There may eventually come a time when you’ll have to rely on your own production of food to get you by. When that happens, you’ll need to be prepared, and you’ll need to choose foods that give you the most bang for your buck. Here’s a list of the top 5 crops that you’ll want to try to grow if you aim to be self-sufficient in your food production.
The big choice you’ll have to make is between bush beans and pole beans. While bush beans often produce a tastier and less stringy green bean, because they’re so short they require more space for the same amount of yield, and they’re closer to the ground where rabbits, chipmunks, and other pests can chew on the young beans.
Pole beans can be grown and trained onto stakes or trellises, allowing a great deal of yield for a relatively small footprint. By selecting the right varieties to grow, you can harvest the beans green to eat fresh or let them mature to harvest the dried beans for longer-term storage or for use in soups and stews. And because beans fix nitrogen in the soil, they can be used as part of a crop rotation schedule to improve the soil for the next batch of crops.
Potatoes are another crop that can be grown in relatively small spaces. They lend themselves well to container gardening too. US government studies during World War II looking into alternatives to barley for brewing beer found that potatoes actually produced more sugar per acre than barley did.
Potatoes are relatively easy to grow and harvest, and once harvested can store for a long time in dark, cool spaces. They are a good source of vitamin C.
3. Squashes – Summer and Winter
If you’re fortunate, you’ll have good luck growing both summer and winter squashes. Zucchini and yellow squash are the best known summer varieties, and many who grow zucchini harvest so much of it that they don’t know what to do with it all. You’ll have to watch for pests here, as the flowers are edible and much desired by some garden creatures. You may very well find all your male flowers chewed off right before they open to pollinate the females, meaning you won’t get a great crop.
Winter squashes include pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc. If you’re planning to save the seeds to plant for next year’s harvest, be sure to segregate different varieties, as they will easily hybridize. Winter squashes can keep for months at a time, some plants will produce prolifically, and they can be used both for their flesh and their seeds. The flesh can be eaten roasted or mashed, baked into pies, or used to make soup. The seeds can be dried or roasted and provide a concentrated sources of calories.
The only major drawback to squashes is the amount of space they take up, making them less than ideal for smaller gardens. Summer squash varieties can be trained to grow onto smaller trellises, but winter squashes are normally too heavy for that to be successful.
Greens may not provide a lot of calories, but they’re a great source of vitamins and minerals. In hotter climates they may not do too well in the summer, but they can still be planted and harvested for both spring and fall picking.
While most people may be familiar with lettuce and spinach, kale is a great green that is also easy to grow. Other greens such as arugula will often grow like weeds once they take hold in a garden, providing you with an endless supply of greens for your salad.
You may also think about less commonly cultivated greens such as purslane, which grows wild as a weed in many places and contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable, or mache (aka corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, feldsalat), which contains three times as much vitamin C as lettuce.
Rutabaga is another long-storing root crop that is less common in the US but can be an important part of a survival diet. It prefers cooler weather, and in hot climates will often produce smaller roots. The root portion when fully grown often grows to a size somewhere between a grapefruit and a cantaloupe. It can be eaten roasted or mashed, either by itself or with potatoes. Rutabaga contains high amounts of vitamin C, with 3.5 ounces of raw rutabaga providing 30% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C. As a bonus, the leaves can also be eaten, prepared in the same way as spinach.
Carrots, Radishes, and Sweet Potatoes
Here we have a whole other group of root crops, each with its own benefits. Carrots are a great source of vitamin A (beta carotene) and very easy to grow. Radishes can be grown from seed and are often ready to harvest within a month, provide a good amount of vitamin C, and their leaves can also be eaten. Sweet potatoes are another great source of vitamin A, and when properly harvested can keep for up to a year in storage.