When the SHTF – Gardening Afloat, part 3

sailboat as a bug-out-vehicle

The following article has been contributed by a fellow prepper named Mike. It has been published with permission of the author.

Growing veggies on a boat during a bug-out situation presents its own unique set of challenges. In the first post in this series, I discussed the benefits of sprouts. In the second post, I shared how to grow sprouts in a confined area such as a boat.

In this, the final post of the series, I’ll share a few other ideas for growing veggies on a boat.

Fresh is Best

Recently, I began thinking of other ways to supplement our onboard fresh food.  I reviewed many vegetables to discover which could be container grown, after all, we can’t really have a garden aboard our boat.

Growing foot on a boatI came up with a simple method to grow some vegetables and be able to take our garden with us.  A trip to Wal-Mart produced 3 trays about 18”x28”x9” and some potting soil.  The containers were filled with soil and planted with lettuce and radish seeds.  These vegetables were selected simply because they have shallow root systems.

We have purchased spinach seeds that we’ll plant when it cools back down.  Our SHTF seed supply now has 7 different lettuces, swish chard, radishes, and spinach.

Both the lettuce and radishes are doing very well and we have already begun to harvest some for our meals.

In addition, we have a 5-gallon bucket that we can grow tomatoes or peppers in.

Have you given any thought to growing vegetables in a confined area such as a boat? 

Related Posts


7 Comments on “When the SHTF – Gardening Afloat, part 3”

  1. Jimmy Cracked-Corn Says:

    This is going to be a bit more difficult if you’re floating in salt water?


  2. Mitchell Says:

    A good alternative for veggies may be to store some #10 cans of freeze dried broccoli, spinach, peas an such. They do not need refrigeration and are VERY light weight since all the water has been removed. You can store them anywhere in the boat.
    We have an RV and found this type of food from to be a great way to have all the food we like on hand without having to go to a store. Since the food is already cleaned and cut there is also no waste. Just open the lid take out a cup or whatever you need and keep the rest for later. More room in the tiny fridge that way too for important stuff like a few 6 packs:)


  3. Capt. Bill Says:

    Greetings Everyone:

    It’s been interesting reading Mike’s articles as he starts-out doing what many of us more seasoned sailors had done decades ago. In some ways, as we come to learn, we all end-up trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’ at one time or another in the process of trial and error. My intention with this post is to help readers here maximize their time and money.

    Mike’s latest series of articles ‘Gardening Afloat’ provides very little new information on the subject, and even less information that will work under real-world conditions away from the dock, especially onboard a relatively small vessel such as the one Mike’s using. If you are interested in having a few salads once every month or two, then knock yourself out.

    Leaf lettuce varieties usually take about 40 days from seeding to harvest while head types may take as much as 70 days.

    I can’t speak for Mike and his crew, but when my wife makes a couple salads, it usually contains nearly a full head of romaine lettuce. So if we are talking about a crew of 4 people, that’s at least the equivalent of two or three full heads of lettuce per meal, and fourteen to twenty-one heads a week. In order to have a continuous cycle of lettuce coming-on, you would have to have enough plantings that are two-weeks apart so there is no gap in production. That takes a lot of space and those plants must be properly lighted and ventilated, which is much harder than it sounds onboard a boat. Sure, if your boat is in a marina and the dock, you could have a tiny green-house on-deck, but that would end the moment the SHTF.

    Back in the early 80’s, there was a book available titled ‘Sailing The Farm’, which we purchased back then. Sure it’s a bit dated now, but it has all kinds of practical information for Preppers, and especially Preppers using boats.

    During our 3-year cruising expedition in the early 90’s, we experimented with many of the ideas as outlined in that book. We were onboard a 62-foot, 40-ton sailboat, which by comparison to Mike’s 44-foot powerboat, is a superior platform; we had more room for plants, and that vessel was more stable underway at sea. We found that some of the ideas in the book worked and others just sounded good. Of course few people actually spend 3-years at sea and away from civilization in general, and in terms of survival experience and trail and error, that’s where the rubber meets the road.

    The reality, as you may come to learn if you are depending on having fresh veggies at sea, and your trying to grow it all onboard, is that you won’t have much more than a few salads every month or so. What worked best for us then and now is growing our own spices and herbs for seasoning our meals. Basil for instance grows fast enough to keep up with the demand on a regular basis and the space, lighting and maintenance requirements are minimal. There are others which the book I mentioned covers in detail.

    Under real survival conditions, whatever you grow will have to be grown inside the boat. If you get any saltwater spray on your plants, or the soil they are in, it’s game-over!

    Boats are by nature, water-tight enclosures, and as such, humidity is a constant problem. Molds form fast if not maintained. When you start adding plants and gardens, the humidity inside the boat is significantly augmented, and that adds to existing problems. Even the best ventilated boats have humidity issues, some of which can be addressed with de-humidifiers. However, the cost for that is increased energy consumption and more equipment, when you are usually trying to conserve and maximize your available energy for other purposes.

    The reality at sea and at anchor at some selected destination is that you’ll have to collect your veggies from terrestrial sources if you intend to eat fresh veggies daily. On long expeditions and at remote island locations, we try to utilize every available source, so in addition to canned and frozen vegetables, we forage on land. Even on desert islands, such as those in the Sea of Cortez, there are plants, such as some species of cactus, and cactus fruits, which can add variety to the menu. Many forms of sea weed are edible, and are quite tasty if properly seasoned and sun dried, also adding to the menu.

    For those of you who want to experiment with growing edible plants onboard your boat as we did, here’s a copy of the book (Sailing The Farm) that I found online.

    Click to access sailfarm.pdf

    Fair Winds!

    Capt. William Simpson – USMM


  4. WLK Says:

    I think having some fresh veggies is a nice alternative to all dehydrated or canned goods. Something is better then nothing. We were looking at mini green houses for a catamaran..but we realize we could never live off of just that. Besides – it may be a case of living at sea only a few weeks before things stabilize and then returning to land. Good luck with the growing.


  5. Back on land! Says:

    We lived on our sailboat for 4 years — we were never able to grow much of anything. Mostly due to salt water (yes, it’s everywhere even in the air), heat and motion. We found that most ports of call have terrific fresh markets — particularly the in Mexico and Central America. It became much easier to buy while in port and do without while underway.



  1. Selecting a Power Inverter for When the SHTF | - September 13, 2012

    […] When the SHTF – Gardening Afloat, part 3 Share this:TwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Guest Post, Solar Energy ← Survival Myth: Water Should be Boiled for 30 Minutes […]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: