Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency

Fill your pantry and boost your food security by growing these 10 space-efficient, calorie-rich staple crops that return high yields and store easily sans fossil fuels.

| June/July 2013

Staple Crops

You’ll find that growing staple crops for your table adds a new, satisfying dimension to your gardening and your diet.

Photo By Matthew T. Stallbaumer

To rely on your garden to feed your family, you need to grow staple crops — those foods that are the basis of the human diet. 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. (See our Crop Yield and Calorie Density chart for a comparison of the staple crops discussed in this article.) Most of the 10 staples spotlighted here are also rich sources of other nutrients.

In her book The Resilient Gardener, homesteader and seed breeder Carol Deppe provides in-depth information about staple crops, and names potatoes, corn, beans, squash and eggs as the “five crops you need to survive and thrive.” I’ve expanded on that list, adding wheat, sweet potatoes, peanuts, cabbage, collards and kale. To show yield comparisons between these staple foods, I’ve used the average crop yields and servings-per-pound numbers from the charts in my previous MOTHER EARTH NEWS article, A Plan for Food Self-Sufficiency (October/November 2012). The calorie references are from John Jeavons’ book How to Grow More Vegetables, a worthwhile resource for anyone interested in food self-sufficiency.

Food storage and preservation qualities are key aspects to consider when selecting staple crops to increase your household’s food security. I love to grow food that doesn’t require fossil fuels to preserve and store it. The puzzle then becomes where and how to store it. Check your house carefully for good food-storage areas. I’ve found that a bottom kitchen cabinet is often 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler during winter than the kitchen itself. I store potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash there. You might also have a closet in a spare room that stays cool. Find more creative food storage ideas at Food Storage: 20 Crops That Keep and How to Store Them.

Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes (along with grain corn) will give you the most calories for the least space. They are easy to grow — just bury a piece of potato about the size of an egg with a couple of “eyes” on it in the ground in a 4-inch-deep furrow. In climates with cool summers, plant early, midseason and late varieties two to three weeks before your last spring frost date. Potatoes will be ready to harvest in about 65 to 90 days, depending on the variety.

Sweet potatoes, with their high beta carotene content, are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They love the heat, but you can grow them as far north as Canada.

I’ve found I can keep potatoes in a basket, covered with newspaper, in the house or a shed. In October, I transfer the potatoes to plastic boxes with holes drilled in them for ventilation, and then store the boxes in the crawl space under my house. I store sweet potatoes in baskets in a relatively cool area of the house, or in the plastic boxes under the house. Generally, potatoes do best stored at 40 to 55 degrees, and sweet potatoes do best at 55 to 60 degrees.

11/9/2015 8:26:00 AM

We grew Soylimas in NC in the 1960's has anyone heard of them ? Haven't seen them since and would like to try again

6/3/2015 5:12:56 PM

Really? "Potatoes will be ready to harvest in about 65 to 90 days" Really, you said that? Try 16-20 weeks. Bonus tip: Try growing it for yourself and see.

11/1/2013 12:19:02 PM

Good article. I have a problem with M.E.N. articles on sweet potatoes. I am an Arizona native and only have eaten Yams, orange fruited inside of the sweet potato family, and I do not like eating the yellow inside ones. Your article doesn't specify which you are recommending. I do not want to grow ones I will not eat so could you please specify which they are. Based on the length of time 'work at home' spam I really assume no MEN people read these comment but I hope someone does.

10/23/2013 1:45:49 PM

I printed out info on freezing eggs (2at a time in custard dishes). Anyway, we are trying that now, but I didn't see how long I can keep them in my freezer for. This is a terrific idea since the 2 of us get 6 eggs a day from our chickens. Please help By the way, I love your sight

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6/5/2013 5:47:47 AM

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6/1/2013 8:19:20 PM

I've been concerned about storing garden goods here in South Carolina. There's not much of a winter....any suggestions for 'cold storage' that doesn't involve electricity?


5/31/2013 5:55:38 PM

Great article for those worrying about putting out gardens --- these items will store well and last for months instead of just a few weeks.

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