Growing Calories

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner
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How often have you sat down to a meal that consisted of only things that you or someone you know grew? If that has never been your experience, it might have been something you have thought of. Either way, you would want that meal to fill you up. Eating salads is great and it is good for you, however you will be hungry sooner than if you had eaten something with more calories.

Unfortunately, the public has been programmed to think of calories as a bad thing. Maybe that’s because there are so many bad ones floating around. According to the news reports, and just from observation, lots of people have been eating too many of those bad calories. I wonder what the population would look like if everyone had to depend solely on local or homegrown food supplies. I imagine they would be a lot healthier-and slimmer-if they got their calories from food from the garden. In that case, they would be looking for calories to give them energy.

Hands down, the plant that produces the most calories in the least space is potatoes. They don’t need any other preservation than correct storage. I know that the potatoes from the grocery store sprout in short order when you bring them home. You don’t know how long and in what conditions they have been stored before being put out there for you to buy. The grocery stores are only concerned with making their produce look good until you buy it. Long-term storage at home is not their problem.  Here in Virginia most houses don’t have a basement, unlike where I grew up in Ohio. Our house has one under part of the house–dug out by hand in the 1930’s, according to a neighbor. It houses our furnace. You’ve probably read in books about walling off part of your basement to make a root cellar. That might be because the furnace dries it out too much. In the early years of just putting a cardboard box of homegrown potatoes down there, they would be sprouting in January. Then I learned that potatoes need some humidity. Now I put potatoes in 10 gallon plastic bins with holes drilled in the sides and lid for air and store them in the crawl space. You get a glimpse of that in my DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden. I check them once in a while through the winter and pull out any that aren’t going to make it when I fill a basket to bring into the kitchen.

Sweet potatoes are almost as efficient as Irish potatoes at producing a lot of calories in a small space. If you didn’t grow any this year, now is the time to stock up at the farmers market. Buy a bushel or more and eat them through the winter. You can store them in cardboard box under your bed if necessary, along with the winter squash that may be there. You could go to the local farm supply store and purchase half or full bushel baskets, put your sweets in there and leave them in a corner for all to see.  Imagine your home is part of a photo shoot for a fancy magazine picturing country homes.

Other crops giving you a lot of calories in little space are garlic, parsnips, leeks, salsify and Jerusalem artichokes. There is information about this in How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. You can find the same information at Ecology Action. Some folks who did have to depend on a local diet (within 100 miles) and ended up eating a lot of potatoes are Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. They tell all about it in their book Plenty. Find out more about growing calories at Homeplace Earth.

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