Food staples are foods that we eat regularly. Ironically, though they make up the dominant part of our diet, they are rarely grown in home garden. For anyone interested in food self-sufficiency, growing them is a must. This article covers the most common plant-based food staples that are practical for small-scale plantings.
Potatoes are a food staple in Europe and parts of the Americas. They can be harvested 70 to 90 days after planting, depending on the variety. The plants are very adaptable. Many home gardeners have successfully grown potato plants in garden beds and containers. This also makes harvesting easier since all the tubers are in one place. Though they may not be the basis of your diet, potato chips and potato salad may sound good to you. You may also want to rely less on rice and grains. Though rice is easy to grow and maintain (depending on the region), an average size of backyard would not yield enough for our table.
Corn is one of the most important staple foods in the world. In North America, corn seed were planted together with beans and squash. The three plants support each other in their life cycle. Corn is not drought tolerant. It prefers soil that is nitrogen rich to grow well. The good news is you can grow lots of corn in a small space. In fact, to maximize pollination, it is recommended to plant corn in blocks close together. A 3’ x 3’ area is large enough to grow 9 stalks. It only takes 80-90 days from seed to harvest. It is just a matter of selecting the right varieties. Corn or often called maize can be used in a variety of ways. It can be boiled, fried or baked.
This versatile staple food was first domesticated in the Middle East. Today, it serves as a primary staple crop in many countries. Wheat will yield 40-50 bushels (1 bushel = 60 pounds) per acre (43560 sq ft). A bushel of wheat is more than enough to make 50 1-pound loaves of bread. That means for less than 1000 sq ft, you can eat a loaf of bread every week for a year. Wheat is harvested once or twice a year. The dry grains can be stored for long periods of time. Warm and cool season varieties are available. Wheat may not be the easiest staple to grow in a backyard garden. That said, if you are planning to incorporate more grains into your diet, then planting your own can be a great route to take.
Also known as yuca, tapioca and manioc, cassava is a staple crop for many people living in tropical climates. The plant is very pest resistant and tolerant of a wide range of soils. Just like potato, cassava develops underground and out of sight. It is also incredibly versatile. The tuberous root is usually harvested after eight months after planting. Harvest time is very flexible that makes it suitable to be a back up crop. Maturing leaves can also be consumed. Within two months, the leaves are ready to consume. The plants are propagated from cuttings of their branches. If you are looking for a fast growing plant that can be a hedge, then cassava is a good candidate.
In terms shape and texture, plantain is very similar to banana. Both are members of the Musa genus. However, plantain fruit contains more starch and less sugar than banana. It has a high carbohydrate content and can be prepared in many ways. The herbaceous plant grows best in tropical climates. The largest producers are African countries. Plantain, though can be a great substitute for rice, do not provide quick yields. It takes longer than a year to produce fruit after planting. However, depending on where you live, growing plantain as a secondary staple is something worth trying. From the backyard perspective, it is still doable.
For foody gardeners who like to landscape with only edible plants, it really makes sense to raise staple foods. Though an average backyard will not produce enough foods for everyday consumption, it can help increase our household’s food security. Just keep in mind that every region has its own challenges. Consult the specialist to get the right direction.