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Editor’s Note: This resource has been revised and updated for 2019.
Survival gardens are difficult to define. In this blog, the focus is on garden foods that offer extra benefit as emergency food or in a survival garden. The benefit might be higher amounts of protein and/or carbs.
The blog carries forward the concepts of year-round gardening as a means of creating a stable food supply and increasing the opportunity to grow food you can store.
Root Vegetables for Every Garden
The benefit of root vegetables is that you can extend your harvest by only picking what you need. Thus, your food supply is available, fresh, and nutritious. To succeed, gardeners need to balance planting time with harvest time so that there is always something in the garden that is ready for harvesting.
- Beets: Both the tops and the beet are edible. The greens are very high in iron, which is a key mineral for strong, healthy red blood cells. Also, one cup of raw beet greens provides 48 percent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin A, 19 percent Vitamin C, and four percent Calcium. Beet greens are a perfect food for anyone who wants to boost health and lose weight. They can also be grown as microgreens that can be harvested in just 10 to 12 days.
- Cooked beets (roots) in ½ cup servings offer 8 grams of carbs of which seven grams are healthy sugars and a single gram of protein and an additional four percent of your RDA for iron.
- Sweet Potato: These are tropical plants, so they do best during the warmer months of the year. They are a powerhouse food offering 377 percent of your RDA for Vitamin A and a whopping 27 grams of carbs per 1 cup serving (raw.) They also offer two grams of protein. If you are looking for a source for good carbs, then the sweet potato is a winner.
- Potatoes: Regular potatoes tend to like to grow in the cooler seasons and make good additions to your late summer and spring gardens. In milder areas, they will grow during winter. They are a plus because they offer 121 percent of your RDA for Vitamin C and 16 percent of your RDA for Iron. However, they are a superb source of healthy carbs at 68 grams per single large potato, and they offer around seven grams of protein.
- Carrots: Carrots are a staple vegetable for every garden. They grow pretty much year-round wherever the ground does not freeze, and they are packed full of nutrients. A single cup of raw carrots offers 428 percent of your RDA of vitamin A and 13 percent of vitamin C. They are a good source of carbs at 12 grams per one cup serving, and there is a single gram of protein. Carrots are easy to grow, and if you practice successive gardening, you will always have harvestable carrots.
- Successive gardening is simply the act of planting a row of vegetable seeds but at different intervals.
- Parsnips: Parsnips look like white carrots, but they taste much sweeter. That is because a one cup raw serving offers 7 grams of healthy sugar and a total carb count of 24 grams. They are a good source of vitamin C, and they offer five percent or your RDA for calcium and four percent for iron. Parsnips are not the easiest root vegetables to grow. The seeds are very fussy, but once you get them to germinate, they do well. These are an excellent crop for mid-summer plantings as they need a little cold snap to sweeten. They do fine in fall gardens and make a great winter crop in colder climates.
Summer Food Production
- Tomatoes: Red tomatoes offer a good mix of vitamins. They contain 25 percent of your RDA for vitamin A and 32 percent for vitamin C. One cup of cherry tomatoes – raw – offers six grams of carbs of which four grams are healthy sugars. Once cup of a medium-sized red tomato boosts carb intake to seven grams, and healthy sugars to five grams. The lesson here is that a mixture of different types of tomatoes is best. Tomatoes are easy to grow, and cherry tomatoes will keep producing up to the first heavy frost. Cut in half; cherry tomatoes dry quickly in a dehydrator making them an easy veg for home food storage.
- Green Peas: Green peas are a good source of carbs at 21 grams per single cup raw. They are also an outstanding amount of vitamin C because they have 97 percent of your RDA. If you need iron, peas have a 12 percent of your RDA of iron and four percent for calcium. As a bonus, peas offer eight grams of protein and eight grams of healthy sugars. Peas are easy to grow, and there is a wide variety available for year-round crops. Green peas are not a complete protein, but combine them with corn, and you have all the amino acids needed for your body to synthesize proteins.
- Dry Beans: Beans are another staple crop that everyone should grow. They are a family of vegetables that offer a lot of protein. For example, a ½ cup serving of lima beans has over 7 grams of protein and black beans offer more than 7.5 grams of protein per ½ cup serving. Beans are easy to grow, though they can attract pests such as earwigs. Green beans, offer around 2 grams of protein per 1 cup. Dry beans, such as black beans, pinto beans, and their cousins, must be grown in bulk to obtain enough beans to use. Because these beans dry, they store nicely too. Expect to gain around a pound of dry beans per 10- 12-foot row. Dry beans on their own are not a complete protein. To solve that problem enjoy them with brown or white rice and your body has all of the ingredients it needs to make all of the protein it needs.
- Soybeans: Soybeans are a tropical plant, and they need a lot of warmth to produce. If you can grow warm-loving tomatoes, then you can likely grow soybeans. These are the powerhouse of protein with 33 grams per 1 raw cup. Like dry beans, you will need to plant a lot of them. The nice thing about soybeans is that they easily add the protein to a meal. In addition to protein, they offer 28 grams of carbs of which 11 grams are from fiber. Nutritionally speaking, these are a mega source of calcium and iron. One raw cup provides 50 percent of your RDA for both calcium and iron. Also, they are full of vitamin C – 124 percent of your RDA for vitamin C. Besides the abundance of protein and carbs in soybeans, they are also a complete protein. They contain all nine of the essential amino acids that our body needs to function.
- Yellow Corn: Yellow corn is a high carb plant that offers 29 grams of carbs per one raw cup of fruit. There is also five grams protein and two grams of fat too. Corn is a good food to mix with most summer vegetables as it helps to make a complete protein. The odd part about corn is that as an emergency food crop it is worthless unless it is close to being ripe. It is eking its way onto this list only because it mixes well.
Fall/Winter Food Production
- Cauliflower: Cauliflower is a good source of vitamin C which is a plus during cold and flu season. One cup raw contains 77 percent of your RDA for vitamin C. There are also 5 grams of carbs in 1 raw cup of cauliflower and two grams of protein. This is a vegetable that pairs nicely with potatoes and if you are trying to cut carbs then consider mixing cauliflower with potatoes to reduce the number of potatoes that you consume. In addition to the flowers, you can eat the leaves which give you another option for greens during the colder months of the year.
- Broccoli: Broccoli is another good source for winter vitamin C as one raw cup contains 110 percent of your RDA for vitamin C. Like cauliflower, you can also eat the broccoli leaves. Broccoli has only four grams of carbs and two grams of protein. This is a good staple food, but it must be mixed with other foods to make a complete protein.
- Acorn Squash: Acorn squash and other winter squash are a summer vegetable crop. They mature in the late summer and early fall, but they store well if left in a cool, dry, dark location. A pantry works well. Acorn squash has 15 grams of carbs for each one raw cup of squash. There is also one gram of protein, Winter squash is filling, good for you, and stores for upwards of six months.
Winter gardening is always a challenge. To increase the availability of what is available in winter, consider extended fall crops that do well in colder weather.
- Roots are a good example of this. You can over-sow carrots and parsnips so that they are available all winter long. The quality of the sugar/starch decreases the longer the plants grow past harvest, but root vegetables keep growing and until you harvest they store just fine in the ground.
- Mustards and other brassicas also grow well in the late fall, winter, and early spring.
The consideration for winter gardening is all about creating a space that handles the cold. That might involve using cold frames, hoop houses, or even a smaller greenhouse.
What’s on your grow list? What types of vegetables do you consider a key addition to survival gardens? Let us know in the comments!
David is an active prepper and freelance writer. He lives in rural Northern California in the shadow of an active volcano. He hunts and fishes as a means of providing. He brings a science background to his writing and discusses botany, biology, geology, and weather as they apply to living, growing your own food, and surviving. He is a master gardener and understands food production, storage, and preserving. He lives five miles down a single-lane road and he deals with power outages, wildfires, earthquakes, flooding, and crazy pot growers, raiders, medical emergencies, law enforcement and the potential of that volcano.
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18 Responses to “The 13 Best Staples to Consider for a Survival Garden this Spring”
Truth be told corn was the staple food throughout North and Meso-America for thousands of years, as much for tribal peoples as for the Homesteaders of 19th Century United States. Easy to grow, easy to store, food for animals, food for people. Need to seriously reconsider your list.
Good article, for squash I raised two Spaghetti Squash plants, at the peak of summer I had 31 squash, so after eating 2 I gave 10 away. That means I have now 19 squash. The next week I walked out and found (from very small, gold ball size etc.) 31 squashes. Currently have 12 left. So they keep better than expected. Works well with Spaghetti noodles to lower Carbs.
Squash leaves are widely eaten in some countries, as are the non fruiting / male flowers
For a long term emergency I’ll go for beans for protein and calories, potatoes and winter squash for carbs and calories, kale for nutrition but especially calcium, onions and garlic for flavor, rhubarb for vitamin C. These crops are easy to grow, and usually produce good yields, don’t take excessive amounts of garden space, and can easily be grown organically if chemicals aren’t available. I wouldn’t bother with broccoli or cauliflower, they take a long time to grow and then only produce one flower head that doesn’t keep well, also really prone to insect pests. Kale would be a better choice. It grows all year long in places that aren’t too hot, high in nutrition including calcium and surprisingly high in calories too. Lots of winter squashes will easily keep for a year at a temperature of around 60 degrees–so an unheated room or basement. Oregon Sweet Meats will keep over a year, has thick flesh and a small seed cavity so it produces a lot of food and doesn’t take up a lot of storage room. Long pie pumpkin is another good choice. It’s shaped like a 5-8 pound zucchini so in storage they can be stacked like firewood. When tomatoes are dried they are high in calories, and will store for year. Dried beans are a good source of protein but you need quite a bit of space to grow enough of them. Lastly, depending on your growing zone–maybe 5 and warmer, I’d plant a winter garden of lettuce, kale,leafy mustards, mache– a small leaf salad green that only grows in very cold weather–even if the leaves freeze they will start to grow again when the weather warms up, and carrots especially Chantenay, Autumn King, or Yellowstone. In cool weather they are very sweet and grow very large (1-2 pounds) and are more frost tolerant than most other varieties–under a 6″ layer of mulch will survive most winters to zone 5.
Thank you. All of your advice is really helpful. Especially the variety of each veggie.
I see you are advocating soybeans. What about the endocrine disruptors found in them?
The only safe ways to consume them as a fermented product such as miso, tempeh and natto.
I’ve kept butternut squash in a somewhat cool basement, for over a year. They flavor was somewhat bitter after being kept that long, but as long as the skin isn’t damaged, they just get dry inside, and will absorb cooking liquid.
Another consideration for your selection might be “susceptibility to raiding by local wildlife”. I can protect bush beans with plastic nets, but pole beans and corn grow too tall and too fast to protect that way. A groundhog ruined this year’s squash crop. Next year, I’m trying lots of onions, because nothing bothered the garlic or chives this year. Onions can keep a long time, and provide calories and fiber.
“The odd part about corn is that as an emergency food crop it is worthless unless it is close to being ripe.”
That actually fits condition several of the other crops too. Can’t do much with tomato plants or squash vines until the fruit ripens. Corn, like squash and dry beans, is good for keeping over the winter. Not so much, as you said, for quick emergency food.
In other words: DUH!
Squash leaves are widely eaten in some countries, as are the non fruiting / male flowers