To depend on your garden to feed your family, you must plant staple crops, the foods that are essential to human survival. The ideal staple crops for increasing food self-sufficiency should be easy to harvest and store, provide high yields, and be calorie-dense to give you the food energy from carbohydrates that you require each day.
The staple crops
I’ve done my research about staple crops, and I’ve noticed that most survivalists, preppers, and off-gridders often recommend growing potatoes, com, beans, and squash as the main staple crops, but I’ve extended that list by adding wheat, peanuts, sweet potatoes, cabbage, collards, and kale.
Food storage and preservation are important factors to consider when choosing staple crops to boost your household’s food security.
I enjoy growing food that does not require the use of fuels to preserve and store. The question then becomes where and how to keep it. Examine your home for suitable food storage locations because I’m sure you will find the needed storage space.
During the winter, I’ve discovered that a lower kitchen cupboard is frequently 10° F cooler than the kitchen itself. In that cupboard, I keep potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squash. You might also have an empty cooler room inside your home that stays cool throughout the year and could be used for food storage. The majority of the ten staple crops highlighted here are also high in other nutrients.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
Potatoes, just like grain corn, will provide you with the most calories for the least amount of space used in the garden.
They are easy to cultivate, and all you have to do is simply bury a potato roughly the size of an egg in the ground but make sure it has a couple of “eyes” on it. Burry it in the ground, in a furrow 4 inches deep, and wait.
In climates where summers are cool, plant early, in the mid-season, and the late varieties two to three weeks before your final spring frost date. Potatoes will grow easily and be ready for harvest in 65 to 90 days, depending on the variety.
Sweet potatoes, because of their high beta carotene concentration, are among the healthiest foods available for the small homesteader. They prefer heat, but they can be grown in cooler climates as far north as Canada.
I’ve discovered that I can keep potatoes in a newspaper-covered basket in the house or a storage shed. In October, I move the potatoes into plastic boxes with holes in them for ventilation, and then I put the boxes in the crawl space beneath my house
I keep sweet potatoes on hand, in baskets in a reasonably cool part of the house, or in the plastic boxes beneath the house.
In general, potatoes store well at temperatures ranging from 40° F to 55° F, and sweet potatoes do best at temperatures ranging from 55° F to 60° F.
Growing corn is one of the simplest ways to provide grains for your meals. Corn is classified into three types: flint, flour, and dent.
Flint corn is the most difficult to grind and is best suited to cooler, wetter areas. The easiest to ground is flour corn, which is farmed in the Southwest. The dent you can see in the top of each kernel is the feature that distinguishes dent corn from other varieties. Dent corn is common field corn, and unfortunately, almost all of it is now genetically altered.
For at least 20 years, I’ve been growing ‘Bloody Butcher,’ a dent corn that I primarily use for hot cereal.
Grain corn you are growing and processing yourself will be more nutrient-dense than what you can purchase, and you harvest 30,000 calories from 100 square feet of sown corn.
Floriani Red Flint is a kind of corn that originated in North America that was transported to Italy (where it lived for centuries). Once extinct in our country, it has been returned to the United States.
Tests have demonstrated that ‘Floriani Red Flint’ has better nutritious values, including nearly twice as much protein and three times the magnesium and phosphorus content than the yellow cornmeal available in the supermarket.
Look for open-pollinated cultivars and save the seeds. Corn seeds for flint and dent corn can be preserved safely, and if you store them properly, they can last for at least five to ten years.
A fascination with heirloom wheat varieties has recently emerged among growers in the past two decades, and your backyard might be the perfect location to try them out.
Heirloom varieties have a tendency to become taller and have a wider root system, and can yield more than current wheat in organic systems. Also, some people who are generally intolerable of gluten can allegedly consume heritage wheat varieties.
Frequently, when buying heirlooms varieties, you will pay more for a small number of seeds. It’s up to you to properly grow the seed and increase your seed supply for future crops.
Winter wheat is sown in autumn and gathered the following summer. In regions where winters are too harsh for winter wheat, gardeners can choose to grow spring wheat instead of winter wheat.
To plant wheat, I disperse the seeds into a garden bed and then cover them with a rake or cultivator. When it’s time to harvest, I chop the stalks with a sickle. The initial crop of straw and grain must be separated, or “threshed,” which you can do with your feet or a plastic baseball bat.
The wheat must then be winnowed to remove the chaff, which can be done by moving the wheat and chaff from one container to the next in front of a fan.
After harvesting your wheat, the stubble left in your garden beds will be loose and the soil mushy. You can plant your next crop without having to remove the stubble.
With a wheat harvest of 6 pounds per 100 square feet, you could grow enough wheat in 800 square feet to supply your table with a loaf of fresh bread every week for a year.
Store whole wheat grains in covered jars in a cold, dry place, grinding as needed, or grind grains into flour in bigger batches and keep the flour in the freezer.
Dry beans, often known as legumes, are a staple of many diets. They provide an average yield of 3 to 5 pounds per 100 square feet. You won’t make a fortune cultivating this crop for selling it, but you can greatly improve your food storage.
Beans provide more than 1,500 calories per pound and around 13 (soybeans) to 17 (favas) servings per pound.
Bush varieties mature faster than pole kinds, so cultivate bush beans if you want a concentrated harvest.
Peas, lentils, favas, and garbanzos are all good cool-weather crops. To grow all other beans, warm temperatures are required.
Bean seeds can be stored safely for several years; however, for cooking, they should be utilized within a year.
Popular varieties include black beans, red beans, and limas. Experiment with different types until you find a few of them that thrive in your garden.
When I was looking for a dry bean crop to grow to stock up my pantry, I tried pinto beans and lima beans, but these weren’t successful crops for me.
Pintos thrive in areas with minimal humidity, hot days, and chilly evenings. However, when I focused on what works best in my region, everything fell into place when I discovered Cowpeas, sometimes known as “Southern peas.” These are better suited to my region and aren’t affected by bean beetles.
In the United States, the average yield for pinto beans is 4 pounds per 100 square feet. It’s 3 pounds for cowpeas; however, my cowpeas often provide between 3 and 5.5 pounds per 100 square feet, with peak production of 6.3 pounds.
Harvest the beans when the pods are dry and store them in bags that can be hung in a shed. Threshing your crop can be done by beating the sacks with a stick to separate beans from pods. Keep the cleaned beans in jars in the pantry with the corn and wheat.
Peanuts, which are native to tropical South America, do not grow well everywhere, and you need to figure out if they are recommended for your region. To grow a productive crop, they require plenty of water and 110 to 140 days of hot weather.
They have always thrived in the southern United States, but climate change has resulted in longer growing seasons in our country, which means they may now thrive even further north than previously believed.
If you can grow peanuts, it’s really worth putting effort into it since they are rich in proteins and have more pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) than any other food except for liver. B5 vitamin is needed for the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, so peanuts are an ideal survival food.
It’s recommended to plant peanuts about a month after your last frost and allow at least 110 days for them to mature. You can consume them whole after shelling the nuts or squeeze them to make cooking oil.
When digging peanuts, the pods will cling to the plants, thus allowing you to hang them to dry. It saves the work of separating the peanuts from the plant for storage. Still, after a few weeks, the nuts can be removed and consumed within a few months.
Several kinds of winter squash are high in fiber and vitamins A and C, such as Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita mixta, Cucurbita moschata, and Cucurbita pepo.
I grow the moschata ‘Waltham Butternut’ and have held some for up to a year before eating. Although moschata varieties are more resistant to vine borers and disease, they often require a longer, warmer growing season than maxima and pepo squash.
On average, winter squash generates 50 to 91 pounds per 100 square feet. I learned from ny neighbors to plant butternut squash at the base of a compost pile so that the vines cover it and keep weeds at bay. My biggest yield was 177 pounds per 100 square feet utilizing that method.
Winter squash can be stored in a shed until frost, at which point they should be moved to a frost-free place. If you don’t have enough storage space, store them in your kitchen to create a vibrant fall or winter display.
Check your squash, potatoes, and sweet potatoes every couple of weeks, and use or discard any that are turning bad.
Cabbage, Collards, and Kale
Cabbage makes this list because of its cold resilience and health-giving properties. It can be left in the garden until late in the season and stored in a root cellar or cold greenhouse
Sauerkraut, a fermented dish high in vitamins and probiotics, is a traditional way to store cabbage, and it can last for months in a crock.
Collards and kale, both cabbage family members, are on the rise crops, and depending on where you live, you can harvest these cut-and-come-again crops all winter with a little care.
Because of their cold hardiness, the winter garden can “store” these crops for you, and having fresh greens on hand even in during the winter is an added bonus of our staple crops strategy.
Collards and kale are nutritious powerhouses due to their high calcium content. The recommended daily calcium intake for adults is 1,000 milligrams (mg), which many of us do not get.
One cup of cooked-from-raw collards has 266 mg of calcium, or about 26% of your RDA, which is almost the same amount of calcium as one cup of whole cow’s milk.
One cup of cooked-from-raw kale contains 93.6 mg of calcium or about 9% of the daily value.
A closing word
If you want to grow staple crops to fill out your pantry, begin by growing the tried-and-true varieties for your region. The varieties that thrive in your region will help you build up your food supply as you continue learning about growing, harvesting, and storing these staple crops.
The main idea is to discover something that works well for your garden so you can compare it with other varieties you’ll try later.
To find out which crops and specific kinds grow best in your location, read seed catalogs carefully, contact your local cooperative extension agency, and chat with other gardeners.
Whatever kinds you choose as favorites, cultivating staple crops for your table will bring a new, satisfying depth to your gardening and diet.
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