Self-Sufficient Gardening: 9 Staple Crops to Feed Your Family


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Now is a great time to pick staple crops to grow in your garden.

Learning how to be more self-sufficient and provide for your family has never been more important than this time. Gardening is one of the best ways to provide your family with fresh food, but not all vegetables are staple crops.

What do I mean by staple crops?

Well, these are the crops that are going to be the bulk of what your family eats. These are the foods that provide the most calories and sustains your family.

When you plant a garden, you might grab whatever vegetable looks the easiest to grow, but that doesn’t mean it will be able to feed your family for long stretches.

Our goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible and to grow the foods that our family can survive the longest eating.

Here is an example.

I love eggplants. Nothing beats a good eggplant parmesan with a side dish of my dad’s pasta and a thick slice of Italian bread.

Can you tell that I’m Italian?

As much as I love eggplants, I cannot feed my family those each day, and they don’t preserve well. While I do have a few eggplants growing in my garden, that’s not the bulk of what I grow.

What Are Staple Crops?

You NEED – not just want – to grow staple crops if your goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible and feed your family.

This doesn’t apply to you if you have a small garden for fresh salads in the summer, which are literally what I dream of each night right now.

Staple crops are the KEY to food self-sufficiency. Here are my requirements when I pick what staple crops to grow.

  • My family does have to like them and eat them on a regular basis. For example, we all hate sweet potatoes. I don’t know why, but we do.
  • These should be easy to grow crops that don’t cause you a huge headache. You need to grow a lot of them!
  • The plants should have good return yields. So, the plants need to be productive and provide you with plenty of food.
  • Staple crops are calorie-dense. They’re going to fill your belly with calories and keep you full longer.
  • Last, they need to be easy to store. I like staple crops that I can store in my basement in bins without needing to can or dehydrate them.

These are your crops that help your family survive and thrive even during hard times.

9 Staple Crops to Feed Your Family

Here are some of the best staple crops that will feed your family.

1. Potatoes

Potatoes are one of the most versatile crops to add to your garden. They provide you with the most calories in the least amount of space, and they’re easy to plant. All you need to do is bury pieces of potato the size of an egg with eyes on them.

Homegrown Potatoes

Potatoes take between 65-110 days to harvest. The range is so wide because late varieties take longer to grow.

If you like sweet potatoes, they are one of the healthiest foods that you can grow in your garden. Even though they’re known for loving heat, you can even grow sweet potatoes in Canada – crazy, right?

Potatoes are staple crops

While you could can potatoes, the easiest storage method is just to keep them in a basket covered with a newspaper in your house or shed. I’ve also stored them in plastic boxes with holes drilled into the sides for ventilation.

Make sure you keep them in a cool area of the house. Potatoes do best if stored between 40-55 degrees and sweet potatoes prefer a bit warmer, around 55-60 degrees.

2. Corn

There is a reason why the Native Americans depended heavily on corn as one of their staple crops. Corn is one of the easiest crops to grow, and there are 3 types of corn you can grow.

  1. Flint Corn: This type is best for cooler, wetter climates, and it can be hard to grind into flour.
  2. Flour Corn: This is what Southwest Native Americans grew, and it’s the easiest to grind into a flour
  3. Dent Corn: This type has a dent in the top of each kernel, and it’s the common field corn which is typically genetically engineered nowadays.

Corn is versatile. You can eat fresh corn on the cob for dinner – nothing screams summer like eating corn on the cob outside.

Last year was the fist year that we grew popcorn, and it was wildly successful. Popcorn is my kids’ favorite snack; we eat it nightly.

Homegrown Popcorn

Then you can grind all types of corn into cornmeal. Cornmeal and corn flour can be used to make bread, pancakes, polenta, and more.

3. Dry Beans

Nothing screams staple crop like dry beans. It’s a mainstay for families all over the world. That’s why beans are one of the first foods recommended for building a pantry.

Dried Beans

On average, you can grow 3-5 pounds per 100 square feet, but with the right techniques and proper use of vertical gardening, you can grow even more.

Want to learn more about vertical gardening? Take a look at my new ebook!

You do need to focus on growing dry beans that do well in your area rather than what you typically cook in your kitchen. If you live somewhere with low humidity, hot dogs, and cool nights, you could grow pinto beans. Cowpeas are known as southern peas because they do well in hot, humid conditions.

Instead of harvesting fresh and ripe as you do for green beans, you wait until the pods are dry. Then, you shell the beans out of their pods and store the beans in your pantry.

4. Green Beans

Green beans are another fantastic choice, and they’re so easy to preserve. My grandma told me that her grandparents had shelves full of canned green beans. The plants grow so abundantly, making it easy to put back for the rest of the year.

Fresh green beans

They pack a calorie punch, just like dried beans. You can grow several plantings of green beans in one summer, depending on your location.

Green beans are filling and versatile. They can be fried, roasted, steamed, or baked. With the right recipe, anyone can enjoy munching on green beans.

You can check out my articles about growing and preserving green beans.

5. Wheat

This is the first year that we are trying to grow wheat, and I’m wildly excited. I geek out whenever we add new crops that I’ve never grown.

It’s pretty clear why wheat is a staple crop for homesteaders. You can find a variety of different heirloom wheat seeds to grow; I do suggest heirloom because many wheat seeds are GMOs.

On average, you can grow 6 pounds of wheat in 100 square feet. Unless you have a big area, you won’t be able to be 100% wheat self-sufficient, but you could grow something else and barter with someone else who grows more wheat than you.

6. Cabbage

There is nothing like a hearty cabbage soup in the middle of the winter, and that’s made possible by the storage ability of cabbage. Cabbage is extremely cold hardy, and they can grow in the garden well into the late fall or early winter, depending on your Persephone Days.

Cabbage Head

When it gets to be too cold outside, you can move cabbages into your root cellar or your greenhouse. While the heads can stay good for 3-4 months when stored properly you also can try freezing fresh cabbage heads or turning your cabbage into sauerkraut, a fermented food

Sauerkraut is a traditional way to preserve cabbage. If you’ve never tried fermenting, don’t panic; fermenting for beginners is so easy!

7. Winter Squash

There are so many interesting options for winter squash. I typically only grow butternut squash and acorn squash, but this year, I found some interesting new choices to try. Be creative, and try something different!

Winter squashes are rich in fiber, and vitamins A and C. Some can store up to a year before they go bad, which is why homesteaders for centuries have kept winter squash in their root cellars.

You can grow 50-90 pounds per 100 square feet, which is a lot of food in a small area. They store well in a shed until frost, but you will need to keep them in a frost-free area through the winter.

8. Greens – Kale, Spinach & Collards

You need to have some greens for your staple crops. Collards and kale both belong in the cabbage family, so they handle cold temperatures well.

When you grow greens as a staple crops for self-sufficiency, you do want something that is a cut and come again crop. That lets you harvest the crops throughout the growing season as you want. You also want plants that you can grow well into the colder months with the help of season extenders.

Try growing greens in a DIY mini hoop house!

9. Carrots

Another vegetable that can be stored in a root cellar for long periods is carrots. Carrots also can overwinter in your garden if you add layers of straw as an insulator.

This year, as I prepared my garden beds, I found several carrots that I missed from the previous year still in my beds. They tasted great!

Cutting Carrots

You can use succession planting, as I do, to grow an abundance of carrots. Every 2-3 weeks, I plant 2-3 more rows of carrots. By the time I reach the end of my garden bed, I can harvest the first rows that I planted earlier.

Storing carrots in a root cellar or your basement is so easy. We use our garage because it’s colder than our basement; you want the temperatures to be around 32-38 degrees F in the winter. Fill a bucket with damp sand, peat moss, or sawdust. Put the carrots in the bucket, covering with whatever material you picked. Make sure they don’t touch each other.

That’s Not All You Should Grow

Don’t think that your garden should ONLY be staple crops!

I think tomatoes are one of THE most important crops that I grow. I need to can at least 52 quarts of tomatoes each year for my family. However, tomatoes by themselves don’t provide a lot of calories for my family, which is why they aren’t a staple crop.

We would survive without them, but we grow them to help make our dishes more flavorful.

I consider onions and garlic essential crops as well, but in the end, you cannot just eat bulbs of garlic or onions.

Okay, you CAN, but no one is going to do that. Finding the right balance of staple crops and other vegetables that your family enjoys is the key to feeding your family and becoming more self-sufficient.

Feed Your Family This Year

With the right staple crops, you can decrease your dependency on the store and start to feed your family from the garden. Growing your own food is a feeling like none other.

When the world goes crazy, you know that your cupboards will stay full.

I want to help you learn how to feed your family. Take a look at my book, The Vegetable Garden, where I show you how to plan and grow all of the food your family needs to survive.

Use the code FeedMyFamily for 50% off your purchase.

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