollar that there are tons and tons of vegetables that are just perfect for your garden setup that you’ve never thought of.
Growing a variety of veggies is critical not just to maintain balance in the soil but also to ensure that you have complete and varied nutrition.
This encyclopedia will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about growing vegetables in your garden, and then some. Download it here.
13. Permaculture: Organic Gardening
For the ultimate in long-term sustainable gardening, permaculture is the way to go.
Although you’ll get different definitions for the term depending on who you ask, it generally refers to planting and gardening in a way that establishes harmony with the natural environment and regenerative processes for the soil and other native plants.
Basically, it ensures that you can use the land but not use up the land, potentially putting yourself in a bind later.
This is definitely a step up on the difficulty ladder in gardening, but the sooner you implement these principles in your gardening journey the better off you will be. Check out this excellent guide here.
14. Organic Gardening for Dummies, Ann Whitman & Suzanne DeJohn
Love them or hate them, there is no denying that the Dummies guide books have gotten countless beginners off the ground in just as many pursuits. As you’d expect, they also have one for gardening.
Taking beginners through everything from basic gardening principles to actually planting, caring for, and harvesting your first vegetables, you could do a whole lot worse than starting right here if you don’t know a single thing about the subject. Check it out here.
15. Straw Bale Gardens Complete, Joel Karsten
A technique that is rarely seen these days, but one that is viable and has been around for quite a long time is straw bale gardening.
It definitely sounds strange, and it looks a little stranger, but it basically works like a raised bed, only you are planting in straw bales instead of bins of soil alone.
If you have plenty of straw to work with or just want a quick and easy way to set up additional raised beds you should definitely give this method a try. Joel Karsten is the author of this detailed walkthrough. Available here.
16. Gardening with Less Water, David A. Bainbridge
Water is truly the most precious resource on earth, right after air which we all take for granted.
Although in many countries, like right here in the United States, we also take water completely for granted.
There is a lot to be said for using as little as possible just as a matter of course, and also learning to conserve water in dire times.
In a long-term survival situation, your water supply might be anything but certain.
This book will teach you how to successfully raise your garden to harvest using as little water as needed for the task. Learn to scrimp now and you won’t miss it later!
17. Perceptions on Greywater Reuse for Home Gardening
Graywater is household wastewater that has not been contaminated by human waste, either urine or feces. Water that is contaminated with human waste is known as blackwater.
Though we send all of this graywater down the drain as a matter of course, it is possible to capture gray water, keep it separate from blackwater, and then reuse it safely for a variety of purposes, including around our garden.
This is yet another way to save a ton of water and minimize waste in general. Being kind to the environment and your community is always a good practice, but this could be a crucial survival skill in times of scarcity.
Implementing gray water reuse is not difficult, but you have to know what to do and this study can give you much food for thought. Get it here.
18. The Complete Gardener’s Guide, Simon Akeroyd
There’s a lot more to gardening than just knowing fertilizer and plants. Best practices, tools, techniques, troubleshooting, the works.
It really is a lifestyle, and you would be wise to learn from those who have come before you. The Complete Gardener’s Guide can take you from rank novice to veteran green thumb in no time.
19. Encyclopedia of Water Garden Plants, Greg & Sue Speichert
Not all gardens grow in dirt. Some plants, and even some vegetables, can be grown in the water or at the water’s edge.
Depending on your property and the proximity of above-ground water sources, some of these plants might have a nutritional or medicinal value in your garden.
This encyclopedia is a great introduction to water garden plants. Get the complete edition at this link.
20. The Fruit Tree Handbook, Ben Pike
Everyone thinks about vegetables in their garden, but not as many folks think about fruits.
Many of the principles for growing fruit trees are the same, but depending on the kind of plant that they grow on it might just occur at a larger scale.
The Fruit Tree Handbook is an excellent resource for assessing if dwarf or full-size fruit trees are something you want to pursue for your garden. Maybe you’ll wind up with an orchard! Get it right here.
21. Concise Encyclopedia of Temperate Tree Fruit
Another good resource for fruit. This encyclopedia of temperate tree fruit covers fruits from all around the world, including some you don’t normally see growing in gardens, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them if conditions are right.
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