Growing a garden for self-sufficiency is going to provide you with valuable skills and food freedom. But, not all crops are created equal. Some crops are going to be better for self-sufficient gardeners than others.
When choosing what you absolutely have to grow in your garden, you need to be thinking about how easily the crop grows, how easy it is to harvest, if it produces high yields if it stores easily and for long periods of time, and how nutrient-dense the crop is.
Of course, you should always grow what you and your family will eat, but putting a little thought behind your selections and choosing some of the crops below will help your garden add more to your self-sufficiency goals than just planting whatever you find appealing in the seed catalogs.
Potatoes are a must-grow crop for anyone, but especially someone trying to become more self-sufficient. They are full of calories, nutrient-dense, provide a lot of food in very little space, are really easy to grow, and store incredibly well.
Potatoes take 2-3 months to harvest, depending on the variety and can be grown simply by placing a small potato with a few eyes in it in a mound of dirt. Lots of people grow them in containers and sacks successfully so that they take up very little space.
Once harvested, as long as they are cared for properly, kept cool (around 50 degrees), and dry can store up to 6 months depending on the variety. Simply check them every couple of weeks, use up any that need using and remove any that have gone bad.
I’ll be the first to admit, other than pumpkin pie, I’m not a huge fan of winter squash. However, it’s one of those things I’m learning to love because it’s essential for someone wanting to grow a garden for self-sufficiency.
Winter squash includes pumpkins, acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash varieties. These all store incredibly well unlike their summer squash counterparts (which I actually like).
They are also prolific producers so while they do take up quite a large space in the garden (they’re vining plants), they will yield almost as many pounds as the square footage they’ve taken up. They are also, mostly, good candidates for vertical gardening so if you’re limited on space, that is one solution.
Squash, when stored properly, will keep all winter and can make a beautiful display on your kitchen counters. Same as your potatoes, just check it every couple of weeks, use up what needs using and toss anything else.
Unlike squash, carrots and I are BFFs. I love carrots. I enjoy eating them fresh, in soups and stews, as a simple side dish… you name it. They are also great to grow for self-sufficient gardening.
Carrots, when planned properly, can actually be grown year-round in just about any region. They do not take up a ton of space, are relatively easy to grow, and are very high in nutrients.
Along with the fact that carrots store very well makes them a must-have for any self-sufficient gardener. You pretty much just sow some seeds in the ground and let nature do her beautiful work. Like I said, if you’re comfortable with harvesting late, carrots can be grown pretty much year-round and will store well in a cool, dry place. Just check, use up, or toss accordingly.
Cabbage for self-sufficiency? Yep. Cabbage is incredibly cold hardy, nutrient-dense, and if you’re growing after the cabbage worms have fulfilled their purpose, very easy to grow.
Making sauerkraut or kimchi is a very nutritious and easy way to keep cabbage for several months. It’s also fairly cold hardy meaning you can harvest it later than a lot of other crops.
Cabbage is a must-have in our garden, whether we end up fermenting some or not simply because it’s one of our favorite vegetables. It also freezes relatively well.
Onions are a must-have for any garden. Whether you grow them from sets, or grow onions from seed, they are incredibly easy to grow, add flavor to lots of dishes, and store really well.
While they aren’t going to provide you with a ton of nutrients and you probably don’t want to eat them alone, they are essential in a lot of dishes that you make from scratch and don’t take up a lot of space. They’re definitely worth their while.
You can also make onion powder and it will keep even longer than just storing your dried onions. Like everything else, check, use up, and toss any that are past their prime.
Another important allium for your garden is garlic. Yes, it provides flavor. No, it doesn’t provide a ton of nutritional value. But… what it lacks in nutrient density, it makes up for in medicinal purposes.
Plus, who wants spaghetti sauce without some garlic in it? Not me. It’s very easy to grow garlic, it doesn’t take up a ton of space, it will store for several months (depending on the variety). And, like onions, you can make your own garlic powder.
You can ferment it, can it, use it to help alleviate some pesky cold symptoms in the winter and use it to add amazing flavor to your food.
I debated adding corn to the list. But… it is very nutrient-dense. You can grow a lot of calories in a little space by growing your own corn for grinding.
Finding cornmeal at the store that wasn’t genetically modified is becoming near impossible. This grain used to be a staple and provided an easy-to-grow, inexpensive grain to Native Americans and homesteaders/pioneers alike.
Growing your own will provide you with a much more nutritious grain, it’s fairly easy to grow, and doesn’t have to take up a half-acre. The problem we personally have with growing corn is there are a lot of cornfields around here and over-spray and cross-pollination are a big issue.
But, if you have an area and the means, grow this crop. I would love to, but it looks like it will have to wait until we move to our forever homestead.
Beans are a must-have crop for self-sufficiency. While they only provide about 3 pounds per 100 square feet of space, those three pounds will provide you with roughly 4500 calories. Pretty impressive.
Once dried they can keep for a very long time but are best used up within the year. There are tons of varieties available and selecting a few to try and deciding what does best in your garden is going to be your best bet. We all have different growing conditions and needs and there is no one size fits all variety available.
Beans can help sustain you in an SHTF scenario, they’re easy to grow, and keeping beans for seed? You can do that almost indefinitely. Bush varieties mature more quickly than pole varieties, but we choose to grow a bit of both.
To store, you’ll wait until the pods are dry, throw them in a grain sack, and hang it from a rafter (potting shed, garage, wherever). Give it a bit, then simply hit the sack with a stick to separate the beans from the pods. You can then store the beans in clean jars in the pantry.
Some people will argue with me about whether or not tomatoes help your food self-sufficiency goals. But, they are nutrient-dense, easy to can up, dry, or even freeze.
Tomatoes are incredibly versatile and produce a large crop without taking up a ton of space. 6-8 plants can provide your family with 100 pounds of food fairly easily, as long as it’s a good year and growing conditions are optimal.
Unlike a lot of the crops I’ve already mentioned, tomatoes do not keep well. But, they can be canned, made into sauces, pastes, and salsas, dried and frozen in order to provide your family with food all winter long.
I can’t imagine growing a garden without tomatoes, and I feel that they are an excellent crop for self-sufficiency and enabling you to grow your self-sufficient skills.
Beets aren’t everyone’s favorite crop. I know I had never even eaten them until I was an adult. But, they’re very easy to grow, store incredibly well, and are nutrient-dense.
This crop does not take very long to mature, making it really easy to grow them for multiple harvests. They also store very well and depending on the variety can feed you or your livestock most, or all, of the winter.
I’ve grown accustomed to their flavor roasted in some cumin and covered with some delicious cheese. Beets can store most of the winter, can be pickled, or eaten fresh. Their greens are also very nutrient-dense making this another winner for the self-sufficient garden.
Tips to Grow a Self Sufficient Garden
Choose The Right Varieties
You picked the vegetables to make sure your garden is providing your family with food, now you need to pick the varieties. It can be easy to be overwhelmed when you look at all of those seed catalogs in the winter. So many beautiful varieties you can grow.
But, it is important to select varieties for their ability to grow in your climate/zone. If you pick something because it looks pretty or sounds good, but isn’t accustomed to your zone, you won’t have much to harvest. So, do your homework and take your time when selecting the varieties you grow.
Make Sufficient Space
How many of us have big plans to grow all of the things but don’t make enough room to grow them? I know I have.
Gardening requires space, and sometimes our best intentions turn out into an overwhelming mess of weeds, disease, and plants that never reach maturity. Plan a few crops your first year and stick with that plan. You can always grow your garden later.
Make sure you select sufficient space to grow what you’re planning to grow or alternatively make sure what you plan to grow will fit in the space you have available. A crowded garden is a disaster waiting to happen.
Use High Quality, Heirloom Seeds
Whether you save your own seeds or buy them, make sure you use high-quality, heirloom varieties. This can make or break your gardening season, so don’t slack in this department.
Find a reputable seed company or save only your best seeds. It’s up to you.
Maintain Soil & Moisture
Growing a garden requires nutrients and moisture. And every time you harvest, you need to replenish those nutrients. Make sure you’re constantly working to maintain nutrient levels by improving your soil and adding organic matter back to the soil through compost or cover crops.
Moisture is also important, healthy soil is moist. Not dry, not waterlogged, moist. Make sure your garden is well-drained and well-watered. Otherwise, growing your food is going to become increasingly difficult if not impossible.
Whether it’s out of necessity or just an innate desire to live off the land and provide some, or most, of your own food, growing a self-sufficient garden can be rewarding. All it takes is a little planning and selecting the right crops and you will be well on your way to producing calories for your family to eat year-round from your own property.