If you’re like most gardeners, you pack your growing space to full capacity: Tomatoes, lettuce, peas, beets, carrots, green beans… But consider growing some staple crops to get the most out of your vegetable garden. It will make a big difference in your grocery budget.
Grains are another great staple crop to consider.
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High calorie vegetable staple crops
You can gorge yourself on fresh veggies all summer long, then preserve marinara sauce, pickles, salsa, relishes, and chutneys to fill your pantry for the winter, but you’re still going to need to supplement your diet with something more.
If you’re forced to live off just what your garden produces in a survival situation—even if it’s a giant garden—you’re going to get hungry really quickly. Unless, of course, you take care to include some high calorie vegetables and starchy staple crops in your survival garden plan.
Regular sweet corn is best eaten fresh from the garden and does not store well. It’s a great option for seasonal calories, but an ambitious gardener might consider growing shelling corn. Dry it on the cob, then remove the kernels to grind your own cornmeal for wintertime. [More on growing corn here]
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A medium ear of corn has about 77 calories.
One of America’s favorite staple crops, potatoes are easy to grow and will do well in a large container, too. Once the plants are well established, you can carefully dig in and harvest tiny “new potatoes” for summertime meals. When the leaves start to die off later in the season, you’ll dig up the entire plant to harvest the full-sized potatoes. Be sure to include some Russet potatoes in your plan; these will keep through the winter. [More on growing potatoes here]
A regular ‘ol potato has about 160 calories.
In the right conditions, sweet potatoes are tremendously easy to grow. These high calorie root vegetables take up a fair amount of space as they vine across the ground and they need a lengthy growing season, but if you can get them in the ground early enough, even many cold region gardeners can have success with sweet potatoes.
You’ll need a minimum of 90 days from first frost to last. And just like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes store well for winter use. You can also turn sweet potatoes into sweet potato flour! [More on growing sweet potatoes here]
Sweet potatoes provide about 115 calories for a one-cup serving.
Most people who have been gardening for any length of time are familiar with growing green beans. The dried beans you can get at the store? They come from a plant just like that, but the pods are allowed to mature completely, and the seeds—or beans—are removed from the shell and dried for storage.
Cowpeas, kidney beans, black beans, runner beans — even lentils. You can grow all of these staple crops right in your garden for budget friendly meals and dry them yourself. [More on growing beans here]
Calorie counts vary based on variety, but a cup of cooked beans will net about 200 calories.
Winter squash & pumpkins
Winter squash and pumpkins aren’t quite as calorie dense as the aforementioned vegetables, but they are an easy to grow and store staple crop. The vining plants do take up a fair amount of space, but they produce generously. Whole pumpkins and squash will last throughout the winter season. (Be sure to cook one up to indulge in this winter squash cheesecake!) [More on growing pumpkin here]
A cup of cooked pumpkin or squash has about 50-80 calories, depending upon variety.
A surprise staple crop to consider: parsnips
Related to carrots and parsley, parsnips are a root crop that needs a long growing season. I’ll be completely honest: I’ve not had a lot of luck growing parsnips. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a try! It doesn’t get a lot of press, but the cream-colored veggie is good roasted, mashed, and in soups.
A cup of parsnips nets about 100 calories.
Fresh beets come in red, orange, or yellow varieties. If your only experience with beets involves a can, you might be surprised at just how lovely they are straight out of the garden. These high calorie vegetables are great roasted with a bit of salt and pepper, tossed with balsamic vinegar in a salad, or added (cooked) to a smoothie. [More on growing beets here]
Beets offer up about 60 calories per cup.
While not technically a garden crop, it’s worth noting that duck eggs are more calorie-dense than those you’d get from a chicken. Ducks lay eggs with a higher fat content than chickens, they’re higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, and protein, too. They have nearly double the amount of calories compared to chicken eggs. They’re a great source of calories for people who strive to produce much of their own food on site.
One duck egg has about 130 calories. (A large chicken egg has about 72.)
Survive and thrive with staple crops in the garden
If the idea of generating more calories from your garden intrigues you, I highly recommend that you read The Resilient Gardener. Author Carol Deppe goes into explicit detail about growing most of these high calorie vegetables successfully. She lists the varieties of staple crops that she’s had the most success with. Read my review of The Resilient Gardener for more.
Originally published in February 2014; this post has been updated.