Food in Uncertain Times: How to Grow and Store the 5 Crops You Need to Survive
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Our potatoes don't get irrigated. We grow them at 16" in the rows instead of the 8 -- 12" so as to have one important staple crop that doesn't require irrigation. That cuts down our water use and gardening labor. In addition, if the electricity failed and we couldn't irrigate, our practice of growing potatoes without irrigation would really matter. Not irrigating also gives us especially clean, disease-free spuds. In addition, the flavors are much more intense than when the potatoes are irrigated. Water and fertility needs are very much affected by spacing. If we crowded the spuds more, we would need more fertile soil, probably imported fertilizer, and irrigation.
The tomatoes are at one end of the potato patch for purposes of rotation, since they are potato relatives. We water the tomato end.
About 1/6 of the garden is in legumes, but not in one section because we plant different species that are grown at different times of year, a common trick for spreading many kinds of risks and enhancing resilience. In addition, overwintering cool-season legumes don't require watering. Staple crops that don't require watering (or electricity) cuts the labor in good times and might be essential in bad times. So we plant 'Iant's Yellow', in fall and overwinter them. Winter is our rainy season. 'Iant's Yellow' is delicious as a dry bean (but not as a shelly). It usually overwinters well. It was an unusually cold winter, though. Most of our favas died out. These things happen. That's why overwintered favas is just one of our beans and overwintering is just one of our patterns of growing beans.
We planted 'Hannan Popbean', a garbanzo, in early spring. It was unusually cool and wet, but they did fine. I've selected 'Hannan' to grow well when grown organically, to germinate cheerfully in cold mud, to be highly resistant to all the aphid-borne legume diseases that are rampant in the Willamette Valley, and to finish a crop in late July and without irrigation. We harvested the 'Hannan' yesterday. This year, there has been almost no summer heat, and everything is delayed. So the 'Hannans' took until mid-August. But they still did fine. The fact that they finish so early gives us resilience that we called upon this year.
Our vetch cover crop died out instead of growing last winter because of the unusual cold. So we're short of fertility in the patch for summer-grown legumes. In addition, we didn't get that area tilled during the short spring tilling window before an unusually wet spring ensued. (We got the ground tilled for the potatoes, garbs, and one corn planting, but didn't have enough of a weather break for the rest.) So we got a late start planting the warm-season legumes. And it was already looking like a cool summer. This meant that any summer-grown beans might not mature until the rainy season. Common dry beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) tend to mold, rot, or split if they are asked to dry down in the rainy season. So we planted 'Fast Lady Northern Southern Pea' on all the land for summer grown legumes.
'Fast Lady', our Northern -- and maritime-adapted cowpea, is very fine in texture and delicious, and like other cowpeas, doesn't need to be soaked before cooking. Cowpeas are much better at making their own nitrogen than P. vulgaris dry beans, so our cowpea should be less affected by the fertility problem. Also, cowpeas are less harmed by getting rained upon when drying down than common beans. Cowpeas are also more drought resistant and better at scrounging water. That means we don't have to water them as often as most summer grown beans. And we can eat the shoots, leaves, green pods, and shelly beans during the summer as well as harvest the dry seed. It adds flexibility when your main staple crops give you good summer green crops as well. And I've harvested 'Fast Lady' right in the middle of the rainy season before, and it was fine. The drying pods shed rain very nicely instead of absorbing it. In addition, being a cowpea, we can save pure seed from 'Fast Lady' even if we are growing pole beans, since the cowpea and common beans are different species. And 'Fast Lady' is by far the easiest to thresh of any bean I have ever grown.