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Growing Staple Vegetables

Survival crops

During times of crisis, staple foods and plants you know will grow well are ideal. It’s not the time to be trying out experimental varieties. Choose vegetables that can be canned, fermented or pickled so you can eat them at your leisure, or those that can be stored for months without the need for refrigeration.

Top foods to plant in troubled times include potatoes, green beans, heirloom onions, carrots, winter squash and okra. In addition to providing you with fresh vegetables without a trip to the grocery store, gardening is a simple way to reduce stress, another important benefit during times of crisis.

The idea of being as self-reliant as possible is suddenly becoming more appealing to many, some are taking an interest in gardening for the first time.

In late March 2020, Oregon State University waived the fee for its online vegetable gardening course and had 15,000 people sign up in the next week. Normally, they would have had two to five people register in that time period. Meanwhile, seed companies have reported an unprecedented surge of orders while plant nurseries are seeing an uptake in business.

Such foods not only exist but can be easy to grow in your own backyard. If you're among those looking to test out your green thumb, whether for stress-relief purposes, sustenance or both, having a go is not harmful, plus it can be purposeful.

Staple 'Crisis Crops' to Plant in Your Vegetable Garden
Potatoes

Potatoes

These can be stored for up to six months, offering a source of nutrition that doesn't require refrigeration. They can also be canned, which extends their storage life to three to five years. 

Hoss recommends planting potatoes two to three weeks before your region's last frost, in rows spaced 36 inches apart. You should incorporate compost into your soil before planting.

Importantly, potatoes love to be hilled, which means adding additional soil to the bed and moulding it around the plants. You should hill the potatoes two or three times during the growing season. The idea is that, since potatoes are a part of the plant's stem, not the root, the more stem you keep underground, the more potatoes will grow and the better your harvest will be.

Potatoes, which are rich in fibre, vitamins B and C and minerals like potassium, are easy to grow in the early spring and take about 85 to 100 days to mature, depending on environmental conditions.

Once you harvest the potatoes, it's important to store them properly; loosely (not in plastic) in a dark, dry spot at around 50 to 60 degrees F. While potatoes like a dark, cool environment, they should not be chilled, as they're damaged by refrigeration.

Green beans

Green beans

These offer a rich source of vitamins A, C and K and manganese, fibre and folate, are another excellent, productive storage crop, which can be canned right along with potatoes, or fermented.

Green beans can also be blanched and frozen for up to a year. Hoss recommends the momentum bush bean variety, which they say is the most productive bush bean variety out there, with high yields, concentrated harvests and high tolerance to stress.

Beans should be planted in spring after the last frost has occurred, as germination typically occurs when soil temperatures are climbing.

The seeds can be planted directly outdoors and can be planted every couple of weeks in the spring and early summer so you'll have production throughout the entire growing season.

Plant them as early as possible in the spring, since the plants will drop blooms, or cease production, during hot summer temperatures. Bush beans can be harvested three or four times in the season, and can also be planted in double rows to save space and increase your harvest.

To do this, make two rows of beans spaced 6 inches apart, with the double rows spaced three feet apart.

If you have access to drip irrigation or a soaker hose, you can use it to provide irrigation to both rows of beans at once.

Onions

Onions

These are a truly sustainable food source, in the past growing such onions would come out to the field and be dug up onions as needed. then dig up the bulbs and store them as you would normal onions to be replanted the next year.

Not only do onions store really well, keeping for two months or more after harvest, depending on variety, but you have your own seed stock that you can reuse and share with your neighbours. Further, onions, which are rich in vitamin C, sulphuric compounds, flavonoids and other phytochemicals, are incredibly healthy.

Carrots

Carrots

As with most homegrown vegetables, the taste of a store-bought carrot can't compare to the flavour of a homegrown variety. 

Plus, carrots are another useful vegetable during hard times, as they can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three weeks or blanched and frozen for even longer storage.

Other options include canning and fermenting, making these a versatile vegetable for long-term usage.

Like green beans, carrots can be grown in double rows with irrigation in between. Plant rows 6 inches apart, skip 3 feet, then plant two more rows 6 inches apart. Hoss recommends seeding carrots in a thick band and not thinning them, so you'll have a dense forest of carrots and get a lot of production out of a little bit of space.

When grown this way, your carrots may not all come out uniform in size, some will be smaller and some bigger, but they'll taste great just the same. Carrots should be seeded directly outdoors, as they don't transplant well, and do best when planted in cooler temperatures during the early spring or Autumn.

Carrots, which are rich in valuable beta carotene, require longer to germinate than most other crops, and you'll need to keep the soil moist for at least seven days for germination to occur.

Winter squash

Winter squash

With its thick skin, this is another excellent food for storage purposes. 

Though they're called winter squash, they're grown during the warm part of the year but can be stored without refrigeration for use during the winter. Generally, the sweeter the variety, the less time they can be stored.

Winter squash is a good source of vitamins K1, A, C and E, as well as B vitamins, calcium and magnesium. Storage time is important, as winter squash produce one harvest at the end of the growing season, giving you food to enjoy all winter long.

Okra

Okra

This is a warm-weather crop that produces pods measuring 2 to 3 inches long, which grow on a large, leafy and perennial plant with hibiscus-type flowers.

High in fibre, okra also offers vitamin K, manganese, folate and vitamin C, as well as plentiful amounts of flavonoids and antioxidants.

It's an important crisis-crop because it's a high-producing crop with long-term production. The plants may start producing pods when they're 1 to 2 feet tall and will continue producing, as the plants grow 5 to 6 feet tall. However, you can cut the tops off when it gets about 4 feet tall, and plant three succession plants per year.

However, once planted, okra is a hearty and versatile food that can be frozen, canned or pickled, preferring irrigation for the most abundant productivity, it is somewhat drought-resistant and will still grow well in very hot, drier conditions.