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Many preppers either have gardens or plan on having them in the future. This is understandable. Gardens can help provide extra high-quality food during good times and bad. It seems that seed companies are constantly offering more and more varieties. With so many to choose from, even if you are just sticking to heirlooms, it can be a bit hard to decide what seeds to put back or what to dedicate your valuable garden space to.
This article is focused on the crops that offer the best yield for the amount of space they occupy. There is only so much space one can utilize and the amount of work that can be done in a day is limited. During hard times it is important to use your space and time wisely. The more calories and nutrients you can produce in a space while not stripping the soil, the better. There are many ways to ensure that a garden remains properly fertilized and fertile for continuous food production if you are willing to develop some good habits and do the work.
You will be rewarded with highly nutritious fruits and vegetables for your family year after year. Any excess can be traded or sold for other items that you need or you could feed some small livestock. Many people keep chickens around to eat excess and clean up garden beds after harvest. They can also provide valuable fertilizer and help turn over and till up your growing space. A chicken tractor can help keep them where you want them.
Tips for choosing what varieties to grow
Look for regional and local varieties of heirlooms
This article suggests some species to grow but it doesn’t suggest specific varieties in many cases. The truth is that there are so many and there may be a regional variety of the veggies, fruits, and nuts in this post that will perform outstandingly for you.
Consider your true climatic zone, not just what the USDA map says your zone should be.
I live in a place where we have a lot of micro climates. The temperature a mile down the road and the amount of sunlight they get can vary a lot. While the USDA zone map for growing is a decent guideline to start out with, you need to think about your property specifically and think about how much sunlight you get in the spaces that are available for you to grow things. Some crops need more sun than others to thrive so just because a place is a little shady doesn’t mean you can’t do something with it.
Decide how you are going to grow. How much space do you have for row crops? Can you use containers inside or outside?
There are a lot of spaces that you can utilize to grow food if you really start looking. I have seen folks in top floor apartments in the small town closest to us, suspend 5 gallon buckets out windows and grow tomatoes! They suspended them over the roof of another attached building so there was no chance of them falling to the street. It didn’t look really good but it was a pretty creative way to grow some food I thought!
There are ways to stack crops as well.
The Three Sisters
Growing pole beans on corn stalks and squash underneath is a very old Native American method of getting the most food out of a space and not having to use supports for your beans.
This is just one example of companion planting and what it can offer.
Corn and other grains
Corn is the highest calorie yielding crop that can be grown in the temperate climate that makes up most of the United States, and as such corn is the most widely produced crop in the country.
The high-calorie count comes with a price, corn is low in protein and lacks necessary amino acids. Pests and fungus can be a problem so spraying is some times required for a reliable harvest. Corn is the only grain crop that is normally eaten unprocessed but is also easier to dry and “shell” by hand than other grain crops.
Other grain crops like wheat, oats, or rice yield less than corn and require more specialized equipment to harvest and process so if you want a grain crop for your survival garden corn is most likely the best choice.
Beans: Pole, Bush, and Soy
For the production of protein, beans are the most efficient and best yielding crop. They are easy to grow and preserve by drying.
Soy is the most productive but unhealthy due to its high content of phytoestrogens so consuming large amounts of unprocessed soy is not recommended.
The traditional way to reduce the estrogen-like compounds in soy is by fermenting it into a product like tempeh.
Other types of beans like pinto, great northern, blue lake, or black beans have far fewer calories than soy but are still a good source of protein. Beans can be divided into two main types Poll and Bush.
Pole beans are high yielding but require more labor and resources for trellising so are best if space is tight. Bush beans are lower yielding and have a shorter harvest season and are better for people with more garden space.
Beans add nitrogen to the soil and are an important part of crop rotation plans. all beans can be eaten “green” when young and tender or can be left on the vine to mature into “shelly” beans that easy to air dry. The thick outer skin helps reduce insect and fungus problems making beans relatively easy to grow.
Peas, chick, cow, etc.
Snow peas are a delicious crop that comes in when a lot of other things are not growing so well. The challenge where we live is getting them out in time because they are really cold hardy and it is easy to forget to get them going soon enough
Fruit, Nut, and Seed
Apple trees are an excellent option for the prepper who wants to add to there food production.
A single standard tree can produce up to 250 pounds of apples a year or enough calories to feed one adult for one month.
Apples can grow in almost every part of North America from Alaska to Mexico but picking the right variety is critical. Look for cultivars with good disease resistance and long storage times, in general, green apples are easier to grow and keep better than red or yellow ones.
Some apples like the Red Delicious we planted a few years back will not produce anything without a regular spray program to control fireblight, others like Granny Smith will produce well with no sprays but if you chose not to spray your trees don’t expect the spotless (and worm-free) apples you get at your grocery store.
There are lots of other fruit trees that could be grown depending on where you live, but few are as easy to grow and store as a good apple.
Other fruit trees
The Asian pear trees might be one good option they keep well and can be grown without sprays, but they have to be cooked before eating, and they have fewer calories than apples. The European pears all go soft within about a week of harvest so they are a poor choice for storage. You can, of course, can them for use throughout the year or dehydrate them.
A single plum tree can yield a lot of fruit that can be dried and eaten throughout the year. I love plums and prunes. I remember as a child that there was a single tree on the fence line between us and a neighbor and it bore a lot of fruit that I would eat until I couldn’t hold anymore.
Tree nuts provide excellent nutrition with lots of good oils, fats, and protein. Nuts are excellent for long term storage and can be grown with no sprays but they can take up to 15 years to reach maturity, and the nuts are often slow and labor-intensive to process. The most productive tree is chestnut, I like the “Dunstan” hybrid, followed by the English and Black Walnuts.
In the mountains of North Carolina, the Chestnut tree provided a lot of food for people and animals. Some families made their entire living off gathering the Chestnuts from their property. If you are interested in growing Chestnuts, make sure to get seedlings from a reputable nursery. One of your best bets is to go with Chestnut Hill Nursery and Orchards.
The second only to the oil palm for the production cooking oils, sunflower seeds are one of the highest fat content plants that can be grown, this puts them among the most calorie-dense plant-based foods. easy to grow and dry but hard process into anything other than whole roasted sunflower seeds. sunflowers biggest pest is birds, they simply love them and can do a surprising amount of damage in a short amount of time.
The most widely grown root crop in the U.S. potatoes yields less per acre than corn or beans but still should be considered a good producer.
They can be stored all winter with no drying or processing simply by keeping them in a cool dark place with low humidity. Potatoes are relatively resistant to fungus and insects, the biggest exception being the Colorado potato beetle, this pest is one of the few animals that will eat the leaf and above-ground parts of the plant.
On a small plot, they can be controlled by hand but larger plots often need pesticide sprays to avoid lowered yields. Rodents like moles and rats can also be a problem for potatoes they tunnel into the soft dirt around the plant and eat the potatoes when they are still in the ground. hilling and digging potatoes by hand is a lot of work.
Potatoes require lots of nitrogen to produce well so it is nice if you can find a good source of fertilizer.
If you live in a hot climate were regular potatoes don’t grow well you might want to think about the sweet potato. These tubers grow vigorously and require fewer nutrients than true potatoes, so they grow well in poor sandy soils.
Sweet potatoes are resistant to most diseases and insects thus making spraying unnecessary most of the time. The biggest problem I have had growing them is the tunneling rodents who seem to like sweet potatoes even more than they do true potatoes.
There are a lot of different varieties of beets out there that not only look beautiful on the plate but give you a good source of calories, vitamins, and minerals. We grew some that had a spiral of color in them.
Turnip greens and turnips themselves are great. You can grow a lot of food in a small space and they can be easy to harvest. The smaller greens are the tastiest. As turnips get older they get more woody and tough and the leaves get tougher too.
While softball-size turnips are achievable, you should at least try a few at different sizes and ages to see what you think is best. Purple Top Turnips are one of the most common varieties.
I really like rutabagas. They are great with carrots, potatoes, and a good pork chop or pork loin. Rutabagas can be wintered over. Matt and I have picked rutabagas in December before and they tasted just fine. We made no effort to cover them either and they lasted that long so if you have them in a cold frame or use a row cover, you can harvest them even later in the year in some parts of the country.
Mashed rutabagas can be a welcome substitute for potatoes or they can be mashed with potatoes in order to offer a different flavor. Matt and I like to cook rutabagas, carrots, apples, and potatoes together and serve with pork loin that has been cooked in an apple cider based sauce to glaze it.
Rutabagas also make excellent livestock feed.
The whole plant can be eaten. Radishes store well, grow in cold climates, and they are one of those vegetables that have so many varieties and colors for those that like to have a lot of different types of produce.
Some people are not aware that radishes are used in a lot of different countries cooking. The Daikon radish, for example, is in many Japanese dishes while the French Breakfast Radish is a common table food in France and fancy restaurants. Since they grow so easily and fast you may want to try a lot of different varieties out.
This southern classic can grow all winter in a warm climate or make a good spring and fall crop in cooler ones. A relative of Mustard and Kale, Collards are one of the highest calorie leafy greens and also a good source of fiber.
Collards thick leaves are tender enough to eat raw when young, but quickly get tough with age and are usually boiled or sauteed in oil. Collards, which are a good source of vitamins and minerals including folic acid, are also great to grow as microgreens.
Squashes and Pumpkins
A lot of people don’t think they like squash because they have never had it cooked in very many dishes. The most common squashes are Yellow Crook Neck, Butternut, Acorn, and of course, there are many Pumpkin varieties to choose from.
The smaller pie pumpkins are best for those that want a manageable size and good flavor. Plenty of people see pictures of really huge pumpkins and think they would be good to eat. The truth is that like so many garden vegetables, squashes and pumpkins are often tastier and more tender when younger or if they are types that are not just developed with size in mind.
Brown sugar and butter are popular on squash. Pumpkin is most often made into pie filling or used for other baked goods. Pumpkin butter is a sweet spread that some people enjoy.
Cooking High Yielding Crops
When you start growing your own food you will find yourself learning how to cook with it. There is no doubt that it can take some time to discover just what to do with all the food you produce. This is especially true for those that are new to cooking meals from scratch.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and come up with your own recipes. Experimenting with spices is an excellent way to change flavor profiles.