The 10 Best Crops for a Survival Garden

If you could only plant 10 crops for survival purposes, what should they be?

In order to survive in a time of food scarcity, you have three main needs: carbohydrates, protein, and fat, in that order. These macronutrients are the three pillars of food survival. Vitamins and minerals are important, to be sure. But just as you will die sooner from a lack of water than a lack of food, similarly you will die sooner from a lack of carbs than from a lack of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, you can buy multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplements. These store well and are relatively inexpensive. But storing enough carbohydrates, protein, and fat takes considerably more money and storage space.

This prepping and survival blog post concerns which 10 crops are the best sources for the carbohydrates, protein, and fat that you need to survive when food is scarce. My top survival crops — and the reasons why — are as follows. (These crops are listed in no particular order, so the #1 crop is not necessarily the best.)

1. Corn — Easy to grow and harvest. Flint or dent corn can be used to make your own cornmeal for cornbread or tortillas. Sweet corn is easier to prepare and freezes well. Corn is high in carbs and contains some protein. Although corn requires hot weather and is not generally frost-tolerant, some varieties of flint corn can survive a frost or two.

2. Beans (dry or shelling) — Dry on the vine, or pick and eat fresh. When dried, beans have a very long shelf life. High in protein, moderate in carbs. Beans complement the protein in corn well. Some beans (cowpeas, kidney beans, Lima beans) are a complete protein. Adzuki beans (a red dry bean) are very high in lysine.

Soybeans are also high in lysine; mature dried soybeans are a complete protein (Edamame are not). Unlike other beans, soybeans are relatively high in fat (about 20%) and the fat contains both essential fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3). Dietary fat is difficult to grow in the garden. But soybeans are easy to grow in almost any climate.

3. Quinoa — The problem with most grain crops is that you need to hull the grains after threshing. Quinoa is a pseudo-cereal (not a true grain) that has no hulls: thresh, wash thoroughly to remove the bitter saponin coating, and cook (boil in an excess of water and strain). Quinoa is a compete protein, high in carbs and higher in protein than many grains. The dried quinoa seeds store well and are easy to prepare. Can be ground into a non-rising flour.

Planting quinoa is simple; the seeds can be row-planted or broadcast. One pound of seed (you can use the quinoa from the supermarket as planting seeds) will plant one acre. A modest yield would be about a thousand pounds per acre. Think about that: 1000 pounds of a staple food from a single pound of seed. It takes 25 to 75 pounds of wheat seed (depending on the size of the grains) to plant one acre, with a modest yield of about 2500 lbs/acre. At a seed rate of 50 lbs/acre, wheat produces about 50 lbs of wheat for each pound of seed. Quinoa is 20 times more productive, in terms of pounds of food produced per pound of seed.

4. Potato — You can grow potato from seeds. There are several varieties available commercially. It is also possible to plant and grow potatoes from the potatoes you buy at a grocery store. Potatoes produce more carbs per square foot of land than most other crops. The protein in potato is a complete protein, with all essential amino acids.

5. Amaranth — This pseudo-cereal is similar to quinoa in many ways: no hulling makes it easy to harvest; it is a complete protein and high in protein; a small amount of seed produces a huge harvest (1 lb seed for 1000 lb harvest). Unlike quinoa, amaranth has no bitter saponin coating that must be washed off prior to eating.

6. Chickpeas — a complete protein, with nearly as much protein as dry beans. Chickpeas require hot weather, but are otherwise easy to grow and harvest. Make your own hummus or falafel. Dried chickpeas store as well as dry beans. Ground dried chickpeas make a high protein flour that can be added to breads and baked goods.

7. Buckwheat — This pseudo-cereal is more well-known than quinoa or amaranth; it too requires no hulling and is a complete protein. The ground seeds make a good flour for pancakes or non-rising baked goods. You can also make soba noodles from buckwheat. The dried seeds store well.

However, the seeding rate for buckwheat is similar to wheat, about 50 lbs/acre, and the yields are generally lower than for wheat at under a thousand pounds per acre. “Buckwheat grows best where the climate is moist and cool. It can be grown rather far north and at high altitudes, because its growing period is short (10 to 12 weeks) and its heat requirements for development are low.” (Buckwheat)

8. Hulless Pumpkin Seeds — Easy to grow and harvest, hulless pumpkin seeds are a good source of dietary fat. Unless you have your own small oil press, it is difficult to grow fat in the garden. But pumpkin seeds are easy to harvest, and are high in fat (~50%) and good-quality protein. The hulless seeds save you the work of having to shell the seeds before eating. Kakai and Lady Godiva are the varieties with the largest hulless seeds.

9. Peanuts — You can grow your own peanuts from raw peanuts in the shell that you buy in a grocery store. Peanuts are an excellent source of healthy mono-unsaturated fat and good-quality protein. Cooking and shelling peanuts is easy, and they store well once they are dried. However, peanuts do not do well in cool or damp climates; they like hot dry weather.

10. Chufa (tigernut) — An unusual oil crop, tigernut produces a myriad of small wrinkled tubers, about the size of a nut or bean, attached to its root system. The tubers are much higher in dietary fat than other tubers. Chufa is about 30% dietary fat.

To plant chufa, soak the dried tubers in water for 3 to 4 days. Prepare for planting by loosening and mounding the soil in rows, just as for potatoes. For a small planting, you can mound the soil in separate hills, as you would do for planting pumpkin. Plant the tubers at a rate of about 10 tubers per mound, spaced several inches apart. The crop takes about 3 month to reach maturity. Loose soil is essential for the ample production of tubers.

Chufa is a good plant for wet climates. It tolerates heavy rain and damp weather well. However, the plant also needs hot weather for good growth. In cooler conditions, plant growth and the formation of tubers will be slower. Harvesting the crop is done by loosening the soil around each plant, and pulling up the whole plant with the roots and attached tubers. Additional tubers can also be found in the loose soil where the plant was removed.

The tubers can be boiled and eaten like other root crops. They remain firm when cooked; then do not soften like potatoes. The dried tubers can be ground into a type of flour that is high in fat, moderate in carbs, low in protein.

Which plants are in your Top Ten survival crops for a backyard garden or a mini-farm?

– Thoreau

4 Responses to The 10 Best Crops for a Survival Garden

  1. I have found if you can grow it, sweet sorghum makes sweets and grain…and okra make a veggie and seeds you can use like a grain when they dry…We grow both in northern Ohio and save seeds each year…Of course I have my own indian corn I started growing 14 years ago…

  2. I would put root crops ahead of some of your more esoteric choices. Beets, turnips/rutabagas, & carrots should be on the list. Pumpkins and squashes too, not just pumpkin seeds.

  3. Great article on growing the basics.
    Posted it at: http://www.300iii.com/

  4. Potatoes grow like weeds and should be a staple in everyone’s garden. I would also mention that canning/preserving/dehydrating should also be a part of everyone’s survival garden.

    If you learn those valuable skills, just about everything you plant in your garden can keep for longer term storage.