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Food in Uncertain Times: How to Grow and Store the 5 Crops You Need to Survive

Having food resiliency is as much about learning how to store and use food properly as it is about growing it. The key is learning interdependence not independence.

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Potatoes are delicious. With all the varieties and flavors and cooking methods, we can eat potatoes every day and never get tired of them. Nate and I grow major amounts of potatoes. And with our sophisticated but low-tech storage methods, we have prime potatoes for eight or nine months of the year. Remembering the vulnerability of the potato to disease, though, unlike the Potato-Famine-era Irish, we grow many varieties, we have learned to save potato seed with near-certified-seed level of proficiency, and we use potatoes as only one among several staple crops.

Grains and beans are the ultimate survival crops because they are so long-storing. It is stored grains and beans we would need if a planet-wide disaster such as a comet strike or mega-volcano wiped out agriculture worldwide for an entire year or more. Grains are not as easy to grow as potatoes, though. We grow corn, the easiest of all grains to grow and process on a small scale. Corn is also, in areas where it grows well, by far the highest yielding of the grains. In addition, unlike the small grains, you can grow corn with nothing but a shovel or heavy hoe. You don't need a finely tilled bed as is needed for the small grains. We grow special people-food grade gourmet-quality corn that is completely unlike anything you can buy commercially. Cornbread and polenta are our major carbohydrate staples during late spring and early summer after the potatoes and winter squash are gone, and they provide variety year round.

Most of our corn is very early varieties that dry down during August instead of needing to be irrigated heavily then. They can make a crop on no irrigation, and a good crop on just two or three irrigations. We also grow a little late flint corn. It has to be watered all August and finishes late, full into the rainy season. We grow our pole beans on the late corn most years. And the pole beans need irrigation all season anyway.

Grain legumes, that is, beans, peas, teparies, garbanzos, cowpeas, lentils, soybeans, and others, keep well and are prime for a little beyond a year. There are many species that are associated with specific regions or growing patterns. So we plant fava beans in fall and overwinter them, for example, garbs in early spring, and common beans and cowpeas and teparies in spring to grow during summer.

We prefer to plant one variety of each of five species rather than five varieties of one species. This helps give us disease resilience. We grow one pole bean (common bean), one fava, one garb, one tepary, and one cowpea. Each is selected for spectacular flavor as well as resilience for its particular growing niche. This gives us five different species, which greatly facilitates saving pure seed; so we never have to buy seed. In addition, with winter, spring, and summer growing niches, a severe weather event is likely to wipe out only some, not all our beans.

We grow a lot of squash. We grow lots of winter squash of gourmet varieties that make spectacular food, and we know how to harvest, cure, and store it optimally. 'Sweet Meat-Oregon Homestead' is the line we use for our main winter squash food supply. It gives us prime winter squash through March. We also grow lots of delicatas, especially 'Sugar Loaf-Hessel' and 'Honeyboat' for fall eating.

We grow lots of summer squash for both fresh eating and drying. The dried summer squash is one of our major long-storing staples. Dried sliced summer squash of the right varieties makes wonderful soups and stews and chips. I have had a soup made mostly from six-year-old dried summer squash that was as delicious as it was the year I dried it.

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