I’ve been thinking what should I be growing in my garden? Many of you would say, what we like to eat. That is true in good times when we can depend on the store to back us up but what if we had to rely on our garden to feed us 12 months a year, year after year? That would change things wouldn’t it? Things like watermelon would fall right off the list. Through research I’ve come to realize that my goal of feeding ourselves completely off of our acreage isn’t likely to happen but 50% would make a huge difference. Our goal was originally for the two of us and I think we would have made been able to pretty much feed ourselves but then there was 6 as some of our grandkids joined us from 10 days in a row down to 3 and a 1/2 days depending on the week of the month. Gardening is not one of the kid’s favorite things and I spend much of my time rounding up wondering bodies and pushing them to actually work. Harvest time of course has a different story as they put almost as much in their mouths and in the buckets. Their presence also takes me away from the garden more hours than is profitable. There are several things I’ve had to look hard at. Things that set limits and determine our direction.
- Labor and available ground is probably our greatest limiting factor. Then secondly available suitable ground. Much of our property is on a steep rocky boulder strewn slope.
- Precipitation and available water sources are next. Wyoming has an average of 16.62 inches per year with our area being a bit better at 20 inches. Compare this with the US average of 39 inches, big difference. That means we need to add collection of rainfall to boost those numbers as the well alone can’t keep up with the demand. It also means dragging a hose around much of the day and lowering the size of our gardens.
- Fertile soil is another one. Being near the mountains means we have a thin layer of top soil with pebbles up to boulders to contend with. Our soil is also sandy. Still better than what we had to work with before but it is still very alkaline which limits what we can grow.
- Climate would be our next limiting factor as our growing season is short with on average 115 days between last and first frosts. 115 days of mostly cool temperatures so extending the season is a must and increasing heat for heat loving plants.
This means my list is not necessarily your list as I saw that many on the internet listed eggplant as a staple. Why is eggplant a staple? Which brings me to my next list.
First of all the selection of staples would have to be crops that grew well in the garden. That’s a duh, isn’t it? Beyond that I’ve thought of other needs.
- Crops that can be used in a large variety of dishes from breakfast to supper. This would include cabbage and potatoes.
- Crops that store well for long periods with a minimal amount of labor and fuel to process. This means dried peas, dried corn, dried beans, sunflower seeds etc. Squash, cabbage, carrots, beets, turnips store for long periods intact in a cool environment and so go on the list too. In the late fall or winter, a few would need processed into jars or dried extending the processing season spreading out labor.
- Crops that emerge from the cools soils of 45 to 50 F. temperature early in the spring such as asparagus, lettuce, salad greens like corn mache, onions, peas and spinach which all give us a nutritional boost early after a long winter extending our short growing season go on my list of have too’s.
- Crops that can handle a light frost extending the season into the fall like broccoli, kale, and certain kinds of cabbage too help give us fresh nutrients and certain salad greens.
- Plants that require little maintenance since labor is limited. That means tomatoes which is a staple now would not be. It would be a secondary crop after the staples had found their place.
- Reliability for crop yields from year to year such as legumes of beans, peas, etc. would make them center stage.
- Crops with large yields and we can eat many parts of their anatomy such as squash, peas, corn, carrots, and beets would gain importance.
Harvest times are important to spread out labor over a longer period of time and fresh food over a longer period of time is important when you are doing it all yourself. So I will be charting it to see when I can eat various parts of each plant when and how much I can feed to our chickens and rabbits too.
Other crops, though I can save seed on the first year, like cucumbers and peppers would make their way into the garden as a secondary plant because they add interest and can be pickled or ferment but the amount would vary from year to year.
Self-sufficiency includes being able to produce the crop year after year without outside assistance which includes buying seeds or plants. That means I have some learning to do with cabbage and broccoli as it is the second year in which it produces seeds. The story is the same with carrots but I’ve done it before and been successfully many times so it won’t be the learning curve like the broccoli and cabbage. Beets is another one I need to learn about saving seed.
In a self-reliant garden it isn’t as much about what we want to eat as what we can reliably produce that will fill our dietary needs of carbs, fats, and vitamins. What will give us food to eat over the longest period of time.
The one thing I did not mention and was not on hardly anyone’s lists was onions and garlic. Egyptian onions, walking onions, are at the top of my list with the other more fussy varieties as secondary. Garlic I think is a must nutritionally and medically. It also adds a savory flavor I would never want to do without. It is a no fuss plant which you can eat the whole thing. It also gives you time to plant a grain crops such as winter rye or wheat afterwards in its wake. They store well and go in most things I cook.
No I did not mention grains or fruits or berries but they are in the plan too as are nuts. I’m looking into nut bushes.
So what does my core list look like?
Potatoes Legumes corn (corn meal variety) Squash Cabbage Beets Carrots Kale Broccoli Cabbage onions garlic spinach greens asparagus
The best staple crops for building food self-sufficiency should be easy to harvest and store, return good yields, and be calorie-dense to provide the food energy from carbohydrates that you need each day.
Your list won’t necessarily be the same as mine. But think beyond what you like to eat to what you could best survive on. Then after the staples have been planted, crowd in a few favorites. You need those to brighten your days. Just make sure survival comes first, then luxuries. Tomatoes and cucumbers would have to be my two luxuries of choice. What would be yours?