Beyond Salads: Planting a Garden to Feed a Family

Photo Credit: Southern Food Alliance, via Flickr Creative Commons.

As more and more of us recognize the failings of corporate agriculture and turn to local, small farms, CSAs or our own garden plots to fulfill at least part of our dietary needs, there are a few things we should all be growing to provide ourselves with not only salads, but options for full-blown meals as well.

This argument comes via two gardening gurus I've been following for a while: John Jeavons (author of The Sustainable Vegetable Garden) and Carol Deppe, author of the recent book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times.) They argue that salads are great, but "calorie crops" are the way to go if the goal is feeding yourself and your family more often from your own garden.Both Jeavons and Deppe argue, individually, that calorie crops should be the foundation of our gardens. These calorie crops include:

Most of us focus on growing salad-type vegetables in our gardens: tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, radishes. And while Jeavons and Deppe both agree that these crops are worthwhile, they argue that we should perhaps be devoting less space to them and more to the crops listed above.

What's So Great About Calorie Crops?

1. Calorie Crops Fill You Up. The first, most obvious argument, of course, is that calorie crops fill us up and provide us with enough energy and nutrients to go about our day. A potato or a half of a baked winter squash will give you more energy than a plate of lettuce.

2. Calorie Crops Are Less Work (Generally).
The second argument, espoused specifically by Deppe, is that, for the most part, calorie crops require less work on the part of the gardener. You plant them, water them occasionally (though less than you have to for most salad crops) and harvest them. There is no constant watering, harvesting, cutting back, or general babying. These crops work for the gardener, rather than making the gardener work for them.

3. Calorie Crops Are Endlessly Versatile.
Thirdly, calorie crops are versatile. Potatoes can be stored for quite a while if stored properly, and then used throughout the year in a variety of ways -- even ground into flour. Corn can be eaten fresh, canned, or dried and ground into corn meal or corn flour. Winter squash stores well for months, and can be used in a variety of ways. Squash can even be dried to make for an even longer storage time. And beans will keep for years in jars in your pantry, ready to be cooked into soups, stews, or as a meal unto themselves.

Add Some Calorie Crops to Your Garden!

It's highly unlikely that any of us will be required to feed our family from our garden anytime soon, if ever. But there's something to be said for growing something that will require you to eat food from your own garden throughout the winter. When you plan your next garden, consider adding a few of these calorie crops into the mix with the usual tomatoes and lettuce. Tuck a winter squash into the end of a garden bed (or grow it right in your compost pile), grow some potatoes in a trash can or tire, or sow a few beans along your fence. For a tiny bit of extra work, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor that much longer.

Three Sisters Garden Photo Credit: Abri_Beluga, via Flickr Creative Commons.

More About Growing Your Own Food:
Treehugger Picks: Grow Your Own Food
Grow Food Indoors
Getting Ready for Earth Day: Grow Your Own Food
66 Things You Can Grow at Home: In Containers, Without a Garden
Book Review: Food Not Lawns

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