What Would You Grow in A Self-Sufficient Garden?

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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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.

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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?

10 thoughts on “What Would You Grow in A Self-Sufficient Garden?

  1. I grow too many fruit trees because it is what I want to grow! I grew up with the last remnants of orchards in the Santa Clara Valley. Otherwise, we too tend to grow what does well here. For okra and black eyed peas that do not do well here, we plant more than what we want, expecting less. I know it sounds odd, but too much of the same vegetables (and dried peas and beans) is not healthy. Therefore, we try to grow what we think we should grow, even if it means we must plant too much of it.

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    1. You made me laugh. That is what I’m doing with turnips. The store ones did not trip my fancy button the few times I tried them but maybe home grown will do better. It could be I need better recipes. That was the case with cabbage and brussel sprouts. I’m hoping anyway for this next year as it will be my first. Otherwise the rabbits will get quite a treat. What I want is parsnips. I like them but too short a growing season here. Fruit trees galore sound lovely. Maybe you could form a co-op with a neighbor of fruit for vegetables. I’ve learned last summer that I could grow quite a few vegetables under my fruit trees. Have you tried that? It gives me more space to grow and no more watering chores than normal. Win, win as the vegetables help shade the soil and save moisture. A thought. So glad you joined us as we can learn so much from each other.

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      1. The garden with all the fruit trees is too remote for a co-op. When I was in town, there were only a few fruit trees with vegetables underneath because space was so limited. I prefer to just grow mustard greens or other cover crops under fruit trees because the trees need so much work. I do not want vegetable plants to get in the way. Mustard greens are expendable, although productive as well.

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      2. Makes sense. I suppose the mustard greens make a great cover crop. Nice you are out and away from the highly populated areas. I like Wyoming because we are the least populated state and nature makes the best neighbors. I like people – just sparingly, too much noise.

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      3. Individual cities here are more populous than Wyoming. My sparsely populated neighborhood is just a few miles from San Jose, with more than a million people. It was not long ago when most of San Jose was orchard.

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  2. Darla

    I live in zone 8. My fall garden has English peas, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, garlic & potatoes. I do not grow many turnips or beets because my family does not like to eat them.
    In the spring we have tomatoes, okra, corn, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, Black-eye peas, & beans. Due to the heat we do not grow anything in July & August.

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    1. I envy your long growing season but not the heat. We do not necessarily like turnips but I’m going to grow them and experiment to see if we can’t learn to like them. I wasn’t crazy about cabbage or brussels sprouts but I love them now. As for broccoli, I still don’t like it very well but we have a tolerance for each other and I eat a small amount especially since the rest of the family love their trees as they call them. It is fun having you as part of the easylivingthehardway family. I get a peak into a whole different climate.

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  3. I don’t try to be self sufficientish, but you might want to look at other perennial vegetables. Many other spring vegetables (Hablitzia is actually tasty!) and replant perennials (jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes). It may save a bit of digging anyhow.
    Just found your ‘blog and am scrolling through. Bit of a different climate here – I think the only thing we have in common is a wind problem!

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    1. I’m excited. I’ve never heard of Hablitzia. That looks like a winner for here. I’ll have to look into ordering some seeds. As for sunchokes, I’ve never thought about it but I will now. Love it when someone sends me on to an adventure. Wind is definitely a problem but I’m going to try a few new things to try and get around it this year. Thank you so much for the suggestions.

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      1. Good luck with both. I can recommend Cultivariable (https://www.cultivariable.com/) in Washington state – some very exciting things there, also Stephen Barstow’s book ‘around the world in 80 plants’. He’s a Brit but lives in Norway, so has suggestions for fresh veg. in winter too which may be of interest to you in your climate.

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