Americans garden for many reasons. For some, it’s pleasant to get some fresh air after a long day in the office. Others do it for aesthetic pleasure. However, for those striving for self-reliance on their off-the-grid homestead, gardening is an essential component in the family’s food production operation. In many cases, both time and space limit the size of a garden.
To address those seeking to grow a large portion of their own food on limited resources, author and organic plant breeder Carol Deppe has written an informative book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times.
Deppe’s book covers food storage and how to barter with other like-minded people to supplement your food supply. Nevertheless, Deppe’s advice on growing five important crops is of particular use. Her selections are based on calories, nutrients, storage and resiliency during the variable and unpredictable weather patterns. Her selections also are such that they may be grown in many regions of the United States’ diverse climates. Finally, all of her choices rely on using heirloom varieties, so that seed-saving helps in self-reliance.
Here is her list, which you should consider implementing each year, crisis or not crisis.
Potatoes are a great source of both carbohydrates and proteins. Per square foot, they produce more carbohydrates than any other commonly grown vegetable in the US. Potatoes yield more protein per square foot than other vegetables, except for beans. They are rich in vitamin C, calcium and minerals.
Potatoes are easy to grow and adapt to many different soil conditions. They are immune to a cold front or storms that could destroy grains. In many areas of the country, they can be grown without irrigation.
Finally, potatoes can be stored for several months without the need for processing or electricity.
Corn is the most feasible of grains to grow and process on a small scale homestead. Harvesting is easy and threshing is not required.
Sweet corn can be grown to provide delicious, fresh cobs during the summer. A crop of dent corn provides corn flour.
Whole grain corn stores over the winter and the ground meal provides tasty, starch-based side dishes like cornbread or polenta to accompany fresh meat from the homestead.
Beans and other legumes such as peas, lentils and cowpeas are rich in protein, nutritious and easy to grow. They, too, can be stored during winter without processing or electricity. Different species of legumes thrive in different conditions. Deppe recommends growing several different species. For example, common beans, favas, lentils and peas could all be grown.
If the growing season is unseasonably hot, unseasonably cool, very dry or very wet, chances are that at least one or two of the legumes will thrive.
Squash are a great source of carbohydrates, vitamins A and C and carotenoids (antioxidants). They are prolific in most gardens. Summer squash can be eaten during the summer and dried for winter storage. Winter squash stays fresh during the long winter months.
Okay, eggs aren’t a crop. But they are one of Deppe’s five food sources to produce on the homestead. There are several reasons for this. First of all, eggs provide protein and omega-3 fatty acids to provide what an otherwise vegetarian (crop-based) diet may lack for some individuals.
Second, the chickens or ducks that lay eggs can be an integral part of the homestead. They can consume home-grown feed and their waste helps make wonderful compost for the garden. Deppe devotes an entire chapter in her book on the benefits of egg-laying animals.
Many living off-the-grid strive for as much self-sufficiency as possible. Deppe’s give foods can help the busy homesteader realize this dream.
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