Grow Your Food
Updated: Mar 24, 2021
THREE MAJOR FOOD GROUPS YOU CAN GROW FOR YOURSELF
Whether you're a beginning gardener or an experienced survivalist, there is always room for growth in the area of food independence. You may be thinking, "There's no way I can grow all my own food!" That's okay.
Trust me, we didn't launch into self-sufficient living all at once. And you don't have to either. The important part is to start somewhere. It may be that this is the year you start growing your own fruits and vegetables. Or maybe you find a protein source you can raise yourself. The important thing is to choose an area and try it.
So without further delay, let's look at the major food groups and how we produce them on our homestead:
fruits and vegetables
starches and carbohydrates
protein and fats
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
One of the best places to start on the journey toward food independence is in the fruit and vegetable garden. There are steps you can begin taking right away toward providing a plentiful supply of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and even carbohydrates by planting a garden. On this homestead at the edge of the woods, we grow vegetable crops in the greenhouse and in outdoor gardens. Some feed us through the summer; others are stored for winter months. We grow berries and tree fruits which are eaten fresh, frozen, or dried.
This Year's Garden
Annual vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, beets, leafy greens, beans, cabbages, and squash provide a surprisingly large amount of food for the space that they require. On our homestead we grow all of these, as well as cucumbers, melons, onions, garlic, and several others. There are numerous options for the home vegetable grower; you can choose what works for you with the space and time you have available. Think through the when, where, and why of this year's garden and get started.
The best time to plant a fruit tree was five years ago, but the next best time is right now. Fruit trees are an investment in the future. While they take more patience and planning than annual crops, there are few investments that will pay off as well. We have stocked our resilient garden with berry bushes, fruit trees, grapes, and nut trees. We harvest honeyberries and strawberries in spring. Apricots, blackberries, raspberries, and more strawberries ripen in summer. Peaches and grapes ripen at the beginning of fall, followed by plums, apples, and Asian pears.
If you have only a small garden area, you can start with space-saving crops like onions, lettuces, and beets. Use the vertical space you have available with climbing vines such as beans, peas, and cucumbers. Layer your plantings: short crops like leafy greens to catch the sun in the foreground, trellised vines behind, and tall corn or bush plantings in the back where they won't shade the others. Plant successive crops in the same space throughout the season (e.g., put in quick-growing radishes or turnips when early peas are done bearing; follow spent tomato plants with late-season kale).
If you have a larger garden space available, try summer or winter squash (one of our favorites! Why Winter Squash?). Plant cabbages in alternating rows with onions or expand the space for tomatoes. Invest in berry canes, put in a strawberry bed, or plant a fruit tree. You won't be sorry you did.
STARCHES AND CARBOHYDRATES
Most people think of wheat bread and pasta when they think of starches. But for the homestead grower, wheat is too labor-intensive to be practical. For centuries, subsistence farmers have been growing corn and potatoes as their starch and carbohydrate crops of choice. (Note: Many fruits and vegetables are also a good source of carbohydrates, but since we are already growing them for other purposes, they won't be covered in this section.)
Flint and Flour Corns
Our homestead has grown both flint and flour corn for multiple uses and storage potential. Corn has the ability to produce a reasonable amount of grain in limited space and can be shelled and ground by hand. We have found flint corn--with its harder seed coat--to be more insect and disease resistant. As long as it is kept dry, whole corn can be stored for an extended period of time without losing its rich nutrient potential.
To try a flint or flour corn in your garden, plan to start it early--either one will need a longer season than sweet corn to completely mature and dry. Corn can be started as soon as danger of frost has passed and the ground is 55 to 65 degrees (F); it needs plenty of water and rich soil to thrive.
Potatoes are another excellent starch source and are the primary source for our homestead. Unlike corn, they can thrive even in cool weather. This diversity of species helps us hedge our bets against the unpredictability of weather. Here at the edge of the woods we harvest potatoes in October, when the air and ground temperatures are low enough for them to be stored in the cellar after curing. (Potatoes store best at 45-55 degrees (F) and 95% humidity.) With harvests ranging from 100 to 400 pounds in a season, they are one of our staple winter storage crops. In the cellar, they will keep through the winter and into spring.
If you need to save space in your garden, try deep-planting your potatoes instead of the traditional hilling technique. This means digging holes approximately 9 inches deep for each seed potato. The holes can be spaced 9-12 inches apart with 12-18 inches between rows.
PROTEINS AND FATS
Growing your own protein takes more planning than other home-grown foods, but it is doable for even a beginning homesteader. On our homestead, we have a variety of protein sources that also provide us with plenty of healthy fats.
Eggs are the easiest protein and fat source for any home food grower. Whether you choose just two or three hens or a larger flock, the eggs they produce are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, and sustaining nutrients for your table. We have both ducks and chickens on our homestead. The two groups meet different needs, but both provide substantially for us and diversify our resources. (Read about why we initially got chickens here.)
Another excellent source of both proteins and fats is dairy products. There are a variety of ways to bring the plentiful nutrition of dairy to your home (goats, sheep, etc.). We chose milk cows: Sweet Alyssum and Buttercup. Not only do we benefit from the milk they provide, we also have cream, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream cheese, cultured buttermilk, Devonshire cream, and cottage cheese. The fats provided by these foods are abundant and satisfying. They give us the energy we need for the work of this homestead.
Our homestead is blessed (and, sometimes, cursed) to be in the path of a large elk herd, which means that some of our meat each year is provided during hunting season. This isn't a circumstance most people can count on, nor do we depend on elk alone (after all, it's called "hunting" for a reason!). Our most dependable meat source is meat rabbits, which Sam raises and processes. Rabbits are quiet, efficient, and easy to work with, making them an excellent homestead option.
No matter whether you have a window garden or expansive acreage, there is something you can do to move toward food independence. We have built our homestead over a number of years, gradually increasing our skills and infrastructure. We have also experimented to find what works best for us. Finding what works best for you is a process you can start right now. Choose one of the food groups above. Experiment with it in the coming year. You'll be growing food for yourself in no time!