How to Plant a Self-Sufficient Garden: 12 Staple Crops You Need to Grow

If you want to have a self-sufficient garden, you have to make sure you grow the right staple crops to feed your family.

Learning how to be more self-sufficient and provide for your family has never been more important than this time. Starting a self-sufficient garden with staple crops is one way that our family increases self-sufficient and adds security to our home.

What do I mean by staple crops?

Well, these are the crops that are going to be the bulk of what your family eats. These are the foods that provide the most calories and sustains your family.

When you plant a garden, you might grab whatever vegetable looks the easiest to grow, but that doesn’t mean it will be able to feed your family for long stretches.

Our goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible and to grow the foods that our family can survive the longest eating.

Here is an example.

I love eggplants. Nothing beats a good eggplant parmesan with a side dish of my dad’s pasta and a thick slice of Italian bread.

Can you tell that I’m Italian?

As much as I love eggplants, I cannot feed my family those each day, and they don’t preserve well. While I do have a few eggplants growing in my garden, that’s not the bulk of what I grow.

What Are Staple Crops?

You NEED – not just want – to grow staple crops if your goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible and feed your family.

This doesn’t apply to you if you have a small garden for fresh salads in the summer, which are literally what I dream of each night right now.

Staple crops are the KEY to food self-sufficiency. Here are my requirements when I pick what staple crops to grow.

  • My family does have to like them and eat them on a regular basis. For example, we all hate sweet potatoes. I don’t know why, but we do.
  • These should be easy to grow crops that don’t cause you a huge headache. You need to grow a lot of them!
  • The plants should have good return yields. So, the plants need to be productive and provide you with plenty of food.
  • Staple crops are calorie-dense. They’re going to fill your belly with calories and keep you full longer.
  • Last, they need to be easy to store. I like staple crops that I can store in my basement in bins without needing to can or dehydrate them. These crops should also be versatile. For example, potatoes can be frozen, dehydrated, or canned.

These are your crops that help your family survive and thrive even during hard times.

12 Staple Crops to Feed Your Family

Here are some of the best staple crops that will feed your family.

1. Potatoes

Potatoes are one of the most versatile crops to add to your self-sufficient garden. They provide you with the most calories in the least amount of space, and they’re easy to plant. All you need to do is bury pieces of potato the size of an egg with eyes on them.

Homegrown Potatoes

Potatoes take between 65-110 days to harvest. The range is so wide because late varieties take longer to grow.

If you like sweet potatoes, they are one of the healthiest foods that you can grow in your garden. Even though they’re known for loving heat, you can even grow sweet potatoes in Canada – crazy, right?

Potatoes are staple crops

While you could can potatoes, the easiest storage method is just to keep them in a basket covered with a newspaper in your house or shed. I’ve also stored them in plastic boxes with holes drilled into the sides for ventilation.

Make sure you keep them in a cool area of the house. Potatoes do best if stored between 40-55 degrees and sweet potatoes prefer a bit warmer, around 55-60 degrees.

2. Corn

There is a reason why the Native Americans depended heavily on corn as one of their staple crops. Corn is one of the easiest crops to grow, and there are 3 types of corn you can grow.

  1. Flint Corn: This type is best for cooler, wetter climates, and it can be hard to grind into flour.
  2. Flour Corn: This is what Southwest Native Americans grew, and it’s the easiest to grind into a flour
  3. Dent Corn: This type has a dent in the top of each kernel, and it’s the common field corn which is typically genetically engineered nowadays.

Corn is versatile. You can eat fresh corn on the cob for dinner – nothing screams summer like eating corn on the cob outside.

Last year was the fist year that we grew popcorn, and it was wildly successful. Popcorn is my kids’ favorite snack; we eat it nightly.

Homegrown Popcorn

Then you can grind all types of corn into cornmeal. Cornmeal and corn flour can be used to make bread, pancakes, polenta, and more.

3. Dry Beans

Nothing screams staple crop like dry beans. It’s a mainstay for families all over the world and belongs in your self-sufficient garden. That’s why beans are one of the first foods recommended for building a pantry.

Dried Beans

On average, you can grow 3-5 pounds per 100 square feet, but with the right techniques and proper use of vertical gardening, you can grow even more.

Want to learn more about vertical gardening? Take a look at my new ebook!

You do need to focus on growing dry beans that do well in your area rather than what you typically cook in your kitchen. If you live somewhere with low humidity, hot dogs, and cool nights, you could grow pinto beans. Cowpeas are known as southern peas because they do well in hot, humid conditions.

Instead of harvesting fresh and ripe as you do for green beans, you wait until the pods are dry. Then, you shell the beans out of their pods and store the beans in your pantry.

4. Green Beans

Green beans are another fantastic choice for your self-sufficient garden, and they’re so easy to preserve. My grandma told me that her grandparents had shelves full of canned green beans. The plants grow so abundantly, making it easy to put back for the rest of the year.

Fresh green beans

They pack a calorie punch, just like dried beans. You can grow several plantings of green beans in one summer, depending on your location.

Green beans are filling and versatile. They can be fried, roasted, steamed, or baked. With the right recipe, anyone can enjoy munching on green beans.

You can check out my articles about growing and preserving green beans.

5. Wheat

This is the first year that we are trying to grow wheat, and I’m wildly excited. I geek out whenever we add new crops that I’ve never grown.

It’s pretty clear why wheat is a staple crop for homesteaders. You can find a variety of different heirloom wheat seeds to grow; I do suggest heirloom because many wheat seeds are GMOs.

On average, you can grow 6 pounds of wheat in 100 square feet. Unless you have a big area, you won’t be able to be 100% wheat self-sufficient, but you could grow something else and barter with someone else who grows more wheat than you.

6. Cabbage

There is nothing like a hearty cabbage soup in the middle of the winter, and that’s made possible by the storage ability of cabbage. Cabbage is extremely cold hardy, and they can grow in the garden well into the late fall or early winter, depending on your Persephone Days.

Cabbage Head

When it gets to be too cold outside, you can move cabbages into your root cellar or your greenhouse. While the heads can stay good for 3-4 months when stored properly you also can try freezing fresh cabbage heads or turning your cabbage into sauerkraut, a fermented food

Sauerkraut is a traditional way to preserve cabbage. If you’ve never tried fermenting, don’t panic; fermenting for beginners is so easy!

Cabbages are a big part of our fall garden. I like to grow some fast-growing cabbage varieties and pack our freezer with frozen cabbage rolls and can cabbage soup as well – it’s so darn good!

7. Winter Squash

There are so many interesting options for winter squash. I typically only grow butternut squash and acorn squash, but this year, I found some interesting new choices to try. Be creative, and try something different!

Winter squash options include pumpkins, acorn, butternut, spaghetti, Hubert, and more. Summer squash, like zucchini, is different because they don’t store as well, but preserving zucchini is possible with a bit of kitchen work.

Winter squashes are rich in fiber, and vitamins A and C. Some can store up to a year before they go bad, which is why homesteaders for centuries have kept winter squash in their root cellars.

You can grow 50-90 pounds per 100 square feet, which is a lot of food in a small area. They store well in a shed until frost, but you will need to keep them in a frost-free area through the winter.

Winter squash are known for being prolific producers, but the downside is that they take up a lot of space. Depending on the variety that you grow, winter squash grow on vertical gardening supports, like trellis, but you need to make sure you have adequate support for the weight of the fruits.

8. Greens – Kale, Spinach & Collards

You need to have some greens for your staple crops. Collards and kale both belong in the cabbage family, so they handle cold temperatures well.

When you grow greens as a staple crops for self-sufficiency, you do want something that is a cut and come again crop. That lets you harvest the crops throughout the growing season as you want. You also want plants that you can grow well into the colder months with the help of season extenders.

Try growing greens in a DIY mini hoop house!

9. Carrots

Another vegetable that can be stored in a root cellar for long periods is carrots. Carrots also can overwinter in your self-sufficient garden if you add layers of straw as an insulator.

This year, as I prepared my garden beds, I found several carrots that I missed from the previous year still in my beds. They tasted great!

Cutting Carrots

You can use succession planting, as I do, to grow an abundance of carrots. Every 2-3 weeks, I plant 2-3 more rows of carrots. By the time I reach the end of my garden bed, I can harvest the first rows that I planted earlier.

Storing carrots in a root cellar or your basement is so easy. We use our garage because it’s colder than our basement; you want the temperatures to be around 32-38 degrees F in the winter. Fill a bucket with damp sand, peat moss, or sawdust. Put the carrots in the bucket, covering them with whatever material you picked. Make sure they don’t touch each other.

10. Onions

Onions are definitely a must-grow if you want a self-sufficient garden. Growing onions is far easier than you imagine, but you might wonder why onions are a staple crops since they’re rarely eaten alone.

Onions add flavors to dishes and store well without any help from you. Adding flavor and depth to dishes is an important consideration when you’re trying to grow more of your own food. You don’t want bland food, and when you cook from scratch, they’re worth growing. Plus, onions don’t take up a lot of space in your garden.

I leave a lot of our onions in our basement, but I also make a lot of homemade onion powder. It stores well, and I put it into tons of dishes.

11. Tomatoes

I debated whether or not to put tomatoes on this list; a lot of people don’t think that tomatoes help you meet your self-sufficiency goals, but I had to look at my list of what I consider staple crops.

Our family loves tomatoes – pizza and pasta are always on our menu. They’re a bit tricky to grow at times, but they are versatile. Tomatoes are nutrient-dense, easy to can, dehydrate well, freeze well, and even can be fermented!

You can grow a lot of tomatoes in a small space. If you have 10 tomato plants, you easily can grow up to 100 pounds of food. Our garden always includes tomatoes, and I definitely think they help you reduce your dependency on the grocery store.

12. Garlic

Last, but certainly not least, growing garlic is a definitely a must in your self-sufficient garden. It does lack in nutrient density, but we use a lot of garlic for flavoring our culinary dishes and garlic also has medicinal properties that you might want to use.

Whether you’re making roasted chicken or tomato sauce, do you really want to cook it without garlic? Probably not!

Garlic doesn’t take up a lot of space in your pantry or cellar, and it stores for several months. You also can make your own garlic powder, but there are tons of other ways to preserve garlic.

5 Tips for Planning a Self-Sufficient Garden

Unlike typical vegetable gardeners who simply grow foods that they’ll eat in the summer, planning a self-sufficient garden takes work, a solid plan, and serious consideration. Your goal is to feed your family for the entire year, not just a few months, and chances are you want to feed your family more than some of your foods.

Self-sufficient gardening takes a lot of planning. I spend a lot of time planning our garden in the winter months so that I can hit the ground running in the early spring.

Here are some of my best tips for someone who is planning a self-sufficient garden.

1. Consider the Space You Have

Figuring out how to be more self-sufficient is hard, especially when considering the space that you have and what you can produce in that space. Your goals should match your space, but if you have a small backyard, don’t feel let down.

With the right intensive gardening methods, small spaces produce a lot of food.

Our garden is roughly 1/3 of an acre, and we have the ability to produce over 1/2 of our food. That’s a lot of intensive work for many months of the year, but it’s worth it. With the plans we have in place, we hope to increase our food production to 3/4 of the food we need!

2. Pick Your Staple Crops

While I provided a list of staple crops, what your family eats will be different than what my family eats. Your family might love sweet potatoes, so you want to add those to your list. You might be allergic to tomatoes and not want to add those to your list.

How do you decide what to grow in your self sufficient garden?

Think about what your family eats the most and think about how you’d make those foods at home.

Here’s an example.

Our family loves pasta; we eat it at least once every two weeks or more. To make a good pasta dish, I need to flour and eggs to make my own pasta. We don’t grow wheat yet, so I need flour but we have eggs from our chickens.

Then, we need tomatoes to make sauce. I need to grow the spices needed to season the sauce, along with the onions, garlic, and peppers we use in the sauce.

My kids love strawberries and strawberry jam. I had to plant a strawberry bed so that we can grow all the strawberries we need for our family.

3. Make a Preservation Plan

As you plan out your self-sufficient garden, keep in mind how you’ll preserve these crops when your growing season comes to an end.

You need a variety when it comes to how you’ll preserve your foods. You don’t want everything to be frozen especially because freezers can lose electricity. Losing an entire year’s worth of hard work is horrible.

At the same time, who wants to eat canned foods all day every day? No one! The same goes for dehydrated or fermented foods. I suggest having a variety of preservation methods for all of your crops.

Let’s take potatoes for an example.

We try to grow several hundred pounds of potatoes per year. I keep a lot of them in our basement; they store for several months. I also make several bags of homemade frozen French fries since we love fries with different meals. We can several quarts of potato soup for the perfect winter dinner.

When the potatoes in the basement start to get too soft, they’ll be preserved in a different manner. I might shred them up for homemade hash browns or try dehydrating them.

4. Use Succession Planting to Maximize Your Harvest

One of the best gardening techniques to expand your harvest is to use succession planting. This gardening method is best used for short-season crops, such as:

  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach & other greens
  • Green Beans
  • Peas

When you use succession planting, it provides you with a continuous supply of these vegetables. The goal is to plant more every two weeks. Within a few weeks, you’ll have your first harvest with more growing behind it, and once you remove the harvested plants, you replant in that area.

5. Make Sure You Have a Fall Garden

Another tip to expand your homestead garden is to have a fall garden. Don’t limit your garden to just a spring and summer garden. Many crops grow in the fall, and depending on your climate, it might be possible to have a winter garden as well.

When you have a self-sufficiency garden, you have to grow as much food as possible for your family. A fall garden gives you several more weeks to garden, and that’s so important!

That’s Not All You Should Grow

Don’t think that your garden should ONLY be staple crops!

I think tomatoes are one of THE most important crops that I grow. I need to can at least 52 quarts of tomatoes each year for my family. However, tomatoes by themselves don’t provide a lot of calories for my family, which is why they aren’t a staple crop.

We would survive without them, but we grow them to help make our dishes more flavorful.

I consider onions and garlic essential crops as well, but in the end, you cannot just eat bulbs of garlic or onions.

Okay, you CAN, but no one is going to do that. Finding the right balance of staple crops and other vegetables that your family enjoys is the key to feeding your family and becoming more self-sufficient.

Feed Your Family This Year

With the right staple crops, you can decrease your dependency on the store and start to feed your family from the garden. Growing your own food is a feeling like none other.

When the world goes crazy, you know that your cupboards will stay full.

I want to help you learn how to feed your family. Take a look at my book, The Vegetable Garden, where I show you how to plan and grow all of the food your family needs to survive.

Use the code FeedMyFamily for 50% off your purchase.

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