The Ultimate Survival Training Ground: Your BACK YARD

I wish I had $1 for every time I heard someone say something like “If I had more land I would have better survival skills,” or “If I had more land I would practice my survival skills more.”  Of the 1000s of hours I have spent practicing all kinds of different survival skills I would venture to say that 80% of that practice has been in my own back yard.

The time to practice a survival skill is not on a survival adventure or on a 2-3 day camping trip – those are the times to USE the skill that you’ve already practiced and mastered.  Your practice time is done at home in your own BACK YARD.  Perfecting any survival skill, whether is be fire by friction or preparing wild edibles, takes an enormous amount of time.  It really is amazing all that you can actually do in a very small back yard space.  From wild edibles to fire building to knot-work to traps and snares, there really aren’t very many critical survival skills that can’t be studied and practiced just steps out your back door. 

If you’re stuck in a rut where you think you need a lot of land to get some dirt-time in – think again!  Below are just a few things I’ve got going on in my back yard that might help get your creative survival juices going.  Ultiamtely, it’s about not being lazy…

The first thing you should know about my back yard is that I live on a RIVER.  I specifically chose to buy a home on a waterway.  It was either a river or a runway and I don’t have a plane.  Call me crazy but I like the 2nd optional BUG OUT Route.  If something were to ever happen where I could not get out of dodge by vehicle, I have the option of traveling by canoe to a spot about 60 miles down river where I can then continue on foot to my predetermined Bug Out Location.  I know…I know… it all seems a little extreme.  I love the wildlife that the river offers me anyway – from fishing to duck hunting to crayfish trapping – there is never a shortage on wild game.  I see beaver, blue heron, geese, snakes, raccoon, turtles and muskrat on a daily basis.  At the edge of my property line sits a huge weeping willow.  I harvest branches from this willow on a regular basis to practice making baskets and traps.  I’ve also used it for hand drills and bow drill spindles to practice fire by friction.

Weeping Willow

Weeping Willow

Willow Basket & Willow Hand Drill

Willow Basket & Willow Hand Drill

 There are only 2 trees in my yard.  One is a HUGE maple tree.  I tap this monster maple each spring for sap.  It yields about 4 gallons for me believe it or not.  After boiling, that ends up being a small jar of syrup.  It is really great practice.

Maple Tree w/ Squirrel Feeder

Maple Tree w/ Squirrel Feeder

I also have a ropes climbing course set on this tree to practice my climbing and knot skills.  I have hand-holds about 30 feet up the tree.  This helps to prepare me for a myriad of rope-work and climbing situations that I might be faced with one day.

Maple Climbing Course

Maple Climbing Course

 My 2nd tree is a dwarf peach tree which yields about 1 bushel of peaches each year.  It’s one heck of a producer.

Dwarf Peach Tree

Dwarf Peach Tree

My neighbor has a huge pine tree that borders my property.  I am always scavenging pine resin to make pine sap glue and pine cones to burn in one of my multi-fuel back pack stoves when I practice cooking in the yard.  I regularly brew some pine needle tea as well.

Pine Tree

Pine Tree

 One of my favorite survival categories is WILD EDIBLES.  I am absolutely amazed at how many wild edibles grow in my very small back yard.  I never use pesticides or fertilizers in my yard because during the spring, summer and fall I have wild edibles from my yard for at least 2 meals per week.  And, I graze from my yard almost on a daily basis.  Below are just a few highlighted edibles:

Wild Edible: Sorrel

Wild Edible: Sorrel

Wild Strawberry

Wild Strawberry

Wild Raspberries

Wild Raspberries

Plantain: Great leafy green!

Plantain: Great leafy green!

Lambs Quarter

Lambs Quarter

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

Dandelions (All over the place)

Dandelions (All over the place)

Other edibles that grow in or around my yard are POLK, CLOVER and CATTAIL.  The list goes on and on – too many to mention.  Besides the wild edibles I do my fair share of trying to grow my own food as well.  I am currently experimenting with a 4 foot x 4 foot Survival Garden to see just how much produce can be grown in a 4×4 space.  If you plan it out, you’d be surprised at how many veggies you can get from such a small area.  I’m currently growing radishes, tomatoes, yellow squash, string beans, snap peas, asparagus, onions, carrots, rhubarb and cantaloupe.  Not too bad for a 4×4 space.  I’m trying to perfect it.

4x4 Survival Garden

4x4 Survival Garden

Yellow Squash

Yellow Squash

Snap Peas

Snap Peas

On the fence-line I also grow a variety of berries, currants and grapes.  I often use these to practice canning.

Red Raspberries

Red Raspberries

Black Berries (Not ripe yet)

Black Berries (Not ripe yet)

Grapes (not ripe yet)

Grapes (not ripe yet)

Currants (almost ripe)

Currants (almost ripe)

 I also keep an herb garden that has oregano, chives, mint and strawberries.

Herb Garden

Herb Garden

And… one rose bush which I harvest rose hips from each fall.  Ever made Rose Hip Trail Mix?  Try it sometime.

Rose Bush

Rose Bush

Finally, I have a huge lavender bush.  I harvest the lavender throughout the summer and dry it to use around the house and in my laundry.  There is no better smell than fresh lavender.

Lavender Bush

Lavender Bush

I burn wood to heat the house so I also keep a wood pile.  I use this wood for all kinds of projects from fire building to carving.  You can see my pot of what I call CRAFT WOOD.  This is a collection of branches, bark and sticks that I use to build cooking tools and frames and/or snare sets, etc…

Wood Pile

Wood Pile

 Bottom line—————-  if you live in a place with a small yard – don’t let it get you down!  You can get plenty of dirt-time in while you are saving up for your dream acres.  Below is a small list of skill sets I practice in my yard so that I can enjoy them when I’m on an outing:

  • Primitive cooking: Earth oven and Open flame (at least once a week)
  • Fire building: Every way imaginable
  • Traps and snares (just watch out for the neighbors cat!)
  • Carving: almost daily
  • Gathering wild edibles: almost daily
  • Rope work and climbing
  • Fishing: Primitive and modern
  • Water traps: crayfish, turtle, primitive fish
  • Rain water harvesting: Experimenting with gutter collection system
  • Primitive cordage: from milkweed and giant ragweed which grow by the river
  • Flint napping:  I keep a big block of flint by my fire pit to practice
  • Target practice: I practice shooting my recurve bow
  • Water collection: rain, snow, dew
  • Misc.: Any other miscellaneous thing I can think of…

Hopefully this post has been encouraging to someone.  There is NO EXCUSE not to practice your skills.  The time to learn them IS NOT when you NEED them.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

CREEK

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About Willow Haven Outdoor & Creek Stewart
Creek Stewart is the Owner and Lead Instructor at Willow Haven Outdoor - a leading Survival and Preparedness Training Facility located on 21-acres in Central Indiana.  For more information on Survival Courses and Clinics offered at WHO, click HERE.  Creek is also author of Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit and The Unofficial Hunger Games Wilderness Survival Guide.  Visit Creek's personal web-site here: WWW.CREEKSTEWART.COM. You can contact Creek directly at creek@willowhavenoutdoor.com.
 
 

Comments

  1. JJ Johnson says:

    Creek,

    Another excellent post! I couldnt agree with you more. Any practice is better than none at all and there are tons of things that can be done in your backyard. I recently wrote a short post about farming for wildlife, planter box gardening and composting in your backyard on my new site RealitySurvival.Com. I also love the Maple Tree climbing wall! That rocks. Cheers JJ.

  2. Caleb says:

    This is very inspiring. I would love to read more about your 4×4 “Survival Garden”, or just more about survival gardens in general. :)
    Also: It would be prudent to include the proper names of those wild edibles for people who may be interested in researching them more. (i.e. those “Plantains” are actually Plantago Major. The “Sorrel” is Oxalis, or Wood-Sorrel, which may cause confusion due to the fact that Common or garden Sorrel is a larger leaf vegetable)

    Regards,

    -Caleb

  3. JoSH says:

    Where can I find those climbing things that you’ve attached to the tree? They are usually on rock walls. I’m not sure of the name of them else I would look them up. Thanks!

    • Creek says:

      Josh~
      Thanks for the comments about the Maple Tree Climbing Wall. That has been a really fun project for me. You’re looking for what is called CLIMBING GRIPS.

      The spacing is completely up to you. I used more than I needed so that I could practice different routes and have more options.

      If you search CLIMBING GRIPS in google – tons pop up. You might even be able to find some on EBAY. The brand I bought is METOLIUS and they have been good. Just a tip, you have to loosen your screws/bolts a bit each year to allow for tree growth or they will pop off. I learned this the hard way :)

      Let me know if you have any other questions about this.

      All the best -
      Creek

  4. JoSH says:

    When i find some, what do you suggest is proper spacing/placement of those on a tree like that? Thanks again!

  5. Sondra Masten Daroshefski says:

    After working on the large lengths of tree, from having a tree taken down my husband said "if the SHTF I'm going to have to take out son #2!" He can't swing an axe! I told him, give him more practice! LOL

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